Coloradans deal with the recession diet
By Kevin Simpson and Michael Booth
The Denver Post
Posted: 01/21/2009 12:30:00 AM MST
Updated: 01/21/2009 04:44:15 AM MST
In more prosperous times, you simply couldn't function without it. It became a staple of everyday existence that carved out its own special place in the family budget — if you even stuck to a budget at all.
The $8 salad at lunch. The $100 housekeeper. Tickets to Nuggets games. Acrylic nails. The latest techno-gizmos.
People have needs. And wants. It isn't always easy to tell the difference.
Even those who have dodged the worst pain of the financial bust — lost jobs, lost homes, lost hope — likely have felt nudged toward an unfamiliar exercise: economic introspection.
"My hair color — I won't do without my hair color," insisted Paula Anderson, Grand Junction marketing director for a physicians' office. "But I might buy it at the supermarket rather than go to the salon."
Shrinking family incomes, the market's free-fall and fearsome financial forecasts have forced consumers to confront the real difference between what they need to live and what they can live without.
Interviews with experts and individual consumers confirmed findings of an unscientific Denver Post e-mail poll of 69 Coloradans that found 70 percent have given up some luxury they once regarded as a necessity. They were asked to choose the easiest to jettison — and the hardest.
First to go: dining out.
Last to go: cable or Internet.
But in between are a host of goods and services that some consider essential, others frivolous.
One individual answering the survey coined a term that specifically addresses a criterion for cuts: "core happiness."
That might be what Bill Haggerty is getting at. He has explored and written about the Colorado outdoors for nearly 40 years and is a financial planner in Grand Junction.
The luxury he refuses to do without: outdoor adventures.
"It can mean driving 45 miles, but I still go cross-country skiing or hiking every single week," he said.
Haggerty and his wife are making some cuts in other areas to keep the gas money flowing for their many treks. They've put off buying new appliances, cook more at home and — this one really goes against the grain — they occasionally buy cheaper nonorganic foods.
But the votes showed cable/Internet as the toughest to forgo by a wide margin as 19 percent placed it among the last things they'd slice from the budget. Private school and vacations tied for second place among the untouchables at about 12 percent, followed by two mainstays of personal health and grooming — the hairdresser and gym memberships.
The question of whether consumers will make thrift and self-brewed coffee lasting habits may be a question as deep as the current recession.
"My sense is that consumerism is here to stay," said Susan Jung Grant, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Colorado at Boulder. "We're going to make these little trade-offs. But when boom times return, it'll be full steam ahead again."
Staff writer Nancy Lofholm contributed to this report.