THE NATION'S 88 MILLION HOUSEHOLDS will spend an average $325 on Christmas gifts this year, according to the Conference Board. This will amount to nearly $29 billion. This year's spending is projected to rise about 5 percent over 1985. Nearly half of all holiday spending, however, will represent higher prices.

Fabian Linden, executive director of the Conference Board's consumer research center, said a decline in consumer confidence and fewer selling days this year contributed to the fact that Christmas sales this year are likely to be only moderately better than last."But," he added, "somewhat larger incomes and subdued inflation are

helping to lift 1986 totals. After price increases are subtracted, a real gain of about 3 percent appears to be a realistic expectation."

Three other findings:

* New England families are expected to spend the most on holiday gifts, averaging $387; Middle Atlantic, $360; Pacific Coast, $323. Rocky Mountain

families are expected to spend the least, $283.

* Families in the 35-45 age group, 70 percent of whom have children living at home, expect to spend the most, $368; those over 65 the least, $261.

* Predictably, spending is tied to family income, those $25,000 and over spending $403, those $15,000 or less $230.

For the full story: Log In, Register for Free or Subscribe