The current recession has had effects on all of our lives. Higher prices, job loss, pay freezes or even decreases, benefit cuts, foreclosures…. All of us have felt some or all of it. There is a lot of misery to go around. Can there really be something like a bright side of a recession?
It’s hard to believe but it’s true, a recession does have some benefits, some of which will likely last a lifetime. As miserable as some people might feel, as gloomy the future might look with as much as some of us have lost in this recession, there is indeed an upside to it all.
The most important and longest lasting benefit will be the forming of new habits. Most of us are too young to have lived through the great depression. But we all have heard or even experienced the saving habits of our grandparents or parents. Everything is useful and can be reused again for some other purpose. Yes, a lot of them turned into hoarders. Even their children were often still living by those standards. My own parents saved a lot of things they never ended up using again. Now in their late seventies, they have started to sort through and give stuff away or even dump it with a heavy heart.
We on the other hand have pretty much become a generation of ‘dump it and buy it new.’ It’s cheaper to buy it than repair it. Other stuff is just taking up space. Out with the old and in with the new… That was until we lacked the money for the new. Yes, it’s still more expensive to have items repaired by a professional. But I hear more tales of people taking a machine apart to have a look and see if they can figure it out themselves. It’s broken anyway. Why not try some DIY? Do it yourself, if possible. Once people learn how easily they can do simple repairs and renovations, those habits will last. There is some pride and sense of accomplishment to it, too. This new habit will likely last long past the recession. In fact people might reap a lifetime of savings.
Similarly, a lot of people look at their “junk” to see whether it is worth keeping. People should keep in mind whether they really ever will have a use for it at all. Instead of simply tossing an item that might be useful later, things are stored. Other stuff is resold at yard sales or put up for consignment at second-hand stores. In my area consignment stores had struggled end of the nineties and beginning of this millennium. All but one were shut down. Now there is a boom in the business and new consignment stores are opening their doors. They have a great variety of merchandise from children’s to adult clothing, toys to tools and machines. The number of yard and garage sale signs has greatly increased. Hey, that junk is worth something! I don’t think most of us will ever be able to look at our ‘junk’ again and simply toss it. Even broken stuff can be fixed up and sold. Another new found habit that might give us a lifetime of savings.
Consignment stores and yard/garage sales lead us to yet another change in thinking. A lot of people thought new is better, more reliable, you know what you get. They gladly forked over more money to have the shiny new item, even if they won’t use it often. Kids in hand me downs? That’s something for the poor… Not anymore! People have figured out there are real bargains to be had when buying used. In fact sometimes something offered at a yard/garage sale, in a consignment store, craigslist, or even freecycle is brand new, never been used, might even still have the original price tag. Other stuff is fully functional, in great shape, but at a fraction of the store price. That’s a wonderful resource that will keep money in your pocket.
Keeping money in our pockets is a goal many of us have started to emphasize. A lot of people used to subscribe to this thinking of ‘I can spend it because I’ll get more with my next paycheck.’ Even if they didn’t have the money it was simply charged to the ever so easily accessible and tempting credit card. As long as we pay the minimum or more, we’ll be fine, right? Obviously, as so many had to find out the hard way, accumulating debt, freely spending your money, and not putting away enough is the worst habit one can have.
Forced to rethink their spending habits, more and more people are subscribing to that old adage of “think twice before spending.” Unemployment and increasing mortgage rates and food prices quickly drained meager saving accounts. If you have been in that situation you are likely to see to it in the future to really save up that year plus of wages to ‘weather the next storm’. For these people, the next recession will be easier as they have something to fall back on to help them get through it. Count this as another change in habits with long-term benefits.
In the long run our waistline will be thankful, too. For most of us, our budgets don’t allow for big meals, meat every day, and junk food. We rethink what we cook. And with fewer leftovers grabbing seconds just because is not as much an option. Mindless snacking on some junk food is also not in the budget. Yes, unhealthy food is usually cheaper. But one can prepare healthy meals on a budget.
Yet more important in getting used to smaller portion sizes and less food is what is going on in the stores. We have experienced price increases coupled with a decrease in package and portion sizes. If you haven’t noticed it yet, you should take a closer look. That cereal box, the coffee container, the bag of chips… containers, cans, boxes have gotten smaller and have less content. And while I can’t prove it, it seems even the fast food burger has undergone shrinkage. Manufacturers and restaurants seem to think that ever so slightly decreasing changes in portion size every few months will go unnoticed. Well, they haven’t. But while it’s upsetting that they are trying to trick us in some way and we pay more and get less, even to this there is an upside. We are forced to eat less because there is less in the box, bag, and can. If you mindlessly munch on a bag of chips, you’ll mindlessly munch on less, as there is less in the bag. Ever so slowly you get used to smaller portion sizes. Your waistline will benefit.
Yes, it’s hard to see an upside to a recession, especially if one is struggling daily. But in the long run we might look back and be thankful for that wake-up call. And we’ll hopefully make sure that the next recession will find us better prepared.