May 21, 2003

Writing about my fellow Philadelphians, Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Eils Lotozo observes ("Philadelphians True to 'Penny Saved' Adage," May 21.):

We spend far more on cigarettes and cigars than the health-conscious denizens of Los Angeles. We eat out less than people in Chicago -- but more than those in Boston. We shell out more for books and magazines than they do in Houston, but vastly less than folks in San Francisco. And we're well above the national average in spending on fruits and vegetables.

But above all, when it comes to the latest survey of how much Americans spend on everything from dairy products to motor oil, there's one thing that stands out about the Philadelphia region: We're cheapskates.

According to Lotozo, those are among the conclusions of a study recently released by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics that examines consumer spending patterns in 28 U.S. metropolitan areas. He adds:

[A]mong major cities, only people in Boston -- land of the Puritans -- underspend people in Philadelphia, land of the Quakers.

Did we say cheap? We meant frugal.

Yeah, frugal. That sounds much better.

Among the study's other findings, summarized by Lotozo:

No surprise…that in the New York metropolitan area, fashion capital of the country, people spend more on clothing than anywhere else -- $3,000 a year per household, nearly twice the national average.

But who would have guessed that the nation's biggest spenders on cars would reside in Tampa and Dallas-Fort Worth?

I think I might have guessed Dallas, at least by my third try. Tampa is a bit of a surprise, though I've only been there once.

Or that Houston would be the vanity capital, where households spend $820 a year -- and snagged the No. 1 spot (far ahead of the glamour-pusses in Los Angeles) -- on hairstyling, manicures and other personal-care products and services?

Lotozo obviously has never been to the River Oaks Country Club or a benefit for the Houston Grand Opera. Big hair abounds there -- on a large number of the women and more than a fair share of the men.

In the end, as is so often the case with studies like this, the answer is in the demographics, and this angle holds up well as an explanation for Philadelphia's thriftiness. "We have a generally wealthier population than average, and a generally older population than average," [Mark Zandi, chief economist at] says. "And wealthier, older groups have generally higher rates of saving."

Lotozo continues:

Zandi thinks our nonspending habits may also have something to do with our Quaker roots: "The Quakers valued thrift and frugality," he says. "It hearkens back to Benjamin Franklin and 'a penny saved is a penny earned.'"

Go ahead, blame it on Ben.


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