Guilty Pleasures - Are people really decreasing their spending?

By Zaneta Lowe email

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM)-Gas, groceries, what's putting a pinch in your budget? Most people say they're being forced to cut back. More importantly though, what have you actually cut out?

As consumers complain about price increases, we found it doesn't necessarily mean their spending is decreasing.

An afternoon of scrambled dogs and french fries is treat for Christy Roper and her family.

Like most, this wife and mother of six says they've been finding creative ways to cut back.

"We live in Pine Mountain so it takes 35 miles to get in, so that's 35 miles of gas, so we cut our gas prices down by just staying at home," says Roper.

According to recent figures from the National Retail Federation, consumers have been focusing mainly on necessities and holding back on discretionary spending.

Local residents say that's true.

"I make sure I find out who's having what on sale and then I don't buy just anything, I buy what I really need," says Ola Odutola.

But we also discovered that's not the case for all consumers or all categories of spending.

Take cosmetics, Mary Kay officials say women still find money for what's considered "private luxuries" like lipstick.

It's company in fact saw a 60% increase in lipstick sales over last year.

"My husband always says if we didn't have money for anything, we'd have money for makeup," Roper's mother Cindy Cone says laughingly.

And then, there are the other pampering purchases.

"Definitely once a month, I go get my manicure and my pedicure," says Ebony Ogletree.

"I get my hair done once a month and I do not miss that appointment because I mean it makes me feel better about myself," adds Roper.

A classic example of how consumers equate spending to self-esteem and self-worth according to Dr. Brian Bourdeau.

He's an Assistant Professor of Marketing at Auburn University who also teaches consumer behavior.

"They'll cut back, they'll maybe spend less on groceries, spend less on dining out, things of that nature, but at the same time, something that's very personal to them, they'll keep doing it," says Dr. Bourdeau.

Bourdeau also says consumers often make purchases that fill voids.  This could be the case with alcohol.

Officials with the Alabama Beverage Control Board say sales were up 9% compared to July of 2007.

And with an even sharper spike, the Georgia Lottery saw its highest sales in history totaling more than $3.5 billion up more than $90 million from last year's sales record.

"This may be how folks are looking at their savings, and saying hey look, I'll take this opportunity, I'll take this chance because at the end of the day what's the difference between a one and six chance on a lottery scratch off as opposed to a mutual fund that's down 12, 15%," Bourdeau says.

A chance some players are hoping will pay off.

"I won $50 yesterday and last week I won like $45 but you're going to throw that much away on something else," one woman tells us as she bought a $3 Golden Ticket.

"I'm praying for some luck," says another.