Friday, February 1, 2008

Those little decisions that add up…

I was interested today to see that Starbucks has decided to discontinue its hot breakfast sandwiches, in an effort to remediate flagging sales.

This action on the part of Big Cuppa Joe brought to mind the floundering economy. Traffic at U.S. Starbucks fell three percent over the past year, a trend that evidently reflects reduced consumer spending across the board. Retail sales, as we’ve probably all heard by now, came to a screeching halt in December.

So that got me to thinking…until recently, we were all freaked out about spending three bucks for a gallon of gas, but we thought little about spending three bucks for a cup of coffee. Or $1.50 for a pint of water. For water!

In my grandmother’s era—heck, in my mother’s era—such mindless consumption would have been unthinkable. My mother grew up during the Great Depression and World War II. She told tales of catching chickens for the family dinner, canning vegetables, quilting blankets—not for the joy of craft, but for warmth—and peeling the aluminum backs off gum wrappers for the war effort. It was an era of can-do frugality.

Fast forward to the government’s response to the sub prime mortgage mess. Our leaders say they’re giving us a six hundred dollar tax rebate, but they’re not hoping that we’ll save it for our children’s’ college, or pay off debt. They’re hoping that we’ll spend it.

On what? On more coffee, sweaters knit in China, and plasma TVs? Or maybe they’re hoping that we’ll generate another boom, and buy more houses that most people can’t afford. Our whole economic system is evidently a house of cards that rests on the buying habits of spoiled, over-consuming spendthrifts.

I think the whole thing is crazy. And to chip in to the sense that spendin' times, they're a changing, I've taken some action to cut back on my personal consumption (and carbon footprint):

  • I’m telecommuting to work, saving tons of gas.
  • I’m no longer ordering my morning breakfast burrito, at $3.95 per morning (I gave up Starbucks long ago).
  • I get my hair done every four weeks, instead of every three.
  • I have a manicure once a month, instead of once a week.
  • I canceled the newspaper and several magazines, reading almost everything online now

These are all tiny, baby steps, I know. But multiply one person’s effort by two hundred million, and you’re talking real money.

It might just be enough to get the attention of corporate America, to let them know that the American consumer is wising up. We're changing our own profligate ways, and are beginning to reject the corporations that outsource our jobs and then charge us premium prices for inferior goods and services.

We’re mad as hell, and we’re not taking it anymore.

Least of all from ourselves.

How about you? Are you cutting back in any way in light of the recent economic downturn? Any habits changing?


Anonymous said...

My beloved "killer" hobby, is killing me financially. For the past 12 years I've had a booth at an antique co-op. Because everyone is cutting back on their discretionary spending, I've had to put the booth up for sale at 20% off, then 50% off, and now 60% off because--I'm going out of business.

I'm heartsick about this, but I can't continue to operate at a loss (especially now that my official job title is "author" instead of day-job drudge).

Kathryn Lilley said...

Oh, Lorraine, I think that one's beloved hobby should be exempt from discretionary cutbacks! And in fact, many of our hobbies, back in the day, were necessary utilities of living. Quilting, knitting, sewing, cooking, our grandmothers did these out of necessity, not preference.

Elizabeth said...

Those who know when enough is enough will always have enough...Betty in Springfield, MA

Kathryn Lilley said...

Words of wisdom to live by, Elizabeth!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...


So much of life is about the tiny straws that break the camel's back. Like a friend of mine once said, "Elephants don't bite. Fleas do." And those small expenses creep up on us.

Anonymous said...

I agree wholeheartedly with you, Kathryn. I worry about the future of our planet. We want to go to Alaska very much, and talked recently about going sooner since the glaciers are melting.
Due to the recent problems with products made in China, I've become very label-conscious and read where something is made, turning away from many items made there.
Instead of turning on the heat, we curl up in gorgeous handmade quilts and afghans.
Thank goodness we have a light rail train here, so I don't have to drive to work.
Hopefully your blog today will hit home with alot of people and they'll think before automatically doing something they could avoid.

Kathryn Lilley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kathryn Lilley said...

Good points! The place where I work at my day job stopped providing free bottled water, and I suddenly realized I'd started spending $2.00 or so per day on water. And it was particularly funny that I was buying a brand of water named after a South Pacific island. I've actually been to that island, and the water made me sick, lol! Once I stopped and thought about what I was spending, I decided that tap water was fine!

Kris said...

I don't plan to cut back on anything because, not much to cut back on. We live within our means, we save money for several different things every paycheck (401(k), IRA's, mutual funds for next house and car, and we even have a baby fund for whenever that happens.) We never buy something unless we have the money for it in the bank. And..I shop with coupons and watch for rebates and sales. The only thing I can see cutting back on at this point, is the soda I buy on Friday's. Oh, and we have an allowance on what we can spend for ourselves, which is only $60 a month, and that's what I use to by clothes, shoes, hobbies, etc.

Kathryn Lilley said...

You're a good role model, Kris! I will try to emulate your discipline in the new year...

Barrie said...

I've started really paying attention to grocery store ads. I'm talking simple stuff--like buying double the amount of chicken because it's on sale. I'm finding (not that it's mind blowing, by any stretch!) that if I plan out the week's meals, try to use items on sale, and cut back on drive-through, I'm definitely saving. Too bad it's so much work. :)

Camille Minichino said...

Along the same lines, Kathryn, volunteering in the community helps. Not only is it sharing goods and services that already "exist", but— less time to shop for unnecessary items!
There are so many opportunities ... mentoring kids at whatever age we work well with, donating the fruits of our hobbies to good causes. On super Tuesday I'll be working at the polls ... unfortunately there's a Peet's handy, however, and that $3 coffee looms.