Although it technically ended four years ago, the Great Recession has had a lasting imprint on U.S. consumer behavior. In a major attitude shift, a Gallup poll earlier this year found that the majority of Americans today enjoy saving money more than they enjoy spending it.
The New Normal
Ten years ago, Americans were fairly evenly split, with 48 percent saying they preferred to save and 45 percent preferring to spend. Those numbers didn’t vary more than a few percentage points through the early 2000s. But in 2009 a dramatic shift started, and today 60 percent of Americans prefer saving, while just 37 percent enjoy spending.
This preference for saving vs. spending cuts across all age groups, income categories and even political attitudes. People who think the economy is improving, or don’t have personal financial worries, are no more likely to enjoy spending than were those who think the economy is still getting worse or are struggling with financial issues themselves. No wonder Gallup calls the preference for saving the “new normal.”
The recession has left consumers struggling. Another Gallup poll asked U.S. adults, “Do you feel good about the amount of money you have to spend these days?” More than half (53 percent) said no. Only 69 percent said they have enough money to buy the things they need on an ongoing basis. Even those who have largely recovered are fearful of another body blow: Just 47 percent say they have enough financial “cushion” to handle an unexpected major purchase.
Good news, however: There’s one group of Americans that is feeling better about spending than any other—and it might surprise you. It’s the baby boomers—those aged 49 to 65.
While you might expect the boomers to be fretting and saving, given the losses many took in their retirement savings during the recession, they are showing few signs of worry even as they get closer to (or enter) retirement. In fact, a Gallup poll found that as people enter their 50s, their attitudes about their finances start an upward climb.
Americans entering their 50s and older are:
- More likely to say they “feel good about the amount of money they have to spend”
- Less likely to worry that they’re spending too much money
- More likely to say they have the ability to "make a major purchase, such as a car, appliance or significant home repair”
- More likely to say they have enough money to “do what they want to do”
How Can You Entice Boomers to Spend?
Tap into their desire to reward themselves. As retirement (or traditional retirement age) nears, boomers’ minds are likely to turn to examining their bucket lists and enjoying some hard-earned rewards. Position your product or service as a well-deserved treat for reaching big goals (sending the last kid off to college, retiring, turning 50 or 60). Not selling big-ticket items? No problem—even a latte can be positioned as a luxurious little treat.
Focus on freedom. With kids out of the house (hopefully) and family obligations shrinking, the 50s and 60s are a time for boomers to, as Gallup put it, “do what they want to do”—whether that’s planting a vegetable garden in what used to be the kids’ play area, or taking a trip around the world. Whether you’re selling something big or small, focus your marketing message on that feeling of freedom, and it will naturally appeal to the “Me Generation.”
Remember, they’re not old. Baby boomers may be 65, but when they look in the mirror they don’t see age—they see what they feel, which is youthful. Even if you’re 25, make sure your marketing images and message match the boomers’ self-image (no gray-haired grannies in housecoats, please).
Go for the grandkids. Baby boomers eager to spend are lavishing money on their grandkids, so if you normally market to parents, try expanding your outreach to the grandparent generation too. This can work for the obvious, such as baby and children’s apparel, toys and accessories, but also for things you might not think grandparents would buy—like children’s sports programs, extracurricular activities like art or music lessons, and tutoring. With many adults in their 30s and even 40s feeling financially strapped, according to the same Gallup poll, more grandparents are likely to help pay for things like these that parents would normally handle.
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