Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Tightening Up on Eating Out

Confession: I love eating out. From small pizza shops to high-end Northern Italian-fusion cooking, I just love being served.

In my home, dining out is reserved for birthdays, anniversaries and other special excuses. Fortunately, we've developed a few frugal strategies for eating out.

1) Order lots of appetizers; but share meals
2) Drink the free water. Soft drinks --even at moderately priced restaurants-- can cost $2.50 and up. For a family of five, that's $12.50 (plus tax) for the first round of drinks. With two drinks per person that's $25 before you've even take a bite.
3) Skip pass the stuff that you can make better & cheaper at home. Why, why why spend $10 on fancy mac and cheese when you can make panful for pennies.
4) Share the sweet calories and cut costs.
5. Stay at home
6. And always, always tip generously. The former waitress in me rebels against cheap tippers!!!

Check out the following survey from ACNielsen.
It's insightful.
Here is the text:

"ACNielsen: Cutting Back on Out-of-Home Entertainment, New Clothes and Technology Upgrades are Consumers' Top Three Belt-Tightening Measures Globally

"US Consumers Cite Cutting Down on Take-Out Meals as Number One Strategy

"When the cost of living is rising faster than income, the world's consumers are fairly unanimous about what they'd cut back on to avoid blowing their budget. Out-of-home entertainment, spending on new clothes and upgrading technology are the top three belt-tightening measures of consumers worldwide, according to an online survey by ACNielsen, the world's leading market research and information company.

The survey, conducted in November 2005, polled over 23,500 respondents - regular Internet users - in 42 markets. In the United States, unlike most markets surveyed, consumers cited cutting down on take-out meals as their most popular cost-cutting method. Just over half of all respondents worldwide claimed they would cut down on out-of-home entertainment (57%) and spend less on new clothes (53%) to stay within their budgets, with nearly half (48%) also saying they would delay upgrading technology to tighten their belts.

Cost Saving Measures - United States vs. Global Average

Cost Saving Measure US// Global

---------------------------------------------- ---------- ----------
Cut down on take-out meals 66% // 44%
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Try to save on gas and electricity 61% // 37%
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Cut down on out of home entertainment 60%// 57%
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Spend less on new clothes 54% // 53%
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Use vehicle less often 47% // 27%
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Use coupons more often 46% // 19%
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Switch to cheaper grocery brands 42% // 35%
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Delay upgrading technology 41% // 48%
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Cut out annual vacation 38% // 29%
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Delay the replacement of major household items 37% // 36%
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Cut down on telephone expenses 24% // 34%
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Look for better deals on home loans, insurance,
credit cards 16% // 17%
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Buy cheaper brands of alcohol 8% // 8%
---------------------------------------------- -------- ----------
Cut down on smoking 8% // 10%
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Something else 7% // 7%
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I don't take any actions 4% // 4%
-------------------------------------------------------- ----------

In the US, while the economy remains fairly robust and unemployment is low but median wages are flat, consumers seem not to be employing cost-saving strategies to a large degree, or if they are, are spending the saved funds almost immediately. In fact, earlier this year, the U.S. Commerce Department reported that American consumers spent more than they earned in 2005 for the first time since the Great Depression.

"To a degree, belt-tightening strategies are a reflection of lifestyles in each region, and the potential for where the biggest saving can be made," noted Tom Markert, Chief Marketing Officer, ACNielsen. "It also reflects priorities - where consumers will look first to cut back, and also where they are not prepared to make concessions. In the US, the enormous amount of take-out food we consume, the billions we spend on out-of-home entertainment and as the world's largest user of energy, these three areas may be the big budget numbers that can be reduced without too much lifestyle compromise. Based on the country's negative national savings rate, however, any money saved by US consumers is probably simply spent in other areas."

"We believe the strong numbers in the 'cheaper grocery brands' response is clearly tied to the rise of private label goods throughout the US and the world, both in terms of amounts spent and categories now included," noted Markert. "I believe the US will crack the top 10 in this area in the not too distant future, especially if some of the hard discounters that have enjoyed so much success in Europe make a bigger push into the US market."

In terms of coupon use, Markert noted, "The US consumer clearly recognizes coupon usage as a meaningful cost saving strategy. Both manufacturers and retailers of consumer packaged goods have long leveraged coupons to build trial, volume and store traffic, but it may be time to hone the marketing messages about coupons to stress the impact they can have on overall cost savings for household budgets."

ACNielsen is the world's leading marketing information provider. Offering services in more than 100 countries, the unit provides measurement and analysis of marketplace dynamics and consumer attitudes and behavior

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