Newly Frugal Behavior Is Permanent, Say Some Consumers

A new study says that 26% of US consumers “have no plans to return to their free-spending ways,” which probably doesn’t sound like good news to retailers. Even worse (for retailers), about a third say they’ve become less loyal.

Of course, what you plan on doing and what you end up doing may change quite a bit if there’s enough marketing aimed at you, and this sounds a lot like shoppers throwing down the gauntlet to retailers.

“Many U.S. consumers turn permanently tight-fisted: survey” [Reuters]
(Photo: Lee Nachtigal)


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  1. dragonfire81 says:

    “A new study says that 26% of US consumers “have no plans to return to their free-spending ways…”

    …until credit cards and loans are once again super easy to come by. Most people don’t become frugal by choice, they become frugal because it’s the only way for them to get by.

    • Burning pakalolo not even noticing the weather says:
    • jblack says:


      Did you ever meet someone that lived during the great depression? Many of them are very frugal. They got hurt badly enough that they never, ever, forgot the lesson, even after it no longer applied to them.

      This economic event is the second only to the great depression which, if you use unadjusted unemployment as a guide, were 3/5 of the way to.

      • coren says:

        @jblack: While I see your point, those are also, for the most part, people who grew up in that environment. Most people who were adults in that time period are dead. Changing behavior is a lot different from learning it as a child.

      • laughingisfree says:


        Not to nitpick, but this economic event would be the third not the second. 1981-1982 had around 8% unemployment rate and a 13% inflation rate. What we’re at is around 10% unemployment with 0% inflation.

    • bohemian says:

      @dragonfire81: I was uber frugal in my years as a starving student, starving artist. I went back to many of my old habits. What I have seen in the last maybe 5-6 years is that the entire system is a complete ruse, there is no job security and we are way too much at the mercy of big companies and employers whims. Our infrastructure is also really unreliable and that has been proven in that same time frame. Gas prices are unstable and where I live there is no alternate transportation. I can’t even catch a train to get out of town.

      Too many past assumptions I had about the country, economy and my own financial situation have been proven false. I’m not going back. This isn’t a matter of temporary belt tightening. Maybe it helps that my parents grew up in the great depression?

    • Jevia says:

      @dragonfire81: Depends. With the new credit card protections going in, credit may never be quite as easy as it was. I know I’m even canceling a card because they are instituting a yearly fee of $50. The card only had a limit of $2,000 anyway, so its not like I’m losing much and the credit hit should be minimal.

  2. vladthepaler says:

    I don’t think “permanent” can be taken too seriously in this context. How many people, the morning after getting hammered, say they’re never going to drink that much again, and they do it anyway…

  3. morningface says:

    We can only hope. It would probably mean longer recession-like symptoms, but on the whole, I think the national economy would be on much more stable footing in the long term if people continued to be more responsible with their money.

  4. pb5000 says:

    Is this being positioned as a bad thing? I for one am pretty happy about it. It is nice to see an entire culture of people changing to a more responsible form of behavior.

    • ARP says:

      @pb5000: Yes, but such a large part of our economy is now based on our irresponsible ways, that it will have a short term impact on our economy. Long term (if people keep it up), I think it will help. The problem is that it probably won’t last long term.

  5. Paladin_11 says:

    What? Not spend? Why, that’s un-American! Don’t you know the well being of the world depends on YOUR profligate behavior? If you don’t spend like there’s no tomorrow, the world will end in 2012!


  6. tailstoo says:

    …until the new MUST HAVE 3D LCD TVs come out – then all bets are off!

  7. Taint_Too_Proud_To_Beg says:

    Now that many of us know what it’s like to be laid off when it seemed IMPOSSIBLE to those of us who work hard and had bosses that were very happy with our work and appreciated us, I prefer the satisfaction of no debt to buying a bunch of crap. I still like to shop but am far more selective than before, and savings are now imperative to me.

  8. outlulz says:

    Oh please. Wait until there’s another bubble and all everyone repeats the same mistakes they made this time. Do people think this is the first recession?

    • Duke_Newcombe-Making children and adults as fat as pigs says:

      @outlulz: “It’s happened before…and it will happen again.”

      Sorry…was that a bit too Cylon-ey?

  9. R3PUBLIC0N says:

    I just got out of college and snagged a 46K a year IT job starting Monday. I’d say my frugal ways might just shift a little freeward myself.

  10. Michael Belisle says:

    Yeah! Just like how we now have a permanent Democratic majority. And if Washington DC gets a representative, it’s seriously game over forever.

    Oh and how in 2007 finance had solved the problem of housing busts. We were in a permanent economic boom back then, you know, just as we were during the the permanent economic boom in the 90s.

    And how by 2042, we’ll have a hispanic majority in America. Cause nothing between now and then will slow the influx. Nothing!

    *sigh* Why is so much attention paid to such short-sighted future predictions?

  11. MostlyHarmless says:

    Yeeeeahhh sounds just like all those times I (honestly and sincerely) swore that I will procrastinate less next time, and that I’ll start my assignments sooner, and that I’ll start preparing sooner for the next mid term.

    Does. Not. Happen.

    Sure, there will be a certain % who do not go back to buying stuff willy nilly. Good for them. Most of them however will go back to buying stuff, but they will be less likely to overspend or buy excessive crap they do not need. Some others however will just return to their old ways as soon as they are out of this particular hole.

    However, I think the biggest permanent effect will be felt on those who just were entering the real world as the crisis was taking over. They are more likely to be more circumspect with their spending long into the future. Especially if they saw what happened to the near-retirees who now cannot retire.

    Others… unless their portfolios were permanently damaged, they will slowly drift to their old ways.

  12. Triterion says:

    Nowadays its a matter of pride to say you have no debt. I don’t think that will change for a dozen or so years, I hope not anyway!

  13. donjumpsuit says:

    Cheaper stuff for the rest of us!

  14. IamBort says:

    I would expect many to restrain spending for a while, once things get better and the sentiment of prosperity is in the air, most will likely return to their old habits, its just a matter of time, fundamental character change doesn’t happen unless someone consciously makes that choice, instead of having the economy make it for them.

  15. michigan2cv says:

    So now it makes more sense than ever to buy quality products that will last, not because they’re on sale at Mall Wart.

  16. MJDickPhoto says:

    Well, sorry to sound pessimistic about this, but that’s about silly sounding. Remember the people that were burning their SUVs as they couldn’t pay for gas? Then once the fuel price dropped back to half of what it was, what happened? Over half of the people that were upset with their gas-gusslers went right back to a inefficient vehicle. I’ve come to the belief that over 75% of us Americans have the memory and attention span of a canary. I’ve scrimped and saved for 20 years now to buy a house, and I plan on putting down a 50% to 75% down payment on the house when I find it, not relying on my credit to back me and never gamble on what the market may do. I think that if more of us would be self reliant and never buy what we can’t pay for in CASH, we could bail this country out quicker. (and my credit is over the 800 mark by doing this)

  17. SadSam says:

    We’ve changed the way we spend money (did this back in 2007) such that we don’t use credit card, we have no debt except for our mortgage, and we use a spending plan/allowance system. Do we spend less money? Not that much less, we just spend it differently, like last year I bought a car but I saved up and bought it with cash (and it is a nice car). We take vacations and travel, but again we save up and we set a budget.

    I am actually more loyal to companies and shops that treat me well, I will gladly pay more for goods at my local Mom and Pop store where the clerk knows my name and knows what I there to buy. Sadly, most of the big comnpanies, with the exception of Nordstrom, seem to be treating me worse so I have less loyalty for them.

  18. AdvocatesDevil says:

    Am I the only person on here who did NOT spend the last decade spending money like a drunken sailor on leave?? Who bought a house he could actually afford? Who didn’t run up big credit card debts? Seriously?

    • katia802 says:

      @AdvocatesDevil: Nah, I’m in the same boat. Found out about them giving mortgages to dead people long after it all ended. Sigh, me and my cheapskate ways, i’m always late for the parade I guess.

  19. StarVapor says:

    Pragmatism, Wants vs Needs…
    The new found reduction in free spending ways is something that should have been realized by the populace way long ago.
    What this really says, is that some of of us are ahead of the curve in realizing what resourcefulness is about, because we probably don’t need 30-40% or more of the useless crap that is purchased.
    We have all been suckers of the seductive psychology of advertising that brainwashes the populace into actually believing they want something they don’t need.
    This consumption model doesn’t bid well with sucking up the earth’s resources vs surviving the overpopulation equation.

  20. East_Coast_Midwesterner says:

    I am one of the fortunate that had a good job and actually got a better job in this craptastic environment. My income increased 30% overnight. I coupled this with a 33% decreased in rent ([by getting a roommate] Boston is expensive living solo).

    It is a freaking windfall. I have lived no different and opened some online savings accounts but pretend the money does not exist. I hope to keep putting it away. Hopefully the banks will use my savings to lend and increase the money supply.

    Meanwhile, I will continue to return cans for the Nickel and purchase whatever is on sale.

  21. bishophicks says:

    Some people will return to their free spending ways, but there are several factors that will keep spending in check:

    1 – Many people are unable to ramp up spending due to job loss or pay cut.

    2 – In the same way that homeowners felt rich when housing prices were increasing rapidly, they will feel poor as their home equity continues to evaporate. There is a huge percentage of people who are upside-down on their mortgages. People aren’t going to go out and buy jewel encrusted clown noses when they owe the bank 50K more than their house is worth. And that situation is going to last.

    3 – With the blow to housing prices and 401ks, working people will need to boost their savings to repair household balance sheets/retirement savings.

    4 – The next generation is learning their lesson, too. There are millions of kids whose families are currently going through foreclosures and bankruptcies. They are having to move, leave schools and friends, and participate as their families cut back on everything. For anyone experiencing this directly or indirectly, their spending habits and attitude towards debt will be affected for decades to come.

    The above is why I don’t believe anything like a robust recovery is coming any time soon. The consumer (70-ish percent of the economy) is tapped out, unemployed, having credit lines cut, still losing home equity, needs to boost savings, etc. If consumer spending stays flat or only increases slightly, it will be next to impossible for the remaining 30% of the economy to create the sustained 3% or higher GDP growth we need to bring the unemployment rate down.

  22. CountryChick says:

    I was raised in a conservative family, ergo, I developed financial habits that have me feeling very grateful in today’s economic mess. My spouse & I don’t claim to be above a spending spree from time to time, but they are few and far between, and only when bills are paid and there is a substantial emergency fund at hand.

    Exploring different ways to keep more of our earnings is a practice that I have come to enjoy as a game – a proposition that is win/win for us.

    We use credit cards, and will take advantage of a “6 mos. no interest same as cash” promotion in a heartbeat, but when the date arrives to pay up or pay interest, the amount is paid in full.

    I hope that after the economy has stabilized, many will indeed come to realize that “things” are not what is really important for happiness, and will come to be at ease and enjoy a simpler and less expensive lifestyle.