New "Cost of Living Guidelines" have just come out suggesting how a family of four should spend its income. They note the following: The head of the household is advised to allocate 25 percent for housing, 25 percent for food and 50 percent for Christmas.

Dr. Neil Morgan, an economics professor at the Black Monday School of Economics, came up with the new figures after studying 8,000 homes throughout the country.

"The thing I discovered was that although many families are following the formula, there are still many who cheat and spend more on groceries than on the holidays."

"Did you find out why?" I asked him.

"Their answers in most cases were unsatisfactory. One breadwinner told me it was traditional in his family to spend more on foodstuffs than Christmas and old habits are hard to change. Another said he would rather buy oil for the furnace than a Cabbage Patch doll that says, 'So's your old man.' "

"It sounds like they have bad attitudes."

"They do. The 50 percent allocation for Christmas doesn't come out of the sky. It was carefully calculated so the family would not be caught short on presents during what we economists consider the most festive time of the year. It might have been lower except prices have gone through the roof and it now takes a person twice the man-hours to earn a popcorn maker as it did a year ago."

"I could see some people wanting to spend more on edibles than on Christmas, but why would they insist on increasing expenditures for housing?"

"Once again it boils down to greed and selfishness. In my interviews I found hundreds of people who said they would rather have a house that doesn't leak than a pool table."

"How could they defend that position?"

"They insisted giving gifts is a bottomless pit. They wouldn't buy my economic theory that exchanging presents at the holiday season is not a luxury but a necessity. Every dollar invested in Christmas will bring you back two dollars' worth of good will in return. It is a bribe we all pay for peace and security whether it be for our children, grandchildren, mothers-in-law or the postman who never rings twice."

"Have you thought about increasing the slice of the pie to 60 percent instead of 50?"

"It would be ideal to lower housing and food spending to 30 percent and raise the holiday giving to 70 percent of one's salary. But this might not go down well with the grocery and housing people."

"That's because they don't believe in Christmas."

"The malcontents who want to reduce gift expenditures have their priorities all mixed up. They would rather eat bread pudding than invest in electric trains. They don't give a fig if the children are happy or not."

"If a family were to adhere to your salary breakdown figures, would they get by?"

"Indeed. They should be able to meet all their needs and still have enough left over to play 'My Old Kentucky Home' on their new synthesizer."

Prof. Morgan said that while he hopes people will abide by his formula, the percentages are not buried in cement. "There are some families who prefer to spend all their money on Christmas and ignore eating altogether, and others who would opt for sleigh bells in the snow instead of replacing storm windows."

"Should the ones who don't buy gifts at Christmas time be penalized?"

"Not necessarily. But they must be aware that every time they take someone off their list a teddy bear manufacturer in Hong Kong dies."