In December, the Guardian put out a call to American millennials ages 18 to 35 willing to share their spending habits — and the results raise some interesting questions.
This week, it shared responses from six people from around the U.S. and Canada in its effort “to illustrate the range in lifestyles of a generation that has been described as wasteful, wussy, freeloading and feckless.”
How Do Millennials Spend Their Money?
The Guardian presented the results in graphic snapshots showing each participant’s monthly income and the distribution of their biggest expenses.
For most of the six subjects, rent is the top expense. Each lives within their means, though, keeping the cost of rent below 30% of their income.
Participants spend between $66 and $150 per week on food. To put that into perspective, it costs between $146 and $289 per week to feed a family of four, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Even the most frugal of these six millennials spends almost twice as much on food as the USDA’s typical thrifty American.
Four out of the six participants have monthly student loan payments between $250 and $1,400 per month. One man even pays more per month towards this debt than towards rent.
Other major expenses vary, including:
- Hair appointments
- Child care
- Car payments
- Cigarettes and vape
Surprisingly, only one of the six listed a cell phone payment in their top expenses, and even that one is only $40 per month.
I wonder whether they’re using cheap cell phone plans, saving money by staying on family plans or leaving the payment to their parents? The report doesn’t clarify.
How Do You Spend Your Money?
However, the Guardian’s reporting doesn’t actually answer the project’s main question: How do millennials spend their money?
Even though it’s fun to look at the graphics and balk at the debt and feckless priorities of this confounding generation, a hand-picked sample of six people doesn’t support any conclusions.
What it can do, however, is point out the importance of tracking your spending.
If you’re totally honest about it, you might find a graphic of your own spending habits shocking, too.
A tool like Mint can help you create a budget and automatically track your spending. It also helps you create a pie chart to visualize your expenses, much like those in the Guardian report.
Here’s How We Stack Up
The pie chart above is from my co-worker’s Mint budget.
When she created the chart for this post, she sent it to me with the message, “My travel pie is so ginormous!”
As our resident travel expert, she wasn’t really surprised to have high travel expenses. But when you’re forced to look at your spending in such clear terms, it can still give you a bit of a shock!
Without a month to track my own expenses, I can’t say for sure how I stack up against my peers. But I can estimate it, based on my budget.
I’m 30, employed full time and am the sole earner in a household with one other adult.
My rent falls just inside “affordable,” at 29% of my income.
My food budget for two people is about $250 per month, falling in line with that of the USDA’s average thrifty American and well below the ones these millennials shared.
My additional top expenses include a $155 car payment, $191 cell phone bill (for two lines), and travel, which fluctuates month to month.
My monthly spending chart would look something like this:
How Do You Compare?
Do you know where your money goes every month? Even if you have to guess based on what you plan to spend, what does your chart look like?
If you don’t track your expenses, you might be surprised when you do see where your money is actually going.
Your Turn: Do you know your monthly expenses? How do they compare with your peers’?
Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Writer’s Digest and more.