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Consumers Permanently Changed By Recession, And That's Okay!

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The revolution is complete.

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When last we caught up with researcher Jim Taylor, vice chairman of The Harrison Group, he talked all about the emerging new resourcefulness of consumers. This week, delivering an update on the behavior of affluent Americans, he said the recession may be "officially" over, but household behavior has fundamentally changed forever.

In a September update of the Study of Affluence and Wealth in America conducted for American Express (AXP) Publishing, only 46% are extremely or very optimistic about their children's future. And these are the families that have been hurt the least by the downturn.

"People remain financially insecure," Taylor told a crowd of media executives at the Digital Publishing and Advertising Conference in New York. This doesn't bode well for the holiday retail season .The Harrison Group is forecasting a 15% decline in gift-giving this year.

But while confidence in leaders is at an all-time low, what continues to trend up is self-sufficiency and communication within families about what they really need. Shopping and investing (what little is being done) are now a genuine family affair.

Males and females are talking like never before, and together create an intelligent, loyal, and self-sufficient unit. Kids are involved in 55% of all family purchase decisions. End result is better relationships and more happiness all around.

What ran through my mind as Taylor rattled off his stats was the recent afternoon spent with my daughter at the swanky Time Warner (TWX) Center off Central Park. She loves to shop. I'm getting better at tolerating it. Most of our time was spent darting in and out of Coach (COH), bebe (BEBE), Bennetton (BEN), Armani Exchange, and J.Crew (JCG) playing her favorite fantasy shopping game -- Guess The Price!

Eventually we parted with some money.

We've also been cooking up a storm lately. Our version of Julie & Julia involves mastering the recipes in the Weight Watchers Momentum Cookbook. It's a challenge to dice the ingredients with dull knives, so we indulged in a splurge at Williams-Sonoma (WSM) -- a store that makes anyone feel like chef for a day -- to the tune of $45 in cooking gear.

I don't like to admit it, but True Luxury columnist Amy McVay is right. The price of our super-sharp new Kuhn Rikon Paring Knife, an updated garlic press, and a stainless steel French whisk came to less than the price of a Saturday night dinner at one of our favorite neighborhood haunts. My daughter consulted on each of the purchases. She's the better cook, so that only made sense.

Dining out among the affluent, Taylor notes, is down 27%.

Apart from the jam-packed Whole Foods (WFMI) in the basement of the Time Warner Center, Williams-Sonoma was the most trafficked store in the joint, we noticed.

The next night we made saucy pan-roasted pork chops over pasta. It was fun! Talk about a revolution.

How does your household align with the Harrison Group findings? Post a comment.
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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