Finance: Americans Adapt to the 'New Normal'

economy

The worst financial crisis since the Great Depression and the ensuing recession have forced Americans to change their lives in ways large and small. It's a world of "new normals," with more belt-tightening, less income and, in many cases, a newfound gratitude for the most basic human comforts: family, home and health.

ABCNews.com asked readers to tell us how they're adapting to today's economic conditions and they didn't hold back. Here's a selection of some of their responses.

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Cutting to Survive

Cutting spending, not surprisingly, seems to be the most common way Americans are adapting to the tough economy. For one Florida family, that means paring back on day-to-day costs; for a California family, that means scaling back on future plans and for a Wisconsin man, it means sacrificing as much as he can to keep his business alive.

When we put all of our money into our business and it was not making enough to pay the bills, we had to sell it at a loss. My husband, who is a retired chiropractor, is still out of work after 10 months. I work two jobs, both from my home.

We used to buy whatever foods we liked and usually never looked at the price. Now we only buy foods on sale or "buy one get one free." I used to get my hair cut or colored every four to six weeks. Now I color it myself and cut it once a year.

We shave or cut our kids hair ourselves. I never get a manicure or pedicure anymore -- I just do it myself. We drive only as a necessity in order to save on gas. No more leisurely drives or excursions to different or new malls or parks or restaurants.

As a family living in a hot and humid state, we used to keep our home at a cool temperature. Now we keep the air on 79 to 80 degrees until evening when we go to sleep (and it is HOT). Our kids no longer attend summer camps as they always used to.

... We used to shop for clothes for our children as the styles changed and as they grew at stores in the mall. Now we only purchase clothes when they have grown out what they have or if I see something good on clearance - usually on the $3 rack at WalMart.

... Life has changed for us drastically but we know that there are many more people who are worse off than we are so we are thankful for what we do have and that at least one of us still has a job. And as always, we are so thankful that our children are healthy and happy.

-- Robin Levine, Cooper City, Fla.

'Not Standing There With Your Hand Out'

My wife was "right-sized" out of her job in January of this year and has not been able to find employment since then. Because she was the family's major wage earner, this impacted all of our spending habits ...

We've downgraded the family cell phone plan, bundled home Internet/phone/TV plans to get the best deal and we don't eat out at all. All purchases are discussed -- no more impulse buying. We pay off all credit card purchases so we don't carry balances or accrue interest charges. With her unemployment benefit check and my salary, we can stay afloat for now.

But my daughter starts college in the fall and my son will follow next year. Since their eligibility for scholarships and grants is based on our past income, we had to change my daughter's plans to attend a college in Northern California. We are looking at local colleges, so that our kids can stay at home while attending.

-- Albert Sauri, La Verne, Calif.

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