Doing without: In this economy, what won't you cut back on?
Mar 13, 2013 (The Pantagraph - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
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BLOOMINGTON -- The recession brought with it a few long-lasting changes to Debbie Brown's spending habits.
To cut back, the Bloomington resident became an expert at coloring her own hair and now cooks more at home to avoid the cost of dining out. But there are some items that will stay off the chopping block.
"I won't ever give up my iPad or the Internet," said Brown. "I have kids in Seattle and Chicago and I do (video conferencing) with them. That's how I communicate."
Like Brown, many Americans have a list of "untouchables."
Those have remained steady during the last five years and include Internet, cell phone, cable or satellite television service, discount shopping for clothing and a hair cut and color, according to results of a recent a survey by Stores Magazine, a publication of the National Retail Federation.
The services run the gamut in terms of pricing. A hair cut can cost $30 or more, while monthly cellphone service can be $40 to more than $100, depending on the carrier and plan.
Kevin Brown, manager for Verizon Wireless, 504 IAA Drive, Bloomington, has seen that trend firsthand. Smartphone devices ranging from $99 to $199 with a service contract are popular items at the shop, which also sells cameras, tablets and other gadgets.
"The evolution has made it to all touch-screen phones; that's what everyone is looking for," said Brown. "We have business people who are working from home and they want to be able to use the devices for teleconferencing."
The survey notes the list of must-haves is slowly expanding, as more consumers gain confidence in the economy and begin to splurge. The magazine's survey of 8,333 consumers found nearly 54 percent of adults said they cut back on items and services during 2012. That's down from the more than three-quarters of respondents who made cuts during 2011.
"Consumers are loosening the grip they've had on their wallets -- though admittedly just slightly," said Susan Reda, Stores editor, in a statement. "What's also evident is that consumers, after several years of practice, are adapting to the 'new normal' of an uncertain economy."
Heather Wynquist of Bloomington is among those spending a bit more now.
"For a long time I didn't have cable, but my fiance insisted we get it so that he could watch games at home," said Wynquist. "Now that we have cable, I feel that we are living with more luxury than we did before."
Another area where consumers are splurging is coffee. In 2011, more than 40 percent of Americans cut back on their cuppa Joe purchases. Now only 29 percent are cutting back on the daily drink, which can range from $2 to $5, depending on the drink and the shop.
The Coffeehouse Deli & Chess Cafe sees regular customers during the first couple hours after opening the shop each day, said Manager Yvonne Wilson. At the shop she saves money by monitoring sales closely so that daily inventories of fresh-brewed coffee and homemade desserts are a match.
"They come in for coffee and a quick bite to eat," said Wilson.
Lisa Barry, a Massachusetts resident visiting friends in the Twin Cities recently, said she began to depend on home-brewed coffee for fuel rather than a daily latte or mocha drink from shops. Now she only purchases the specialty caffeinated drinks several times a week.
"Economic ups and downs have an irrefutable impact on Americans' spending habits that extends well beyond gas and groceries," said Reda.
For Julianne Manley of Ottawa those new habits have remained permanent -- including a reduction in shopping sprees for new outfits.
"I don't spend much on pampering either, like spa visits," said Manley.
The National Retail Federation recently surveyed people on how they have curtailed their spending in the current economy.
Some of the products deemed "untouchable" by respondents included:
Product/service 2012 2011
Internet 80.1% 82.3%
Cellphone 61.4% 67.2%
Cable/satellite 57% 59.6%
shopping 41% 53.2%
Hair cut/color 40% 37.4%
Some products that are "shifting," with declines in the number of people who plan to cut back:
Product/service 2012 2011
Gourmet coffee 28.8% 40.8%
handbag 24.6% 39.8%
New pair of jeans 45% 54.2%
Casual sit down
restaurant 49.1% 54.5%
Department store shopping 39.6% 50%
of shoes 43 .1% 50.8%
SOURCE: Stores Magazine
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