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Millennials: How Much Are You Really Spending?

Oct. 1, 2019
Managing Money, Personal Finance
Millennials: Are You Outspending Your Peers?
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Brunch and avocados topped millennial expenditures for 2018 — or it could seem that way if you read the viral stories that fill your social media feeds. If you’re part of this generation, you know better. If you’re not, you should.

As a millennial, you may share certain spending habits with others in your age group, habits you occasionally catch flak for. You spend more on streaming music and wigs than older generations, for instance. Yes, wigs. But some of your spending patterns are likely nothing more than a byproduct of age or the times we live in — spending less on health care because younger adults are generally healthier, for example, or spending less on magazines and more on ebooks. And when looked at as a percentage of income, your spending becomes even less remarkable. 

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By looking at annual spending across generations from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey, you can begin to see how both the needs and priorities of certain age groups differ and get an idea of how your own priorities and payouts measure up.

The Consumer Expenditure Survey measures all annual expenditures, such as housing, health care, food, entertainment, insurance, education, utilities, clothing and transportation. The survey does not yet account for Generation Z, which NerdWallet generally defines as those born in 1997 or later.

For important notes about the data, read here.

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Food

Millennials allocated a greater portion of their total food spending on food away from home — think restaurants and food trucks — than any other generational group, at 47%. But while you may enjoy eating away from home, that doesn’t mean you’re spending too much overall. Your generation spent an average of $7,061, or 11% of your pretax income, on food in 2018. Members of Generation X spent the highest dollar amount in this category — $9,826 for the year — accounting for 9% of their income.

Nerdy fact: Millennials spent less than any other generation on frozen meals in 2018: $55, on average. Millennials spent more than any other generation on breakfast, lunches, dinners and snacks (four different measures) out of vending machines and mobile vendors such as food trucks.

» MORE: How to dine out for less

Alcohol

Similar to dining out, millennials seem to spend more of their alcohol budget drinking away from home than other generations. According to the data, millennials spent 59% of their alcohol allowance imbibing outside the home. Overall, however, all generations spent less than 1% of their income on alcohol.

Nerdy fact: Millennials spent more on whiskey at home than other generations in 2018: $20, on average.

Entertainment

Your generation spent less on entertainment expenses than the average across generations. You spent more than any generation on streaming audio and video, and the least on reading — just $64. 

Nerdy fact: Millennials spent more on streaming and downloading music than any other generation: $23, on average.

Shelter

Your generation spent about $11,415 on shelter costs in 2018, just slightly less than the national average: $11,747. Shelter spending includes many of the costs of keeping a roof over your head: your rent or costs to own, maintenance and repairs, and homeowners or renters insurance, for example. 

Utilities

Nearly everyone spent less on residential (“landline”) phone service than cellular phone service in 2018, with millennials spending the least. Both millennials and Generation Xers spent between 4% and 5% of their annual income on utility costs. Considering your age group has a considerably lower income, on average, than Generation X, this could indicate you’re doing some strategic budgeting to keep those bills under control. 

» MORE: How to lower your bills

Clothing

Your generation may get a bad rap for frivolous spending, but you spent less than the national average on clothing in 2018. Though members of Generation X spent more — $2,343, on average — their apparel spending accounted for 2%, while yours ($1,979) accounted for 3% of your annual pre-tax income.

Nerdy fact: Millennials spent more than any other generation on coin-operated laundry: $54, on average. But they spent less than any other generation on laundry and dry cleaning services: $25, on average.

Transportation

If 2018 expenditures are an indication, you’re more likely to spend on a used vehicle than new. On average, American adults spent 12% of their pre-tax income on transportation costs.

Nerdy fact: Millennials spent more on used motorcycles than any other generation: $59, on average.

» MORE: Build a better budget to manage your spending

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Notes on the data

This data is from the 2018 Consumer Expenditure Survey, released Sept. 10, 2019. The Bureau of Labor Statistics asks households across the U.S. about their spending habits throughout each year. When numerous people answer $0 for any single expense on the Consumer Expenditure Survey, the data is skewed and the average amount spent seems low. For example, few millennials likely pay for a landline at home. So, in 2018, the average amount spent on residential phone service by millennials was $70, or approximately $6 per month, far lower than most residential phone bills. Similar patterns are seen in vehicle and home ownership costs among millennials, as well as throughout the survey data.

The survey is asked of “consumer units,” not individuals. This means, in most cases, that the expenses are attributed to a single person in the household. So, for instance, if a 24-year-old millennial lives at home with his 45-year-old father, the household expenditures will appear under the father, or in the Generation X category of the generational tables.

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