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Comfort purchases

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Consumers regularly spend on treats despite worries over tighter household finances  
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Little indulgences lift Brits’ spirits in tough times

British consumers are keeping their spirits up in tough economic times by regularly indulging in chocolate, cakes and other affordable treats, according to a new survey of UK spending habits.

The survey by international consumer research specialist Intersperience found that 40% of consumers questioned in an online poll frequently treat themselves with ‘comfort goods’ although the majority said they restrict spending to small amounts.

Of the people who regularly buy treats, a total of 56% said they restricted spending to low-cost indulgences. The survey also found that a significant proportion of the public (41%) are keeping an extremely tight rein on household spending, allowing themselves either no money at all or barely any for treats.

Chocolate and alcohol featured heavily as the favourite feel-good treats. Britain’s chocolate cravings were highlighted recently by data which showed that UK chocolate sales rose by more than 9% from 2007 to 2009 to £3.6 billion and sales are expected to rise further in 2010.

Although dining out emerged as the second most popular treat overall, when it comes to finding ways to save money, one-third of cost-conscious respondents still cited their top economy as foregoing restaurant visits.

Entertaining friends at home instead of going to the pub or restaurant proved a popular money-saving measure and people are also choosing to save on the cost of cinema and concert tickets by staying at home and watching a DVD instead.

Common cost-cutting measures also include healthier as well as cheaper lifestyle options such as taking a packed lunch to work, and cycling or walking instead of using public transport.

The survey showed a clear shift away from spending on personal grooming and household goods with only 3% of respondents choosing a visit to a spa or nail salon as their favourite treat and just 1% of respondents choosing to splurge on a nice item for their house.

Paul Hudson, Chief Executive of Intersperience said: “Our survey showed a relatively strong propensity towards people allowing themselves to spend money on treats despite the downturn but it is clear that the majority of them are restricting themselves to spending on smaller indulgences.”

Hudson added: “The implication is that discretionary spending on big-ticket items is either being deferred or ruled out currently as the economy is still a significant concern for consumers. It’s more a case of a good night in than a good night out for most people just now with a box of chocolates, a bottle of wine and a DVD to cheer themselves up.”

Intersperience undertakes regular online consumer polls for corporate clients as well as for its own independent research projects, generating authoritative up-to-date snapshots of current consumer mood and spending habits and intentions in the UK.

Hudson said the finding in the latest survey that people are still generally cautious on spending, follows a previous survey on consumer attitudes in the summer which showed that people were overall more inclined to be savers rather than spenders.

“Consumer confidence generally remains fragile and that won’t have been helped by heavy public sector budget cuts recently, persistent fears over job security and a looming VAT increase in January. There are clearly people struggling to afford even the bare necessities just now and even those who can afford a few treats are watching their pennies.”

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