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Surviving the Squeeze: Consumer Strategies and Mental Health in a Tight Economy

Surviving the Squeeze: Consumer Strategies and Mental Health in a Tight Economy

Kevin William Grant
May 05, 2024

Explore how economic shifts are reshaping our lives! From the cost of living to mental health impacts, discover the challenges and strategies consumers are adopting to navigate these turbulent times. Dive in for insights on economic trends and psychological resilience.

In today's evolving economic landscape, where inflation has significantly impacted consumer behaviors and the retail sector, a complex interplay of financial strain and psychological effects emerges. This article aims to unpack these layers, exploring the current economic trends, the mental health impacts, and the strategies consumers are adopting in response to an increasingly challenging market environment.

Recent shifts in the retail industry reflect a stark reality: consumers are tightening their belts as the cost of living rises. Major retailers, including Ikea and Walmart, have responded by slashing prices on non-essential goods—ranging from home furnishings to hobby supplies—in an effort to lure customers back into stores. This price reduction strategy highlights a broader economic tension where consumer spending, a crucial component of the American economy, has become more selective and cautious.

Moreover, the psychological repercussions of these economic pressures cannot be underestimated. As families across income levels are forced to prioritize essentials, the mental burden of financial management intensifies. This has led to a noticeable increase in economic anxiety, affecting not only low- and middle-income earners but also those in higher income brackets who were previously less impacted by economic downturns.

As retailers navigate these turbulent times, they are not only dropping prices but also enhancing their marketing strategies to address the heightened value-consciousness among consumers. This involves offering targeted deals, particularly on higher-priced discretionary items, to rejuvenate buying interest and frequency.

This article delves into how these economic and psychological dynamics are reshaping the relationship between retailers and consumers, the coping mechanisms being adopted by both, and the broader implications for mental health and economic stability in society.

Current Economic Trends

The psychological impact of economic downturns on consumer behavior is multifaceted, deeply influencing mental health and spending habits. During economic recessions, consumers often experience increased stress, anxiety, and depression, which significantly affect their purchasing decisions (Frasquilho et al., 2015). As economic pressures mount, individuals may prioritize basic needs and reduce discretionary spending, leading to significant shifts in market dynamics (Nielsen, 2020).

Moreover, the psychological aftermath of financial uncertainty can lead to altered behaviors such as increased savings, reduced consumption, and a heightened search for value and promotions (Boston Consulting Group, 2022). This change is often driven by a survival instinct where consumers, fearing prolonged economic hardship, become more risk-averse and financially conservative.

In terms of mental health, studies consistently show that economic recessions correlate with a rise in common mental disorders, including depression and anxiety. For instance, longitudinal studies from Iceland and Spain have demonstrated increased stress levels and a higher risk of depression during economic downturns, particularly among the unemployed or those in financial distress (Frasquilho, 2016).

These psychological factors critically inform marketing strategies and economic policies. Understanding consumer sentiment and mental health trends during economic fluctuations can help businesses and policymakers tailor their approaches to meet the evolving needs and preferences of consumers, thereby mitigating the negative impacts of recessions on both individuals and the economy at large.

How Consumers are Fighting Back

Consumers in the US and Canada are actively adapting their spending behaviors in response to economic challenges, leveraging various strategies to maintain financial resilience amidst rising costs and economic uncertainties.

In the US, consumers are showing a cautious optimism, with a shift towards more calculated spending. Despite a backdrop of economic uncertainty and high inflation, there's a trend towards indulging in 'treat yourself' purchases, particularly among younger demographics like Gen Z and millennials. This reflects a nuanced consumer behavior where, despite broader economic concerns, there's a willingness to spend on personal enjoyment and quality of life improvements when possible (McKinsey, 2023).

Canadian consumers, on the other hand, have demonstrated remarkable adaptability by adjusting their purchasing strategies significantly. The increase in spending from early 2022 indicates a recovery in consumer confidence as conditions normalized post-pandemic. However, there's a clear trend towards value-driven purchases, with a significant portion of the population focusing on premium health products and services, reflecting a prioritization of health and wellness amidst ongoing economic pressures (Review Moose, 2024).

Both American and Canadian consumers are becoming more discerning, seeking greater value and quality in their purchases. They are more likely to spend on essential items and are increasingly looking for deals and promotions to stretch their budgets further. This strategic consumer behavior is helping them navigate through the cost of living increases and the prolonged impact of inflation (NielsenIQ, 2024).

These trends underscore a global consumer landscape where pressures and challenges are met with evolving habits and a dynamic approach to spending, which may continue to define market dynamics in the coming years.

Mental Health Impacts

Recent research underscores the profound mental health impacts of economic downturns, highlighting an increase in depression, anxiety, and stress-related disorders. Economic recessions often lead to heightened psychological distress across populations, affecting various demographic groups including the unemployed, low-income earners, and those without strong social or financial safety nets (Guerra & Eboreime, 2021).

Studies have consistently found that economic recessions correlate with increased rates of depression and anxiety. For instance, during periods of economic stress, there is a notable rise in self-harm and suicidal behaviors. These trends suggest that traditional mental health support and suicide prevention strategies may be less effective during economic downturns, underscoring the need for tailored public health interventions (Guerra & Eboreime, 2021).

Furthermore, systematic reviews have shown that recessions are associated with worse self-reported mental health, with repeated cross-sectional studies indicating a significant increase in psychological distress, particularly among men. However, the impact on women is also notable, with increased reports of mental distress during economic downturns (Frasquilho et al., 2016).

These findings highlight the importance of proactive mental health policies and programs that can mitigate the adverse effects of economic downturns. It is crucial for policymakers to consider the mental health consequences of economic policies and to ensure that sufficient resources are available to support those most vulnerable during economic crises.

The policy brief "Mental Health and the High Cost of Living" from the Mental Health Commission of Canada (2023) examines the significant impacts of economic factors on mental health across various demographics in Canada. It highlights the intertwined nature of financial insecurity, unaffordable housing, food insecurity, and the challenges in accessing mental health services as major concerns that have been exacerbated by the high cost of living.

The policy brief "Mental Health and the High Cost of Living" by the Mental Health Commission of Canada (2023) provides a comprehensive examination of the intricate relationship between economic conditions and mental health in Canada, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The brief outlines how the escalation in living costs, encompassing housing, food, and basic services, has disproportionately impacted various populations, emphasizing the plight of vulnerable groups including indigenous communities, the disabled, youth, and low-income families.

Financial insecurity is a central theme, discussed as both a cause and consequence of mental health issues. The brief details how the economic downturn and the subsequent reduction in disposable income have led to increased mental health challenges, highlighting the importance of financial stability for overall well-being. Housing is another critical factor, with the brief explaining how unaffordable and insecure living conditions contribute to mental stress and instability, thereby exacerbating the challenges for those already at risk of mental health issues.

Food security is also tackled, illustrating how financial constraints lead to inadequate access to nutritious food, which is directly linked to poor mental health outcomes. The brief suggests that these issues are exacerbated in remote and rural communities where access to services and goods is often more restricted, leading to higher costs and greater challenges.

The brief concludes with a series of policy recommendations aimed at mitigating these issues, calling for a multi-faceted policy approach that includes improving income supports, making housing more affordable, enhancing access to mental health services, and specifically tailoring interventions to address the needs of the most vulnerable groups within society. These recommendations aim to foster a more resilient social fabric that can better withstand economic pressures while supporting mental health.

The policy brief serves as a call to action for policymakers to consider mental health implications in their economic and social strategies, emphasizing that the well-being of the populace is heavily dependent on the stability and accessibility of basic needs.


This post delves into the interconnected effects of economic trends, psychological stressors, consumer responses, and mental health implications, drawing on a variety of sources and recent research to provide a detailed overview of these issues in the context of current economic uncertainties.

Current Economic Trends: The economic landscape in 2024 is marked by slow growth and cautious consumer behavior, influenced by inflationary pressures and geopolitical tensions. Despite a modest recovery, consumer spending remains subdued due to lower disposable incomes and increased cost of living pressures. Economies are navigating complex dynamics including supply chain disruptions and labor shortages, which are reshaping consumer spending habits and economic policies.

Psychological Issues: The economic downturn has exacerbated mental health issues across the board, with increased reports of anxiety, depression, and stress. Psychological impacts are particularly severe among vulnerable populations, including low-income families and those with precarious employment. The persistent financial strain not only affects individual well-being but also places a burden on mental health services, which are seeing heightened demand.

Consumer Response: Faced with rising costs and economic uncertainty, consumers are increasingly adopting defensive spending strategies. There is a notable shift towards prioritizing essential over discretionary spending, with many also seeking out promotions and discounts more actively. Digital platforms and community networks have become vital for consumers to share tips and access deals that help stretch their budgets further.

Mental Health Impacts: The link between economic stress and mental health is well-documented, with current conditions highlighting this connection. Financial insecurity leads to significant mental health challenges, affecting everything from daily stress levels to long-term psychological well-being. The high cost of living intensifies these issues, with significant impacts on access to mental health services, which are crucial for managing stress and preventing more severe mental health crises.

Overall, the narrative weaves together these themes to illustrate how economic conditions directly influence consumer behavior and mental health, and how individuals and communities are responding to these challenges. It calls for targeted interventions and policies that not only address economic and financial issues but also consider the broader psychological and social implications.



Boston Consulting Group (2022). Consumer Spending During Recession. Retrieved from BCG Insights

Frasquilho, D., Gaspar Matos, M., Salonna, F., Guerreiro, D., Storti, C. C., Gaspar, T., & Caldas-de-Almeida, J. M. (2016). Mental health outcomes in times of economic recession: A systematic literature review. BMC Public Health, 115(16). 

Guerra, O., & Eboreime, E. (2021). The impact of economic recessions on depression, anxiety, and trauma-related disorders and illness outcomes—A scoping review. Behavioral Sciences, 11(9), 119. 

McKinsey & Company. (2023). The state of the US consumer spending. Retrieved from

Mental Health Commission of Canada. (2023). Mental health and the high cost of living: Policy brief. Retrieved from

Nielsen. (2020). Consumer behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic. Retrieved from Nielsen Reports

NielsenIQ. (2024). The 'Cost of Living' Catalyst: Top 5 Consumer Trends to Monitor into 2024. Retrieved from

Review Moose. (2024). 19 Consumer Spending Statistics for Canada in 2024. Retrieved from