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Consuming Interests
A blog for the smart consumer
How much do Americans spend on holiday gifts?

The National Retail Federation has released its Holiday Consumer Spending Survey, giving us an idea of what the average American plans to spend to celebrate the season. Click through the photos to see how the dollars break down.

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Ready, set, go: Cyber Monday travel deals

Practically everybody knows that Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is when folks can score some of the season's best prices on items like electronics and fashion. Now savvy travelers have discovered that they too can land sensational deals if they wait just a few days later, for Cyber Monday, held this year on Dec.1.

Of course, there are countless travel websites broadcasting great deals every day. So, are Cyber Monday deals really that extraordinary by comparison?

"Yes, I can say absolutely," says Robert Firpo-Cappiello, editor in chief of Budget Travel magazine. "Last year we saw Starwood Hotels [including the W, Westin and Sheraton brands] offering all of its Caribbean hotels for 50 percent off, and Liftopia [a ski website] held a week-long sale offering 75 percent off lift tickets at 120 ski resorts."

There were also cheap hotel/airfare packages for exotic travel ventures. For example, tour operators like intrepidtravel.com, a company specializing in adventure vacations,...

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Lacrosse brand STX introduces first helmet in stores

STX, the Baltimore-based lacrosse equipment maker, has created its first lacrosse helmet in a partnership with Schutt Sports and plans to start selling the Stallion 500 design in stores today.

"We looked at the helmet market and saw a glaring need for both competition and innovation," Jim Benton, STX director of product management, said in the company's announcement.

The helmet is designed for elite lacrosse players and uses Schutt's trademarked Thermoplastic Urethan Cushioning system, which is based on materials that the U.S. military uses for fighter pilot and paratrooper helmets. It targets areas in the front and crown of the helmet for protection, the companies said. STX also is introducing a Stallion 100 helmet for youth players.

The Baltimore company, known for inventing the modern lacrosse stick, has branched out into other products and sports in recent months, including ice hockey and men's field hockey.

Schutt makes football helmets and faceguards, worn by half the skill...

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Walmart, Best Buy announce Black Friday plans

Walmart and Best Buy are among the latest retailers to announce special hours and deals for Black Friday.

Walmart plans to offer the typical Thanksgiving and Black Friday discounts over a period of days, not hours, starting online Thanksgiving morning just after midnight and continuing with additional discounts at 6 p.m. in the stores, which are open on Thanksgiving. The nation's biggest retailer promises five days of sales with tailored events through the Monday after Thanksgiving.

Best Buy said more than 1,000 stores in 47 states will open at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving, with most locations staying open until 1 a.m. Friday. Stores will reopen at 8 a.m. Friday and close that night at 10 p.m.

Once again Walmart will offer its one-hour guarantee, special deals for shoppers who are in designated parts of the store between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. Nov. 27.

"Black Friday is no longer about waking up at the crack of dawn to stand in long lines and hope for the best," Duncan Mac Naughton, Walmart's ...

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Verizon to pay $1.375 million to settle FiOS investigation

Thousands of current and former Verizon FiOS customers who believe the company misrepresented the service's costs when they signed up may be eligible for money from a state settlement announced Wednesday.

The telecommunications company agreed to pay about $1.375 million to Maryland customers who the state's Consumer Protection Division says were improperly charged termination fees or had to pay for "inadequately disclosed" equipment costs in order to use the service, according to the attorney general's office.

The firm also agreed to pay a $250,000 penalty to the state, and $75,000 in costs.

The settlement ends an investigation that started more than six years ago, as Verizon introduced its high-speed fiber television, Internet and phone services.

Customer complaints at the time included allegations that the firm did not honor promises of promotional items, such as televisions and gift cards; failed to notify them clearly about fees for equipment necessary to access the services; and...

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Morstein's Jewelers will close after 116 years in Baltimore

After three generations of ownership and more than a century of selling and designing jewelry in Baltimore, Morstein’s Jewelers will shut down at the end of the year.

Owner Jules "Sonny" Morstein said he is torn by the decision to retire and close the doors of a business started by his grandfather, William Morstein, in 1898 in East Baltimore.

The shop, now at 1114 Light St. in Federal Hill, where Morstein started working for his father, Jules, a half century ago, is one of the city’s oldest full-service jewelers. Nelson Coleman Jewelers, which had relocated from Baltimore to Towson, traces its family roots in the jewelry business to 1856. And Smyth Jewelers, founded in 1914 by Albert Smyth and which now has showrooms in Timonium, Annapolis and Ellicott City, is celebrating the century mark this year.

"After 116 years, we are closing our store,” Morstein said Tuesday. "Yes, I'm not happy, and yes, I'm upset, but it's the right thing to do. It's just time. I'm going to be 70 and in good...

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