Though we need it, want it, and work hard for it, money is a topic that can make many of us feel uneasy. On one hand, talking about money is often considered an uncouth social taboo. On the other hand, money is often discussed in its own mysterious language. And, if we don’t know how to speak and understand that language, it can feel easier to simply avoid talking about money (and maybe especially the spending of it) altogether.
Like oral health, financial health directly influences your overall health and sense of well-being. Barriers to talking about money can exclude us from improving our financial health and from gaining the valuable clarity we need to make informed spending decisions. And as nearly half of all Americans spend more than they make and the average household credit card debt is over $8,000, it is crucial to clearly understand where our money is going. When we join the money conversation, we can uncover opportunities for saving and then make choices that better support our long-term financial health.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average American household spends about $60,000 on life’s necessities and luxuries. A bit closer to home, annual spending in Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston averages to about $63,000 and $67,000, respectively.
So where does our hard-earned money go? Here’s an open-eyed peek into the curious ways we spend our money and easy tips to help you start saving today.
Not surprisingly, a good chunk of our money is spent on housing, transportation, and food.
Accounting for one-third of all spending, the average American household spends just shy of $20,000 a year on housing expenses, which includes the rent or mortgage, utilities, furnishings, and maintenance.
Savings Tip—Monitor How You Use Utilities. A recent survey found that an average of 11 percent of Americans reported wasting money on electricity, heating, and air conditioning expenses. An easy way you can save on your household expenses is to turn off lights, appliances, and climate controls when you don’t need them.
Accounting for almost 16 percent of American spending, transportation costs the average American household about $9,576. Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston respectively shell out over $10,000 and $12,000 on transportation, which includes buying a vehicle, maintenance, and public transportation.
Savings Tip—Get a Tune-Up. We won’t be shy about it: we like our cars in Texas! While only 6 percent of Texans primarily rely on public transportation, 91 percent of Texans opt to use their personal vehicle as their main form of transportation. So if you’re not likely to boost your savings by switching to public transportation, take your car in for a tune-up instead. Keeping your car in optimal working order can improve your gas mileage by up to 4 percent!
As a necessity of living, food accounts for almost 13 percent of American spending at an average of $7,729 a year. In Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston, those numbers vary from around $6,500 to $9,100, respectively. Eating out accounts for almost 44 percent of an average American budget, and almost 48 percent in Dallas-Fort Worth and 51 percent in Houston.
Savings Tip—Cook at Home. Having someone else do the cooking is an undeniably pleasurable experience. Going out to eat can be an excellent way to celebrate, while ordering take-out ensures you have dinner after a busy or stressful day. However, there’s no doubt that cooking meals from scratch at home generally provides better nutrition and fewer calories while saving you money. While a restaurant meal might average $20 per serving, a home-cooked meal might cost you as little as $4!
At a national average of $4,928 (8 percent of overall spending), healthcare is one of the most common ways Americans spend their money each year. When compared to other developed countries with comparable economies, the U.S. spends the most on healthcare per person, especially on private sector spending.
At a national average of $3414, health insurance accounts for almost 70 percent of American healthcare spending. Insurance can often help lessen the financial burden of medical care, especially for preventative care, unexpected medical emergencies, and the cost associated with treating an ongoing condition or disease.
Savings Tip—Consider a Dental Membership Plan. While health insurance is generally supportive of both your physical and financial health, you have more options when it comes to how you afford your dental care. For a low annual fee, dental membership plans offer discounts on essential services, such as exams, cleanings, and the most common dental treatments—all without insurance. And because a dental membership plan doesn’t charge you in advance for services you haven’t used, the upfront cost of a membership plan is far less expensive than a monthly insurance premium.
The Fun Stuff
We’re not all work and no play! Americans also enjoy spending some of their hard-earned money on having fun and celebrating the holiday season.
From video games to hobbies to pets, Americans spend an average of $3,200 (5 percent) on in-home and outside entertainment. While entertainment and leisure activities are less vital than housing, food, and healthcare, they deserve a strategic place in our budget as an effective method to bust stress, have fun, and connect with our loved ones and friends.
Savings Tip—Look for Freebies. Who says a good time requires money? In addition to seeking out free activities in your community, opting for outdoor activities—like taking a walk or going for a hike—will bring you the numerous benefits of exercise and won’t cost you a thing.
The most wonderful time of the year can wreak havoc on our wallets. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), the average American was predicted to spend $1,007 in 2018 on holiday decor, candy, and gifts. Seven Texas cities made the top 15 of the NRF’s list of Holiday Budget by Cities, with Flower Mound predicted as the number one spender at $2,761.
Savings Tip—Start Early. Though you would rather think of what you’re serving on Super Bowl day than what you’re buying for Christmas many months away, planning for your holiday expenses early can save you time, money, credit card debt, and stress. In addition to putting aside a set amount of money each month for the holiday season, you could also buy one gift a month throughout the year instead of feeling the pressure of buying multiple gifts this December.
Striking a Balance
Financial health is a dynamic balance of wants and needs. By joining the money conversation, we can become honest about when we’re splurging on things we don’t really need instead of investing in the necessities—such as housing, food, healthcare, and self-care—that ultimately supports the irreplaceable resource of our minds and bodies. Just like flossing our teeth, even the smallest daily effort can reduce stress, improve our health, and infuse our lives with greater wellness and ease.