Bargains and “practical” gift-giving are the best descriptive terms for holiday shopping this year, as Xmas retail sales may climb a mere 5% over 2001. This year’s holiday budget is expected to be $1,656, a modest increase from the $1,564 projected in 2001. The American Express Retail Index shows that consumers plan to spend $1,073 on gifts (up $29 from last year), and $238 for holiday entertaining (up $22 from last year). The Index reveals that fewer shoppers expect to pay in cash this year than last. Checks are also less popular as 39% cited this as their preferred payment method, down sharply from 59% in 2001. More consumers are using credit or charge cards this year; 63% plan to pay for at least some, if not all of their purchases with cards. Of that, 11% will use them to pay for all of their purchases, up from 9% last year, and 26% will use them to pay for some of their purchases, up from 21%. According to the AmEx Index, clothing and accessories top most gift givers’ lists, cited by 89% of shoppers, the same percentage as last year. Other popular gift items include gift certificates, cash or gift cheques (72%), music, tapes, CDs or DVDs (70%), toys and games (66%), perfume and cologne (53%), books or magazines (51%), tools (39%), home furnishings (34%), computers and accessories (31%), experiential gifts such as a night out or spa visit (27%), health or sports equipment (26%), gourmet food (22%), patriotic gifts (19%), and career accessories (15%).