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10 COMMANDMENTS OF NEW CONSUMERISM

Are you ready for the "new normal"? - That's how financial experts are already referring to the post-Great Recession economy. - As we slowly climb out of the monetary mess of the past several months, we will see a measured shift in how customers spend and save their money. - How can you take full advantage of this shifting sensibility? - Here's a look, based on experts' feedback, of the 10 Commandments of New Consumerism. - Cox Newspapers

1 Thou shalt remember the basics

Live within your means, especially when it comes to buying a home. Most experts advise that the purchase price should be no more than three times your annual household income, and the expense should be financed in a traditional way (think 30-year fixed). - "We used to have to talk people down. We'd have somebody coming in who made $70,000 a year and wanted that half-million-dollar house. ... Now, they're walking in the door with a certain level of discipline," said Derrick Berry, owner of Buccaneer Mortgage in West Palm Beach. - And don't forget about saving money. Most experts say consumers should be putting away 10 percent of their income. Keep an eye on financial products that will help you manage your money.

2 Thou shalt seek a bargain

Discount retailers are increasingly luring shoppers of all income levels. - Take Wal-Mart, which has seen a surge of new customers: Not only is it redesigning its stores to make them cleaner and even more comfortable, it's also putting an increased emphasis on name-brand goods, be it a Sony camcorder or a Better Homes and Gardens patio set. - Bargains abound at other retailers, too - and consumers are finding it really pays to comparison shop. "There used to be a saying in our industry that before a customer made a purchase, they shopped one or two other stores. Today, they're shopping five," says Lenny Rosner of Rosner's, a decades-old Palm Beach County electronics retailer.

3 Thou shalt clip coupons

Coupons of all kinds, from the traditional clip-ready ones inside newspapers to promo codes that can be found online, are the new darlings of the marketplace. Consider the growing popularity of "mobile" coupons - sent to cell phones as text messages.

4 Thou shalt put a premium on service

As they watched big-name companies collapse in the past year, consumers saw their faith in business tested. That's why customer-oriented, mom-and-pop retailers could fare better in this new economy. - Also driving this trend: The "buy local" movement that puts an emphasis on businesses based in your back yard.

5 Thou shalt think generic

Why buy name brand when cheaper generic or private-label products are often just as good? Sedano's, the Miami-based Latin-oriented supermarket, has expanded its private-label Sedano's line from just two products (bottled water and sugar) in 2007 to 50 in 2009 - with 80 more in the pipeline.

6 Thou shalt think small

We're likely to live in smaller homes, drive smaller cars, maybe even watch smaller TVs. You'll give up space, but you'll reap the savings.

7 Thou shalt get cash back

Frequent-flier programs have morphed into frequent-shopper clubs and frequent-diner programs. Cash-back or reward cards are found in just about every wallet. Even debit cards now come with rewards.

8 Thou shalt play the dynamic pricing game

You know it pays to fly off-peak. But increasingly, it pays to do just about anything off peak. That's because businesses are increasingly following the airline peak/off-peak "dynamic" pricing model to drive traffic during slower times.

9 Thou shalt look to Uncle Sam

If there's anything the recent Cash for Clunkers program taught us, it's that consumers will gladly spend money - as long as the government is making it easier for them. But while the car program has ended, there are still significant federal incentives to purchase homes (provided you're a first-time buyer) and energy-efficient air conditioners.

10 Thou shalt be in it for the long term

The days of buying (or leasing) a new car every three years are long gone. So are the days of flipping homes. You must retrain yourself to think of key purchases as long-term ones - it's the best way to maximize their value.

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