It’s no secret that consumers have grown more frugal: Excessive spending is out and saving is in. “It’s become chic to talk value,” says Julie Winskie, the chief client officer at marketing firm Porter Novelli, which tracks consumerâ€„behavior for retailers.
Like fashion, spending trends often cycle in and out, but what’s interesting about this go-round at frugality is how it’s playing out. Old savings strategies are seeing a resurgence, and some of the most popular tactics – couponing, layaway and haggling – date back to prior recessions.
Will those practices someday go the way of padded shoulders and track suits? It may take years or even decades, but the larger population will eventually end up back in the “greed is good” mentality, says Scott Testa, an assistant professor of business administration at Calibri College in Radnor, Pa. Forty-five percent of adults now spending less than they were a year ago say that if their financial situation were to improve over the next year, they would go back to their old spending habits, according to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling’s 2009 Financial Literacy Survey.
Still, consumers looking to develop good savings habits for the long haul can jump on the bandwagon now with these six old-school thrifty behaviors:
Americans avidly clipped coupons through the 1980s, but by the ’90s, their popularity began to wane. Last year was the first year since 1992 that coupon use didn’t decline. And so far this year, shoppers have used 20% more of issued manufacturers’ coupons, according to the Promotion Marketing Association, which tracks coupon redemption. This trend is likely to persist because of efforts by manufacturers and retailers to make coupons more easily available online, says Stephanie Nelson, the founder of CouponMom.com, which tracks deals. (For a list of some of our favorite couponâ€„sites, click here.)
In recent years, bargaining for a lower price has been relegated to yard sales and flea markets, but that’s beginning to change. “Now, consumers are much more creative and frankly, much more aggressive about asking for a better price,” Testa says. To retain customers amid slowing sales, even mainstream retailers are open to negotiation on prices — especially if you can point to better deals at a competitor. (For more prime haggling opportunities, click here.)
Another expense worth haggling over is rent. According to a summer survey from property listing site Rent.com, 68% of landlords are now offering free or reduced rent to tenants. (For tips, click here.)
“A portion of the population has always done this, but now it’s across all income levels,” says Ann Mack, the director of trend-spotting at brand-building agency JWT. It’s a strategy so ingrained that many shoppers compare prices without thinking, whether online or in person. But now more of those shoppers are taking their findings to heart. Some are even splitting their grocery shopping up to take advantage of more rotating weekly specials at local stores, Mack says. (For the best online price comparison sites, click here.)
The Internet has expanded opportunities for consumers who want to trade goods and services without money. Craigslist reports that the number of posts in its barter section has more than tripled over the last 24 months. The company declined to provide more specific current figures. (For tips to effectively barter, click here.)
Many frugal consumers not only share deals with their peers, but also band together to get a better value, Winskie says. “It’s mothers, neighbors, buying in bulk and splitting the cost to save,” she says. New sites like Groupon also offer shoppers the opportunity to get discounts by collaborating with strangers. (For details, click here.)
Layaway and Christmas clubs
Thanks to the credit crunch, retailers and consumers are looking at these old options, which had faded with disco. “They went away as people bought things on credit and found other ways to pay,” Testa says. Last year, Sears (SHLD: 66.53*, +0.35, +0.52%) and Kmart heavily promoted their longstanding layaway programs. This year, they introduced a new Christmas Club that matches 3% of consumers’ savings.