The Great Consumerism Reset

If the mass consumption of the last half of the twentieth century had a catchphrase, it was "keeping up with the Joneses," and in the past decade or two, that has become almost a fearsome mantra. Manufacturers and retailers capitalized on this ethic of identification through acquisition and effectively marketed ready-made taste and status. Were you Armani or L.L. Bean? IKEA or Pottery Barn? ShopRite, Winn-Dixie, Kroger or Whole Foods?

Popular culture became so infected with the brand-name obsession that it became next to impossible to tell the ads from the actual content. I wonder if someone picking up The Devil Wears Prada fifty years from now would have any idea what the title means. And what of the women of Sex and the City, who uttered the names of their favorite shoe and handbag designers as often as they did the names of their best friends?

Looking back, it doesn't even seem real.

--From The Great Reset by Richard Florida

One of the unexpected blessings of a really severe recession is that it tends to cure consumerism. With any luck, our society's last 30 years of rampantly conspicuous consumerism is finally--hopefully!--drawing to a close. We've entered a new era.

Readers, I want to know what you are doing differently now. How do you think about brands, luxury products, big-ticket purchases and expensive items now compared to several years ago? How have your priorities changed since the "great reset" of our economy?

Have you "downsized" your lives or your careers? What's changed about the cars you buy, the vacations you take, the major purchases you make?

And here's my last question--and it's the one I want you to answer as honestly as you can: are you any less happy now that you've made these changes?

Share your thoughts!

Related Posts:
How To Be Manipulated By a Brand
Attack of the Cheaps! Eight Ideas to Save $500-$700 a Month
Extreme Savings
How to Defeat the Retail Industry's Ninja Mind Tricks

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by purchasing items from via links on this site, or by linking to me or subscribing to my RSS feed. Finally, you can consider submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like, digg or stumbleupon. Thank you for your support!


Anonymous said...

I know it sounds pretentions, but NOTHING has changed. Several years ago, it too my family several (almost a year in most cases) months to save for a vacation - it still does!

I have always purchased clothing that was made well enough to last, I still do instead of buying less expensive items more often.

I am eating better these days, but not less expensively. (Yeah I purchased beans, because they are a more frugal choice, but I am about to donate them to a food bank!)

My happiness quotent is still in the fair to middle range, thanks for asking. (I still want to try out "Money can't buy you happiness" because a lack of mooney isn't so hot either.)

Jen Blacker said...

I cook almost everything from scratch. I clip coupons/match with sales as much as I can. Since Wegmans has opened a store near me though in the summer I have been using less coupons and buying more of their store brand. I've always loved a certain mayo brand, but I tried Wegmans, it wasn't exactly the same but it was good.

In general, the store brand is much cheaper than name brands and tastes just as good/quality is just as good. I keep a spreadsheet on grocery shopping...I am saving less percentage-wise via coupons but SPENDING less on the total bill due to store brands.

I do tend to spend more in the summer when fresh fruits are in season, otherwise our food budget is lower overall. We have cut out going out to eat except for when we have to take family out for birthdays and mother's/father's day. Even on those days I always have a coupon. (Please always tip the full price before coupon to your server!)

Cathy said...

Since we've almost completely stopped eating out, I can spend more on high quality foods, cooked from scratch at home. I spend almost nothing on processed foods by making granola, sweets, yogurt, and breads. I buy lots of foods from bulk bins. We grow our own veggies and dry or freeze them for the winter. I always have some project going around here, like making vinegar or kombacha or spice mixes with herbs from the garden. It's both fun and frugal. This savings goes toward buying high quality, organic dairy, eggs, fruits, vegetables, wine, maple syrup, chicken and grass fed beef. I probably break even on total money spent, but we are much happier and healthier.

Cara said...

We definitely changed our lifestyle. We moved from NYC to a little town in Colorado, and aren't trying to keep up with the Joneses so much anymore. We have decided that we don't want, let alone need, luxury cars, and we don't need any more space than a 3 bedroom house. We also got rid of cable/satellite/netflix and are loving that. We also both got rid of our ipads, which was also a wonderful decision.

So, in general, we are putting more of an emphasis on family than on stuff.

Anne @ Unique Gifter said...

If anything, my household consumption has tended towards more luxury goods than before. We both work in a relatively booming industry and have been blessed with high incomes. Consumer goods have been much cheaper than before, so some have been very rational, luxury purchases. For example, downhill bicycles at thousands off of sticker price, which will last for 8 years or so.
Other than that stuff, we've always been cheap/interested in quality. Sometimes our friends make fun of us for being cheap, especially as they (correctly) perceive us as being able to afford what we want. Lots of people don't seem to be used to the idea that just because you can, doesn't mean you have to or should.

chacha1 said...

I actually downsized myself before the economy tanked. Had to get out of a toxic job that paid well, but made me so miserable that I spent every dime (and more). To accomplish the getting-out required some negotiation with my husband and some rearrangement of our financial habits.

I took a 30% pay cut to get out of there. Went into a much less stressful situation (and back to school). Then came the slump and I was laid off along with several others at my new firm. Fortunately, the training I'd undertaken facilitated some self-employment during the four months that I was looking for another permanent gig, and I also got a good temp job for about 10 weeks in my primary field.

During that period of disemployment, because of the financial rearrangements, we didn't hurt too much. Our cars were both paid off already. We did stop eating out (this is when I started learning to cook). We had never been very "brand" oriented, especially when it comes to clothing. And we hadn't been suckered into buying a residence, so we always had the option (though we never had to exercise it) of moving to a cheaper living situation.

Both of us think of luxury goods as just that: luxuries. It wouldn't occur to either of us to pay more than $40K for a vehicle until and unless every other financial goal were met. Nobody cares what we wear (in the sense of "who are you wearing," we don't run with that kind of crowd).

We have always done most of our traveling by car, and that is the one thing we are expecting to change in the next 5-10 years. We both want to see some parts of the planet that we can't drive to.

Our priorities haven't really changed. They are to stay healthy, to take care of business, to achieve financial security, and to put quality of life front and center.

In our worldview, "quality of life" does not require expensive goods. That said, we still spend a lot on food. :-)

chacha1 said...

Oh, duh, the last question:

We are more happy now. The financial rearrangements we made permitted some real gains to be made, both during my disemployment and in the working-my-way-back-up period following.

And being out of debt for the first time in our adult lives is a really happy place to be.

Janet C. said...

The bad economy forced us to live more question about it (my husband's business was particularly hard hit, as it was construction related). But its not all bad: we communicate a lot better than we used to about money, and that's a good thing. As a result our marriage is probably better than ever after 27 + years. We have made a conscious effort to eliminate our debt (and expect to be debt free in a matter of months, other than mortgage and car payments). We cook frugally; but really we always have (as we are mostly vegetarian at home). We will drink cheap wine. We shop at ethnic/Mexican markets and by doing so save a lot on produce costs. We don't eat a lot of processed foods. We eat out a lot less than we used to...a romantic evening now means cuddling on the couch (and maybe later in bed:-) while drinking cheap wine and watching movies. Nothing wrong with that:-) About the only "brand name" foods I still buy are Heinz ketchup and Best Foods mayonaise. Some habits die hard:-)

Diane said...

I work in retail construction. From evidence of my clients there is no such "reset" going on - things have been going gangbusters in my world the past two years. And if there was actually a reset, it would certainly harm the economy. I don't buy much and am frugal, but consumerism pays my mortgage and feeds me, so I am ambivalent about it.

At any rate, I think what's going on is that we've been through a rough time and would like to THINK we are re-setting. But we are not really.

Diane said...

Oh, and by "we" I meant the USA. Certainly not trying to say that at an individual (micro) level there haven't been meaningful changes to any individual family or person's outlook. Just that at the macro level, not so much.

Anonymous said...

Even though I have a well paying job andc managed to keep it so far, I became debt free so I could help the rest of my family financilly during these past severe/lean years. Only now has my job situation become unstable, and I'm with a company I have worked for, for 21 years. Unfortunately I will also be 57 in January so my job prospects in the same field don't look promising.

I am prepared to take a lesser paying job in a less stressful job too as I approach my retirement years, if I can find something.

I consider myself resourceful, and I don't value material things any longer. I cook all meals using real foods, and enjoy doing it! So if there are any splurges, it's on groceries. And I'm happy in spite of everything.

Marcia said...

Nothing has changed much here. Really, we started scaling back a decade ago (pre-kid). If anything, with a second baby, we are buying a bit more. Convenience is a factor (more prepared foods, more new clothing).

Fewer trips to Hawaii. I have no desire to fly with two kids. More camping. Haven't camped with the baby yet though.

Marcia said...

We did, however, get rid of cable (but we bought an Ipad - net zero there). And I cut my hours when I had the baby.

Next person who asks me when I'm going back full time is gonna get smacked. I finally told the last person, "not before August!" As long as I'm nursing and pumping, forget it. And if I ever do go back full time? That extra 1.5 hours a day will be done AT HOME.

Anonymous said...

I 'reset' several years ago... bankruptcy, foreclosure and on Social Security...

I've always prepared most of my food from scratch. I have shifted to more organic veggies particularly green leafies and soft skinned fruits (apples). What I find is that by eating less canned and packaged (and bakery) goods, I spend about the same or a bit less on food. I also forage as I walk my dog as we have pesticide & herbicide free parks here (good rule of thumb is if the dog is interested in the plant, I'm

I drive a 1995 Honda Accord station wagon... stick... and have been recently told by 2 completely different mechanics that with about $1000 of upkeep over the next couple of years (brakes, timing belt, etc) I can expect another 100,000 miles. I also use mass transit whenever practical.

I'm an odd fit re: clothing and so have never gotten into name brands... women's colors often do not match my coloring well... tried some men's turtle neck and mock t-shirts and not only do they fit better, the muted tones match better but the quality is MUCH better for the price.. and they work just fine under a jacket (ladies - loose fit).

I'm still getting rid of things as I sort thru my own, and my deceased mother and sister's priced possessions... new acquisitions are generally replacements for something that wore out and usually more compact and efficient..

I cruise thrift stores but limit myself to what I actually need.