The Average American Spends Almost $18,000 A Year On “Nonessentials.” How Do I Stack Up?

You’ve most likely seen this tweet on your timeline already, but USA Today’s money section released a story this morning regarding “nonessential” spending of the average American, complete with a “helpful” graphic.

Needless to say, it rocked me to my core. The poll, sponsored by Ladder (who we will get to later), reports that on average, there the average American spends $1,497 per month that, in their opinion, could be better used. They broke it down into categories such as dining out, impulse buys, ride shares, etc., and before even looking into the details of this piece, I already knew I was going to be way over the limit. To make you feel better about your spending, I’d like to reveal my personal finances and say that I am much worse off than the Average American. Let’s see the highlights:

Restaurant Meals: $209

Not starting out strong. I like going to group dinners with friends. It seems like twice a week I have a birthday dinner and where I’ll likely get a Venmo request (10 days later) to the tune of seventy bucks. Already way over.

Drinks: $186

You’ve got to be kidding. It should be said that I’m a craft beer guy, but my weekly spend for home beers, a casual one per night, comes out to about 25 bucks a week. That’s just for Monday-Thursday. On weekends, the Bay Area drink tax (which is not real), brings bar and restaurant beers to $11 and cocktails anywhere from $14-17, depending on the place. USA Today’s budget would allow me only 6 drinks in a public place in the whole month. Not likely. I’m not a hermit.

Takeout/Delivery: $177

I blame the delivery fees on Postmates for this. It should not cost me $3.99 to get artisanal mac and cheese sent 6 blocks. Should I go get it? Probably, but you and I both know I won’t.

Impulse Purchases: $108

I have three things in my Amazon cart right now that far surpass this number on their own. One of them is a lightsaber. Don’t judge me.

Ridesharing: $96

This one can be as high as you need it to be, guys. No one should risk driving in a dangerous situation. Rack it up.

Cable: $90

What I gather from this is that the average person doesn’t have HBO.

Subscription Boxes: $94

Does it count if it’s for my dog?

Online Shopping: $84

I’d love to say that I keep it under this number. However, things get messy with a shared Prime account that has packages showing up nearly every day. They’re not all things I buy, mind you, but they are things I use. I don’t even want to venture a guess as to what the true number is.

Coffee: $20

This is the one that I’m the biggest outlier for. Even if you get a small, an average cup of coffee goes for about $3.50 at a big chain. So if you buy 6 cups of coffee, you’re over this mark. Not to mention if you’re high maintenance and need oat milk in your latte, then you’re looking at like $6. The only way this is possible is if you buy 7-11 coffee, and please don’t.  

Paid apps: $23

I’m going to sub in video games for me, because I feel like this refers to old people that buy lives on Candy Crush. I buy new game about every other month ($60), so this checks out.

TV Streaming Services: $22

Steal a Hulu password, share your Netflix password with the person you stole from, and save up for Disney+ coming in November. This is doable.

Bottled Water: $17

This one makes me mad. People that don’t own a reusable bottle confuse me to my core. The only acceptable time to buy bottled water (besides emergency circumstances) is when you’re violently hungover. Then, you have my permission to go to the gas station and get a smart water with the little sporty top. I don’t know why, but those make me feel much better. Just make sure to recycle.

So now that we’re done breaking down what “average” looks like, we should look into why this study was made in the first place. Ladder is a life insurance company, and they’re the ones that commissioned this poll. While USA today doesn’t explicitly mention the strategy of buying life insurance with your $18,000 annual savings, I’m sure that’s what the company was after when they shelled out for the study. In fact, if you click through the USA today link to where the study was originally published, there were chaser questions asked about why the people that were polled didn’t have life insurance. There’s always a motive, folks.

This study shouldn’t be thrown out because of ulterior motives, though. If anything, writing this made me realize that I should look into my spending and cut back in places. I’m not saying don’t get life insurance. What I’m really saying is, don’t take financial advice from me at all.

[Via USA Today]

[Via DigitalHub]


  1. What a nonsense article ! “Personal Grooming” is non-essential now ? Bottled water ? Try telling that to people who live in Flint. Also, “online purchases” are always non-essential. I used to buy my prescription meds online. Did they become non-essential because I bought them online ? If you don’t own a car and use ride share instead, suddenly transportation becomes non-essential ?


  2. My bank account is at zero until that direct deposit hits on Friday. Nothing like a little Thursday existential crisis.


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