Families that cut a little last year are cutting more now

Now this downturn really hurts.

The financial pain Americans are experiencing cuts a lot deeper today than it did just a year ago, when the economy was only starting to veer south. Back then, six readers spoke with USA TODAY about small cuts their families were making to help make ends meet. Today, that has required much bigger life changes from almost all of them.

Then:Jason Jepson of Huntington Beach, Calif., stopped buying PowerBars at his health club.

Now:He's moved from a $1,200 apartment to a $700 room in a house.

Then:Angela Harris of Richmond, Va., stopped going to Starbucks for her daily caffeine fix.

Now:Her husband has transferred hundreds of miles away to keep his job.

Then:Deshaun Davis of Lewisville, Texas, cut back on spa treatments at Nordstrom.

Now:She recently took a second job and has downsized from a four-bedroom, three-bath home to a three-bedroom, two-bath one. "I never saved a thing before," Davis says. "But now I think about every dime I spend."

Not spending, even if you have money, has become the new national norm. Consumer confidence dropped to an all-time low in February. This is what happens when a nation loses more jobs in three consecutive months than it had lost in any similar period since 1945.

A nation of optimistic buyers has become a nation of pessimists who are cutting back even on window shopping. Discretionary spending is out; we're sitting on our wallets and waiting.

"You've got a consumer who's hunkered down," says Ken Goldstein, an economist at The Conference Board, a non-partisan research group. "Don't expect them to come out any time soon."

A year ago, saving money was starting to be cool, says Ellie Kay, a financial adviser who wrote Living Rich for Less. "Now, it's not cool: It's mandatory."

Watts Wacker, the noted futurist, says more than a few of his friends have begun keeping cash at home rather than in a bank, despite current federal guarantees on deposits of up to $250,000.

"When you're in a crisis mode, you lock down," Watts says. "We're stashing our acorns like no one could have imagined."

Here's how six USA TODAY readers are coping with the recession now, after making their first "small" cuts in a weakening economy a year ago:

Cutting the rent

When Jason Jepson began to fret about his finances a year ago, his first move was to stop spending $1.79 each for PowerBars.

The 34-year-old public relations specialist started buying budget granola bars for about 55 cents at Trader Joe's.

Since then, Jepson's personal finances have taken a big hit with the economic downturn, and his job has evolved. A year ago, he was a PR consultant for a yacht dealer. Now, he's also been asked to try to drum-up income-producing yacht-team sponsorships for the dealer.

The bite that the downturn has taken on Jepson's finances has forced him to make more drastic personal cuts.

He slashed his housing expenses by moving from a $1,200-a-month apartment near Newport Beach, Calif., to a room in a home in Huntington Beach that costs him about $700 a month.

He junked his gas-guzzling 1985 Jeep for a great loan rate on a new Mini Cooper, which helps pay for itself with a $300-a-month savings on fuel bills.

He even finds himself doing what he once made fun of his father for doing: clipping coupons.

"One year ago, I took all I had for granted," Jepson says. "Now, I don't take anything for granted."

Husband transfers for job

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