For the fifth straight month retail sales have taken a hit. The Commerce Department released statistics Friday saying that in November, retails sales fell 1.8 percent. This is less than the 2.8 percent decrease in October, but still a significant decrease during the holiday season, which is a time when combined sales for November and December can add up to as much as 50 percent of a retailer's annual profits and sales. As job losses and concerns about the economy curb consumer spending this holiday season, retailers are feeling the pinch.
If you're like most consumers, odds are you can't get around spending some money on gifts during the holidays, so we've found the hottest gifts of the season and then similar items, which are less expensive and won't cause after-holiday spending remorse.
Personal Music Player
High: Apple iPod Nano, 8GB, $149 (2,000 songs, 8 hours of video)
The iPod Nano is one of the hotter gift items this year in the electronics category thanks to its' new design and availability in nine different colors. It can play music, video and photo slideshows.
Low: Coby 4GB Flash Video MP3 Player with FM Radio, $46.99 from www.amazon.com
An MP3 player similar to the Nano at a fraction of the cost. The Coby is currently in the top 10 best-selling MP3 players on Amazon.com, has gotten rave reviews and is only $46.99. It plays both music and video, but it has one feature the Nano doesn't; with the Coby you can tune into your favorite FM radio station.
High: 13.3" Apple MacBook (White), $899.99, from www.macconnection.com
Prices on notebook computers are dropping and never before has the MacBook been available at such a deep discount. It features a built in camera for video chatting, fast Wi-Fi and a glossy wide-screen display.
Low: Acer Aspire One 8.9" Mini White, $349.00, from www.amazon.com
One of the most popular computers this season is the Acer Aspire One. It has many of the same features as the Mac but at a fraction of the cost. It features wireless capability a wide-screen design and also a webcam to chat online or take photos.
U.S. & World
News from around the country and around the globe
High: Ripstik Caster Board, $72.77, from www.walmart.com
Since it was introduced the Ripstik has been flying off shelves. The Ripstik is a cross between a skateboard and a snowboard on wheels. It also includes a "How to Ride DVD."
Low: Mongoose 102 Complete Skateboard, $29.99 from www.amazon.com
If the Ripstik is on your child's holiday list but you just can't see spending $73 for a toy, a standard skateboard is a safe option; rather than going with a knock-off of the Ripstik. This Mongoose skateboard is one of the best-selling skateboards on Amazon.com and it also features a peace sign design which is very popular now.
High: U Dance, $79.99, www.hasbro.com
U Dance is one of Toy Wishes Magazine's "Hot Dozen" toys for the holiday season. You simply hook up the console to your TV, put the wireless foot tags on your feet and follow the dancing commands on the screen. This is especially popular because it includes songs from popular artists such as Chris Brown.
Low: High School Musical 3 Dance Mat, $14.99, www.amazon.com
For parents looking to give their child something similar to U Dance but not as expensive, the High School Musical Dance Mat is a great option. High School Musical 3 came out earlier this year and was a hit with children and teens, this toy has built in songs, music and routines from the film.
High: Ugg Men's Ascot Slipper, $99.00, www.overland.com
When we spoke with comparison shopping sites such as Price Grabber and OverStock.com, they emphasized that many adults are looking to give and get practical gifts this year. These Ugg suede and leather slippers feature a molded rubber outsole and are even tough enough to wear outdoors.
Low: Lands End Men's Suede Moccasin Slippers, $25.00, www.landsend.com
If you can't justify spending nearly $100 on slippers, Lands End has a great suede slipper for $25. These come in six colors with a flexible sole and a suede upper.
High: Tory Burch Benjerman Satchel, $272.50 (marked down from $545), www.shopbop.com
This Tory Burch bag is great for someone who is looking to get or give a designer bag but doesn't want to spend thousands. This bag is patent leather with gunmetal hardware.
Low: Anya Hindmarch for Target Medium Python Satchel, $44.99, www.target.com
As part of their GO Designer line, Target has launched a great line of bags designed by Anya Hindmarch. These are perfect for someone who wants a designer bag, but doesn't want to pay the designer price. This bag, also made of patent leather, looks a lot like the Tory, but is much easier on your wallet.
Women's Cashmere Sweater
High: Cashmere Jackie Cardigan, $168, www.jcrew.com
Again, practicality and comfort are popular this season. This cozy Italian cashmere sweater from J. Crew is available in over 12 colors.
Low: Cashmere Cardigan, $35, www.oldnavy.com
People think you need to spend a bundle to get your hands on cashmere but this season it's not the case. Low price retailers such as Old Navy are offering cashmere cardigans such as this one for as low as $35.
Ping Pong Table
High: Kettler Match 3.0 Weatherproof Outdoor Table Tennis Table, $629.99, www.sportsunlimited.com
According to the Times, ping pong is making a comeback in a huge way. Historically, ping-pong has been a popular game in tough times because it's cheap and easy to play. This Kettler table is top of the line as far as tables go and it can be used indoors and outdoors, even in extreme weather conditions.
Low: Stiga Shadow Table Tennis Table, $149.00, www.sportsauthority.com
If you're looking for a table but don't want to spend so much, this table from Stiga table is a great option at $149 from The Sports Authority. You can fold it up for easy storage, and it's on wheels so it's very easy to move.
High: Vera Wang Silver-Plate Piggy Bank, $50, www.silvergallery.com
Saving is on the minds of most Americans these days and what better gift to drive this point home than a piggy bank.
Low: Pottery Piggy Banks in Natural or Black, $10-$24, www.oneworldprojects.com
If you're thinking "why spend $50 on something that is supposed to be helping me to save money?" these pottery piggy banks from One World Projects are available in three sizes and range in price from $10-$24. These are made by artisans in Peru and have a rubber stopper so there's no need to break the bank when you're ready to cash in on your savings.
High: TriBot, $49.99, www.amazon.com
Tribot was named one of the best Toys of 2008 by Family Fun and Good Housekeeping magazines. The Tribot tells jokes, has built in games and allows kids to control him by remote control.
Low: Mini TriBot, $14.99, wowwee.com
If you want the Tribot, but you don't want to spend nearly $50, the mini version is a great alternative. The mini version tells jokes, has light up eyes and moves about just like his larger counterpart.
High: Monopoly Premier Collector's Edition, $126.99, www.restorationhardware.com
According to Price Grabber, the games and puzzles category has seen a tremendous increase in traffic, which means that many families are looking for an inexpensive way to have fun. Monopoly is a classic when it comes to family games and this one from Restoration Hardware has a built in money drawer and gold-tone playing pieces.
Low: Monopoly: Here and Now: The World Edition, $38.99, www.hasbro.com
This Monopoly game is a step up from the original featuring properties form all over the globe. Instead of cash it lets players pay for their purchases with a credit card and there's a banking device that keep track of your balance.
Lower: Monopoly (basic board game), $13.99, www.hasbro.com
Lastly we have the basic Monopoly board game from Hasbro.com. It's doesn't have gold playing pieces or credit cards but it will still provide your family with hours of entertainment at a budget friendly price of $13.99.
Jean Chatzky is an editor-at-large at Money Magazine and serves as AOL’s official Money Coach. She is the personal finance editor for NBC’s TODAY Show and is also a columnist for Life Magazine. She is the author of four books, including 2004’s “Pay it Down! From Debt to Wealth on $10 a Day” (Portfolio). To find out more, visit her Web site, www.jeanchatzky.com.