Thursday, May 7, 2009

Small pleasures in time of Recession

RHYS: I've just been traveling around the country, attending two big mystery celebrations--the first, Malice Domestic, honors the traditional mystery as written by Agatha Christie (hence the Agatha awards for which both Rosemary and I were nominated, but unfortunately didn't win this time). The second was the festival of mystery in Oakmont, PA. This wonderful event brings together readers and writers and it's so good for a writer's ego. One sits surrounded by large stacks of books and signs copies all evening as the stacks get lower and lower. I was interested to see that the number of attendees was not down this year, however I sold fewer hardcovers than usual. Readers told me they are getting their hardcovers from the library this year and only buying paperbacks. So it's hard to know how much the recession will affect our sales. In past recessions book buying was up because it was an affordable escape. But now, with Netflix and all the things one can do with a computer, we have stiff competition.

It's interesting that one of my series (the Royal Spyness books) is set in the Great Depression, and shows people making similar economies in hard times. My heroine's sister-in-law, the duchess, has been reduced to toast at tea time instead of crumpets but still has to have her Fortnum's jam on it. Of course there is no comparison between the level of hardship during those years and what we are going through now--unless we are the unlucky ones who have lost our jobs or homes, of course. Then this time is every bit as bleak. My own daughter has been unemployed for over a year, and a large chunk of her unemployment money goes on Cobra, trying to keep up her health insurance. Let's hope that health reform comes quickly as this is ridiculous.

I've been lucky enough that my books are still selling well, but I believe I could live very simply if I had to. We eat healthily but my husband loves to shop for weekly specials so we have a freezer full of things that were on sale. I don't buy many clothes. I could actually live for many years with the clothes I already have (but I wouldn't want to do that, of course). I don't use many cosmetics. We have Netflix and rarely go to the movies. However we do love to travel. That would be the one thing I'd hate to give up--and of course there are fabulous travel bargains at the moment.

So what have you cut back on, or given up? What are you unwilling to give up? What small pleasures do you still allow yourself? Are you still buying books or getting them from the library? Have you invested in a Kindle yet?

ROBERTA: We don't have a vacation planned for this summer--we'll see if that holds! And we've bandied about the idea of a new car--that's been put on ice, too. I know plenty of people run their car's mileage up over 100,000--I just don't like the idea of having to rely on a guardian angel in case the thing breaks down. In general, we're thinking more and buying less. Trouble is, my husband is convinced this is exactly the kind of behavior that will keep the country's economy from really picking up. What do you all think of that? (And by the way, one thing I refuse to cut out is shopping at our local farmer's market. I've been waiting all winter for that to open back up!)

HANK: So interesting! Well, okay, confession. I still buy lattes. I still buy my perfume (Hermes 24 Faubourg). However: Our car is from 2001! And I'm not really interested in a new one. I, too, am shopping in my closet. I'm hoarding my Jo Malone bath gel. And every grocery shopping trip, I pick up the 4.99 a pint blueberries...think about them longingly...and put them back. And then I get so annoyed. I miss the blueberries.Hmm. Does that make any sense? Perfume yes, blueberries no?

JAN: I'm not sure how we economize ever makes a lot of sense. I'm really big on shutting off lights, and sometimes if you heard me talking to my kids, you'd think this WAS the great depression. But I'll spring for a totally unnecessary cashmere cardigan - I mean, I had to... it was just exactly the right coral color....

So how about it, dear blog visitors--are you cutting back or doing without?


  1. Jan! Where did you find the cardigan? (OK, not really. But I really need a black one.)

    Yes, I'm madly turning off the lights, too.

  2. I watch the thermostat, and instead of turning it up, I'll throw on my salmon colored cardigan--I refuse to call it pink.

    My biggest expenses are my road trips, particularly writer conferences. I'm skipping Bouchercon, skipped Malice, and cutting back my attendance at Pennwriters.

    So far I've gone to CT for Murder 203, and Oakmont last weekend. Five months into the year, and only two events. My, my.

    Paula Matter

  3. Yes, lots of people skipping conferences. What do you all think about that?

  4. I'm planting a garden. Really. So far it's a hole in the ground and some lumber lying on the lawn. And a batch of fascinating seed catalogs.

    Whether or not this will produce food remains to be seen. My daughter and I share a fondness for exotic vegetables, and I want multicolored things--pink potatoes, purple beans. And there's this really strange pointed cabbage I saw a picture of...

    Ouch, Malice costs! But it was so worth it.

  5. I've always lived very frugally, so can't really cut back. Thermostat's been down for years, CFLs in all the lights that will take them, 1997 and 1999 cars, etc.

    Ironically, I'm working full-time for the first time in about five years, so with two incomes and for the moment no fear of losing one, we're actually quite well off and so are taking a rather big vacation this year. Doing our part to stimulate the economy! And we got a good deal. The more we procrastinated--these are big decisions!--the lower the price got.

    I even sprang for Muse & the Marketplace!

  6. I don't Starbucks quite so freely anymore, and I've noticed I'm doing less pleasure-traveling -- though at this point, that's a relief. I'm gone enough for other reasons that it is nice to be home when I can be. I'm also eating out less, or when I do eat out, eating differently.

    All that said, I've found I have been buying more books. It was no fun at all watching an industry I love struggle so in the last three months of last year (every major publisher--including my own--reeling and responding in some way), and so while I've cut out in some ways, I am Aggressively Buying Books--a little testament of faith in the power of the book (and an indirect message of love to authors I admire for getting in there and crafting something splendid).

    Seven Starbucks = one hardcover. I do love my coffee, but it's definitely worth the trade.

    Besides, I can make coffee at home. And stand at the kitchen counter and read a book. :-D

  7. I'm going to the library more, even for paperbacks. We're not going out to dinner nearly as much, maybe once a month now. I decided against Malice and Pittsburgh this year but am going to Bouchercon. I'm buying clothes on sale and clearance if I buy any. We are going to Paris this summer, but my in-laws are treating us. Otherwise we'd just spend our week at the Cape at my friend's cottage, which we get for a steal.

    Roberta, I think John is half right about how not spending is not helping. But on the other side of that coin, spending got us into this trouble. Too many people pulled out those credit cards, bought cars and houses they couldn't really afford. I think right now a lot of people are living the way they should've been all along.

  8. I gave up the cleaning lady and found out cleaning is the perfect thing for me to do when I can't write! Cleaning made it easy to give up the weekly manicures since they don't last as long. Shopping for clothes only occurs within my closet. And Starbucks is much more of a treat than a daily occurence.

  9. Joanne, will you come to my house and clean? Our cleaning friend retired four years ago, and the house is now officially a diaster zone! When I can't write, I take my dog for a walk or read I won't see how bad the dust-bunnies are.

    To keep expenses down, I'm also switching off the lights, which is a 180 from how I used to be. I did go to Malice (which was awesome), but I'm still waffling about attending Bouchercon.

    Last year with the gas prices sky high, my husband, son and I went cross-country. We would have gone the summer before, but our son loved school so much (yeah, right) he HAD to sign up for summer school. That gave us one more year to save for the $4.50/gallon gas we encountered out west in June & July.

    Since we used up all our vacation funds last summer, the only trips we'll be taking for the next four years are to and from college-related activities for our son, who will be starting college in the fall. Instead we're attending free events (which are many in the DC area), using hiking and biking trails and packing our lunch bags rather than buying out.

  10. Gardening, playing are some of the ideas...