Everyone loves to save a buck but in the years following the Great Recession, Americans have taken their thriftiness to new heights.
Inspired by a recent Reddit thread that asked people to share things they hate but also rely on, we decided to explore a few of the most common things people put themselves through in order to save money — and why we hate them so much.
Here's what we came up with:
The Great Recession may have been the best thing ever to happen to couponers, ushering in a new era of extreme couponing that still lingers today. First came the wave of daily deals sites, such as Groupon and Living Social, pumping digital coupons to our email and smartphones with such relentlessness that we wonder if it's even worth the potential savings to put up with them. Then it became cool for celebrities to joke about their coupon-clipping habits, and even wealthy households saw a surge in coupon use. And thanks to TLC’s Extreme Couponing series, it’s no longer good enough to wait for a juicy promo to find its way to your inbox. Couponing is a full-on contact sport, with the truly obsessed going so far as to dumpster dive for discarded sales ads, plan shopping trips weeks in advance and scour the Web for promo codes into the wee hours of the morning. The payoff can be huge, but for us mere mortals who can’t remember the last time we held a newspaper, much less clipped coupons out of one, it can be an enormous pain in the rear.
2. Getting roommates
Shared households made up nearly one out of every five homes in the U.S. three years after the onset of the recession, according to the latest Census data. For many people, splitting the rent with a roommate or two was (and still is) the simplest way to cut household expenses. We just wish it didn’t suck so much. Maybe it’s cute and fun for young people and underemployed college grads to shack up together for a few years, but if you’re over the age of 30, gainfully employed and find yourself bickering with your umpteenth Craigslist roomie over whose turn it is to do the dishes, chances are cohabitating lost its appeal long ago.
In a perfect world, we’d all stock up on artisanal bread and organic toilet paper at Whole Paycheck Foods and spend our evenings hand-picking our dinner from our lush backyard garden. But the reality is that eating well costs a lot of time and money (organic produce costs 10% to 30% more than regular), two things Americans are often in short supply of. And though we hesitate to admit it, we have come to rely on the very same big box retailers we villainize for bankrupting Mom and Pop shops and underpaying their employees. Sure, we hate their cheap fluorescent lights, their waxy, pesticide-ridden produce aisle and the fact that they’ve turned holiday shopping into a contact sport. The problem is, we don’t hate them quite as much as we hate the alternative — going broke.
4. Public transit
There’s no denying some Americans are falling out of love with the automobile. Cars dirty up our air supply, cost thousands of dollars to maintain and can be downright inconvenient in fast-growing cities. As a result, demand for public transport has never been higher. People made 10.5 billion trips on public transport in 2012, the highest annual total since 2008, saving commuters up to $10,000 on average. As good as that news is for our waistlines, pocket books and environment, it means our buses and subways are more packed than ever (not to mention germ-ridden). While residents in public transit-friendly cities such as New York and Boston would probably be lost without their metro cards, commuting by bus in less transit-advanced cities like Atlanta could easily take up to two hours each way for a worker living in the suburbs who has far fewer bus lines to rely on – not to mention the hassle of planning a commute around a train or bus that may come infrequently outside the city.
Cities across the country are struggling to expand transit lines fast enough to meet demand. Due to budget cuts, more than 80% of transit systems have actually either CUT services or considered cutting them since the recession; in some cases, they continued to increase fares at the same time. While commuters wait for them to catch up, saving cash by heading to the bus stop could continue to come with a heavy tax — personal space and time.
5. Hipster cable
Forget homeownership. The new American Dream is being able to afford your own cable subscription. Nearly 700,000 people dropped their cable subscriptions in the U.S between August and September alone. Don't let the numbers fool you, though. Subscriptions to streaming video services are only increasing, spurring a rise in the use of "Hipster Cable."
These days, friends and family share and trade streaming passwords like baseball cards and it’s not uncommon for roommates to divvy up subscriptions to Hulu and Netflix like utility bills. “You get the Netflix this month, I’ll grab my buddy Steven’s Hulu password and we can just use my parents’ HBOGo when Game of Thrones starts again,” is how a typical Friday night conversation might go. If only it weren’t so complicated to keep track. Anyone who’s looked forward to binge-watching their favorite show understands the horror of finding out their computer has forgotten their saved password and good ole’ buddy Steven isn’t answering your emergency texts. And inevitably, you'll gently remind your best friend's boyfriend to update his credit card information on Netflix only to find out he never knew you were mooching off his account in the first place. Awkward.
Think we left something off our list? Feel free to drop us a line or comment below.