If you believe everything you read in the paper, it would appear that everyone is staying in more, buying the basic ranges at the supermarket and basically putting their foot down to any unnecessary spending.
With these preconceptions in mind, market research firm Engage carried out a survey to see what the typical trends and behaviour of UK consumers really are. The research revealed four distinct groups: ‘Scared Down Shifters’, ‘Cash–strapped Realists’, ‘Cautious Optimists’ and ‘Carry–On Regardless’.
Read on to see which group you best fit into and then follow Moneywise’s advice on what action you should be taking as a result.
1. Scared Down Shifters
The largest group in the survey (39% of respondents) was labelled Scared Down Shifters.
Marie Sutton, a director at Engage, identifies this group of people as working class individuals with children in the main. “They are family–oriented and have to limit the cost of their households and so will tend to cut back on everything,” she explains.
Shifters expect their finances to be stretched for a considerable period of time and are displaying extreme caution and pessimism about the future. So, simple pleasures such as eating out or trips to the pub are ditched in favour of family expenditure.
But despite their gloomy outlook, Scared Down Shifters are still the keenest group to hear about the economy.
If you are a Scared Down Shifter…
Your naturally pessimistic attitude towards the future means that you should concentrate on building up savings. Repeated cuts to the Bank of England’s base rate mean savers get a poor choice when it comes to interest rates on their savings vehicles and ISAs and you could be forgiven for thinking ‘why bother?’
However, with unemployment on the rise, it’s important that you think ahead and, if possible, build up a savings buffer for a rainy day. Even if rates offered by savings accounts and cash ISA are looking poor, it is still worth trying to squirrel away what you can – try putting some of your money into an instant access account, where you can get your hands on it in an emergency, with the rest locked away in a fixed-rate account where it can grow.
If you are able to lock your money away for at least five years, then consider a stocks and shares ISA for a better chance of growth; however, don’t do this before you have saved the equivalent of a few months salary in an ISA or savings account.
Although interest rates aren’t anything to shout about at the moment they won’t be this low forever and getting into the discipline of saving is only a good thing.
Scared Down Shifters should also look on the bright side – the economic climate means retailers and other businesses that rely on you spending are more prepared than ever to cut their prices.
So, rather than completely sacrifice outings with friends or family, you should concentrate on finding cheaper ways to enjoy life. For example, using vouchers to get discounts at restaurants or in the shops.
2. Carry–on Regardless
The second largest group identified by the survey are the Carry–on regardless brigade, which make up 21% of the survey’s respondents. This group of individuals are most likely to say ‘I’m sick to death of hearing about the economy’.
“Consumers in this group tend to be male, young, single, middle–class, white–collar workers,” says Sutton. “They are more secure in their jobs and are the group most likely to take advantage of the situation; enjoying all the bargains and being smart about it.”
Carry–ons will do as their name suggests: continuing to spend or even increasing the amount of their money that goes on holidays and gym memberships.
If you are a Carry-on Regardless…
While everything might be rosy now, be aware that your situation could change so it is important to still have some control over your expenditure. Writing a budget might not sound like a lot of fun but seeing all your incomings and outgoings will help you to see what areas you could cut back on if your circumstances change.
If you’ve got a large disposable income then consider building up a savings pot for the future (see above). And, if you do have money to spend, then try and take advantage of the huge reductions on bigger purchases – there are certainly lots of special offers from electrical goods to furniture.
Getting a mortgage at the moment is tricky but if you can, the fall in house prices means you can get more for your money compared to a couple of years ago. Saving up a deposit (preferably of at least 25%) is a good way to ensure you get a competitive mortgage rate.
If you’ve already got a mortgage then consider making overpayments while interest rates are so low and beat falling house prices.
3. Cash–strapped Realists
Accounting for 15% of those surveyed, Cash–strapped Realists, with their pessimistic attitudes about the future, are similar to Scared down Shifters. Sutton describes the group as typically male, blue–collar workers. As a result, they are likely to be very wary of making big–ticket purchases because of job insecurity.
So while the Cash–strapped might hold off buying a new car or three–piece suite, their gloomy attitude isn’t particularly reflected in their everyday spending, which continues in much the same way.
If you are a Cash–strapped Realist…
Potential job insecurity means you are wise to not splash out on big purchases but you could do more to cut down your everyday outgoings too. Voucher websites vouchercodes.co.uk, myvouchercodes.co.uk and lovefoodlovedrink.co.uk, among others, give users discounts and special offers on a number of shops and restaurants.
By registering with each of the websites you receive a weekly e–newsletter with the latest offers to either use online or to print off.
With your similar outlook to Scared Down Shifters, it is also worth taking a more active approach to saving for the future, even if you feel you can’t do this on a big scale.
And thinking about how you can protect yourself against unemployment is also a good idea.
4. Cautious Optimists
In contrast to the fears of the Cash-strapped Realists, Cautious Optimists (21% of those surveyed) plan to cut their spending on everyday items but they don’t want to forfeit their lifestyle by cutting out on things that they consider ‘essential’.
“They tend to be female and adopt an ‘it will be alright in the end’ belief,” says Sutton.
Being a Cautious Optimist is less to do with your job or standing in life and more to do with your general outlook and attitude in life, which explains that while Cautious Optimists will make certain cutbacks, they are not too worried about the long term.
So, while they might be prepared to cut back on ready meals and start buying own brand at the supermarket, they still want to buy their coffee at Starbucks or Pret a Manger every morning. And Cautious Optimists would never consider ditching their gym membership, but would probably be prepared to forfeit a new exercise outfit.
If you are a Cautious Optimist…
Like your cousins, the Cash–strapped Realists, you should take advantage of the special offers and vouchers to cut down your spending.
While your sunny disposition is enviable and will undoubtedly see you get less stressed, it wouldn’t hurt to make some small tweaks to your spending habits.
Clasping that pricey takeaway latte on your way into work may be the incentive you need to get out of bed each day but it doesn’t take a genius to work out that £2.05 a day will cost you £10.25 a week and approximately £492 a year, if you discount four weeks' holiday.
An extra £500 is nothing to be sniffed at and then if you also buy lunch out regularly you could be looking at even bigger savings.
Buying own–brand products at the supermarket works in the same way and gets you into the routine of shopping around for the best deals. Use mysupermarket.co.uk to ensure you always pay the cheapest price for your weekly shop.
Making cutbacks in these areas means you can still afford to keep your gym membership or go on that summer holiday but if it comes to the crunch, you are at least in the habit of cutting back and know you can ‘do without.’ And if you can find ways to reduce the cost of doing the things you love, all the better.