According to The New York Times today, sales of new automobiles dropped an astronomical 32 percent in one three-month period, from June through September. And,
“Consumer spending appears likely to fall next year for the first time since 1980 and perhaps by the largest amount since 1942…consumer spending would decline about 1 percent next year…Relative to the typical increases from recent years, it would represent $400 billion in lost consumer spending.”
Since consumer spending is about 70 percent of the U.S. economy, that’s bad news for a recovery any time soon, but it’s not primarily why the story caught my attention. Juxtaposed in my inbox was this from the Darwin Awards:
“(February 2008, France) A 71-year-old pensioner met a shocking end when his frugal attempt to illuminate his yard with power siphoned from the National Grid backfired spectacularly. “The gentleman in question illegally opened a major power junction box at the front of his house, intending to hard-wire a cable to his garden shed. Unfortunately, the poor chap attempted to do this rewiring during a major downpour. “The fatal result was all too predictable. He was immediately deep fried and declared deceased at the scene. Lessons:
- Don't hardwire your shed to a local power substation
- Don't hardwire your shed to a power line in the rain
- There IS such a thing as being too frugal.
Frugality, apparently, can go too far (although the biggest question in this story is how someone so phenomenally stupid managed to live to age 71.) Nevertheless, with an economy that will not improve any time soon, everyone is tightening their belts.
These two stories left me wondering how far people are willing and able to cut back. I suspect we elders, especially those of us who are retired, have already eliminated a lot of spending we took for granted when we were working and don’t have as much leeway as people who are still working. But prices have increased dramatically, especially groceries, and some savings must be found.
My cuts are many small things that I hope will add up. I’ve canceled Netflix – not much money, but the movies sometimes laid around for a month or more until I watched them. I’m allowing magazine subscriptions to lapse as they come due. I don’t buy as many books – there are plenty unread around the house and many I want to re-read.
I bought a small space heater for the laundry room which doesn’t need the huge baseboard heater that came installed with the condo and had added $100 per month to the electric bill during winter. I’ve weather-stripped all the doors, added insulated curtains to windows and programmed the thermostat to 60 degrees F at night, 67 during the day.
(By the way, can someone explain to me why a 60-degree day outside is perfectly comfortable, but is not warm enough indoors during winter.)
And there are all the little things I learned when I was a kid: run the dishwasher once a week or less (easy when you’re one person in a home); shower every other day; one meal a week of all the little leftovers which results in some interestingly odd combinations; turn out the lights; put on a sweater when I’m chilly instead of turning up the heat; etc.
And, I shop in bulk at the big box stores for bathroom tissue, Kleenex, paper towels, cleaning supplies, vitamins and personal care products. My biggest single expense is heating, second only to property tax, which I can’t change.
The problem for me is that I already live close to the bone. I don’t eat in restaurants unless I’m meeting a friend and we choose carefully. I have plenty of clothes. I’ve been on a heathily frugal diet since May (I’ve lost about 25 pounds) and have discovered that frozen vegetables and fruit are at least as healthy as fresh and usually less expensive.
It’s become a game I play now; where else can I cut down. Although we’ve discussed frugality before, I’m wondering what new savings you’ve discovered as the economic crisis has deepened – barring stupid and lethal, of course.