(Long Island, NY) About half a year ago, I was approached about doing some work for a website called CheapToday.com. The gist of the site is basically what the name implies; a destination on the Internet designed to provide links to cheap deals on all sorts of consumer products. “This is a GREAT idea!” I said to myself, looking at the war in Iraq, skyrocketing gas prices, the rice shortage making headlines at the time, and the cost of groceries going higher by the day.
When I was asked to take the gig, I was wondering just how bad things could get before the rubber band snapped back the other way. Or would it? The future seemed pretty uncertain; it looked like we were headed for a Mad Max style future complete with roving gangs of motorcycle freaks wearing hockey masks pillaging every gas station across the land.
Isn’t it funny how much difference (half) a year makes? Six months later and look what we’re actually talking about a pullout from Iraq, gas in some places has gone back down below two bucks a gallon, and our real problems have more to do with the banks and financial industry than whether we’re paying a dollar per lime at the supermarket. (My margarita consumption has gone back to normal now that the limes are back down to a more reasonable price, but I yearn for things to really get back to normal so I can start making key lime pie again without consulting with a mortgage banker.)
The economic news is still pretty grim. We’re watching Wall Street bounce up and down like a cheerleader, the unemployment stats aren’t making anyone happy and the Big Three automakers seem quite concerned that crappy business practices and a grossly incompetent lack of future-minded planning might take them out of the auto industry completely without some kind of government welfare. I’ve never heard of government cheese for a major corporation, but isn’t that exactly what they are asking for?
It’s funny—last year at this time, I was doing some writing for a website called GearCrave.com. This was a website which, for all intents and purposes was the opposite of CheapToday.com. Gearcrave had me writing about stuff the editors called “aspirational”. One entry I did for them was called “How to Buy Your Own Private Island”. That’s a pretty far cry from hot deals on stereo gear, televisions, home and garden stuff and other places Americans suddenly seem very interested in saving a buck on. I stopped writing “aspirational” material long before the crash, but I often wonder if my old editors were soiling their collective diapers when the economy went into a vegetative state. I find it strange that I was later tempted to start work on a website that so perfectly sums up what Americans are now interested in– just as things started to get really squirrelly on Wall Street and in the housing market.
It’s true, Americans are now obsessed with deals, bargain hunting, and frugal shopping. Is this the beginning of a new kind of spending trend? One that will last longer than the crisis itself? Conspicuous consumption—the kind of thing that other nations make fun of us for—has been a way of life for so long that living reasonably probably feels like an actual sacrifice.
But it’s truly ABOUT DAMN TIME, don’t you think, that we started obsessing over those cheap deals and low-low prices? The days of “aspirational” spending are far from over—it only takes a look at the money-mad lifestyles in places like Dubai to show us conspicuous consumption is a dreadful habit around the globe—but I am thinking that when it comes to future trends, websites that cater to those of us with more miserly tendencies are going to make a lot of money. Sure, that gold-plated iPhone might still be amusing to look at, but who’s buying these stupid things?
Wait a moment; I just saw something on the E! network about the top 20 millionaires under 25 years of age, and most of them were spending insane money on dresses and cars…something on the order of $1600 per dress for one young movie star. It’s enough to make you gag…but then in the middle of the show I learned that one of them, Emma Watson—the young lady who plays the female lead in the Harry Potter movies—is reported as a strangely frugal, non-spendy type of person. Is it possible for someone to earn a Hollywood-sized paycheck and NOT dive headfirst into the sort of spending frenzy that would make the Sultan of Brunei smile? Is there something WRONG with her?
There might be hope after all. Maybe she’ll lead by example?
To all the bargain hunters, to all the penny-pinchers and coupon savers, I say more power to you. The laws of supply and demand ultimately affect prices—and if there’s no demand for goofy, aspirational products like the world’s most expensive toilet or a laptop studded with Swarovski diamonds, they will go away. When the demand for quality goods at a reasonable price is on the rise, well, you do the math.
Just look what happened when we quit buying gas. It took a little while, but the global demand dropped so much that the prices went from nearly four bucks a gallon to what they are now. How does that make you feel, consumer?
Turns out, we had the power all along. Just stop buying overpriced stuff.