October 10, 2008 / 12:26 AM / 9 years ago

Europeans get canny, creative in crisis

<p>"Credit Crunch" chocolates are seen for sale in Selfridges department store, in London in this October 7, 2008 file photo. To match feature FINANCIAL/EUROPEANSStephen Hird/Files</p>

BERLIN (Reuters) - Lukas Schmidt was staring at the alluring photos of white sandy beaches and palm trees on display in the shop window of a Berlin travel agents but sighed and turned away.

"I actually wanted to take my girlfriend to Spain in December, but I think we'll probably end up staying here," said the 27-year-old mechanic.

"I don't think prices have gone up, but with this credit crisis all over the media, it does make you wonder what's going to happen next," he said.

Like Schmidt, many Europeans say they are cutting down on non-essential spending on things like holidays, furniture, clothes and organic food, and trying to save by shopping at DIY and discount stores in the face of the financial turmoil.

But on the other hand, the crisis is creating novel business openings including "credit crunch" chocolate bars and "meltdown parties." And Spanish authorities are finding they can make ends meet by getting tougher on traffic offences.

"There are certain things which I have cut down on -- bottled water for example," said German student Sarah Klaus. "It's scary to think that this credit crisis stuff is now actually influencing the way I live. Occasionally, I used to shop in organic shops, but now I just think of it as a waste of money."

In Spain, media reported many young people were moving back to their parents' homes for financial reasons.

"I had to leave my flat, just when I'd got everything. Now here I am with my parents again," Marc Solsona, a 35-year-old who had just managed to buy a flat near Barcelona when he lost his job as a real estate agent, told El Pais daily.

Some 60 percent of Germans believe the economic outlook will worsen, a recent opinion survey by pollster Forsa said. In France, a BVA poll showed 64 percent of voters had become more pessimistic over their financial situation in recent weeks.

Businesses ranging from luxury retailers to department stores, hotels and charities have started to feel the effect.

In Italy, AIBA, a charity for abandoned children, said worry about the banking system had led to a 20 percent drop in donations for children in orphanages.

Karsten Schulz, director of German online luxury auction house Exklusivwaren, said rich people had already started to cut back on spending before the current crisis hit.

"It's clear that luxury products don't sell as well as they used to," he said.

In Britain, retailer John Lewis reported an 8.3 percent drop in weekly sales on October 3.

MELTDOWN MERCHANDISE

But while many shops and consumers are suffering, others are putting on a brave face, even offering special meltdown deals.

London's Selfridges department store has put "credit crunch" chocolates on sale, while party outfitter PlumParty offers doomsday-chic decorations online, including "Going through hell" paperweights and "make money" coloring books.

"When life gives you a stack of worthless stock certificates, make party hats," the firm says. "For 25 percent off these items, use the coupon code MELTDOWN upon checkout."

<p>Women pass a window display of luxury goods maker Louis Vuitton on the shopping street Via Condotti in central Rome in this October 7, 2008 file photo. To match feature FINANCIAL/EUROPEANSTony Gentile/Files</p>

Several British restaurants offer "credit crunch lunches" at special discounts. And money-conscious diners near the English town of Norfolk can barter home-grown produce for beer at a pub.

"Last week, someone brought in a pumpkin, which we used for our pumpkin and ginger soup," Rachel Callister, assistant manager at the rural pub, The Pigs in Edgefield, told Reuters.

"They came in for a meal. They'd grown a few pumpkins, and they got some money knocked off their meal," she said, adding game, apples, and lavender were among other items the pub had accepted as part-payment.

But Europeans also seem to be eating out less.

Around three in four working people in Britain take lunch to work at least once a week, a recent BBC Good Food survey showed. One third said they did this more often now than six months ago, with most naming the economic climate as the reason.

BOOM FOR SAFES, BICYCLES?

Slideshow (4 Images)

Europeans' concerns about banks and personal finances could also benefit firms selling security devices and no-frills goods.

Specialist companies in Paris have recorded booming sales of safes. Solon, which has been in the safe-making trade since 1920, said it had seen a more than 30 percent rise over past weeks since the collapse of investment bank Lehman Brothers.

"People are clearly saying that they are scared, that they want to empty their coffers, transform their money into gold or pick up their old Napoleons (gold coins) and tuck it all away in a safe," said Hugo Gervaise, salesman at Solon.

"It goes from CEOs to your average Joe," he said.

Environmentalists hope money-conscious Europeans will also swap their high-cost cars for bicycles to save money.

With petrol more expensive, the sale of bicycle parts in Germany rose by some 20 percent earlier this year, said Karsten Klama from the ADFC cycling association.

"People got their old bikes out of the cellar and had them fixed," he said, adding he did not rule out the financial crisis turning more money-conscious Germans into cyclists.

"However, I doubt the car would be the first thing Germans will give up. They'd probably rather cut down on food first."

Spain's traffic police are fighting back by issuing more fines. Faced with falling revenues from vehicle-licensing fees as new car sales plummet, the service's head Pere Navarro told Congress he expected fines to rise 15 percent this year due to increased use of speed radars and better processing of offences.

"That should balance our budget," Navarro said.

But Paris filmmaker David Dusa was unconcerned. Being relatively poor in the first place, he had little to lose.

"I'm pretty broke and have no investments so I'm not that worried," said the 29-year-old. "That said, stocks have fallen so low, so maybe now's the time to buy a few."

Additional reporting by Josie Cox in Berlin, Eva Kuehnen, Sarah Marsh in Frankfurt, Jason Webb in Madrid, Stephen Brown in Rome, Elizabeth Pineau, Brian Rohan in Paris; Editing by Sara Ledwith

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