Coupon Clipping Makes a Comeback

Posted on: Friday, September 25th, 2009
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Thanks to the miserable economy, coupons — like board games and family dinners — have made a comeback.  Who’da thunk it?  Coupon clipping peaked in 1992 and then nearly died off.  But usage rose 23% in the first half of this year and could nearly double next year. 
This recent NYT story cites these interesting trends…
  • The affluent led the rally; households earning more than $70,000 are the top users
  • Printable website coupon usage is skyrocketing, thanks to sites like redplum.com and coupons.com
  • In tough economic times, people like the feeling that they’re doing something to survive and thrive—rather than just getting all depressed and whiny
Great, but don’t forget to save for sunny days…
If consumers also practiced such discipline and diligent pennypinching when times were good, perhaps they could enjoy more vacations, weekend escapes and even three-month BreakAways.  But with any luck, these good habits can last even when the wealth effect makes folks feel flush again.  We can only hope…
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Survey Sez: We’re Smothered With Stuff

Posted on: Saturday, September 19th, 2009
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The suffering economy may be leading people to couponing and cocooning, but we’re still suffocating in stuff.  Gosh, when I recently took some high-quality clothes to a local consignment store, they rejected almost all of it.  “We just can’t handle any more inventory; we’re stuffed!” the manager told me. 
If the stuff surrounding you seems to be growing like a fungus, you’re not alone, as this Zogby Interactive survey suggests: 
  • 22 Percentage of U.S. adults who have given away more than 10% of their belongings because they were no longer needed
  • 17 Percentage who said they gave things away in the past year because they have too much 
  • 28 Percentage who said they had given away more of their belongings in the past year than they had previously
Let’s face it:  We’re not addicted to love (as the song says), we’re addicted to stuff!  And shopping!  No doubt there are cultural reasons (the buy-buy messages never stop, and shopping is social), and probably some psychological ones (retail “therapy” and oh, the joy of the purchase!). 
Nonetheless, imagine how much more money we’d have if we could limit our addiction.  And with that extra money, we could slow down, buy some time and give ourselves a BreakAway. 
After all—as we say on this website over and over—the best investment you can make is in good memories.  Because nothing appreciates more over time. 
No, not even your stuff. 
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Blame Us: 40% Spend > They Earn

Posted on: Monday, June 29th, 2009
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We blame the banks.  Blame the Wall Streeters.  Blame the Joneses.  But once again, we did it ourselves.  This fine article reminds us that the average credit card debt has hovered around $8,400.  And more than 40% of U.S. households spend more than they earn.  And that was BEFORE the current meltdown really got nasty. 

The history of consumption in America goes back decades.  But the propensity to “need” posh stuff is fairly recent—and went off the charts for a while. 

If we can buck that trend—and save a few bucks instead—not only will our nation will be stronger, but we’ll be able to afford more BreakAways. 


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$avings Hits 50-year High!

Posted on: Friday, June 12th, 2009
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I may be topping off a glass that’s not even half-full.  But buried in this dreary personal wealth story are some—okay, a few—signs that Americans are learning fast during this disastrous downturn.  Can compulsive spenders change their ways?  Maybe they already are.  Check out the good news numbers, then the bad news numbers. 

The Good News! 

  • Amount in savings:  $620.2 billion, the most since 1959
  • Personal savings rate:  5.7%, the highest since 1995

The Bad News  :  ( 

  • Personal wealth losses:  $1.3 trillion, the lowest since 2004
  • U.S. stock market holdings:  Cut by more than half, peak to trough
  • Collective home equity:  41.4%, the lowest since 1945
  • Home value losses:  Down 32%, from peak in 2006

Now here’s the conundrum:  If we DON’T spend, the economy may not turn around, and these losses may linger or get worse.  If we DO spend, we may stop being thrifty and start ourselves back on a cycle toward another crash. 

Guess that’s why sage souls know to do everything in moderation.  (Including moderation.) 

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Tips for Cheap Trips

Posted on: Saturday, May 23rd, 2009
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“Staycations” are huge this year, and there’s nothing wrong with a little home cookin’.  But if you long to BreakAway, it need not bust your budget.  This pithy article suggests going by car, packing a cooler (yes!), trying off-season, and more ways to save bucks while seeing a slice of the world. 

Give it a read if you’re on the edge of sanity AND solvency.  There’s also 5 good websites to help plan your getaway. 

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TIME: American Dream Defunct?

Posted on: Monday, May 18th, 2009
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A recent survey published in TIME reveals that more than half of Americans are losing faith in the future of the American Dream.  No surprise there, and perhaps it’s even a contrarian indicator?  After all, people get overly giddy when times are good, and then go too gloomy when cyclical downturns happen—which can suggest a bottom. 

Percentage of people who believe the American Dream will be easier or harder to achieve in 10 years.

13% Easier

57% Harder

This time may be be different, though.  We’ve given ourselves far too much credit for far too long.  If the American dream is pay-as-you-go for a while, these numbers could be spot-on.  Oh well, the best things in life are still free. Right?  This site is all about taking TIME (not the magazine, duh)—not spending money on stuff! 

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$harp Tips from 3 Smarties

Posted on: Sunday, May 3rd, 2009
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Financial writer Kara McGuire hits “Pay Dirt” (her column name) with this article, “Put a Squeeze on your Financial Stress.”  We hear same-old suggestions a lot, but here Paymar seeks fresh ideas from a three wise folk whose area of expertise usually is not money.  They are:

  • Barbara Murphy, a Buddhist priest
  • Rebecca Thomley, a clinical psychologist
  • Michelle Burns, a life coach

There’s so much more to life than money—and so much more to these tips than tactical money-management stuff.  If financial worries have got you down, take a gander…  

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On the Road to Nowhere

Posted on: Thursday, April 23rd, 2009
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It’s my sense that families have been taking “staycations” for years.  But these days, with folks trying to cut back on spending, the idea is generating all kinds of buzz and steam.  In this clever memoir from the NY Times, a family tries—and succeeds–at going nowhere.  Yet they do find some bumps in the road less traveled.  To wit: 

  • One child wonders—presciently—if the folks will just work all the time, like they do when home.  Guess what?  They kind of do. 
  • Mom (the author) admits she works every single day, sometimes for hours.  Yet she seeks balance toward the end by allocating some time blocks as “work” and others “play.” 
  • They did, indeed, save money—even though they enjoyed some splurges and agreed not to worry about it. 
  • This time, they avoided coming home from the vacation feeling like they need a vacation.  Who doesn’t know that sensation? 

As this story suggests, staycations can be a great BreakAway from work—and from the normal routine.  But you need to plan special outings you normally don’t do, avoid plugging into work too much, and have realistic expectations. 

My advice to this family?  Next year, go somewhere dreamy.  And afterward, have a family meeting to see if one wins by a mile, or if there’s room for both in the future. 

This website, after all, is dedicated to free time of ALL kinds and places.  

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How the hell do you do it?

Posted on: Friday, February 20th, 2009
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It’s countdown time for this 69-day BreakAway in the Caribbean—a bittersweet time that brings a high tide of introspection. “Why” I do this (Sabbaticals) is clear as Caribbean waters to me (and frequently babbled about on this website). But now I ponder a question sure to await when we get back home…

  • How the hell do you do it?”
It’s simple, really:  Just Do It.  But to provide the financial wherewithal that can fuel that bravado, I strive to live by 11 Commandments of fiscal fitness, the first of which is “Live within your means, no matter what that means.”  At some point, if these commandments work, money need not be an ongoing stressor.  And life is too short to let money completely dictate your dreams. 
Living within your means can sometimes mean avoiding things like expensive cars and debt (except a modest mortgage).  Such steps usually will ensure that savings happen.  So when some savings align with a good time to BreakAway, poof!  It’s time to disappear, and let some money buy free time and thought—since you’ve “earned” this reward. 

  • Money flows and money goes.
Everyone loves money.  Yet money seems to be bringing everybody down these days, from Grenada to China to across the Americas.  I’ve stubbornly avoided news and market updates; they’re depressing and one goal of this BreakAway is to Be Here Now and nurture long-term wisdom.  But you can’t escape the bad news. 
Even on isolated islands, taxis say they’re half as busy as usual.  Resorts are throwing in free meals, happy hours, upgrades, and everything but the towel to get some cold bodies to warm their beach chairs.  Beach vendors are cutting deals on carvings, spices, and lobster.  It’s the middle of a harsh winter—and eerily quiet in vacationland.  Even in the popular eateries and attractions, you could hear a coin drop. 
Suddenly, the old adage is true:  Everything is negotiable when times are tough.  It feels suspiciously like deflation.  Debt detonation.  Depression. 

  • And yet, work/life hackers are everywhere
So it’s good to get away.  But the best reasons are not escape and avoidance, but rather the people.  I swear:  Both residents and travelers on an island like this have pretty much written their own rule books. Nobody’s “normal.”  Status quo is for seekers who quit.  And while few folks harbor that aggressive American trait of wanting to tell you their life’s story, the stories amaze. 
  • Franny and Isaac come from completely different places, and now live on his family’s Grenada farmland where they raise cabbages, make art, and live simply. 
  • Native Grenadian Joan walks the beach selling her handmade dolls and colorful shirts.  She’s no pest:  She’s one of their genial “licensed vendors.”  If you like a pattern but she has no shirt in your size, she’ll make you one overnight—for US$20. 
  • A Danish couple works hard running two movie theaters, but pulls their kids out of school to show them the world when the spirit moves them. 
  • Andy and Rebecca live simply (as in, off the electrical grid) the warm season in Maine, where she’s an organic gardener and he’s a fisherman.  With kids now in college, they save enough to spend winters on their favorite island, where she sells her watercolors. 
  • Two Swedes and their three kids manage school and careers, but think nothing of taking 22 days to sail across the Atlantic and to spend some months in the islands before they figure out how to store their boat here and return home. 

They’re everywhere—once you wander.  They’re my inspiration.  And I’ll miss being surrounded by them. 

  • It’s so NOT about the money. 
These folks don’t share much in common.  But there is one little thing:  They’re not rich.  Nor are they tied to their credit cards, or the emotions of economics.  So although cabbage growers and cinema owners may feel the slowdown, they won’t let it ruin their day, year, or overall outlook on life. 
Frankly, this has been a good time to BreakAway.  The crowds are smaller.  The service is better.  The locals have more time and seem less harried than might occur when too many tourists invade. 
Grenadians are mysteriously optimistic people.  When talking shop with dozens, I’ve not heard one complain about “hard times” or “feeling the pain.”  If anything, they’ll use it as a chance to preach a lesson:  
I tink it maybe be a good ting…People needs to slow down and jus’ enjoy what dey got and stop going into so much debt…” 
When watching my son get a 45-minute, oh-so-careful haircut (for $2.80) in a local village here, I paged through some old papers.  In one, dated October-something, the Grenada government was running an ad that says it all: 
“Manage Your Money.  Live Your Dreams.  October is National Financial Literacy Month.”
Grenada is a third-world nation with some obvious poverty.  But the people eat well, take care of one another, and show few signs of greed. 
Perhaps one day the USA will sponsor a National Financial Literacy Month. 
Until then, debt be not proud.  And keep saving your dreams. 

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Oh Owe Is Us: Spending Slips by 1%!

Posted on: Monday, December 1st, 2008
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The news has been all over the airwaves and screens for ten days now. Say it ain’t true: Consumer spending in October slipped by 1%.

Yet when I painstakingly avoided Shoporama-Land last weekend, Black Friday looked as busy and crazy as ever. Parking lots were jammed. Movie theaters were packed. And when out celebrating my birthday on Saturday night, most bars and restaurants were bustling and hustling hash to ravenous partiers.

Hey, didn’t they get the bad news?

Recessions aren’t fun. Losing a job sure can stink. And watching your investment portfolio shrink hurts. But 1%? That’s a mere penny per dollar less that we’re spending as a nation. Let’s break it down a few ways.

  • Having a $9.90 martini instead of a $10 one. (Absolut instead of Gray Goose?)
  • Getting a $4.95 candy snack at the movie instead of the $5.00 one.
  • Splurging on a $198 cashmere sweater and letting go of the $200, better beauty.
  • Offering $29,700 for that new Toyota and steadfastly refusing to pay $30K sticker.
  • Spending $396, rather than $400, for your holiday gifts this year.
  • Sending 99 holiday cards with 99 stamps (instead of 100) and skipping your slacker college roommate who has never sent you one, anyway.

It’s amazing to me that this kind of news actually alarms people. Markets? Sure, all they do is behave in bipolar ways. But the rest of us? Hey, we’re still having 99% as much fun as we did last year, as a whole.

Even my Very Close Personal Friend, THE ARMCHAIR ECONOMIST, told me:


I’ll drink to that—and I miss pitchers. Makes me sort of nostalgic (and thirsty) just thinking about it. Thanks, Old Sport. And may we all survive living on 99%.

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