Americans say cash is king for holiday shopping

Nothing brings consumers out like holiday shopping, and this year Americans are expected to spend an average of $805.65, according to the National Retail Federation. But as shoppers load up for a bright Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, something retailers may not be hearing so much are the words "charge it."

According to a new study by, cash will be the holiday king, as people overwhelmingly say they plan to pay for things as they get them rather than charge them and pay later (most likely with interest).

In phone interviews of a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, seven in 10 said they plan to make most of their purchases with cash (39 percent) or debit cards (31 percent). Only 22 percent planned to use credit cards, while 3 percent said checks.

"We were pretty surprised at the results of the survey," said Bankrate credit analyst Mike Cetera. "We've not asked this question in the past, so we don't have any baseline to go from."

Although mobile payment systems like Apple Pay have received a lot of public attention, only 14 percent of adults with smartphones planned to use one of the systems even once during the holiday season. Even among millennials, the amount was only 19 percent.

The question asked was how consumers intended to pay for the majority of their purchases. However, the answers people give concerning how they might act in the future can be highly inaccurate.

Differences in age and income seem to have been the main factors for answers, according to Cetera. People with household incomes of $30,000 a year or less were most likely to depend on cash. "Of wealthier households making $75,000 or more, only 21 percent said cash would be the primary way they were going to pay for things," he said. "They were more likely to say either debit card or credit card."

Even with wealthier households, it may be that credit cards will be used for convenience but then quickly paid off and not relied on for credit-based purchases. "They may also be trying to get rewards," Cetera said.

The older people were, the less likely they were to plan on using credit cards.

"If you take people at their word that this is how they're going to get through the holidays, it's really a reflection of what occurred during the Great Recession," Cetera said. "People saw what happened when you get in over your head, and they're pledging not to do it again. Whether or not they follow through is another question."

It will only be after the dust and sales slips settle before it becomes obvious whether this is a determined position or perhaps the world's largest (though a bit early) failed New Year's resolution.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.