American Consumers Are Going To Keep Up Zombie-Like Behavior For The Foreseeable Future

No pressure, but it’s all up to consumers to heat up the U.S. economy which will then help the rest of the world out as well. Unfortunately, we’re all acting a bit sluggish still in our spending.

Reuters says our spending has only grown by 0.2% over the last three and a half years, the weakest ever since before World War II. Even with the good news of an improving job market, wages are going down at the same time, which makes it more likely for money to stay in wallets.

Household debt in relation to disposable personal income is down but still nowhere near the average range from 1970-2000. This kind of worrisome financial atmosphere means consumption will stay down this year and for years to come, says Stephen Roach, non-executive chairman of Morgan Stanley.

“With retrenchment and balance-sheet repair only in its early stages, the zombie-like behavior of American consumers should persist,” he told Reuters.

Zombies are the cool thing in TV and movies these days but that doesn’t mean we should all be shuffling around half-dead. Go buy something, ye undead!


Edit Your Comment

  1. u1itn0w2day says:

    Forgot to mention the sheeple people. Instead of sheep herders you have top 40 prognosticators and pop culture icons. Follow, spend, don’t spend. do this, do that.

  2. Bitingback says:

    Yeah, just go buy more shit that you don’t need. That will make everything bad go away!

    • skitzogreg says:

      I know you’re being sarcastic, but you’d be surprised how buying shit you don’t need is what we need.

      • kouotsu says:

        American’s criticized for being wasteful, Americans criticized for not being wasteful enough. Win-win!

      • Awesome McAwesomeness says:

        Maybe what America needs is to adjust the way it does things so our economy isn’t built on the need for higher and higher dividends each year for corporation stock holders. We need a steady and predictable economy that isn’t built around people buying useless crap that falls apart.I have no clue how to get that, but it is what we need.

        • Dallas_shopper says:

          I agree; I’m not a fan of this consumption-based economy but I don’t see any way out of it. (*Not a trained economist.)

  3. Torchwood says:

    You can’t spend disposable income when you don’t have disposable income. And, one of my resolutions was to set up aside $20 per week so that, come November, I can buy some really nice things for family.

    • Conformist138 says:

      I wish I could find a spare $20/week. None of us at work have had an increase in 5 years. And we only make $9/hr! It was bad 5 years ago, but now minimum wage is lapping at our heels and it’s getting tough to pay the rent, let alone save or spend money on extras.

      My next “big purchase” will be a year’s supply of my dog’s flea meds. It’s a big deal that I have enough money right now to buy 12 months and snag the discount associated with it.

  4. Pete the Geek says:

    You know, I’m *trying* to do my part, but my online shopping spree this morning only netted 1 of the 3 items I tried to buy. This is a paradox in a difficult economy; low stock levels reduce risk but they also mean that when the economy tries to heat up, merchants have to turn away business.

  5. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    I bought a new computer keyboard at the thrift store for $3.74 plus tax. Does that count?

    • Dr. Ned - This underwear is Sofa King Comfortable! says:

      Why do u hate america?

      • lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

        **haz the sads** I don’t hate America, I just don’t have a lot of disposable income. Like very little. Because while prices keep rising, my income has gone down due to stagnant wages and higher insurance costs. My money goes for groceries, keeping my car on the road, utilities, etc. Not much left to stimulate the economy unless I charge a bunch of stuff that I don’t really need.

        I’m hoping 2012 is a better year than last year! (and the keyboard is tons better than the old one – yay!!)

  6. Dr. Ned - This underwear is Sofa King Comfortable! says:

    Maybe if they started increasing quality of goods and services people would consider spending money, but as things are now in our ‘disposable goods’ era everything we purchase we now only expect to get 2-5 years out of. Why make a high dollar investment when we don’t know if we are going to have to purchase it all over again just a few years down the road. My hand crank meat grinder from the 60’s still works excellent today. My crappy non-smartphone that was new in august is already acting up. I’m thinking of introducing the phone to the meat grinder.

  7. duncanblackthorne says:

    Gee, I’m SO SORRY big corporations, is my being on unemployment, and having less than $5 to get me through the month an inconvenience to you? How inconsiderate of me! I’ll just not pay my rent, live in the back of my truck, and enjoy the big-screen TV I’ll buy with the rent money. That make you happier? Never mind that I’ll die of exposure and never be able to get a job, you’ll get your profit so you CEOs can buy a shiny new Porsche this year!


  8. AnonymousCommenter says:

    Trying to consume our way to prosperity does not seem to be sustainable. That is how we got in to the current situation. It’s time to look for a better model.

  9. floyd fan says:

    No raises for three years, while our health insurance goes up by 6%, IL state tax went up by 50%…You tell me why I’m not spending money.

  10. BennieHannah says:

    With all this forced austerity I’m hoping we’re getting to the point where we realize buying new things doesn’t make us happy. There are things I want (a remodeled kitchen for one) and I have the money to buy them, but I’m looking ahead to my future and my children’s future. With so much uncertainty, I can’t justify spending money on wants. In the end, I won’t enjoy a new kitchen more than I enjoy having money in the bank. Sorry economy!

    • Kate says:

      Bummer everyone is taking your adice – NO JOB FOR YOU! You were greedy and wanted to be paid.

    • baquwards says:

      I’m with you, my kitchen needs a facelift (although everything is functional), I’m holding off on that, I’d rather have money in the bank.

  11. brinks says:

    I make less than I made 10 years ago. I los my job in 2010 and haven’t found a damn thing that pays anywhere near what I was making. I can survive, but everything costs much, MUCH more (rent, gas, groceries, utilities, etc.) than the last time I made so little. I’m not alone here, either. How are we supposed to stimulate the economy when we can’t afford anything but the bare necessities?

    • Kate says:

      Don’t you know the economic problems are all the fault of people spending more than they can afford – we must all cut cut cut and magic will happen and rich people will cut so much they can afford to hire a few people and we will all be happy.

    • dvdchris says:

      Ditto. This year I’m making what I made in 1999. Living the new American dream of just getting by.

  12. ancientone567 says:

    People just don’t have the money. I know I don’t. It does not help that all the greedy so called job creators sent those jobs to China. Guess what, now all those people don’t have any money to spend. A….B….C….D…E…F….G now I know my abc’s?

  13. Antigone says:

    When the top 1% take all the economic gains, and squeeze the workers for yet more gains, don’t be surprised if consumer spending doesn’t increase. This is common sense.

  14. DallasM says:

    WAIT… Hold on. Stop for a second. There is a chance, however slight it might be, that American consumers don’t need to hold the weight of the entire world’s economy on our shoulders. Maybe if we act like “zombies” a little while longer, the rest of the world will diversify and stop relying so much on us. That would be good for everyone, including us since we won’t be despised so much by the rest of the world anymore.

    • Kate says:

      Sure, we should let China take over the world and be the big guy from now on. That should make life easier for everyone.

      Then everyone will respect us!

      You gotta be kidding.

  15. BooWeh says:

    how about start paying us living wages first?

    this poster says that we have less money to spend and then flippantly admonishes us to go and spend the less we do have. is she a shill for corporate america?

    Go share the wealth, ye selfish a-holes!

  16. BooWeh says:

    how about start paying us living wages first?

    this poster says that we have less money to spend and then flippantly admonishes us to go and spend the less we do have. is she a shill for corporate america?

    Go share the wealth, ye selfish a-holes!

  17. jp7570-1 says:

    You can’t have it both ways.

    Before the recession, the media carried story afdter story about how high Americans were running up their credit cards and how low their savings accounts were – records in both. Financial experts urged American consumers to save more, pay down our credit cards, and spend responsibly.

    The recession caused us to do exactly that. Many of those still employed paid down or eliminated their credit card balances, increased the amount of money they socked away in their savings accounts, and became more responsible consumers.

    Now we are urged to go back to the way things were pre-recession? It’s as if the banks now own the media outlets (oh wait, they probably do) because they want us spending and charging again.

    I pay off credit cards each month, do not carry a balance, and put money back in my savings account (yeah, I know – a crappy percentage rate less than 1%). A certain amount of consumer spending is good, but we simply should not return to those pre-recession habits.

  18. TasteyCat says:

    Non-executive chairman?

  19. StevePierce says:

    Hey I will start spending money just as soon the banks start loaning money again to small business and home owners.

    I owe no debt except on my house but because I am under water by nearly 200%, I can’t refi so I am stuck with a high interest loan.

    So if you want me and all my neighbors to start spending, figure out a way we can refi our high interest loans. I am not asking anyone to forgive my debt, I am fine paying what I owe, but if I could refi it would cut my Interest in half and then I would have more money to spend to buy stuff and help the economy.

  20. C. Ogle says:

    I’ll be balancing my life on the brink of bankruptcy and homelessness until I win the lottery or die in a gutter somewhere. Sorry that my purchases are not going to improve anybody’s lives other than my own, I’ll have to let the people who have disposable income worry about that kind of thing.

    • brinks says:

      Well said.

      And…same here. I don’t realistically envision getting out of my financial hole in this lifetime.

  21. ARP says:

    We’ve been doing supply side economics for 30 years now, why haven’t the job creators helped us with all their money?


  22. patty says:

    Didn’t retail just have one of the better seasons? Still not happy, here’s a thought, scale back your expectations that middle class will increase its spending on non-essentials.

    Let’s try a new concept. Buy what you TRULY need. Coats, gloves, gas, rent, food.

    I am not a Zombie, I am the freaking middle class, and I don’t have a spare thousand laying around for stupid sh*t. Everything I now buy is necessity, and on extreme sale.

    • Awesome McAwesomeness says:

      This is what happens when the majority gets less and less of the pie as time goes on. There is only so much money to go around. When 99% of us go from getting 70% of the pie, down to 65%, to 58% (current estimate) because the top 1% decides to take it away from us in the form of jobs, lower salaries, and reduced benefits, the economy certainly isn’t going to thrive. When corporations decided to start giving raises and hiring again, then they may see some improvement in their bottom line. But, you have to be willing to give a little if you want to get a little.

  23. CosmosHuman says:

    Food is so damn fucking expensive! $2.43 for a dozen jumbo eggs? 1/2 gal of milk nearly $3.00. Even teepee for my bunghole is expensive…(Beavers and Butt-head).

  24. kataisa says:

    With retrenchment and balance-sheet repair only in its early stages, the zombie-like behavior of American consumers should persist,” he told Reuters.

    Funny. I always thought Americans were “zombies” when they mindless spent money they didn’t have, and were stupidly willing to pay 20% interest for $30 in groceries put on the credit card.

  25. cement406 says:

    Besides spending money only what we need (vs. want), one of the main reasons why my family does not spend more than it could is because of the sales practices, customer service, etc., of many companies. Why would we want to patronize companies that (1) engage in misleading advertising, (2) engage in price gouging, (3) do not stand behind their product or (4) do not express their appreciation for our business? As for examples, I do not know where to start. Just look through the pages of Consumerist and you will find many examples. There are likely many more stories out there. For now, whenever possible my family only patronizes companies that treat do us fairly and do thank us for our business. Maybe when more companies begin respecting their customers and treating them fairly–without making them jump through a bunch of hoops first–then those people with disposable income will spend more.

  26. Michael S. says:

    Is it me ,or am I in dream land. I live in southern California and see people driving brand new cars, trucks that are loaded with all the latest add on’s. The houses are in the $700.000. range and up, I see people in grocery stores with carts loaded to the hilt. Eating out no problem with kids.I go to Costco and see people buying big screen TV’s computers, printers, phones.I don’t know if financial consumption is down I don,t think so. I have a hard time paying my mortage and buying food and paying utilities.

  27. varro says:

    Damned if you do – damned if you don’t.

    Overspending is bad, but underspending is even worse, since you’re not going into debt and giving Morgan Stanley (Discover) merchant fees.

    And people with lower-paying jobs aren’t going to be going out on an orgy of spending – and any spending they do is going to be paying overdue bills and catching up on deferred maintenance on their cars and bodies before buying extra junk – they know that the job will disappear tomorrow if the executives need bigger bonuses.

  28. Renaldow says:

    Obey. Consume. Obey. Consume.

    Give me a frickin’ break! Consumer spending makes the rich richer, and the poor poorer. If you need to buy something, buy it. If you don’t, then don’t. Most of the stuff you buy, you don’t need.

    I love how articles try to compare consumer spending to generations past. Generations past didn’t have multiple credit card bills, as well as cable, internet and cell plans to pay each month.

  29. Jevia says:

    Maybe if companies gave raises and/or bonuses to the workers instead of to their executives or cutting costs to give an extra cent or two per stock for shareholders (who are either rich and don’t need it, or are mutual/401k plans that at least don’t need it now), then maybe the workers would actually have more money to spend.

  30. FrugalFreak says:

    no spending till Wages reach proper levels equal to percentage inflation has risen.

  31. brneyedgrl80 says:

    I’ll be sure to go out and start buying a whole bunch of things I don’t really need while I go on my fifth year of zero wage increase.

  32. CyberSkull says:

    I’d do my part and consume more if I had a job. ;p

  33. CyberSkull says:

    I’d do my part and consume more if I had a job. ;p

  34. HomerSimpson says:

    Blah….all you negative people. Waaa I want a job…waaa I wanna be paid….waa I can’t afford.

    Further evidence how the leader of socialisms has destroyed this country!!!!!


    • The Slime Oozing Out From Your TV Set says:

      Is that leader Reagan, Bush I, or Bush II? :)

      In all seriousness, it’s been creeping in since a bit before Reagan, but nobody in power has wanted to stop the tide, yet, and denial protests don’t seem to do much good.

  35. Saltpork says:

    I think a big part of this is that the rich don’t take us seriously. They continue to profit from us while we continue to fall further behind.

    I’m not going to spend more money than I need to. I’d rather have a financial buffer against hardship than some trinket.

  36. NumberSix says:

    It’s always up to consumers. Consumer confidence is really the only thing that matters. I think it would be an acceptable time for the government to just lie to us if it drove up consumer confidence.

  37. JMH says:

    Wait, this article is satire, right?

  38. ogman says:

    “Even with the good news of an improving job market, wages are going down at the same time, which makes it more likely for money to stay in wallets.”

    That pretty much says it all, doesn’t it. Yet we don’t hear any of the candidates running for office discussing this issue. I would imagine it’s forbidden by their corporate masters.

  39. Alliance to Restore the Republic of the United States of America says:

    How about we erect a guillotine, lop of the lying heads of each corporation and appropriate their salaries as an economic stimulus? That sounds more fair to me than the shake Average Joe got over the last few years.

  40. Alliance to Restore the Republic of the United States of America says:

    And I’m only halfway kidding. We could just use a firing squad and save the money it would cost for the giant head-lopping blade.