Our times: Web searches for 'luxury' drop, rise for 'coupons'

Welcome to that rainy day.

After many high-flying years of living large — during which ordinary, middle-income Americans became accustomed to thinking that pricey purchases ranging from McMansions to the latest i-gadget to cosmetic surgery were necessities rather than extravagances — people today have come to see the value of living small amid an economic recession.

In belt-tightening times, what's required is a creative approach to spotting deals and saving money.

Thrift and responsibility suddenly sound sexy. Balance, both in lives and in bank accounts, oozes desirability. Instant gratification, by contrast, sounds like the cheap thrill it really is.

"I just think we've been off course," says Marty Langley, a resident of Tahoe Park in California. "I'd love for things to go back where people just stop and realize what's important instead of all this shopping."

While it remains to be seen whether the nouveau cheapskate mind-set will be a permanent change, a recent comScore study shows that Internet searches for "luxury" nose-dived between 2007 and 2008, even as searches for "coupons" soared by 12 million.

Other searches increasing in frequency? "Unemployment," "foreclosure" and "bankruptcy." A steady drip of bad news has turned Americans anxious and fearful, pecking away on our laptops for advice.

"We were in our economic adolescence," says Maria Nemeth, a Sacramento psychologist who writes about money. "What we're called upon to do now is to become economically mature.

"This is not the time for guilt or blame. We were all in this collective dream, this collective adolescence. What's required is that we wake up and look at what's important to us."

Let's look at it this way: Being an economic grown-up is empowering. We can't control the stock market or whether job layoffs are headed our way, but we can control how much we spend.

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