By RACHEL BECK
NEW YORK (AP) - There has never been a better time to be a consumer. America is on sale.
The Great Recession has caused massive job losses and hardship for millions, but it has also fostered a shoppers' paradise. Anyone who still has the means to spend can find unheard of deals.
Prices on everything from clothes to coffee to cat food are dropping, some faster than they have in half a century. Items rarely discounted - like Tiffany engagements rings - are now. The two biggest purchases most people make - homes and new cars - are selling at steep price reductions.
"This is the new normal," says Donald Keprta, president of Dominick's, a supermarket chain in the Midwest, which just cut prices by as much as 30 percent on thousands of items. "We aren't going back."
Consumers like Karen Wilmes, a mother of two in Hopkinton, R.I., relish the steals. During a recent trip to Shaw's Supermarkets, she bought a basketful of goods, including Eggo waffles, Kleenex tissues and Betty Crocker cake mix. The retail price: $63.89. Wilmes paid $7.31 by buying items on sale and using coupons.
"The deals out there are unbelievable," says Wilmes, 36, who writes the Frugal Rhode Island Mama blog, which tracks local and national bargains. "We can put the money I save toward something else."
And she's doing just that, but only when she can find another deal. Wilmes and her husband recently bought a Samsung television from Best Buy's Web site for $1,299, about $300 less than she found at other stores. She also got free delivery and another $13 back from ebates.com, which receives commissions from online retailers for directing customers their way.
What's happening now has been building for years. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. introduced "every-day low prices" many years ago. Amazon.com redefined the idea of bargain prices during the late 1990s when it helped introduce online shopping. After the 2001 recession, automakers introduced zero-percent financing to boost sales. McDonald's "Dollar Meals" made fast food even cheaper.
But until the Great Recession came along, consumers hadn't seen anything yet.