April 26, 2009 -- Newlywed Samantha Slaven-Bick, 38, a Los Angeles publicist, and her husband Stewart Bick, 46, decided to forgo their honeymoon. Marketing executive Saretta Holler, 33, and her fiancé Judson Brown, 32, fired their cleaning lady. Allen Chen, 30, a communications assistant at Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, N.Y., gave up his season tickets to the Mets.
No matter your age, gender or financial status, nearly everyone is giving something up in an effort to cope with the deepening recession.
Consumers haven't stopped spending altogether, but they've certainly cut back. U.S. retail sales for March 2009 were $344.4 billion, a 1.1% decrease from February 2009, and a 9.4% decrease from March 2008, according to the Commerce Department.
A recently released survey by New York marketing firm GfK Custom Research asked 2,000 American adults, representative of the total U.S. population, what they were willing to give up during the recession. (The survey was conducted during October, November and December 2008.)
While some purchases--including mortgage payments, children's clothing and educational expenses--were considered necessities by Americans, other everyday costs were not.
For instance, an overwhelming 82% said that dining out would be easy to abandon. While the National Restaurant Association in Washington, D.C., forecasts that Americans will spend $566 billion eating out in 2009, a 2.5% increase over 2008, discounted menus at mid- to high-end restaurants suggest otherwise.
Mid-market national chain P.F. Chang's recently started promoting a discounted prix fixe dinner menu that costs just $25 per person. And Manhattan restaurant Alto has dropped its corkage fees so guests can save money by drinking their own bottles of wine.
Even fast food joints seem to be struggling. Burger King's sales for its most recent quarter, which ended March 31, were $600 million, up just 1% from $594 million last year. Analysts estimate that competitor McDonald's will report a 6.8% decrease in sales, to $5.24 billion, for its current quarter.
Americans are also cutting back on entertainment outside of the home. By this time last year, Major League Baseball had sold 1 million more tickets. During the first week of April 2009, Broadway ticket sales declined $1 million, to $16.9 million, compared with the same period last year.
Unsurprisingly, a personal clothing budget is seen as a want, not a need. In March, even cheap and trendy fashion retailer H&M, thought to be safer from the downturn than struggling companies like Saks and Gap, saw a 3% decrease in same-store sales. (The company doesn't release actual dollar figures on a monthly basis.) On April 13, Talbots--the classic clothing brand--reported that year-over-year sales in its fourth quarter dropped by 16% to $327.9 million.
Despite the trend toward locally produced and organic foods, Americans are cutting back on pricey groceries. The Organic Trade Association in Greenfield, Mass., says that while it expects growth in the sector for 2009, organic food sales will likely slow to single digit growth. By contrast, for the last decade, organic sales have grown between 17% and 21% each year.
Observes Kathryn Finney, founder of discount shopping blog The Budget Fashionista: "Frugal[ity] is the new black."