Consumer activity gives a good indication of how the economy is holding up, and here are five trends indicating that consumers are having a particularly hard time lately.
Buying “locally grown” for savings, not taste. Today’s New York Times traces the increased popularity of locally vegetables, particularly in rural areas such as eastern Kentucky. In many farmers markets run in cities, consumers are accustomed to paying somewhat of a premium for organic, freshly harvested, locally grown produce. Rural shoppers, by contrast, are gathering veggies from local sources—often, in their own backyards, or their neighbors’—as a money saver as much as for the taste or health benefits. The rise in backyard gardens began at least during the peak recession-era days of 2009, when there was a substantial uptick in sales of vegetable seeds. A NY Times story from 2009 noted that 19% more households planned to grow gardens that year, and 54% of people with gardens said they were trying to trim their families’ food expenses.
The comeback of layaway. Following the lead of competitors such as Sears, Kmart, and Toys R Us, Walmart has decided to bring back layaway as an option for customers, at least on a limited basis. As reported by the Washington Post, the AP, and others, Walmart, which discontinued layaway in 2006, is offering the old-fashioned payment plan system to help financially-strapped consumers during the upcoming winter holiday shopping season. Layaway will be an option for electronics and toys that cost at least $50 from October 17 to December 16. Shoppers must initially put at least 10% down on the item, and there’s a $5 service fee—along with a $10 fee if the customer decides to cancel. Note that while layaway helps consumers short of cash in one way, it’s not really a money saver at all.
Lottery ticket sales on the rise. In a recent review of figures from 41 state lotteries, 28 reported higher sales for the fiscal year ending in June—and 17 of those boasted all-time record highs for sales, according to USA Today. At a time when more people are clinging more tightly to their dollars, why would there be an increase in money wasted in lotteries? When people feel desperate, and that events are entirely out of their control, they’re more likely to take long shots, one psychology professor explains:
Kate Sweeny, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of California-Riverside, said an uptick in lottery sales largely occurs when people feel a lack of control over events larger than themselves, such as the economy.
Fewer disposable diapers purchased. In recent years, sales of disposable diapers have decreased at the same time that sales of diaper rash creams and ointments have steadily risen. The conclusion being reached (by some) from the data is this: Parents are changing kids’ diapers less often to save money—or, perhaps because, thanks to the economy, caregivers are too distracted or overwhelmed to realize in a timely fashion that the child’s in need of a change. In either case, the economy is making life stink.
Pet shelters too full to accept more animals. There was a noticeable increase in animal abandonment during the heart of the recession, when many owners were forced to move or just discovered they couldn’t afford to their pets, Now, per the San Francisco Chronicle, some shelters have reached full capacity and can no longer accept pets. Not only are pet drop-offs up, but adoptions are down: For the first time ever at one shelter, two weeks passed without a single cat being adopted.