Last week, my wife and I vowed to eat everything in our freezer before making another trek to the store. Well, almost everything. There were some two-year-old frozen tilapias that had somehow grown fur. But the idea was simple.

We decided to break what had become a habit of hoarding food. Not only was it inefficient, but it was also expensive. It seemed that every week we'd buy more food than we'd need and end up freezing what didn't get eaten, thinking we'd have it another day.  But that other day rarely came or when it did, we would always choose what was fresh over what was frozen.

So this week we did something different. We only bought enough food to last us for the week. In fact, we even bought a little less than we thought we'd need because we always over-estimate.  

It turns out what we were doing has actually become a trend and retail executives even have a name for it. We're called "just-in-time consumers.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, this trend has already prompted retailers to change the way they produce, package, price and deliver their goods. Like the Great Depression before it, the great recession has created its own generation of frugal savers along with a deeply changed consumer, one who only buys that he or she needs.

Buying big

The Journal notes that for over two decades, American consumers bought big, bought more and bought bulk often on credit. The recent recession with its high unemployment, plunging stock market and falling home prices have changed the way we consume. Manufacturers and retailers report that people are buying less but buying more frequently.

This change has been noticed by food and household-product manufacturers, including Del Monte and Kimberly-Clark. They're bringing out smaller package sizes for consumers who would rather buy a week's worth of toilet paper or dog food than stock up for a month. The Journal says that some grocers are trying to accommodate smaller but more frequent shopping trips. Even BJ's Wholesale Club is selling eggs and margarine in smaller lots.

Procter & Gamble has been tracking consumers' pantries since mid-2008 as gauge of how the recession has changed shoppers' behavior. They found that about one-third of consumers are changing their pantry levels with about 75% of those cutting back on inventory.

Finally, I can see the back of our freezer. So that's where the frozen blueberries went.