Coping with the Economic Downturn

Audrey’s Survey Says…

When I was a little girl, my family predicted that I’d be a banker when I grew up, since I loved money. Monopoly was my favourite board game! I couldn’t wait to grow up, so that I’d have more control over my future.

Now that I’m an adult, while I’m not a banker, I continue to be interested in financial issues, especially issues related to personal financial planning. I’m risk-averse and a worrier, resulting in much careful planning over the years in order to spend my income wisely. (Yes, people laughed at me when I lived in a small apartment, but my low rent allowed me to purchase my first home when I was in my early 30s.)

However, as is the case for many of you, the economic downturn has affected my personal finances. I thought it might be useful to survey my friends for their strategies for coping with the economic downturn and to present the results to readers of this blog. I am pleased to be able to provide you with the results of my survey – and useful tips for weathering the recession – in five instalments.

Part I looks at the changes made by those who, like me, have altered their consumption patterns as a result of the economic downturn.

Strategies of Those Who Have Changed Their Spending Habits

Most of my friends have changed their spending as a result of the economic downturn, and not because they are saving for a special purpose, such as a vacation, a car, or a house. We are all in the position where a job loss would be catastrophic – often in circumstances where a return to school or a move to another city would be difficult due to family commitments. In addition, many are homeowners and most of us have mortgages and other financial obligations.

Many of those friends who have altered their spending have reduced expenditures on lunches out. We all work in downtown Ottawa, so the lunchtime meal choices are many and varied. In the past (in 2008!), we would have eaten lunch in one of the food courts (L’Esplanade Laurier, 240 Sparks, the Sun Life Financial Centre, the World Exchange Building), bought a sausage or fries from one of the merchants at the corner of Bank and Laurier, lined up for an inexpensive ham and cheese sandwich at the German Town deli on Slater Street, or treated ourselves to the occasional lunch buffet at Moni Mahal.

In the new economic climate we have all decided to spend a few minutes each morning or evening packaging leftovers or preparing a sandwich to take to work. The savings can be important. For example, I now spend $2 per day (I’m still buying tea twice per day but that is a little luxury) whereas I used to spend $7 per day. Even taking into account the added expenditure on sandwich ingredients, my savings are about $100 per month.

One of my friends told me that he has cut down on meals at restaurants, especially on weekends, in favour of more home cooking. He said that he is avoiding pubs unless there is a special occasion. Like him, I find that my boyfriend and I are sharing cooking duties more often, and we rarely eat dinner at a restaurant. We still meet friends for dinner at pubs, but typically choose the salad or the burger rather than the dinner special. The Standard on Elgin Street has a great deal on Sundays – $13 for a burger and a pint of beer.

The survey revealed that my friends’ coffee and alcoholic beverage habits have changed, too. One friend told me that he is drinking the cheap coffee at work but drinking the more expensive beer when out to the pub. “I am drinking the expensive imported beer when I do treat myself. I am savouring it like a good glass of wine, and not overindulging. That's my little protest against the recession.”

We have all reduced our discretionary purchases of clothing and shoes. One friend said that, before making a purchase, she asks “Do I need it?” instead of thinking “It’s on sale and I want it.” Another friend told me, “I'm not buying as many new clothes as I might have, otherwise. Even though I feel a little less stylish than my coworkers, I can't justify it now.”

My friends and I are all news junkies, yet many of us have changed our purchasing habits with respect to newspapers and magazines. In my case, while I still purchase newspapers, on Saturdays I sometimes buy only The Ottawa Citizen, or only The Globe and Mail, instead of both newspapers. One friend said that she looks for free newspapers, and finds Metro has useful information.

With rapidly rising house values, many of us indulged ourselves in the past few years by making our nests more comfortable. One friend writes: “I used to think about doing minor renovation and decoration to my house. I'd look at design options in magazines, and think that my kitchen would look good with a nice dark hardwood floor, and that my bathroom could really use a change of lighting. Now, I don't consider those things at all. I know that I won't be making these cosmetic changes because I feel my money is better kept in my bank account, just in case I end up without a job. So there's no point in browsing through options.”

Some smaller changes that some of us identified are related to lotteries, transportation and movie-going. One friend said that he participates in the office lottery pool “not just to be social but with actual fantasies of winning.” Some of us have been avoiding using our cars and are using public transit (yes, difficult to do during the bus strike) or walking more. Of course walking is good for our health, so that is an added bonus. In addition, some of us are going to the movies only on Tuesday nights, when some cinemas have reduced prices. For example, the Cineplex Gloucester SilverCity has reduced prices on Tuesdays.

Image: Ponte Vecchio, Firenze

Part II will examine the opinions of those who have not made changes to their spending in this new economic climate.


coyote said...

So glad, Audrey, that you're not only dishing good ideas for small economies, but that you're referring to these savings in the correct plural form.

Nothing gets up a coyote's nose like some know-nothing gratingly referring to 'a savings'. It's either 'a saving' or 'some savings'. Period.

TWFKAH said...

I beg to differ. I've seen sand-flies get right up your nose like there's no tomorrow...

Milan said...

"Monopoly was designed in 1903 by a Quaker named Elizabeth Magie, who intended the game to highlight the evils of private property. Her version included squares like ‘Lord Bluebood’s Estate’ and ‘Soakum Electric Company’. A 1927 version stated in its rulebook:

“Monopoly is designed to show the evil resulting from the institution of private property. At the start of the game, every player is provided with the same chance of success as every other player. The game ends with one person in possession of all the money."

More: http://www.sindark.com/2007/02/09/the-landlords-game/

Milan said...

The biggest change I have made was switching my spending system.

Previously, I paid for as much as possible on my 1% cash back credit card, paying off the full balance every month. That way, I had the convenience of using a credit card and a mild incentive for doing so.

I have switched to a system where I almost never use a credit card (only on Amazon.ca and such), and pay for almost everything in cash. This way, I think I spend a bit less. Also, if things get tough for a while, at least I won't be in any day-to-day debt. Of course, student debt is a whole other story.