Who's Cutting Back on What

It’s common knowledge that consumers have been trying to economize in the past year. But where have they been focusing their efforts at austerity? Inquiring about specific money-saving steps respondents may or may not have taken in past six months, a new Harris Poll gives some indications.

Among the choices presented, the most popular has been “purchasing more generic brands,” with 64 percent saving they’ve done this in the past six months. Just under half (47 percent) said they’ve been “brown-bagging lunch instead of purchasing it,” and nearly as many (43 percent) said they’ve been “going to the hairdresser/barber/stylist less often.” Fewer said they’d “switched to [a] refillable water bottle instead of purchasing [a] bottle of water” (36 percent), “cut down on dry cleaning” (22 percent) or “canceled or cut back cable television service” (21 percent).

At the bottom of the rankings were “canceling landline phone service and using only cell phone” (12 percent), “begun carpooling or using mass transit” (14 percent) and “changed or canceled cell phone service” (15 percent).

Comparing the current poll (fielded earlier this month) to a similar one conducted in June, one sees no reason to believe that consumers have been easing up on their tight-fistedness in recent months. Indeed, brown-bagging lunch was the only category not showing a rise in the number of people saying they’d adopted the money-saving behavior (and it was unchanged from June).

The sharpest rise came in the number who’d “stopped purchasing coffee in the morning,” from 15 percent in June to 20 percent now. There were also significant increases in the number of respondents saying they’d “canceled one or more magazine subscriptions” (from 29 percent then to 34 percent now) or “canceled a newspaper subscription” (from 17 percent to 21 percent).

The polling found significant variations among different age cohorts in the incidence of some penny-pinching actions. The poll’s 18-to-32-year-olds were the least likely to have been buying more generic products in the past six months (58 percent), and those 64 and older were the most likely to have been doing so (67 percent). But the 18-to-32s were the most likely to have started carpooling or taking public transit (24 percent).

If baby boomers look especially unkempt these days, maybe it’s because the 45-to-63-year-olds had an above-average number of respondents saying they’ve been going to the hairdresser/barber/stylist less often (47 percent) and have cut back on dry cleaning (28 percent). The poll’s 33-to-44-year-olds were the most likely to say they’d stopped buying a coffee in the morning (25 percent).

In some cases, variations in cutbacks simply reflect the differing proportions of people who tended to buy something in the first place. Thus, respondents in the 64-plus age group, which tends to have lots of regular newspaper readers, were more than twice as likely as the 18-to-32-year-olds to say they’d canceled a newspaper subscription in the past six months (28 percent vs. 12 percent).

- Nielsen Business Media
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