No doubt about it -- times are tight. But despite -- or maybe because of -- economic stress, people aren't totally zeroing out creature comforts.
It's not about lavish luxuries -- decadence went down the drain along with the stock market months ago -- but about simpler, less costly treats. If frugal is the new fabulous, here are seven little indulgences that people are still making room for in this recession.
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Your piggy bank may be empty, but chances are your candy jar isn't.
Candy sales were up about 2% in 2008, which is in line with average annual growth. Gourmet and dark chocolate sales have been very strong, up about 25% in the past two years, and sugar-free gum is also snapping up double-digit growth, according to the National Confectioners Association.
"People are looking for comfort ... a quick fix," says Tino Martinez, a manager-owner at Houston candy store Candylicious and its sister store, the Chocolate Bar.
Retro candies -- such as lemon drops, NicoNips, and LifeSavers in their original five flavors -- are popular. "You go back to your basics, your childhood memory things," Martinez says.
Cupcakes, which have been trendy for the last few years, are holding up better than most people's 401(k)s.
At the Atlanta Cupcake Factory, corporate orders are down, but cupcake sales are growing every week, and you'd better get there early. "Most days, we are selling out anywhere from one to three hours early," owner Jamie Fahey tells WebMD via email.
Fahey admits to worrying that sales would "tank," but says that hasn't happened.
"We have built our reputation as an affordable yet very decadent treat that comes with a good dose of comfort," Fahey writes. "We hope that our customers leave our bakery feeling like they've just gotten a big hug from their granny and that their money has been well spent."
2. Value on the Menu
See you later, swanky restaurant. Hey, does anyone know how to switch on this stove?
Dining out is down, and home cooking is up during this recession. But people haven't completely ditched restaurants in favor of their own kitchens.
The National Restaurant Association sees "some pull-back as some people have cut back on dining out," association spokeswoman Annika Stensson tells WebMD by email.
Stensson says other diners are eating out as often -- but they're looking for good deals and they may be skipping wine or dessert, and ordering the meatloaf instead of the filet mignon.
Cookware sales were up 3% in 2008 and bakeware sales rose by 4% last year, and there was "strong growth" in sales of Dutch ovens suited to making inexpensive comfort foods like soups and stews.
Sur La Table, which has 74 kitchenware stores across the country, is seeing a rise in new customers signing up for basic cooking classes. The most popular classes teach knife skills and how to sautee, roast, braise, and make stocks for soup or other dishes.