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How Americans Make and Spend Their Money

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How do you spend your hard-earned money?

Whether you are extremely frugal, or you’re known to indulge in the finer things in life, how you allocate your spending is partially a function of how much cash you have coming in the door.

Simply put, the more income a household generates, the higher the portion that can be spent on items other than the usual necessities (housing, food, clothing, etc), and the more that can be saved or invested for the future.

Earning and Spending, by Income Group

Today’s visuals come to us from Engaging Data, and they use Sankey diagrams to display data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) that helps to paint a picture of how different household income groups make and spend their money.

We’ll show you three charts below for the following income groups:

  1. The Average American
  2. The Lowest Income Quintile (Bottom 20%)
  3. The Highest Income Quintile (Highest 20%)

Let’s start by taking a look at the flows of the average American household:

The Average American Household – $53,708 in spending (73% of total income)

The average U.S. household has 2.5 people (1.3 income earners, 0.6 children, and 0.4 seniors)
Average American Household Earnings and Saving

As you can see above the average household generates $73,574 of total inflows, with 84.4% of that coming from salary, and smaller portions coming from social security (11.3%), dividends and property (2.6%), and other income (1.7%).

In terms of money going out, the highest allocation goes to housing (22.1% of spending), while gas and insurance (9.0%), household (7.7%), and vehicles (7.5%) make up the next largest categories.

Interestingly, the average U.S. household also says it is saving just short of $10,000 per year.

The Bottom 20% – $25,525 in spending (100% of total income)

These contain an average of 1.6 people (0.5 income earners, 0.3 children, and 0.4 seniors)

How do the inflows and outflows of the average American household compare to the lowest income quintile?

Here, the top-level statistic tells much of the story, as the poorest income group in America must spend 100% of money coming in to make ends meet. Further, cash comes in from many different sources, showing that there are fewer dependable sources of income for families to rely on.

For expenditures, this group spends the most on housing (24.8% of spending), while other top costs of living include food at home (10.1%), gas and insurance (7.9%), health insurance (6.9%), and household costs (6.9%).

The Highest 20% – $99,639 in spending (53% of total income)

These contain an average of 3.1 people (2.1 income earners, 0.8 children, and 0.2 seniors)

The wealthiest household segment brings in $188,102 in total income on average, with salaries (92.1%) being the top source of inflows.

This group spends just over half of its income, with top expenses being housing (21.6%), vehicles (8.3%), household costs (8.2%), gas and insurance (8.2%), and entertainment (6.9%).

The highest quintile pays just short of $40,000 in federal, state, and local taxes per year, and is also able to contribute roughly $50,000 to savings each year.

Spending Over Time

For a fascinating look at how household spending has changed over time, don’t forget to check out our previous post that charts 75 years of data on how Americans spend money.

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Visualizing the Wealth of Americans Under 40 (1989-2023)

The wealth of American Millennials hit historic highs after the COVID-19 pandemic.

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This line chart shows the growth of wealth for Americans under 40 over the last 40 decades.

Visualizing the Wealth of Americans Under 40 (1989-2023)

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Millennials have been often referred to as a “broke generation.” Whether in conversations or on the news, it is common to hear how those born in the 1980s or 1990s are struggling in today’s economy, particularly when it comes to entering the housing market or saving for retirement.

However, data shows that the wealth of Americans under 40 years old has hit historic highs after the COVID-19 pandemic, suggesting that millennials have accumulated more wealth by their 40s than previous generations.

To illustrate this, the graphic above shows the average wealth per household, adjusted for inflation, for Americans under 40 years old from Q4 1989 to Q4 2023 (in December 2023 dollars). The data is sourced from the Federal Reserve and accessed via the Center for American Progress.

Post-Pandemic Recovery

Data indicates that younger Americans have reaped the most benefits from the strong economic recovery after the pandemic, enjoying low unemployment rates and rapid wage growth.

The average wealth of U.S. households under 40 was $259,000 in the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2023, compared to $164,000 in Q4 1989 and $182,000 in Q4 2000.

QuarterAverage Wealth for Those Under 40 (USD)
Q4 1990152K
Q4 1995146K
Q4 2000182K
Q4 2005184K
Q4 2010100K
Q4 2015148K
Q4 2020231K
Q4 2023259K

Looking specifically at millennial households, inflation-adjusted wealth has more than doubled during the same period.

The increase in younger Americans’ wealth is not concentrated in a single area. Average housing wealth—house values minus mortgage debt—rose by $22,000 from 2019 to 2023. Younger Americans also saw gains in liquid assets, such as bank deposits and money market mutual funds, business ownership, and financial assets, mainly stocks and mutual funds.

Additionally, non-housing debt, such as credit card and student loan debt, fell for this age group after the pandemic.

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