Brown-Bagging and Other Cutbacks Still the American Way

a brown bag lunchBrown-bagging is the right choice for many Americans, sacrificing little luxuries and cutting corners wherever possible despite the slow economic "recovery."

It's something I see every day; a bin outside the front door of my five-year-old's kindergarten classroom holds the lunch pails for all his schoolmates. As the year wears on, the bin has gotten fuller and fuller, to the point where the last parents to arrive often have to balance their child's lunchboxes precariously on top.I had expected the reverse (in my house, the stress of making something my picky boys will eat gives way quickly to the ease of writing a check every month or two), but it seems that the parents at our school, much like Americans as a whole, according to Harris Interactive, are keeping expenditures to a minimum, still.

About half, or 45%, of Americans were brown-bagging in October to save money, about the same (48%) as found by a similar online survey in June. Selecting generic goods instead of brand-name products was even more popular in June (65%) and last month (62%). Lots of the money-saving choices are particularly green; 21% have cut down on dry cleaning, protecting the water from harsh chemicals; 27% have canceled a magazine subscription, reducing resource uses; 14% have begun carpooling or taking the bus, saving fossil fuels and reducing harmful carbon emissions and airborne toxins. Over a third, 37% have stopped purchasing water bottles, using refillable water bottles and reducing the need for plastic, transportation, and the inevitable waste from plastic water bottles; 22% have stopped purchasing coffee in the morning, cutting back on the considerable waste from disposable cups.

My generation, the Gen-Xers, is leading among many of these green money-saving cutbacks, and my life certainly reflects that; I've been brewing coffee more regularly at home now than I did last year, and though I don't go to an office for lunch, I'm eating in (and eating leftovers when I do) at least six days a week. The continued mindfulness with small things could be a signal that we don't believe the Recession is really over, or it could be that, once we got in the habit of making smart choices with our "walking-around" money, we learned that life could be just as great without the continuous consumption.

I'm as guilty as anyone of occasionally using spending as a retreat from the stress of the everyday. With my husband serving in the U.S. Army in Kuwait, I'm often overcome with the all-overness of the daily life on my own: to school, errands, dishes, laundry, back to school again, dinner, bedtimes, jiggety jig. I want to stop at a coffee shop, a café, a neighborhood diner and let someone else clean up for a change. If I stop to think a minute -- there are coffee beans at home, I'd rather be debt-free than relieved of dirty dishes, and don't I know this by now? Frugality feels good -- I turn down a side street on my bike, away from the shops, and my three-year-old and I coast home to put the teapot on, and start some soup.

If you are still buying generics and eating in, why are you doing it?

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