Shoppers carry their purchases along the Magnificent Mile shopping district in Chicago, Ill.
Shoppers carry their purchases along the Magnificent Mile shopping district in Chicago, Ill. - 
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Kai Ryssdal: Work your way down the economy from the Fed and you get many, many layers down to you and me. And what exactly we're going to do when the economy does eventually come back? Will we be frugal, responsible and forever changed? Or just itchin' to start living beyond their means again?

Here's Jeff Horwich.

Jeff Horwich: OK, this is your brain three years ago, maybe one of those Visa commercials where everyone's dancing around swiping credit cards. Ah, good times. And this is your brain, on recession.

Leah Ingram: There's gotta be more ways to save. I really want a cup of coffee, but I can't justify stopping and getting a cup of coffee.

That's actually Leah Ingram's brain. She's started the blog "Suddenly Frugal" after selling her house to get out of debt.

Ingram: What I'm hoping is that this whole experience of conscious frugalness makes me a smarter financial person in the long run.

There are hints the recession may be rewiring us into more responsible consumers. Retail sales figures out today show shoppers continued to hold back last month and they're sticking to the bargain bin. And they're laying off the plastic. Credit card delinquencies are the lowest in eight years.

Julie Zachariason is with LSS Financial Counseling in Mankato, Minnesota. She says the sheer number of people forced into credit counseling means more people indoctrinated into a frugal lifestyle.

Julie Zachariason: More than ever before, I'm finding folks are just saying it's OK to recycle, re-purpose things, and to barter.

Retail consultant Howard Davidowitz believes our thrifty habits are here to stay -- because the crappy economy is here to stay.

Howard Davidowitz: Living standards in our country can never be the same. The consumer is scared out of their wits.

But at some point we're likely to get those wits back.

I'm Jeff Horwich for Marketplace.