Financial and Monetary Systems

Here's how different generations in the US spend their income 

A pile of dollar bills.

Gen X spent the most money of any US generation in 2021. Image: Unsplash/Alexander Grey

Preethi Lodha
Data Analytics and Insights manager , Visual Capitalist
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Financial and Monetary Systems

  • The average American spent just over $60,000 a year in 2021, but spending habits vary significantly between age groups.
  • Generation X – those born from 1965 to 1980 – spent the most money last year, with average expenditure of $83,357.
  • The biggest expense for all age groups is housing, accounting for more than 30% of annual spending.
A graph showing how Americans spend their money.
Spending habits vary wildly depending on age. Image: Visual Capitalist.

How Americans Spend Their Money, By Generation

In 2021, the average American spent just over $60,000 a year. But where does all their money go? Unsurprisingly, spending habits vary wildly depending on age.

This graphic by Preethi Lodha uses data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to show how average Americans spend their money, and how annual expenses vary across generations.

A Generational Breakdown of Overall Spending

Overall in 2021, Gen X (anyone born from 1965 to 1980) spent the most money of any U.S. generation, with an average annual expenditure of $83,357.

A chart showing average annual expenditure from different generations.
The second biggest spenders are Millennials with an average annual expenditure of $69,061. Image: Visual Capitalist.

Gen X has been nicknamed the “sandwich generation” because many members of this age group are financially supporting both their aging parents as well as children of their own.

The second biggest spenders are Millennials with an average annual expenditure of $69,061. Just like Gen X, this generation’s top three spending categories are housing, healthcare, and personal insurance.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, members of Generation Z are the lowest spenders with an average of $41,636. per year. Their spending habits are expected to ramp up, especially considering that in 2022 the oldest Gen Zers are just 25 and still early in their careers.

Similarities Across Generations

While spending habits vary depending on the age group, there are some categories that remain fairly consistent across the board.

One of the most consistent spending categories is housing—it’s by the far the biggest expense for all age groups, accounting for more than 30% of total annual spending for every generation.

A chart showing average spend on housing in 2021 from different generations.
While spending habits vary depending on the age group, housing is one of the most consistent spending categories. Image: Visual Capitalist.

Another spending category that’s surprisingly consistent across every generation is entertainment. All generations spent more than 4% of their total expenditures on entertainment, but none dedicated more than 5.6%.

A chart showing average spend on entertainment in 2021 for different generations.
All generations spent more than 4% of their total expenditures on entertainment. Image: Visual Capitalist.

Gen Zers spent the least on entertainment, which could boil down to the types of entertainment this generation typically enjoys. For instance, a study found that 51% of respondents aged 13-19 watch videos on Instagram on a weekly basis, while only 15% watch cable TV.

Differences Across Generations

One category that varies the most between generations and relative needs is spending on healthcare.

As the table below shows, the Silent Generation spent an average of $7,053 on healthcare, or 15.8% of their total average spend. Comparatively, Gen Z only spent $1,354 on average, or 3.3% of their total average spend.

A chart showing average spend on healthcare in 2021 in different generations.
Gen Z only spent $1,354 on average on healthcare. Image: Visual Capitalist.

However, while the younger generations typically spend less on healthcare, they’re also less likely to be insured—so those who do get sick could be left with a hefty bill.

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