It’s no secret that Americans like to spend money — from convertible Cadillacs to iPhones, a hearty dose of materialism has always been a part of the American dream. And that dream is no illusion; it contributes to the biggest GDP on the planet, to the tune of more than $18 trillion.
But what exactly do we spend all that money on? A 2017 Consumer Spending Index poll from TD Bank — which spanned over 1,000 consumers representative of the national population — set out to answer just that. Click through to see the surprising ways people spend money.
Younger People Are Pretty Responsible
Though you might think millennials spend all their money on Unicorn Frappuccinos, the reality is that people in the 18 to 34 age bracket are pretty smart with their day-to-day funds.
While people ages 35 to 54 spend about $2,254 every month, 18-to-34-year-olds only spend $1,930. And here’s the kicker — despite that $324 disparity, the younger set actually makes more purchases. And those purchases probably aren’t all on coffee.
Take it from Julie Pukas, head of U.S. Bankcard and Merchant Solutions at TD Bank. In her opinion, the fact that millennials are spending less money than Gen Xers is sign that “they are savvy spenders and they make their money work for them.”
We Really Do Like Coffee, Though
While not everyone’s spending two grand per month on lattes, about 35 percent of us grab coffee or to-go food 2-5 times per week.
On average, the 18-to-34 crowd makes 2.8 to-go purchases weekly, while people 55 and older only partake in one. We all like to eat out at restaurants, though, with all age groups falling between 2 and 2.5 sit-down meals weekly.
Lots of People Don’t Buy Gas
Sure, 50 percent of poll respondents reported buying one tank of gas each week, but shockingly, 25 percent of people said they didn’t buy any gas in a typical week. That could be due to the rise of hybrid and fuel-efficient cars, or because the respondents rely on public transport.
Cash Is Dying
Unlike many other countries, paper bills aren’t too trendy in plastic-obsessed America. Or maybe it’s just convenience-obsessed America.
The proof of the card vs. cash battle is in the numbers: Only about 21 percent of Americans consider cash their primary method for day-to-day purchases, while 46 percent rely on debit cards and 31 percent on credit cards. Men and women are equally likely to carry bills, and the data doesn’t change significantly across age groups — only 22 percent of baby boomers consider cash their go-to purchasing method.
However, cash can still be a helpful tool for those trying to wean themselves off of credit card use. According to Pukas, “Consumers who may have difficulty paying off their credit card at the end of each billing cycle should focus on using cash or debit until they feel more financially secure. Those payment methods aren’t able to factor into your credit score, but they do only allow you to spend the dollars you have and will help keep your spending in check.”
Younger People Are Really Into Entertainment
Between the youngest and oldest survey respondents, entertainment presents one of the most noticeable gaps in spending habits. In an average week, people 55 and older make 0.3 purchases on entertainment and going out, while those 34 and under make 1.7 purchases — that more than five times the amount of their elders.
Mobile Wallets Are on the Rise
As of this year, about 48 percent of Americans have used a mobile wallet solution. In the 18-to-34 group, that number jumps to 66 percent.
Why the big figures? Fifty-six percent of users say mobile wallets are faster and more convenient, while 46 percent like the sense of security. The 55-and-up crowd isn’t saying much, though — that’s because only about 29 percent of them are in the mobile wallet loop.
Mobile Wallets Are Also Anyone’s Game
Although some mobile wallet options aren’t setting the world on fire — only about 7 to 8 percent of the poll respondents have used services like MasterPass, Samsung Pay, or Amex Express Checkout — the frontrunners are all carving out pretty hefty chunks of the market.
As expected, PayPal Wallet leads the pack, with 30 percent of people having used it. Not to be outdone, Visa Checkout and Pay With Amazon clock in at 25 and 21 percent usage rates, respectively.
We Practice Efficient Shopping
On the retail shopping front, a pretty major portion of Americans — 39 percent of us, to be exact — like to keep things efficient by only going shopping for stuff like household items, clothes, and electronics one per week.
On the absolute opposite end of the spectrum, 2 percent of survey respondents said they go shopping at least 11 times every week. We call them power shoppers, and we don’t recommend getting in their way.
Many Millennials Have Slim Budgets
Nearly two-thirds of Americans spend more than $1,000 per month on all purchases and bills, but a surprising percentage spend almost nothing. Across all age groups, 5 percent of people reported spending less than $250 a month, but this figure sees a marked rise among millennials in particular — 9 percent of them spend less than $250 per month, compared to just 2 percent of boomers.
Guys Are Big on Travel…
It’s rare that you see a full 10 percent disparity in spending habits among men and women, but it definitely happens in the travel department.
On average, 30 percent of Americans drop $2,500 or more on traveling each year. When you break it down into gender categories, though, only 25 percent of women spend that much, compared to 35 percent of men.
Apparently, the travel bug is really attracted to that Y chromosome.
…and Really Big on Eating
Let’s forget the old stereotype about how much women are supposed to love shopping — the data tells a much tastier story. Spoiler: It’s the story of men with very full stomachs and very loose wallets.
The average person in the U.S. spends about $1,697 on dining out every year — the 55 and up crowd is much more frugal, spending about $1,200 compared to the 18-to-54 year-old person’s $1,970. Guys massively outpace women in spending, dropping about $2,013 on dining compared to the $1,396 that women spend.
We’re Pretty Good at Credit Card Budgets
With the average amount of household credit card debt hovering around $16,000, we often think of credit cards as a dark blot on our spending landscape. And while plastic definitely lies at the root of some bad spending habits, Americans aren’t as irresponsible with our credit card spending as you might think.
In terms of paying off credit cards, a whopping 55 percent of us pay our balances in full each month. Only 12 percent make the minimum payment, with the rest just paying whatever’s possible at the time. Even more shocking? Fifty-seven percent of Americans say that they don’t ever max out their credit cards. Good on you, Americans.
Most of Us Don’t Hit Our Credit Card Limits
Just as most Americans are pretty good at paying their credit card bills, we’re also not too bad at keeping the balances reasonable. Nearly two-thirds — 62 percent, to be exact — of card holders use 30 percent or less of their credit limit. In fact, we don’t seem to care much about big limits at all; only 5 percent report that a high credit limit is the credit card benefit they value most.
We Really Love Credit Card Rewards, Though
When it comes to credit card rewards, American consumers don’t mess around. Only 18 percent of credit card holders let their rewards expire without redeeming them, while 82 percent cash in.
And while 28 percent of Americans look for cards with low interest rates, 36 percent of us want the cards that have a big variety of rewards, or the most rewards for common purchases. They’re right to do so, according to Pukas. “By being able to use your card for the purchases you make most often, accumulating rewards will come easily,” she said.
We Have Big Hearts
Most folks, about 47 percent, used their credit card reward points to get cash back, but the data also reveals a heart-warming charitable streak — 44 percent of card holders said they’d gift credit card rewards directly to charities, friends, or family members if given the option. Which makes this the only time you’ll ever say “awww” and “credit cards” in the same sentence.
Keep Reading: 21 Things You Should Never Do With Your Money
About the Author
Dan is an honors graduate of western Kentucky’s Murray State University and has been a freelance writer and full-time creative since 2009, in addition to co-founding and co-owning two active media production businesses – one for the west coast in Los Angeles, California, and one for the east in Cincinnati, Ohio. As an independent creative professional with a scroll-like resume of both blue collar and white collar experience and a longtime business writer, Dan has been fortunate enough to publish with the likes of Chron.com, Fortune, The Motley Fool, Career Trends, Bizfluent, MSN Money, Legal Beagle, San Francisco Chronicle’s SFGate, USA Today, Builder’s Capital, Salon.com and Zacks.com, among others. He’s also offered his words to such diverse brands as ASUS, Kellog’s, Discover, Sony Pictures, Samsung, Linksys, LIVESTRONG, Office Depot, Canon Inc., Caesar’s Entertainment Corporation and Verizon, as well as frequently writing in the fields of entertainment, travel, fitness, lifestyle and fashion.