The discounts and sales at the mall have been terrific. I needed new shirts and bought four at 60 percent off. I also replaced a worn-out pair of shoes and got a second pair at half price.
And have you seen the ads for large-screen TVs and laptops? How about cars? I'm not in the market for them but if I were, I'd be buying now.
This is the brighter side of the recession, the opportunity for people with savings and a secure income to snap up bargains from struggling retailers. It is also a strong argument to rebut those who claim promoting savings will only prolong and worsen the economic downturn.
Borrowing and spending way beyond our means, regardless of whose fault it was, contributed mightily to the mess we are in. When we save first, we are able to spend without worries, which keeps the economy growing.
"If people are economically secure, there is little or no reason to cut spending," said Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America. "If they are not, however, they should try to get their financial house in order. If they do, the economy will benefit over the long haul."
Brobeck's comments are particularly appropriate in light of the results of a survey released by the federation and the American Savings Education Council during America Saves Week Feb. 22-March 1.
The survey of more than 1,000 American adults, conducted by Opinion Research Corporation in early February, found 77 percent are concerned about the impact of the recession on their personal finances, including 53 percent who are "very concerned."
Yet, the worries and concerns seem to exceed the actual economic impact of the recession so far.
For example, the number who said they are saving enough for retirement declined only slightly, from 52 percent last year to 49 percent now, a difference within the survey's margin of error. The percentage who said they do not spend all their money and save the difference barely fell, from 74 percent to 73 percent.
The number who said they have sufficient emergency savings to pay for unexpected expenses like car repairs or a doctor's visit actually went up from 71 percent to 72 percent. The proportion who said they are reducing consumer debt rose from 38 percent to 44 percent. Also, 40 percent said they are free of consumer (non-mortgage) debt now, up from 39 percent last year.
"For most Americans to date recession-related concerns have been greater than financial losses," Brobeck said. "But tens of millions who still have their jobs and have suffered little or no loss of retirement savings worry that a deepening recession will eventually cost them income or even their jobs."
Paying down debt and building an emergency reserve can help soothe those fears, organizers of America Saves Week stressed in hundreds of activities and events throughout the week.
The easiest way to save, if available to you, is to ask your employer to deposit just enough of your paycheck into your checking account to cover your expenses, and the rest into a savings account, suggest the CFA and NACHA-The Electronic Payments Association. The latter is a not-for-profit association that oversees the Automated Clearing House (ACH) network for electronic payments.
"Just like retirement savings, if you automatically save the money, you are less likely to spend it," said Jan Estep, president and CEO of the NACHA group. "Splitting direct deposit is easy to set up for new employees or established users. The process takes minutes to complete. Just talk to your employer."