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Over Coffee

Changing Habits for a Changing Economy
Jan 1, 2009 - 10:05:38 AM

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This week, instead of setting up a deliberate interview for this column, I decided to ask a question of the people I met while out and about doing the things I routinely do; shopping, banking, mailing letters and books bought off my Web site, and yes, of course, talking to South County residents about future news stories and columns.

My question was, “How has the economy’s downturn affected you or those around you?”

Wow! Did I get a load of material. Way too much, in fact, to load into this one column so we’re having the same subject again next week.

That also gives you a chance to email me with your thoughts and comments and let me know if you wish for them to be included.

I started my day at Goin’ Postal in the Shoppes of South Bay (by the new SweetBay Supermarket) in Summerfield Crossings where I live. After putting my items on the scale, I asked owner Steve Licata if a lot of holiday boxes were mailed out of state. Since he worked at another location until last February, he couldn’t compare his business directly to the year before. But there wasn’t any rush of mailing. And other postal people he spoke with said they weren’t doing a lot of shipping because “people weren’t buying anything.”

I only made two Christmas shopping trips - because I didn’t buy for the grandchildren this year- but on both I did notice I didn’t have to elbow my way through crowds anywhere like I have in years before. People weren’t pressed in close enough to have to push my shoulder-strap purse up tight enough not to get pulled off, and I never once lost sight of my shopping buddy in the crowd.
I ran into my “computer guy” Robert Gambrell in Apollo Beach while I was headed for the produce stand. He says he’s been steady- but not swamped. I was surprised at this, because he inherited all Gary Baldasarre’s business when Gary moved GB Computers from South County to Nevada a few months ago. Surely people aren’t learning to solve all their own computer problems. Not with the impregnable voice mails and unintelligible online techs from India and Japan you have to deal with if you do manage to find a way to get through to a human being.
I entered my bank and noticed a few customers scattered around but no lines. Since they still have a full staff, I figured it was just a slow time of day.

I asked Bonnie Denney, assistant vice president and bank branch manager at the Colonial Bank near Publix in Apollo Beach how things had changed there. She’s been there nine years, and would surely notice if there has been any fluctuation in trends.

There has.
“A lot of customers who have lost money in the stock market come in for advice,” she told me. “They’re very concerned about the safety of the rest of it. And they want to make sure banks are safe.”

Because Colonial has been very conservative, she says that has helped.
Other things she has noticed is that it takes a lot of “saving up” for people to get what they want now that credit is less available.

“My own (grown) kids were saved by their Christmas Club account this year,” she told me. “You can’t get to it (to remove money) during the year so it’s there for the holiday. They didn’t get bonuses this year- they always have before- so they really needed it.”

Another trend she has noticed is grandparents helping out their grown children and their families. (Yeah- I seem to stay in that position year ‘round.)

But it isn’t the kids fault. Pretend you make $8 an hour (and remember, the minimum wage is only $5.85), pay between $800 to $1,200 for mortgage or rent (a conservative estimate for this area where some government “low income housing” starts at $600 a month while disability for one person starts at $605) and have two kids in child care at nearly $100 a child per week, where’s the money for food, gas, clothing and utilities coming from?  And that’s without any extras factored in at all.

And financial advisors say never pay more than one-fourth of your income for housing?

Let’s get real here.
I used to work with a woman who never shopped for anything without first going online for coupons. In fact, she found a way to get enough coupons to drop her grocery trips from $100 a basket to $40 without taking any items out.
I’ve just changed the way I shop.

Instead of grabbing everything in one trip to a grocery store (no, I won’t name it here) I use three and sometimes four places to buy our food.

First, I buy everything I can fresh from a farmers market or produce stand. Then I reach into the “bargain bin” at Apollo Meats and Wal-Mart. Since I don’t buy in bulk anymore (although I sure did when raising my four kids and house full of step-kids) I then head directly to the Dollar General store, which as you may know has expanded its food section to include most grocery items at about one-half the cost of grocery stores. The problem I have is I have to buy certain items due to health conditions. But for the kids and grandkids- what’s the difference between Cheerios and some other kinds of “Os” or Oreos and another brand that look (and taste) exactly the same? I’ve even found flavored crackers that cost $1 a box that look and taste like grocery store crackers costing $2.80 to $4 a box.

Then, when all this is said and done, I go to my favorite grocery store and buy whatever I couldn’t get elsewhere.

Does this take time? Yes. Does it take more gas? Yes.
But I figure I’m saving about $40 a week.

Keeping the hot water heater off except when needed also saves about $60 a month. Why keep reheating the same water over and over when you’re not using it? It only takes about 20 minutes to heat the thing up and once hot, we can get two baths, three loads of wash and a dishwasher (better be full!) all done before it runs cold.

Since I’m doing another column on this subject next week readers are invited to email me their thoughts and comments to to be included if they wish.
*Perhaps you have something you’d like to share. Or maybe you’d rather tell the community about your favorite charity or cause: or sound off about something you think needs change. That’s what “Over Coffee” is about. It really doesn’t matter whether we actually drink any coffee or not (although I probably will). It’s what you have to say that’s important. E-mail me at any time and suggest a meeting place. No matter what’s going on, I’m usually available to share just one more cup.

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