smart spending

Americans giving up former 'necessities'

Cutting back

Pew also asked about nine specific cost-cutting measures and found that at least one in five consumers:
  • Bought less expensive or discount store brands (57 percent).
  • Cut spending on alcohol or cigarettes (28 percent).
  • Reduced or canceled cable or satellite TV (24 percent).
  • Reduced or canceled cell phone service (22 percent).
  • Made plans to plant a vegetable garden (21 percent).
  • Started doing yard work or home repairs they once hired out (20 percent).

Of all those surveyed, 80 percent say they had taken at least one specific step to trim expenses, while nearly 30 percent reduced spending at least four ways. While those hardest hit by the recession have been the most apt to pinch pennies, about 75 percent of all adults with family incomes of $100,000 or more have done at least one thing to economize.

So, is this new frugality here to stay? This live-without mentality has happened before say Nielsen and Solomon, both citing consumers' gas-saving measures when the price of gas goes up and our gas-guzzling ways when gas prices go down.

"Although consumers have downgraded the brands they buy in some categories and they have shifted some behaviors, the jury is still out as to whether this is a relatively permanent change," says Solomon.

American consumers will reframe their outlook when they regain confidence in the economy predicts Nielsen of the University of Georgia's Consumer Research Center: "The longer the current economic uncertainty continues, the more likely it is that consumers will find substitutes for former necessities."

With unemployment now at 10 percent (down from the October high of 10.2 percent, the highest jobless rate since 1983), when that consumer confidence will return is anyone's guess.

Bankrate wants to hear from you: What household items do you now consider a luxury? What's still a necessity? What have you given up or what things do you now do for yourself because of the current economic climate? Drop us a line.

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