07/21/08 — Life, downsized -- Families cut back on expenses

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Life, downsized -- Families cut back on expenses

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on July 21, 2008 1:40 PM

Faye Joseph is feeling the stress of the economy.

She says she makes most of her decisions these days based on how much they will cost — including her education.

News-Argus/Dennis Hill

Many Wayne County residents are able to find money in their pockets to use toward entertainment. But some, like league bowlers who live outside the county, found gas prices too high to continue activities they normally wouldn’t think twice about doing.

She recently finished up courses for her nursing degree from James Sprunt Community College in Kenansville, and gas was a big hinderance.

“I used a lot of gas going to school out of town, so I told my husband, ‘I’m not driving but one car and that’s the one that’s better on gas,’” she said. “I used the one that used the cheapest gas.”

Now that she’s weighing job possibilities, she said location will be a big factor.

“You don’t know if it’s going to get better or worse, so I have to consider how far I want to travel,” she said.

And for many, the continuous hike in gas prices has started to affect more than just the pennies in the piggy bank.

Many area families have started to dread seeing the needle on their consoles move closer to that big “E” because they know the effect the extra cost is having on their families.

For many, it is meaning a change in their lifestyles.

Families are now having to stop and think about doing activities that they wouldn’t have thought twice about a year ago, like taking the kids out for ice cream, buying new clothes or even catching a movie.

And the first thing to go, for many, is eating out, whether for lunch or dinner.

For Laura Getz and her husband, the crunch comes at lunchtime.

She now packs his lunch, and hers, every day instead of eating out.

“I have cut lunch way out,” she said. “We’ve just had to cut back.”

Michelle Daw also said she used to go out to lunch a few days a week, but now, she, too, brings her lunch to work every day.

But eating out isn’t a sacrifice that’s been made by everybody.

Mike Stacey, general manager at Logan’s, says the difference has been slight.

“Maybe a little bit but not a whole lot, because people still want to go out, and they still want to have something to do,” he said.

And while some restaurants have had to raise their prices, Stacey said that has not been the case at Logan’s.

“We’re not going to raise the prices,” he said. “We’re going to cut our costs in other ways, work a little harder to make up the difference.”

In fact, he added, “We’re up in sales over the last year, so it hasn’t really affected us that much.”

Chris Rarick, general manager of Schlotzsky’s, had a different take on the situation.

“As the gas prices go up that day, it affects us that day,” he said. “It takes about three or four days and then people start getting back out again.”

His business, on Berkeley Boulevard, is a prime location to witness how this plays out, since it is typically a well-traveled roadway.

“It’s amazing,” Rarick said. “You can tell the day the gas prices go up. As soon as we hear, it’s like the road will be dead out there, and there won’t be anybody on it.”

All in all, though, he said, “It has hurt us somewhat but not as bad as assumed.”

But for the most part, when it comes to entertainment and extras, people have mixed views. Some always keep money in their budget for having fun, while others have snipped it.

Brittany Sasser, an employee of All Stars Family Fun Center on Cashwell Drive, said that she has seen a few more people coming in since gas prices have been on the rise.

For Beverly Freeman and Sharon Mills, the center, and especially the mini-golf area, is a good way to let their children have fun without much of a cost.

“We have come more so now than in the past because we are normally at the beach in the summer,” Ms. Freeman said. “We have only gone to the beach twice this summer, and before we were there three-fourths of the time.”

“It’s something cheap to do,” Ms. Mills said.

Others are more for sports that take place inside, like bowling.

Clarke Hill, who owns the King Pin Pro Shop at AMF Boulevard Lanes on Berkeley Boulevard, said that sales in his shop are down.

But, he noted, the bowling business is a seasonal one and the summers are usually slow anyway, so the gas prices may only be having a marginal effect.

“It has an entertainment value,” he said. “Some people will go bowling before they pay some of their bills.”

He did say, though, that they have lost some of their league bowlers who live outside of town because of the price of gas.

“We have people that come from Greenville, Wilson and Kinston. It just costs so much for them for gas to get there,” he said.

Another favorite date is going to the movies, something some people have stopped doing, even though the local movie theater hasn’t seen a slump.

“We haven’t really seen much of a difference,” Premiere Theatres manager Jessica Harrison said.

More people are going to see matinees, she said, but the increase in the lower-priced tickets may just be because school is out.

“We sell more normal-priced tickets on a Friday night, but we sell more matinee tickets during the day on Saturday,” she said.

Sue Shelton, though, said that she could barely afford the movies before, and now with gas “killing her,” she said she won’t be seeing a flick anytime soon.

So she, and others, have turned to movie rentals — one option that’s remained popular as an employee at the Blockbuster on Wayne Memorial said that rentals have also been pretty steady.

Shopping may be a form of entertainment, too, and those in need of retail therapy will do everything they can to keep their appointments — those appointments may just be at a store with lower prices.

Heidi Bytyqi, Ross Dress for Less supervisor, said the store hasn’t seen much of an increase in sales. They have been pretty steady, she said. She doesn’t think the retail sector is as affected by the rise in gas prices as other things, she added.

“People will come here and spend their stimulus checks because they can afford to do that instead of going on vacation,” she said. “It helps that we are in town, too, and people don’t have to drive out of the way.”

A manager at TJ Maxx said that sales have been up within the last couple of months, but requested that his name not be used.

Many of the shoppers of both stores said they have always frequented the establishments and will continue to do so.

Trish de la Motte, owner of Once Upon A Child off of Berkeley Boulevard, said that she has seen a steady increase in sales over the past few months.

She said that customers who have always shopped there are commenting on how they will continue to frequent the store because of the low cost of clothing.

“You can get multiple outfits, brand names, at a fraction of the cost,” she said.

Ms. de la Motte said that the store usually starts its push for back-to-school in July, but it started two Wednesdays ago — three weeks early.

“People are already telling me that they are shopping here for back-to-school clothes,” she said.

On the other hand, some, like Martha Walters, aren’t frequenting stores nearly as often.

She said she knows her habits as a consumer have changed.

“I don’t shop as much, like for clothing,” she said.

Even how many people live while at home has changed. Many people’s minds have turned more toward the dollars they are racking up instead of their comfort level.

Some may not keep it as cool as they did before. And some, like Marvin Moses , do more than just turning their air conditioning down.

“I shut it off completely when I’m at work,” he said.

Others, like Beverly Keel and her husband, find ways to cut down on heat coming into the home but keep the air conditioning set at the same level.

She said they don’t normally keep their home that cool to begin with, but they do keep their shades drawn during the day to keep the sun out as much as possible.

Overall, though, while not everybody is actively cutting back, people have become conscious of the increasing strain on the economy and their money.

As a single person on one income, Marjie Dozier says her whole thought process has changed “tremendously.”

“I plan the errands and stuff I have to do,” she says. “It used to be where I could be sitting home on a Saturday and if I thought of somewhere I wanted to go, I’d jump up and go do something.