Monday, February 5, 2024

Saving Money At The Fast-Food Joint? Maybe.

Fast-food places are advertising bargains.  What's up with that?

So many people have forgotten about the recession of 2008 when millions were laid off and the economy went into the toilet - but recovered pretty much within a year or two.  Back then, the line at McDonald's was around the block as they offered "dollar menu" items and people snapped them up.

Of course, even at a dollar, fast-food was overpriced - you can make the same meal at home for 1/4 the price, as I noted before.  And of course, no one spends just a dollar, do they?

But what is interesting to me is that similar deals are being flogged, perhaps not at a dollar, but due to inflation, at $2.50 or so.  Burger King is offering two-fers on Whopper Jr's for $5.  Other fast-food place are offering similar deals.  What is going on?

Note that I am not recommending any of these "deals" or fast-food in general, just noting that it is interesting that only a few months ago, people were whining about how expensive fast-food had become.  Now we are seeing a change in the weather!

In the news today, UPS, one of my former employers, is laying off 12,000 people, citing decreased traffic volume as the reason - people are just not buying as much "stuff" apparently.  Although, there may be other causes - Amazon cancelling its contract with UPS in favor of its own home-grown delivery service, for example.  Or more people using the cheaper (and often just as fast) USPS service, which now tracks even crap you buy on eBay and shipped by China Post.

Or, we are on the brink of a recession.  Perhaps.  The bloom is off the rose in the vaunted "coding" profession as the FANG companies all laid out tens of thousands of programmers, I think mostly to break their hold on the industry, where one could work from home and "name you salary."  Now it is "return to office" and "you're fired!"   Either there is less coding work to do, or these FANG companies colluded to lay people off just to balance the job market in their favor.

Or... nature abhors a vacuum.  When I got into the Patent business it was "name your salary" and bill the client until they cried.  Clients fought back and played practitioners against one another,and more and more people got into the profession, and pretty soon, well, the legal business ain't what it used to be.

It is clear to me that we are in the "overshoot" of an overheated economy.  Stocks are up, earnings are up, but everyone feels poorer thanks to inflation and layoffs or the threat of layoffs, as well as rising personal debt.  It will be interesting to see if it crashes before November and how that might affect the election.  The worst person in the world to "fix" the economy would be Trump - Billionaires don't need more tax cuts.  But like I said, we'll have to wait and see.  It does illustrate how the plebes think the President controls the economy (as well as the price of gas) by turning knobs on the wall of the Oval Office.

But I digress.

If you have to eat at a fast-food place, say, while traveling, there are ways to cut your bill in half, if not more.  The problem with most of these joints is that they promote the "value meals" and "deluxe sandwiches" which can run a dozen dollars or so. The real value items are nowhere to be found, particularly on the drive-through menu.  Inside, on the kiosk, you can find these bargains, which is why many fast-food restaurants have closed their walk-up services and are now relying totally on drive-through.

Of course, there are "apps" and I described the horror story with the McDonald's app a few years ago (they have since migrated to a new app provider, apparently).  If you can resist the temptation to engage in over-consumption (which the app is designed to do) you might be able to score a better deal - provided you look for the "deals" and not the "supersized value meal" or "de-luxe sandwiches."  They want you to collect points to redeem for coffee or whatever, and again, this promotes over-consumption.  People start eating out four nights a week, justifying it by crowing about all the "points" they have won.

So while those are some strategies to use at fast-food places (and pitfalls to avoid) the best and most consistent strategy is to just eat less food.  You don't need (or really want) the supersized value meal.  A simple sandwich is often more calories than you should be eating (on a 2,000 calorie a day diet).  So right off the bat, ditch the french fries.  Next, ditch the soft drink (which is nearly pure profit for the fast-food chain - and a diabetes nightmare)/  We always have our Walmart stainless-steel water cups in the car (Note: Not "Yeti" or "Stanley" overpriced crap!). So we always have a beverage.  We then split one of these two-for-$5 deals and the whole thing costs... a little over $5 with tax.

If we ordered the de-luxe sandwich value meal supersized, we are looking at $12 each or $24 for more food than we really should be eating - which would leave us feeling bloated and sick, and literally make us sick, over time.  We can each have two tacos al pastor and beer at our local Mexican dive for less money!

Funny thing, I was at a Popeye's in Jacksonville, taking the trailer back to have the new window installed.  I asked for the chicken sandwich.  "You mean the meal?" (which was twice as much money and had fries and a deadly high-fructose corn syrup drink).  "No, just the sandwich," I replied.  The lady thought I was poor or something and threw in a free order of fries out of pity.  Oh, well.  I guess I'll take that.  But it really was too much to eat, though.  Funny thing, too, but lettuce and tomato are extra but she forgot to charge me for that, either.  Sometimes it pays to look homeless.  I'll have to work on that angle!

Just that sandwich was more than enough food for lunch - it was huge!  And even without making it a "supersized value meal" it was still six bucks plus tax.  I should packed a lunch.  Funny thing, but they have these canned chicken or tuna lunch packs with crackers at Dollar Tree for a dollar-and-a-quarter. You'd be surprised how little one really needs to eat.

Eating slowly helps, too.  The problem with fast food is that the only "fast" part anymore is the consumption of it.  I see people wait 20 minutes in line at Chik-Fil-A (it is next to Home Depot, so I can watch the cars crawl through the line).  20 minutes to order the food, and they have it all consumed before they leave the parking lot - without having to park!  The same is true of any other fast-food joint.

When you eat fast, your body doesn't get that "I'm full" signal until it is too late and then you realize you've over-eaten.  Waiting until you are starving hungry is also a real problem.  If you wait until two o'clock to have lunch, chances are, you'll be more tempted to order the supersized meal.  Have a snack before then, it will calm the urge.

Americans are hardly starving to death, so I always laugh when people complain that they paid $15 to have $14 of fast-food delivered and then complain they had to leave a tip on top of that.  I suspect we'll see less and less of this type of behavior in the coming months.  I have no sympathy for someone who complains about living "paycheck to paycheck" but orders out or eats out several nights a week.  Again, though, normative cues are at work.  "Everyone eats out!" they cry, as if it were a Constitutional right and not a special treat.  When having restaurant meals and cable television and a new smart phone every few years (My Galaxy 7 is still working just fine, thank you) is considered a baseline "norm" (along with a leased SUV) then it is really hard to get ahead in life and accumulate wealth.

I see these "memes" online about how the Billionaires "took all our money away" and they post this with the notation, "Send from my iPhone XXXIV!" and fail to appreciate the irony.  They didn't "take our money away" but rather we begged them to take it from us.  Whether it is restaurant meals, food delivery, stupid stock tips, "crypto", or "must-have" consumer spending - or student loans, or overpriced houses or whatever, no one ever pointed a gun to anyone's head and said, "you must buy this overpriced Stanley Cup!"  And sadly, the same people who buy crap like that also bought Beanie Babies back in the day.

It will take another recession for people to cut back on stupid spending, and when that happens, prices will come down and people will lose the attitude about how they hate their jobs and whatnot.  But if history is any indication, they will first claim that the government owes them a bailout and when that doesn't happen, well, eventually most of them will sober up from this party that has gone on too long.

It will be painful to watch - yet again.   How many times do we have to go through this?