Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What, This Old Thing?

According to AP Business Writer Dan Sewell, it's hip to be frugal again:

This behavioral shift isn't simply about spending less. The New Frugality emphasizes stretching every dollar. It means bypassing the fashion mall for the discount chain store, buying secondhand clothes and furniture, or trading down to store brands.

There's more business for repairmen and less for salesmen. Consumers are clipping more coupons and swiping their credit cards less. [...]

That kind of scrimping may be good for stressed family budgets, but it's bad for the nation's overall economy _ and that has the potential to reinforce the miserly mood. Yet with home prices, 401(k)s and job stability suffering, such frugality is likely to be more than a fad.

"It is a whole reassessment of values," said Candace Corlett, president of the consulting firm WSL Strategic Retail. "We've just been shopping until we drop and consuming and buying it all, and replenishing before things wear out. People are learning again to say 'No, not today.'"

The trend is evident in where cash registers are ringing, and where they are not.

Wal-Mart, BJ's Wholesale Club and Goodwill thrift shops are thriving, while Saks and Abercrombie & Fitch are struggling. Likewise, as casual dining chains such as O'Charley's and Red Lobster see fewer customers, McDonald's is serving more, including people who have given up $4 Starbucks drinks in favor of the fast-food chain's expanding coffee menu. Even Spam has made a comeback.

Tellingly, Wal-Mart said recently it has seen a 2 percent jump this year in shoppers from households earning at least $65,000. [...]

Economists and consumer experts say it's difficult to predict how long the pullback will last, particularly among generations of consumers who have never seen such a sharp economic downturn.

"This is scary stuff and confidence is such an elusive thing," said Larry Waldman, senior research scientist at the University of New Mexico's Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

Timothy Duy, an economics professor at the University of Oregon, is convinced "the economy is moving away from consumerism." Just how far remains to be seen, but a recent Pew Research Center survey found that more than half of Americans say they have cut back in the past year and about half agreed that people "should learn to live with less."

People are not only buying cheaper, they're buying less, said Joachim Vosgerau, an assistant professor of marketing at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business who specializes in consumer behavior.

"It seems like this trend is only going to continue," Vosgerau said.

Don't you just love being a trendsetter? :-)

People with a single income who are raising children have been practicing the virtue of thrift for some time now. We avoid the mall like the plague (especially in winter, when it seems from the careless hacking of other shoppers that the plague might actually be a possibility), we rarely eat out at any place where you don't shout your order into a little speaker and get asked if you want fries with that, our "secondhand clothes" are first-hand hand-me-downs from the biggest big sister or brother, we scrutinize clearance racks for good deals on well-made items, we check out frugality tips on blogs and websites, we make do and do without.

And quite a few of us are looking for ways to tighten that belt even further, looking over our budgets to trim what wasteful spending has crept in, and reminding ourselves that just because we're standing in a used book store we still have to add up the cost of that armload of tomes before we approach the counter (yes, even if they're friendly people who give their "teacher discount" to homeschool teachers). We know that it's easy to get careless, or to pinch the pennies and forget about the dollars; we back up and reassess and plan and experiment and plan again.

It's not a trend; it's how one-income couples make it in a two-income world. And now that it's suddenly all the rage, we're in the position of the young lady being complimented on her made-over dress, who says, "What, this old thing?" And means it.


Mary Poppins NOT said...

I was thinking the other day that you KNOW you're frugal when it is a splurge to buy new, $10 jeans for your son at Wal-Mart.

Anonymous said...

I was just reflecting (with some pride) on the fact that except for one chair, one shelf, and our bed, all of our furniture was either purchased used, or donated by family members. Our house is decorated in a style called "early in-law."

--Elizabeth B.

LeeAnn said...

I just scored a free tv (only three years old and hardly used) and free loveseat today. I'm not too proud to furnish my house with hand-me-downs! :) Unless it came from IKEA (where we bought the cheapest of everything!) every other piece of furniture in our house came to us free from relatives or friends, or in a couple of cases, nearly free from yard sales (less than $20).

Tony said...

Don't you just love being a trendsetter? :-)

I sure do!

My wife and I have been doing this sort of thing most of our married life.

We discovered a thrift store down the street that serves the homeless population, and I have found a number of bargains, from $1 silk ties (and some of the cute ones like Disney and M&M), all the way to old Catholic Latin missals, CCCs, Douay-Rheims bibles, from $0 to $2.

I buy up all the old Catholic books I can find, and give them as gifts to my orthodox Catholic friends, like the Liturgy of the hours (lauds and vespers) that I got for $1.