During the Great Recession, people made drastic changes in how they spent their money. They stopped treating credit cards as cash. They learned to save and learned to wait.
Now the recession is over, at least technically, and the economy is growing again, at least a little. But many changes in spending habits that most Americans first saw as temporary have taken hold, perhaps for good, some economists say.
This is the reality of the new American consumer focused, cautious and tactical.
In Jacksonville, Fla., Bernie Decelles and his wife both have jobs and own their home. They recognize that the economy is still fragile, though, and that they work in industries still struggling. They scrutinize every purchase they make.
"It used to be if we saw something, and liked it, we bought it," said Decelles, a salesman for a company that makes storage equipment. "Nowadays, no way."
In dozens of interviews nationwide with shoppers, retailers, manufacturers, economists and analysts, The Associated Press identified key changes in consumer behavior that have endured after the recession. They include:
• Americans are buying brands and shopping at stores that they shunned before. They are trying more store-brand products for things such as detergent and beer. Goodwill and consignment shops are attracting customers across the income spectrum. And people are putting big-ticket items on layaway rather than whipping out charge cards.
• Consumers are taking a surgical approach to shopping, buying only what they need, when they need it. Pantries are no longer filled with weeks' worth of food, nor closets with clothes bought seasons in advance. Shoppers are visiting fewer stores, traditional and online, and getting only what's on their shopping lists.
• The wealthy are spending again, but their behavior is much like everyone else's. They are buying more timeless and classic goods: watches and handbags that won't go out of style quickly. They are even gasp! recycling some of their most expensive clothes and wearing them twice.(2 of 2)
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