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A Race to Keep Up With the Tightwads

A Race to Keep Up With the Tightwads
By Ylan Q. Mui, Washington Post, June 5, 2009
In these recessionary times, people like Seigrid Walker are no longer concerned about keeping up with the Joneses. Now the goal is to fall far behind them.
The 33-year-old lawyer from Mitchellville once regaled her friends with tales of shopping sprees at Nordstrom and circulated photos of Caribbean vacations with her husband. Now she tells her girlfriends about staying home for pizza night with the kids. (They watch “Madagascar.” Over and over again.) If people know that she can no longer afford to get her hair done every few weeks, who cares?
“If they notice, it’s like, ‘Phew, I’m not the only one,'” Walker said. “There’s a certain camaraderie with everyone understanding that everything is tight.”
The recession has changed the conversation in America. As the era of conspicuous consumption fades along with our 401(k)s, people are clamoring for caps on executive pay and recoiling at the idea of bosses cavorting at expensive spas.
At play dates and happy hours, friends are swapping recipes instead of making restaurant reservations. Teenagers are skipping flashy block-long limos and showing up to prom in minivans. Coupons has become a more popular search term than Britney Spears on Google.
Instead of feeling self-conscious about spending less, people are flaunting their frugality. Both those who have lost income, such as Walker, and those who simply fear they may become at risk are part of the new discourse.
“Something very deep has changed in the American psyche,” said Dan Ariely, a professor of behavioral economics at Duke. “The recession basically woke us up.”
That change was in painful evidence yesterday when luxury retailer Saks reported May sales were down nearly 27 percent from a year ago and Nordstrom said its fell 13 percent. Abercrombie and Fitch, which has been reluctant to lower prices, was down 28 percent. Overall, sales fell 4.6 percent at U.S. chain stores, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.
According to a recent telephone survey of 1,000 people that Ariely conducted for Bank of America, about 80 percent of those surveyed said they are more conscious of spending now than at the beginning of the year. A Gallup poll in April showed 59 percent of Americans enjoy saving money, compared with 48 percent in April 2001. The percentage of people who said they enjoyed spending money dropped to 37 percent in April from 45 percent in 1991.
Such large numbers have helped normalize a new, more thrifty pattern of consumer behavior, Ariely said. In other words, being cheap has become socially acceptable.
Sarah Morgan said she didn’t mind showing up at the Loudoun Valley High School senior prom in her mom’s Dodge Caravan. The 18-year-old and her friends considered a limo but quickly dismissed the idea once they realized it would cost $45 to $60 a person.
“Some people were like, ‘Oh wow, you came in a van, that’s cool,'” Morgan said. “Everyone is cutting back, and it’s an easier way to get to someplace.”
The same mindset has helped turn consignment sales into a main topic of conversation during Gina Lincicum’s moms club meetings.
Loathe to attend events with paid tickets, they alert one another to free family outings. E-mail chains now share cheap crockpot recipes for summer. So many people have asked Lincicum for her homemade pizza recipe–as much as $20 cheaper than delivery–that she posted it on her blog, Moneywise Mom.
People now idolize women like Stephanie Nelson, one of the new rock stars of the recession. Nicknamed The Coupon Mom, she retains a publicist and has appeared on The Early Show, The Today Show and Oprah since the downturn began. Traffic to her Web site tripled in 2008 and is up 67 percent this year. At another popular Web site, The Coupon Clippers, members brag about their latest gets on a Facebook fan page and bulletin board:
“I once bought a $40 sweater for 74 cents from the sale rack.”
“I bought $73.00 worth of groceries for $6.00 last week and $180.00 for $35 this week!! LOVE IT!”
“It amazes me when people act like they are above using a coupon. Whatever. Go ahead and pay those prices!”
Coupon Clippers founder Rachael Woodard marvels at the change that has come over Americans as the era of spend-it-all has receded into the age of save-what-you can. Many of her new members are not financially imperiled. Some even report six-figure salaries, she said.
“You had to get around a certain crowd to talk about how much you saved or didn’t spend because you would be called cheap,” Woodard said. “Now it’s okay to talk about it.”
Pamela Thompson, 38, of Leesburg said she got the bug after girlfriend Lindsay Coursen raved about slashing her grocery bill to $100 a month for a family of four. Thompson’s bill was closer to $1,500 for her husband and three kids–even as the family’s investments have taken a hit, and several of her friends have lost their jobs.
“I was like, Lindsay, you have to tell me about this,” Thompson said.
Now the women trade tips and share them with other friends and family. They can get competitive, particularly during a sale. Thompson said has raced to the supermarket when she has heard of a deal–only to find that Coursen has been there and depleted the stock.
“That drives me crazy,” Thompson said. “I tell her I’m going to go at six in the morning . . . and wipe all the shelves before her, just once.”
For those who have long been thrifty, the savings craze represents a vindication of sorts.
Stephanie Blackshear, 41, of Dumfries said her husband has laughed at her penny-pinching ways for years. On a recent morning, she walked the halls of Potomac Mills, checking prices and taking advantage of a free kids’ concert at the mall for her 3-year-old daughter, Madison. She refuses to buy anything that’s not marked down. Her cousins, her in-laws, even parents of the kids in the basketball team her husband coaches–all have turned to her for money-saving advice.
“How can you shop right now when the economy is so bad?” Blackshear recalled them asking. “I said, you should’ve been listening to me all those years. You would have some money in your pocket.”
By Ylan Q. Mui, Washington Post, June 5, 2009
In these recessionary times, people like Seigrid Walker are no longer concerned about keeping up with the Joneses. Now the goal is to fall far behind them.
The 33-year-old lawyer from Mitchellville once regaled her friends with tales of shopping sprees at Nordstrom and circulated photos of Caribbean vacations with her husband. Now she tells her girlfriends about staying home for pizza night with the kids. (They watch “Madagascar.” Over and over again.) If people know that she can no longer afford to get her hair done every few weeks, who cares?
“If they notice, it’s like, ‘Phew, I’m not the only one,'” Walker said. “There’s a certain camaraderie with everyone understanding that everything is tight.”
The recession has changed the conversation in America. As the era of conspicuous consumption fades along with our 401(k)s, people are clamoring for caps on executive pay and recoiling at the idea of bosses cavorting at expensive spas.
At play dates and happy hours, friends are swapping recipes instead of making restaurant reservations. Teenagers are skipping flashy block-long limos and showing up to prom in minivans. Coupons has become a more popular search term than Britney Spears on Google.
Instead of feeling self-conscious about spending less, people are flaunting their frugality. Both those who have lost income, such as Walker, and those who simply fear they may become at risk are part of the new discourse.
“Something very deep has changed in the American psyche,” said Dan Ariely, a professor of behavioral economics at Duke. “The recession basically woke us up.”
That change was in painful evidence yesterday when luxury retailer Saks reported May sales were down nearly 27 percent from a year ago and Nordstrom said its fell 13 percent. Abercrombie and Fitch, which has been reluctant to lower prices, was down 28 percent. Overall, sales fell 4.6 percent at U.S. chain stores, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.
According to a recent telephone survey of 1,000 people that Ariely conducted for Bank of America, about 80 percent of those surveyed said they are more conscious of spending now than at the beginning of the year. A Gallup poll in April showed 59 percent of Americans enjoy saving money, compared with 48 percent in April 2001. The percentage of people who said they enjoyed spending money dropped to 37 percent in April from 45 percent in 1991.
Such large numbers have helped normalize a new, more thrifty pattern of consumer behavior, Ariely said. In other words, being cheap has become socially acceptable.
Sarah Morgan said she didn’t mind showing up at the Loudoun Valley High School senior prom in her mom’s Dodge Caravan. The 18-year-old and her friends considered a limo but quickly dismissed the idea once they realized it would cost $45 to $60 a person.
“Some people were like, ‘Oh wow, you came in a van, that’s cool,'” Morgan said. “Everyone is cutting back, and it’s an easier way to get to someplace.”
The same mindset has helped turn consignment sales into a main topic of conversation during Gina Lincicum’s moms club meetings.
Loathe to attend events with paid tickets, they alert one another to free family outings. E-mail chains now share cheap crockpot recipes for summer. So many people have asked Lincicum for her homemade pizza recipe–as much as $20 cheaper than delivery–that she posted it on her blog, Moneywise Mom.
People now idolize women like Stephanie Nelson, one of the new rock stars of the recession. Nicknamed The Coupon Mom, she retains a publicist and has appeared on The Early Show, The Today Show and Oprah since the downturn began. Traffic to her Web site tripled in 2008 and is up 67 percent this year. At another popular Web site, The Coupon Clippers, members brag about their latest gets on a Facebook fan page and bulletin board:
“I once bought a $40 sweater for 74 cents from the sale rack.”
“I bought $73.00 worth of groceries for $6.00 last week and $180.00 for $35 this week!! LOVE IT!”
“It amazes me when people act like they are above using a coupon. Whatever. Go ahead and pay those prices!”
Coupon Clippers founder Rachael Woodard marvels at the change that has come over Americans as the era of spend-it-all has receded into the age of save-what-you can. Many of her new members are not financially imperiled. Some even report six-figure salaries, she said.
“You had to get around a certain crowd to talk about how much you saved or didn’t spend because you would be called cheap,” Woodard said. “Now it’s okay to talk about it.”
Pamela Thompson, 38, of Leesburg said she got the bug after girlfriend Lindsay Coursen raved about slashing her grocery bill to $100 a month for a family of four. Thompson’s bill was closer to $1,500 for her husband and three kids–even as the family’s investments have taken a hit, and several of her friends have lost their jobs.
“I was like, Lindsay, you have to tell me about this,” Thompson said.
Now the women trade tips and share them with other friends and family. They can get competitive, particularly during a sale. Thompson said has raced to the supermarket when she has heard of a deal–only to find that Coursen has been there and depleted the stock.
“That drives me crazy,” Thompson said. “I tell her I’m going to go at six in the morning . . . and wipe all the shelves before her, just once.”
For those who have long been thrifty, the savings craze represents a vindication of sorts.
Stephanie Blackshear, 41, of Dumfries said her husband has laughed at her penny-pinching ways for years. On a recent morning, she walked the halls of Potomac Mills, checking prices and taking advantage of a free kids’ concert at the mall for her 3-year-old daughter, Madison. She refuses to buy anything that’s not marked down. Her cousins, her in-laws, even parents of the kids in the basketball team her husband coaches–all have turned to her for money-saving advice.
“How can you shop right now when the economy is so bad?” Blackshear recalled them asking. “I said, you should’ve been listening to me all those years. You would have some money in your pocket.”

Comments»

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