Author Ashley Ludwig's Recession Home

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Stuff We Can Live Without…part 1

Twitter used to be my “Office Water Cooler” as a remote employee.

Now, it’s my get away. My contact with the outside world. With humans that are working. I desperately need a mobile device so that I can stay up to date while on play dates, picking up, dropping off, and doing those other things that “stay at home moms” do — because near as I can tell, staying at home isn’t one of them!

Now, @rachellegardner has shared this article I’m about to share with you — and it makes me pause. I’m doing at least 75% of these, and did in the whole “lay-off preparation” month… how many are YOU doing?

NOTE – my commentary is above each item in bold. Would be very curious to see your thoughts, as well…

What do you really need?

It’s become a national question. With jobs and money scarce, consumers are taking inventory and tossing lots of stuff once deemed important into a humongous discard pile. To safeguard the essentials–a safe home and supportive community, the kids’ education, Internet connectivity, sustenance for a pet–Americans are giving up lots of other things. Some sacrifices are painful; others bring surprise benefits.

To gauge America’s changing priorities, I synthesized market research, business trends, economic data, and reports from hundreds of consumers into a list of things that many people seem to be significantly cutting back on, or living without completely. Here are 21 of them:

[Slide Show: 21 Things We’re Learning to Live Without.]

The only thing we’re paying off monthly, is the car. Poor hubby desperately needs a new one. Gotta wait!

Monthly payments. Old mentality: I don’t care about the price, as long as I can borrow to pay for it and I have enough income to cover the monthly payment. New mentality: I’ve already got too much debt, and the banks won’t lend me the money anyway. Result: More cash purchases and a lot less financing of cars, furniture and other costly items. “The era of unbridled, debt-financed consumer spending is over, and the monthly payer is out of action,” Eric Janszen, president of iTulip, a finance-advisory firm, wrote in Harvard Business Review last year.

Window shopping has always been my thing. Ever since I married my DH – the act of buying hasn’t been nearly as much fun. After kids, it became an escape. Now – it’s due to abject terror of above “Monthly Payment.”

Window shopping. Browsing used to be an acceptable pastime. But consumers have discovered that window shopping encourages them to buy tons of stuff they don’t need. So now, they’re shopping only when necessary, making a list and sticking to it, or skipping the mall in favor of online sites, where temptations are weaker. “I no longer spend a day at the mall when I’m bored,” says Debby Abrams of Rising Sun, Ind. “I don’t buy, rebuy, and rebuy again: Buy a lamp, buy one I like better and put the first one in the basement, then buy a third one and put the second one in the basement.”

[See 4 Things That Could derail a Recovery.]

Those of you who know me know that I have YET to get either a cell phone that can handle FaceBook, Twitter, etc. or an e-reader, even though I write e-books.

Bells and whistles. The technology arms race is slowing, with consumers gravitating to simpler gizmos like Netbooks, prepaid cellphones, and older, used electronics. Shaving features is obviously a way to save money, but some users also find the simpler devices a relief. “My cellphone is back to being just a phone and not my connection to the rest of the world via texting or the Web,” says Dorothy Robson of Durham, N.C. “Simplicity is definitely the new thing. Now if we can get the government to be frugal, that would be great!”

Clutter patrol is a biggie over here. I lament the loss of my housekeeper as I scrub tile grout. Now, this is an idea I can learn from as soon as my edits are finished. Look for stuff sell online. I certainly buy enough looking for online deals!

Clutter. As Americans downsize, do more of their own cleaning, and look for stuff they can sell online, they’re discovering tons of things around the house they can get rid of. After Russ and Deborah Merchant of Delaware, Ohio, moved into a smaller rental home in 2007, they dug out hundreds of items they had never used and didn’t need. For a year, they gave away more stuff than they purchased. “We keep being amazed at how having less stuff, with no deprivation, actually gives us better quality of life,” says Deborah Merchant. “We’ve gained emotional and spiritual maturity.”

[Has cutting back made your life better? Tell us how: flowchart@usnews.com.]

This is one my hubby won’t budge on. We get DirectTV, and football, baseball packages are his getaway. Can’t ask him to cut back there unless I cut back on my hair. WON’T HAPPEN. See above, look for stuff to sell. Must pay for hair. That is all.

Cable TV. Many people are cutting back on pay-TV services or canceling them altogether, which saves $50 to $100 a month. As a replacement, some viewers watch free programs on Hulu or YouTube or make do with broadcast TV. Others are giving up television completely. “There’s no money for cable TV, so my Internet does me for all my news and other entertainment,” says Mariluna Martin of Los Angeles. “That’s money saved, plus no TV means no blaring of bad news, fear-mongering, ad pressures, and other unpleasantness.” Martin spends more time reading books and sipping tea at a neighborhood café. She finds that rewarding: “The changes I’ve had to make have made my life better. Things are simpler and healthier now.”

Point of current conversation. COULD we reduce our costs by getting rid of the $80 a month phone bill? Could I get a better cell phone with no home phone? Who actually calls us on the home phone anyway? Hmmm. If it could help hubby get baseball package, perhaps we’ll say bye bye to the land line…

A home phone. How many phones do you need, anyway? With cellphones ubiquitous, the home unit is becoming redundant. Internet voice services like Skype and magicJack slash the cost of calls but still provide most of the services that are available through the phone lines. Many people are reducing their cellphone service as well. Kathy Bowman of Joseph, Ore., figures she’s saving about $800 per year since she replaced her cellphone with a prepaid Tracfone she mainly reserves for emergencies. Canceling a fax line to her home saves another $120 per year.

Angels and ministers of grace, defend us! Privacy isn’t one we’re ready to give up on. The worst case scenario would be we give up the house, put everything in storage or sell it (gulp!), and move to Arizona or Arkansas. Um. See again, gulp.  God, help us. ON THE BRIGHT SIDE… we are sharing vacations with friends. Going to jam mountain cabins and beach condos with family and friends… I’m willing to sacrifice some privacy for some fun… DON’T Even want to think about the other. Yet.

Privacy. Got room on the couch? To save on rent or mortgage payments, roommates are doubling up and grown kids are moving back in with their parents. Mark Hamister of Elyria, Ohio, says privacy is one of the many things he’s given up as two of his grown daughters have moved back home, bringing boyfriends, pets–and a granddaughter. But he’s not complaining. “We have learned to enjoy a simple, cost-effective, and minimalist approach to life by developing an appreciation for nature and family,” he says. “Big, expensive toys and trips were fun before, but we really don’t need them anymore.”

[See 17 Ways Consumers Are Changing.]

On FaceBook the other day I made mention that I was going on strike to watch Julie and Julia. It renewed my faith in two things. Mommy Quiet Time and Cooking. I’ve been cooking ever since. I love to bake. I love to cook. Prepared foods are what Julia Childs fought against! So, yes, I’m up for this.

Prepared foods. More people are cooking at home, and they’re doing it with fewer premade sauces, marinades, dressings, and other ingredients. “Moms are back to basic cooking,” says Chance Parker, a market researcher at J.D. Power & Associates. “They want to use fresh herbs and spices. It saves money, and it’s more healthy.” Patricia Tremblay of Dayton, Ohio, has given up her microwave as she’s cut back over the last two years. She now cooks instead of zapping a premade entrée. “I’ve traded convenience for choice and done well, with the added bonus of weight loss and a sense of accomplishment,” she says. “It’s a great beginning that seems likely to stick.”

WHO does this guy think he’s kidding? Home Parties have changed in SoCal. We’re having GOLD parties. Leaving with more money than we came with. I’ll be happy to host book exchanges, recipe/cooking parties, and things that aer otherwise constructive. Having home decorator and jewelry parties…it’s over. So 90s.

Tupperware parties. Sales of Tupperware and other storage products are up, since people are cooking at home more and husbanding leftovers. But consumers still want the best deal, and they’re skeptical of merchants–even if it’s a friend or neighbor. “I flatly refuse to go to any ‘home parties’ where the hostess is selling candles, plastic ware, etc., and she gets free merchandise,” says Lois Barber of Sandy Hook, Conn. “The stuff costs about three times what you would pay retail. My blanket excuse is, ‘My sister sells it.’ “

Don’t Smoke. Hope you don’t, either! Wine – though. I’m always looking for an EXCELLENT, under 6.00 bottle. Will take suggestions.

Packaged cigarettes. The average price of cigarettes is about $5 a pack or $45 a carton, which mounts quickly for regular puffers. Kicking the habit is the most obvious way to save money, but short of that, more smokers are buying small machines that let them roll their own smokes. “We learned to make our own cigs with a machine that cost $40,” says one smoker. “We now save around $120 a month.”

[See 9 signs of America in decline.]

ONLY on very special occasions will I have a Latte. I’ve switched to Mistos when I have to meet a friend for coffee, once a week. We make sure we talk business, and save the receipt! Mistos at starbucks are steamed milk and coffee, and about $2 cheaper.

Lattes. The $5 daily coffee is always one of the first small luxuries to go. But more people are brewing at home. Sales of single-serving home brewing machines have soared.

To Be Continued Tomorrow…

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This entry was posted on January 23, 2010 by in Recession Frame of Mind.

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