Last year was tough. After watching in horror as my
retirement investments dropped more than 30 percent and
seeing close friends lose their jobs, I was not spared
the anxiety caused by the Great Recession.
I vowed to be prepared for the worst, so I gave up
shopping for anything other than the essentials. No more
new clothes, shoes, haircuts or highlights, throw
pillows… you name it, I didn’t spend money on it.
Journalists and researchers question whether the new
frugality mentality is permanent or just a fad. From my
viewpoint, I think it’s a little of both.
Finance guru Jean Chatzky recently reported on the
frugality trend in her “Sheconomics” column on
wowowow.com (“Saving — not spending — makes consumers
feel smarter“). She wrote about the results of a study by
Deloitte and The Harrison Group called “The New American
Pantry Study.” The study revealed five new consumer
behaviors that developed as a result of the bad economy,
according to Chatzky. I considered these five new
behaviors and wondered if, indeed, mine had changed with
them. What I found is that some I had already been
practicing and some did not apply at all:
1. Delayed gratification. Their survey says 40 percent of
consumers are now waiting for sales to get what they
want. For me, paying full price for something always
seemed a little nuts. But, it’s the $10 to $40 items that
get me in trouble. So, last year I held back. I saved
money. It felt good. But after such a long drought, my
spending bounced back almost to pre-recession levels this
year. I just couldn’t hold back anymore. The silver
lining: I do say “no” more often than I used to, and
leave my store credit cards at home.
2. Private label experimentation. The survey said 75 percent
of consumers are more apt to try private label brand
items, typically marketed under a store’s name instead of
a brand name. Three years ago, I wouldn’t buy any private
label items. But that was before I joined Costco, where
I’ve become hooked on the Kirkland brand — everything
from tuna fish to T-shirts. I also started buying
brand-name housecleaning products (Clorox, Windex, 409,
furniture polish) in bulk and found the savings to be
incredible. And just recently, I made the switch to
private label brand pharmacy products (ibuprofen,
aspirin, contact lens solutions, first-aid stuff). The
only difference I’ve noticed is the price, not the
3. Cooking at home. Twenty percent of consumers have given
up expensively prepared foods and are opting to cook from
scratch, according to the survey. To be honest, I don’t
go to expensive restaurants unless it’s a special
occasion or if someone else is paying. I’m an editor, not
a CEO. I’ve always found it cheaper to cook at home.
4. Loyalty cards boom in popularity. All I can say is you
should see my key chain. I have eight plastic loyalty fobs
dangling from it.
5. Couponing. The survey says more consumers are using
coupons. Meh. I’ve never been a big coupon clipper. I do
use the Costco coupons that arrive in my mailbox every
month, though, so I guess that counts.
The new frugality is subjective. If you have a job, you
most likely feel more secure to have weathered what we
hope was the worst of the storm. If you lost your job, it
will take a while to feel financially secure enough to
spend money like you used to. If you always budgeted,
then maybe you’ve had to stretch a little further out of
your comfort zone. If you’ve never been forced to pay
attention to prices, then it’s been a whole new ballgame.
The most significant result of this new “era” is perhaps
an increased awareness of how we spend and that altering
how we spend isn’t as hard as we imagined it to be.