Americans are digging deep to save money

John Donahoe, eBay's CEO, estimates that Americans have an average of $3,200 worth of stuff gathering dust in their homes — stuff he thinks they'll start selling on eBay.

Already, 1.3 million people make their primary or secondary income from eBay, the company says, and Donahue expects that to increase during the next few months. "People become more entrepreneurial in tough economic times," he says.

The sign outside Harts Jewelers in Weymouth, Mass., says "scrap gold."

On a recent day, owner Gary Liebert had about 10 people show up to sell their jewelry to him. That's more than he normally sees in a month.

Liebert says he's seen everything from young people who say they need money to older people selling their diamond rings and wedding bands to pay bills, to one man who said he needed the money for heart medication.

"You do get people with sad stories," he says.

Eating at home

Nearly two out of three restaurant operators reported declining sales in September, says the National Restaurant Association.

Cutting back on dining out is the No. 1 or No. 2 money-saving move for Americans, no matter their income, according to WSL Strategic Retail. That's led to new nesting around the kitchen table for many Americans who have been hooked on dining out for a generation.

Cyrus Tookes of Jacksonville says he and his family of six children have "tightened the reins a bit" on food and clothing expenses. They're cooking more at home, and they're buying in bulk, too.

He and his wife, Monique, also started putting smaller portions of food on each child's plate after discovering that "the trash can was eating better than we were!"

Trimming grocery costs

Coupon use is increasing after 15 years of decline, according to the Promotion Marketing Association's Coupon Council.

Suzanne Forte of Atlanta is among those who are using coupons as a way to save money on groceries.

"For the first time, I have collected coupons for grocery store items, transferred my prescription to a new pharmacy to take advantage of a $25 check and cut costs in other ways," says Forte, who is expecting a baby.

"I have always been a little thrifty, but the current economy and expecting a new child has inspired me to cut back even more."

Saving before buying

One in five people surveyed say they're saving to buy something they want, instead of charging it, says WSL Strategic Retail.

Kmart isn't the only retailer that's dusting off its "layaway plan" for the first time in decades. More retailers are letting consumers pay in advance for items weekly or monthly until the item is paid off.

Michael Bilello is vice president of the website eLayaway, a Tallahassee start-up that handles layaway programs for 1,000 retailers.

Since last fall, the 3-year-old site has seen its registration leap from 150 to 7,000. "The good old-fashioned layaway plan is back," says Liebmann of WSL.

"It's the notion that, 'I don't want to give up on everything, so I'll save for it.' "

Taking an extra job — or two

The number of people who have a full-time and a part-time job at the same time increased 11% to 1.92 million in October from a year ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Sabrina Akins of Woodbridge, Va., has had to take out short-term "payday" loans to tide her over until her paychecks arrive.

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