Japan's frugal housewives tighten their belts

Tue Dec 9, 2008 8:23pm EST
 
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By Isabel Reynolds

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's homemakers have made an art of living frugally in one of the world's most expensive countries, and they are now pruning spending further as the economy plunges into what could be a long recession.

For many of Japan's 17 million homemakers, managing household finances on their husband's salary, averaging about 270,000 yen a month (about $2900), is already a struggle.

As layoffs spread, consumer confidence has nosedived. Household spending, which makes up more than half the economy, dropped 3.8 percent in October, sparking a vicious cycle that is hurting retailers and will likely put more jobs at risk.

Asuka Suzuki, 27, who lives with her husband on the northern island of Hokkaido, says keeping monthly food spending to 19,000 yen ($205) a month, about a third of the national average for two people, requires meticulous planning and discipline.

"I do sometimes feel a bit down because I can't buy clothes, go traveling or take up any expensive hobbies," Suzuki said in an e-mail interview. "But I have a goal, which is to buy a house some day, so I just keep on trying."

Before setting out food shopping, she searches the Internet for bargains at all the local supermarkets, makes an inventory of the contents of her refrigerator and puts together a weekly menu.

Only then does she tuck the minimum necessary cash into her wallet -- no credit cards -- and, weather permitting, heads out on her bicycle to the supermarket.

Suzuki is just one of the hundreds of housewives featured in "Sutekina Okusan" or "Lovely Wife," a monthly magazine offering recipes and tips for the budget-conscious, from switching off the TV to save on electricity, to re-using water after rinsing rice.   Continued...

 
<p>A woman shops at a discount store in Kawasaki, south of Tokyo, December 5, 2008. Japan's homemakers have made an art of living frugally in one of the world's most expensive countries, and they are now pruning spending further as the economy plunges into what could be a long recession. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao</p>