Americans cut back, but permanent thrift elusive

Thu Dec 11, 2008 6:00am EST
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By Andrea Hopkins

CINCINNATI (Reuters) - Single mother Kelly Dukes has lost her house, her car and her salary, but rather than curse the U.S. recession, the Cincinnati mom said she's grateful to have learned a whole new way to live.

"Now I understand the difference between want and need," said Dukes, 27, as she shopped for a pared-down Christmas for her 3-year-old daughter at discount retailer Target.

"I used to go shopping every other day ... but now I know I don't need the same pair of shoes in three different colors," said Dukes, who worked at a nonprofit organization helping children until it lost funding and couldn't pay her salary.

"Even though a recession is hard on people, I think maybe it'll shake a lot of people up and force them to think and educate their kids -- even if you want something, you can't always have it, and it's not important anyway."

Spending less, saving more and eschewing consumerism were out of fashion just a year ago in America, where "more" often means "better," but the loss of 1.3 million jobs in three months, foreclosures on millions of homes and the prospect of a deep recession has made thrift the new mainstream.

Dukes has cut her expenses by using public transportation, buying store brands instead of name-brand goods, looking for sales and simply buying fewer things. She moved from a huge house to a small apartment, changed to a cheaper day-care and has pledged to save more money for the next emergency.

These signs of change, backed by economic data showing U.S. consumers buying less and saving more, have excited David Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values, a New York-based think tank.

"The way of thinking about money that has characterized most of us Americans for the past several decades, a debt-oriented way of thinking, spending more than we earn ... that way of thinking has come to an end," said Blankenhorn, whose 2008 book, "Thrift: A Cyclopedia," was dreamed up when the idea was a quaint throwback but published just as Americans started talking about clipping coupons again.   Continued...

<p>Colis Mayor looks for clothes at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen service center, where hundreds of people receive food and supplies everyday, in Detroit, Michigan, December 9, 2008. REUTERS/Carlos Barria</p>