Americans Hunker Down in Recession

In recession, Americans are knitting, cooking, playing games and watching TV.

February 11, 2009, 5:39 PM

Feb. 18, 2009 — -- The recession is really hitting home, sweet home. Across the generations and income brackets, Americans say they are increasingly becoming homebodies who are reading, knitting, cooking, watching television and playing board games.

Handicraft stores are reporting a revival and companies like Netflix, which offer movie rentals by mail, have posted record profits.

Even karaoke-machine companies like Singtones are marketing to the stay-at-home crowd as what the company calls a "play-at-home alternative to 'extortionate' karaoke bars."

"In every economic downturn since the Great Depression, we see measurable increases in 'nesting' practices among Americans: eating at home more, buying more board games, renting more videos and so forth," said Rogan Kersh, associate dean and professor of public service at New York University.

"This holds true across income classes and other demographic groups: from college students to retirees, we're turning back to the home front," Kersh said.

As people hunker down, dining at home is once again chic and libraries say they are brimming with customers taking out books.

Amy Ball, 43, from Sebastopol, Calif., said she is eating out less, buying more food in bulk and planning more meals with friends at home.

"We are definitely renting more movies and reading more," said Ball, who works in Intuit's accounting group. "We used to go out two or three times a week and now we have people over."

"My husband [who works in the wine industry] is also playing more Wii 'Fit' and I am cooking more," Ball told "The economy is like nothing I have ever seen. We are more cautious now."

For the first time, Martha Chabinsky of Amherst, N.H., is budgeting, even though her husband has a secure and highly paid job in the aerospace industry and she works part time as a yoga teacher and exchange-student coordinator.

The 56-year-old grandmother took up cooking again after leaving the kitchen 20 years ago. Chabinsky said she was "burned out" after raising three children and caring for her father, who had lung cancer.

"I had started having kids in 1969, so I had been cooking forever," she told But after the economy tanked, she said, "something bizarro happened."

"Now I am cooking and actually enjoying it," Chabinsky said. "When my husband wants to go out to eat, I say, 'Eat my food. It's better.'"

Betty Dawson, 54, of New Rochelle, N.Y., confirms that she, too, is pulling back. An assistant to the vice president at New York Life, she and her husband, an electrician who is currently laid off, have cut back on the cruises and jazz concerts they once loved.

Watching Movies at Home

When once they spent $65 on a meal out three times a month, now they order in pizza. The couple find they are playing cards again -- a bridgelike game called bid whist.

"We're watching movies and not going out to dinner as much," she told "We have more friends over and watch videos, instead of going to the neighborhood lounge."

Not only are folks entertaining more, they are getting crafty as they burrow down at home.

An online poll conducted for the Texas-based chain store Michaels shows that customers are more interested in crafts during the economic downturn because they can save money making their own gifts and home decor.

"During a down economy, people look to get back to basics," said Stuart Aitken, chief marketing officer for Michaels. "Arts and crafts provide that, whether they are making a gift, creating a piece of jewelry, working on a project with their child or knitting a sweater."

Sewing and knitting are also making a comeback.

Marianne D'Eugenio, owner of Quadrille Quilting in North Haven, Conn., said she has had to add more classes and hire more teachers to keep up with the renewed interest in quilting.

"Many of my customers are expressing that quilting enables them to focus on creating something good and takes their mind away from their day-to-day anxieties," she said.

A few years ago, D'Eugenio moved from a 1,000-square-foot store to a 3,000-square-foot space and worried that she would not be able to sustain her business in the larger quarters.

"But we went from three times the size to three times the business," she told And even though fabric -- at $8 to $9 a yard -- is expensive, "people don't mind spending more because a quilt is something that lasts."

Roseanne Haakerud of Wallingford, Conn., one of D'Eugenio's customers, said she finds it economical to recycle old bedspreads, curtains and even children's T-shirts into patches for her quilts.

"It's an addiction," said the 61-year-old retired teacher, who is married to a night custodian and watches her pennies. "It keeps me busy and my husband happy."

"In this economy everyone needs something to keep them happy without breaking the bank," she said. "I am not out at the malls spending money and we don't go out to dinner a lot."

Helping During Recession Blues

Haakerud donates much of her handiwork to charity. "I think it's important for people who are going through hard times financially," she said. "They get depressed and overwhelmed and don't know what to do."

"Quilting is a way of expressing yourself, of using your time for others," she said. "For me it's an aphrodisiac. Time and love goes into it and people know it's from the heart."

Knitting has also shown a resurgence in downtimes. At the Fiber Loft in Harvard, Mass., yarn is selling well, according to Carol Quinn, who used to work in the computer industry and now works part time at the store.

"It all started after [the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001] and now people seem to be busier than ever," Quinn, 60, told "Sales have been up or steady, but the last month has been way up."

"People are mostly doing scarves," she said. "Knitting is expensive, but we think people are staying at home more and they don't want to be just sitting in front of the television."

And the knitting craze is not only taking cold New England by storm.

Village Woods in Albuquerque, N.M., can't keep its yarn on the shelves, staff members said. Employee Laurie Domski said that it may be a niche market, but it allows people to stay at home and save money.

"Our weaving classes are almost impossible to get into anymore," Domski told ABC News affiliate KOAT. "Everybody comes in this store -- guys, tattoos, piercings, we get them all."

The stay-at-home phenomenon is even affecting the 20-somethings.

Lizzy Holmgren of Denver is only one year out of college and is still getting some financial help from her parents. Yet she still pulls back.

Instead of spending money at the bars, the 23-year-old and her friends recently hosted a pizza party and the guests played Scrabble. And when they do go out, they "pre-game" and drink up before leaving the apartment.

Even those who until only a few months ago fueled the bar scene in New York City are finding creative ways to party at home.

Nell Wright, a 25-year-old who works for a nonprofit, said that since the recession kicked in, she is more likely to open a bottle of wine and stay in.

Recession Fuels Home Entertaining

"I can get a bottle of wine at Trader Joe's for a few dollars, where I can't get a glass in a bar for less than $6," she told "When I first moved to New York I went out so much more. Now I would rather hunker down and hang out with friends."

Wright is also increasingly conscious of prices. In New York state, if a cashier does not ring up the sales price, the customer is entitled to the product free.

"When I go to the Food Emporium they sell avocados, two for $4, but they always ring them up at $2.50 each," she said. "I always hold up the line, almost every time."

Ellen Whelan-Wuest, who was briefly unemployed when her job campaigning for Barack Obama ended in November, is also reining in spending. She recently moved all the furniture to the bedroom of her 500-square-foot Brooklyn apartment to entertain 15 guests.

"We had so much fun," she told "We borrowed folding chairs from a youth bookstore down the street. We made pasta, because you can make a lot for very little money and had punch and asked everyone to bring dessert, hors d'oeuvres and wine."

Afterward, the crowd settled down to a Netflix film. To save money Whelan-Wuest and her boyfriend canceled their by-mail subscription and watched it online.

In reality, the couple have no financial worries because she recently took a job with a state senator and he works for the U.S. Census Bureau, but for them, like other young consumers, the current economic climate is "really scary."

"Just knowing people were laid off, I feel bad because I have a job," Whelan-Wuest said. "It's sort of funny because we have not been hit by the recession. We are pretty secure."

"But you realize the stress of everything around you," she said. "I wake up every day and know so many people have been laid off. I feel very guilty about spending money. It's weird, because there are sales everywhere. But it just seems wrong to go shopping."

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