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Day After Thanksgiving: You Know . . .

Shopping: Plan or no plan, Americans start the annual Christmas pilgrimage.


Marcus and Charlotte Pride are heading into the Christmas shopping season with a game plan.

Well, sort of.

Like other well-intentioned parents, they want practical gifts for their five children, such as educational games, clothes for church, warm coats and maybe a toy or two.

But Charlotte Pride knows all too well that their tidy little plan could explode on their first trip to Toys R Us.

"We start by saying we're going to get educational toys--and we get those too--but then we get a little soft," she said. "We said we were going to be firm this year. But who knows?"

With the year's busiest shopping season beginning today, families nationwide are thinking about the holidays.

Some are wading in cautiously with carefully planned budgets, while others are diving into the deep end with their credit cards.

A recent survey by the American Bankers Assn. found that only about 32% of shoppers have a spending plan this year, down slightly from last year.

Although his income is in "six figures," chiropractor Marcus Pride, 36, said he tries to spend a "fairly modest" amount on each child, maybe $300 to $500.

"We try to plan ahead," said Pride, who makes his purchases with a credit card. "Of course, with five kids you have to bargain shop."

Christmas is laden with tradition for this Baldwin Hills family. The Prides are expecting about 30 other family members to descend upon their comfortable five-bedroom home on Christmas day to exchange gifts and feast on smoked turkey, prime rib and collard greens.

Charlotte Pride says that the holidays have always been a plentiful time for her family, even in leaner times.

"We haven't really had a bad Christmas, where my kids didn't get what they wanted," she says.

The house will start looking festive the first week of December, when all seven Prides will pile in their white Chevy Suburban and begin their annual search for a Christmas tree.

The shopping has not yet begun, but Charlotte Pride, 37, has been tucking away cash for a special gift she has in mind for her husband. It's a secret, but already he's suspicious.

"She has something planned for me," he said. "I don't know what it is."

Finding Gifts at Garage Sales

Carmen Hernandez doesn't wait for sales to do her Christmas shopping. The Laguna Beach resident finds just what she wants at neighborhood garage sales, such as the $3 clock she has already bought for her mother.

"We find clothes for us in the garage sale, good clothes, new clothes," Hernandez said. "We are trying to save money."

Hernandez, 50, has worked for five years in the oceanfront home of a Laguna Beach family. She lives in a tiny attached apartment with her husband, Sergio Aguilar, 54, and their two children, Jonathan, 18, and Keila Margarita, 13.

In addition to the free rent, Hernandez earns about $900 a month caring for this comfortable home with its wood floors, picture windows and ethnic art. Aguilar, who walks with a cane following an automobile accident, tends to his own household duties as his wife cares for the larger residence.

This year, Hernandez and Aguilar expect to buy about 15 gifts. They'll need about $800, Aguilar said, including money they plan to send to relatives in Mexico. He has been saving since September.

They'll buy for their relatives--including Hernandez's three grown children from a previous marriage--a few church friends and their employer's family.

But mostly, they're focused on getting the right gifts for their own children, such as the "new fashions" that Hernandez said her 13-year-old daughter wants.

"She thinks she's 16 or 17," Hernandez said, smiling at the notion.

For Hernandez, gift buying has become an adventure that begins at 7 a.m. on Saturday, when she sets out to explore the garage sales in their upscale community. Aguilar also has a sharp eye for bargains. Not long ago, he found a gold ring for $2 at a yard sale. He might have given it to Hernandez for Christmas, if he could have waited.

One gift, though, will be most difficult to find, Aguilar said.

"Something for her," he said of Teddie Ray, Hernandez's employer, whose family has given generously to Aguilar's children throughout the year, including a computer for Jonathan and piano and dance lessons for Keila.

"We don't know how to thank her for what she's done," Hernandez said.

Remission--the Best Gift of All

This Christmas will be an extra-special one for Thuy Phan and Ken To and their two young sons.

A year ago, the couple's 5-year-old son Justin was hospitalized, locked in a battle with cancer. Phan, To and their other son, 8-year-old Sean, spent much of that holiday season with Justin, encapsulated in an isolation room.

Today, the boy's cancer is in remission.

During a recent spin through Toys R Us in Santa Ana, the dark-eyed Justin zipped around his mother's shopping cart, grinning constantly. Phan, 33, looked equally energized.

"We're ready to spend," she said.

It's not that Phan and To are loaded with money; their combined annual income is about $44,000.

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