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10 Reasons to Love a Recession

October 29, 2008

By: Jay MacDonald

If you are old enough to have worn a mood ring, Earth shoes or bell-bottoms the first time around, you probably recall the "stagflation" days of the 1970s with a bemused mix of humor, national pride and nostalgia. The forecast was just as dire back then. In 1975, inflation topped 14 percent, unemployment approached 6 percent, and fuel and food prices were headed skyward.

The funny thing is, I don't remember the sacrifice. We drove used cars and lived within our means, since car leasing and credit cards were not yet widespread. We rented and shared apartments, since the average home mortgage rate hovered around 10 percent. We shouldered none of the financial burden of such modern conveniences as cell phones, high-speed Internet or fitness center memberships.

No one wants a recession, of course. It can cause serious economic pain for millions. However, economists tell us there are some reasons to actually welcome a recession. After all, a recession is the ebb part of the natural ebb and flow of the economy. Just as surely as hot markets cool and bulls turn to bears, capitalist economies take a breather every so often to pause and reflect. If they didn't, these corrections would be far crueler.

So, let's smile, lift our half-full cups of regular unleaded and toast these ten good things about impending bad times.

FAMILY DINNERS

Want to start a revolution? Try eating dinner together as a family. Recessions tend to foster family mealtimes as the pin money that drives fast-food meals and overscheduled lives dries up. Nothing could be better for America, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Research has shown that family meals promote a healthier and more balanced diet, foster better communication and ward off teen suicide, eating disorders and substance abuse.

SHORTER LINES AT THE PUMP

It seems like only yesterday we witnessed rush-hour road rage at every metropolitan gas station across America as gas hogs furiously jockeyed for the pumps. Once gas topped the $4 tipping point as it likely will again -- you could fill up, wash the windows, check the oil, enjoy a 32-ounce giant gulp, and even grab a power nap before the next customer appeared in your rearview mirror.

LESS JUNK MAIL

Thanks to the presumptive recession, many of us have recently glimpsed the back of our mailboxes for the first time in years. According to the Chicago-based research firm Mintel Comperemedia, credit card direct mail volume has dropped 19 percent since last October. Last year, credit card issuers cut their mailings to current customers by nearly one-third. That will free up delivery space for the junk mail we enjoy receiving: coupons.

MORE COUPONS

When the going gets tough, the tough clip coupons. A recent survey found that 67 percent of Americans are likely to use coupons during a recession, regardless of their income. Traffic to online coupon sites is growing rapidly, with page views up 38 percent in March compared to the previous year, according to the research firm comScore. Restaurants in particular typically resort to buy-one, get-one-free offers and other discounts to fill their tables in hard times.

Peter Meyers, marketing vice president at ICOM, says coupons can save the average family 25 percent on their grocery bill, or $2,400 a year based on an $800 monthly outlay. How's that for an economic stimulus?

FREE FITNESS

What's the official vegetable of good times? The couch potato, of course. But as gas prices skyrocket, alternative modes of transportation are once again gaining traction. When you ride a bike, walk to the bus stop or hoof it to the train station to commute to work, you get a free workout along with saving gas money.

You can extend your free workout in other ways. Throw in a little cardio (by jogging or rowing) and add some upper body (with push-ups and sit-ups) and you can save the $40 a month that CostHelper.com estimates we spend on average for a single fitness club membership.

BARGAIN SUVs

Not all prices go up in a recession. Case in point: gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs. Once gas approached the $3.50 mark, prices of new and used SUVs, pickup trucks and minivans plummeted. If you've long coveted an SUV, make your move now. Heck, you may drive away with a year or two of free gas in the deal.

BUSINESS STARTUP OPPORTUNITIES

Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Disney all started during economic downturns, as did more than half of the 30 companies that comprise the Dow Jones industrial average. In fact, entrepreneurial startups by laid-off and downsized employees, managers and executives often help get the economy growing again. Recessions are a great time to open your own shop: Wages are down, rents are cheaper, competition is scarce and the cost of goods and services can be found at a discount. There's no better time to become your own boss.

GROWTH IN GARDENING

A recession is the perfect time to get back to nature. Bid your lawn service adieu and put your mind and body to work tending your grounds yourself. Regular gardening provides cardio and strength training, improves flexibility and relieves stress. These health benefits help fight heart attack, type 2 diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and osteoporosis.

The fruits and vegetables you grow also encourage a healthier diet. And the money you save by mowing, raking, pruning and mulching yourself will more than pay for your equipment, fuel and next year's plantings.

MUSICAL INSPIRATION

Do economic downturns inspire great music? A case can be made that hard times help produce heartfelt anthems that cut through the anesthetic musical drone of the day. This has been true of everyone from Woody Guthrie to Bruce Springsteen to the Clash and even Kurt Cobain. Given the current state of popular music and its obsession with an affluence that is quickly disappearing, the climate would seem right for the emergence of new artists who can rekindle passion and urgency in American music.

But perhaps the greatest boon of a recession is the time to reflect and reassess the true meaning and goals of our lives. For instance, it's doubtful that today's green movement would be where it is today without the small-is-beautiful mental reset of the '70s.

If history is any indication, we humans are inclined to resume our consumption full speed once the economic engine starts rolling again. But our progress toward a more sustainable future comes in increments during those times when we are forced to do without.

We may not be the ideal stewards of the planet yet, but we're making progress. Temporary setbacks like recessions prompt our collective course corrections.

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