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Housewives’ “secret savings” fell about 20 percent last year as households were forced to tap these reserves to cover living costs amid falling family income, according to a survey by Sompo Japan Insurance Inc.

The value of “hesokuri,” the cash, stocks and real estate that housewives stash without telling their husbands, fell to an average of ¥3.7 million from ¥4.6 million a year earlier, according to the company’s report on the survey results.

Women traditionally handle family finances in Japan, collecting their husbands’ paychecks and handing back pocket-money to cover the cost of lunches, coffee and drinking sessions with colleagues. The portion of winter bonuses returned to husbands as allowances dropped 34 percent to ¥73,000, enough to pay for three or four weekend golf rounds at the Hon Chiba Country Club east of Tokyo.

Consumers, whose spending accounts for more than half of the economy, are paring outlays amid rising unemployment and falling wages. Some 3.3 million people were looking for jobs in November, up 750,000 from a year earlier. Workers’ wages slid for an 18th month. Half of those who responded to the survey said they may cut luxury-product purchases, Sompo Japan said.

“From the micro point of view, research on housewives could show us the reality of the nation’s economy and provide a glimpse of what lies ahead for business conditions,” said Minoru Sugiyama, a spokesman at Sompo Japan.

The research was based on responses from 500 housewives. Their average age was 39.7. Seventy-two respondents said the steps they take to make ends meet include serving more bean sprouts, while 40 said they were cooking more tofu.

About 38 percent of the housewives said lower household incomes forced them to reach into their savings to pay for one-time expenses, including hospital charges, travel and dining out.

Consumer spending probably dropped 0.2 percent in the three months through December, according to Nomura Securities Co., after advancing in the two previous quarters. The Cabinet Office will release gross domestic product figures Feb. 15.

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