Apparently frugal is the new cool. The Great Recession has wrought miraculous spending changes on the once profligate denizens of the pricey coastal cities that are also the cultural lead dogs for America's spending pack. That's the clear and obvious takeway from a year-over-year discretionary spending comparison released on September 15 by personal finance website Mint.com.

The list was topped by three cities that are notable for their regular perches among the most expensive places in the country to reside, namely, San Jose (27 percent drop in discretionary spending), New York City (-26 percent), and Los Angeles (-25 percent).

For some reason, Mint.com also broke out Brooklyn as a separate city (perhaps there are some "Welcome Back, Kotter" fans at Mint HQ) and boy did those Park Slope mommies tighten their cargo pants web belts, with the poorer cousin to Manhattan clocking a whopping 28 percent decline in discretionary spending.

Other high-rent locales that made it to the cheap spender list included San Francisco (-19 percent), San Diego (-23 percent), and Miami (-16 percent). In other words, the folks who partied up for the past seven years are putting away their punchbowls and shopping at Wal-Mart for kicks.

The Mint data is probably among the most reliable spending information collected. Unlike almost any other data collector, Mint is privy to most or all of the spending transactions of its users. The system automatically logs and categorizes transactions for bank bill pays, credit cards, debit cards, mortgages, and other types of transactions that can be automatically pulled out of a user's bank account.

This is only the second time that Mint, which was acquired on September 14 by personal finance giant Intuit (INTU), has released this type of data. The data is probably skewed towards heavy internet users, meaning younger users in coastal areas. But the size of the sample is large enough and well distributed enough now to clearly capture key national trends in detail.

All told, America has not been feeling very spendy. The national average decline in discretionary spending recorded among Mint users for the past year was 13 percent. But a number of cities that have been less impacted by the economic downturn were, not surprisingly, among the comparative big spenders with percentage spending declines considerably less than the wallet-snapping champs.

Most notable, St. Paul seems to have missed the recession bandwagon. It recorded a spending decline of only 2 percent, year-over-year. With a mixture of jobs in healthcare, government, finance and other private sector areas, St. Paul has a relatively well diversified economy that is better suited to weather recessions. Other cities showing lesser declines included St. Louis and Philadelphia (-8 percent), Denver and Austin (-9 percent), and Minneapolis (-10 percent). Considering the sharp declines in the cities that really enjoyed the greatest excesses of the boom, the Mint numbers imply that the simple life in the slow cities may be more stable and user friendly after all.

(Credit to Paul Kedrosky for the Mint.com post.)


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