America Suffering from ‘Value Mania’

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The dictionary defines mania as “excessive or unreasonable enthusiasm.” So in this case, it’d be an excessive or unreasonable enthusiasm for value. But is there anything remotely unreasonable about demanding good value when spending money?

It is a USA Today story that explains how “value mania” has hit American consumers—and in turn, hit the retailers where those consumers are more likely to be seeking better value lately. Even the well-to-do have adopted “ultra-value-conscious shopping habits,” which includes putting a stoppage to the practice of mindlessly throwing anything and everything they sorta want into the shopping cart, regardless of price or practicality. The story cites some data to back up the theory:

Nearly 45% of consumers say they have become “more practical and realistic in purchases,” according to a May consumer survey by BIGresearch. That’s up from 43% May 2010 and up from 37% five years ago.

Coupon usage, which rose as households pinched pennies during the recession, has continued to rise even as the economy recovers. Pre-recession, a mere 22% of households used coupons. In the heart of the recession—which coincided with the birth of daily deal-style coupons—coupon usage boomed, with 35% of households clipping them. The figure is up to 37% now.

The assumption might be that it’s the poor or newly poor who are using all the coupons, but that hasn’t been the case in a long time. Studies show that affluent consumers (from households with incomes of $70K+) are more likely to use coupons. These more well-to-do consumers, then, are the ones who are also more likely to currently be experiencing “value mania.”

But let’s think about this. The “mania” consists of a more back-to-basics, “more practical and realistic” approach to consumption, in which value, utility, and enjoyment are weighed against the purchase price. This “value mania” is basically the same as the eminently sensible “conscious spending” approach J.D. writes about today. It is the opposite of mindless consumption—of buying stuff because other people are doing it, because you always have, or any other bogus non-reason.

Which of these approaches is truly “excessive and unreasonable”?