In a society where the practice of hoarding warrants multiple TV shows and shopping is a typical way to pass the time, frugality has not traditionally been America’s strongest quality. But since the economic downturn in 2008, Americans haven’t felt as assured about their finances as before and it is showing in the way they spend
In 2005 the average personal savings rate in the United States was 1.5%, Japan’s was 15%. Personal savings have grown to 4% since then and spending is down 0.5% since May, the lowest amount of retail spending since late 2008. Despite a gradually recovering economy Americans just aren’t as willing to spend as they use to be. Ken Goldstein, who works at the consumer research group The Conference Board, thinks this could be a permanent change in behavior:
It has been an absolutely fundamental shift in consumer behavior coming in no small part from an absolutely fundamental shift in where consumers think they are and where they think they can expect to be, not just six months from now but five years, 10 years down the road.
Though this is bad news for big retail stores, it is good news for the Earth. According to the wildly popular short, The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard, Americans make up 5% of the world’s population but we consume 30% of the resources; in part because we buy products that are not designed to last but also because consumers buy more than they need.
In the past year property values and manufacturing have grown; the shift is not consumers losing the ability to spend, but thinking more carefully about how to spend what they have.Whether it is intentional or not, when Americans tighten their belts there's a huge impact on global resources.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans spend 3-4 fold more of their time consuming than Europeans, and all that buying leads to a lot of throwing out. For every rarely used dining set or flat screen TV, valuable resources are used to essentially go straight to the landfill.