That frugality was already spurred by the hard times of the last several years, but the "cliff" is adding to that stress.
"It is hard not to be angry at our elected officials," says Ladd, 57, a self-employed insurance agent. "They have forgotten why we elected them: to watch out for our country. They really don't know what it is like to walk in our shoes. You have to be rich to be elected to anything anymore, so the working class is no longer represented."
Surveys show most Americans want compromise on Capitol Hill. A Gallup Poll found 62% want Democrats and Republicans to reach a deal.
But many doubt it will happen. A Washington Post/Pew Research Center poll found 49% of Americans do not expect an agreement by the end of the year, while 40% do.
The frustration and fear could slice holiday sales, as people try to hold on to some cash, the National Retail Federation warns.
It's too soon to know whether the cliff fears are having a Grinch-like impact, and sales so far have hit new highs. But the federation is concerned about the weeks ahead.
"Before Thanksgiving, the threat of the fiscal cliff seemed remote to most Americans," says David French, the NRF's top lobbyist, who is pushing both parties for action on the issue. "Now, more and more people are focused on it, and the threat is becoming more real... It's uncomfortable for retailers."
Government-style accounting would put a business 'in jail,' owner says
Owners of two small businesses in New Jersey told CNN they're nervous and frustrated.
Any business that followed the same "method of accounting as our government" would "be in jail," complains Bob Bellagamba, CEO of Concorde Worldwide, a limousine company.
He wants a decision on the fiscal cliff "so I know how to run my business." Depending on the outcome, he may have to lay off some employees, he said.
Charles Altiero, owner of Freehold Jewelers, said tax increases might help him in one way. "More people are going to have to sell their gold to pay their taxes."
But it would hurt his customers' buying power. So, he said, he's open to the idea of paying more taxes to help avoid going off the "cliff."
Reliable Refuse Removal in Opal, Wyoming, has dropped an annual tradition.
"We normally present our biggest customers with appreciation gifts. This year everyone gets a card," said Mary Hall, who owns the business with her husband.
That's due to the state of the economy in general, including the fiscal cliff, she said.
Hall, a mother of five, is also the small town's mayor.
"I can see it affecting the programs we participate in with regard to funding for capital improvements," she said. No programs have been cut yet due to the fiscal cliff, but "as the federal government starts cutting and limiting spending, the states tend to tighten their belts as well," she said.
Tax increases would make it 'not worth' re-entering work force
The belt-tightening many Americans have been doing for years prompted Richard Huffman,a 63-year-old retired cop and CNN iReporter in Saint Joseph, Michigan, to consider re-entering the work force. He has six daughters and 14 grandchildren.