Consider Jillian Pearson's lonely chair at the LaMode hair salon in Richfield, where customers are letting their roots grow out to save on the cost of regular colorings.

Or one of Megan Cahill's dog-walking customers, who just cut her services from five to three days a week

Or the Twin Cities Caribou coffee shops where tips are down and some regulars are swapping pricier lattes for straight brew.

The nearly $14 trillion U.S. economy is more global than ever, but its overall vitality rides on billions of small transactions made -- or not made -- daily. And, from Target to the corner coffee shop, there's mounting evidence that Minnesotans and consumers elsewhere are using more discretion in their discretionary spending.

That has Washington and Wall Street anxious, because if consumers stop spending the economy stops growing.

The Federal Reserve slashed a key interest rate last Tuesday, and Washington has kicked in with proposed tax rebates. The plan: Put more money in people's wallets, and perhaps they'll spend some of it.

It's too early to know whether they will shop, but it's clear that, as the cost of food goes up and the value of their homes falls, frugal impulses have already kicked in. So they are shaving some extras in their family budgets -- like skipping those teeth-whitening treatments and scaling back cable TV packages.

Such budget shaving around the edges happens when consumers are unsure what the future holds, but aren't quite ready to make major lifestyle changes, said Scott Anderson, senior economist at Wells Fargo & Co. in Minneapolis.

"And that's where we sit today," he said. But in this fragile economy, someone who is a cautious spender today could be in dire straits tomorrow.

"If they're barely making their mortgage payments or their credit card payments, and one of them loses their job, that's when you'll start to see more serious adjustments in people's spending," he said.

Evidence of strategic shaving is all around.

Minneapolis lawyer Laura Danielson and her partner just traded in two individual Life Time Fitness memberships for a couple plan, saving about $30 a month.

University of Minnesota student Brett Shields struck soda pop from his grocery lists.

Holly Raab of Shoreview said she and her partner in the past 18 months have given up their cell phones, traded movies out for rentals, and started cooking more at home.

"It's not a huge difference, but it's enough," Raab said.

Amanda Spencer of St. Paul is a breathing example of the trickle-down effect. A cashier at a Twin Cities Caribou, Spencer's tips have dropped over the past couple of months from about $15 to $10 a day. So, Spencer has been eating lunch out two days a week instead of the five she used to.

"That's the money I use for my day-to-day spending," she said.

Retail analysts see the same thing playing out across the country.

More shoppers are haggling over prices for everything from refrigerators to tires, said Britt Beemer, of South Carolina-based America's Research Group, which tracks consumer spending.

Americans are stepping into stores less often and shopping closer to home, according to a national survey earlier this month by Ohio-based BIGresearch. That's a trend showing up in traffic patterns at both Minneapolis-based Target and at Wal-Mart, which have both said store traffic has slowed, while the average amount people are spending has gone up.

Starbucks, in its most recent quarter, said traffic fell at its coffee shops for the first time in its history. The Seattle-based company is now testing $1 small coffees in its hometown stores.

Even dining at casual restaurants is down, said Sharon Zackfia, an analyst for William Blair & Company, in a recent roundtable of industry experts. She suspects that fast-food restaurants, which haven't been hurt as much as pricier alternatives, are picking up the slack because they've offered "palatable trade-down alternatives."

Shopping the freebies

Minnesota businesses are noticing a particular pattern to consumer cutbacks.

Shoppers are flocking to the free cooking lessons offered at Valley Natural Foods cooperative in Burnsville, while most of its $35 classes have had to be canceled, said marketing manager Charli Mills.

Holiday catering at the Birchwood Cafe in Minneapolis was down, although business at the neighborhood cafe stayed strong, said owner Tracy Singleton. But even that, she figures has a cost-savings ulterior motive.

"A lot of families are coming in," Singleton said. "Maybe people are trying not to pay for baby sitters, and this is a good place to take kids. That's just a guess."

Homeowners are still calling for the services of professional organizer Jeane Watts, at Storganize in Hopkins. But more people say they're looking for an inexpensive alternative to expanding or buying a bigger house.

Visitors at the St. Paul Library were up 14 percent last year over 2006, to almost 2.8 million. Popular features are DVD rentals and the Museum Adventure Pass, which offers free admission at 20 sites, including the Minnesota Zoo and Walker Art Center.

A recent weekend sale at one of the Arc Greater Twin Cities charity thrift stores drew a record crowd, despite subzero temperatures.

"I think it's more than your casual hobby shopper looking for bargains," said business director Laurel Hansen. "It almost feels like there's a stocking up mentality, like going to the grocery store before a big storm."

Some Minnesotans have even found a silver lining.

Since December, April Sprank, a manager at the Highland Park Petco in St. Paul, has combined several errands into a single trip, even tacking them on to her commute from Prior Lake whenever possible.

She figures her gas station stops have stretched to every eight to nine days, instead of the old six to seven.

And, she has time again for her painting hobby. "I used to spend all my time off running around," Sprank said. "Now I'm finding I can do the crafts I want to do." • 612-673-4671 jcrosby@startribune • 612-673-7335