6 Upsides of the Down Economy

Note: Check out Jeff Yeager talking about saving money on ABC News Now

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My father-in-law had a saying: “If you don’t have a good time, you usually learn a good lesson.” I’m reminded of that a lot these days during the current economic recession.

I’m not saying that the economic downturn is a good thing, particularly for people who have lost jobs or their homes. But fortunately that’s not most Americans. For the rest of us, some involuntary belt tightening might have some silver linings. In other words, I think the current market corrections we’re going through might just trigger some long overdue — and ultimately very positive — lifestyle corrections for many Americans.

Consider:

* We’re borrowing less and putting more into savings. We’ve truly learned a lesson — albeit the hard way — about living beyond our means. In 2008, savings rates rose to 1.7%, coming off the lowest savings rates since the Great Depression. And figures recently released for April 2009 are even more impressive, showing the personal savings rate for the month at a 14-year-high of 5.7%.

* We’re wasting less. AKA Using it up, making it last, doing without. This is clear from the increase in thrift store and re-sale store sales. Goodwill Store revenues in February were up 7.2% over last year, and for the first time in generations, many thrift stores are selling their wares faster than additional merchandise is being donated.

* We’re building smaller homes. It’s bad for your bank account and bad for the environment to construct, heat, cool, electrify, decorate, maintain and pay taxes and insurance on unnecessary square footage. For the first time in more than 10 years, the average size of new homes being built dropped by nearly 300 square feet, or 11%. Studies show that we, as humans, are inherently uncomfortable living in too large of spaces, and the recent economy has shown that we’re definitely uncomfortable trying to pay for them. In with “Not So Big” and “Little Boxes“!

* We’re driving less and staying around home more. When gas was at $4 a gallon, two-thirds of Americans said they changed their habits and drove less…and nothing awful happened because of it. It save resources, generates less pollution, and, because we’re spending more time closer to home, it stands to bring our families and communities closer together. That’s why I still continue to pay $4 a gallon at the pump, or, rather, pay myself the difference in my “$4 a Gallon Savings Club.”

* We’re eating lower on the food chain, which is usually healthier. Sales of poultry are up, red meat are down. We’re buying more staples, and fewer processed foods. We’re eating more fruits and vegetables, and raising a lot more of those ourselves: Home vegetable gardens are projected to be up 40% this year compared to 2007. If these trends continue, the next dire headline out of the recession might just be “American Obesity Epidemic Declines!”

* Hard times might help to revitalize local businesses/economies. In the long run, it stands to reason that the current recession might actually help to revitalize long struggling local businesses and economies. Consider these factors: * Transporting products from far away becomes less cost effective, making the produce at local farmers’ markets, for example, more cost competitive. * Big national chains are going under in record numbers, opening the door to local/independent businesses. * Local businesses are more responsive to changing demands and have fewer, if any, demands by shareholders for higher returns on investment. * And many local communities, like those in the Berkshire region of Massachusetts, are taking matters into their own hands and finding creative ways to help local business not just survive, but thrive.

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