The things that Americans spend (and waste) money on (Part 2)

Posted: May 18, 2017 at 7:19 pm

RecessionMost of us spend a jaw-dropping amount of money every year on things that we don’t need – or even really want. So we’ve put this list together of what Americans spend on everyday goods and services – and how much cash we’re flushing down the drain.

In part one of this blog, we covered the big-ticket items like housing, credit cards, automobiles, utilities, etc.

Here are some more ridiculous, frivolous, and downright wasteful things we’re spending money on: 


According to data, we spend a whole lot on food – and much of it isn’t just the sustenance we need.

the average American household now spends $6,759 on food every year, or more than $500 every month.

While that may seem plausible, consider that $2,787, or more than 40% of that sum, is spent on buying food outside the home, or at restaurants.

Our grocery bill alone comes to $478 billion annually for a nation!

Of that hefty total, we’re spending about $1,200 on fast food alone every year – or $25 a week! That adds up to about $117 billion for McDonald’s, Burger King, and other fast-food each and every year!

Ever year, Americans spend $65 billion on soft drinks and $11 billion on bottled water.

22% of people surveyed admit going over budget when eating out, compared to 18% who go over budget at the grocery store.

This is certainly a lot of money, but the worst part is that we’re not even eating all of the food we pay for. In fact, Americans waste $165 billion every year by throwing out or wasting our snacks, unwanted portion of our meals, or our food gone bad – about $529 per person each year!


Incredibly, Americans now spend 1% of their total budget on purchasing alcohol, or $1 for every $100 we spend!

It’s true, as the average American adult spends about $454 on alcohol every year.

We spend a frothy $96 billion on beer alone each year!

Interestingly, the higher the income bracket, the more people spend on alcohol every year. People who earn $150,000 or more spend three times as much as lower income Americans.

About 40% of our alcohol consumption (and purchase) takes place in bars, restaurants, and other venues, compared to only 24% in 1982.

So it’s not a surprise that bars and restaurants have jacked up their alcohol prices an inflation-adjusted 79% since 1982!


We’re rolling the dice, betting it all, and NOT knowing when to fold and walk away more than ever. In fact, the average American loses $400 gambling every year, adding up to $34.6 billion we give to The House (or our bookies).

We’re probably not even counting all of the illegal gambling that takes place in the U.S., like betting on football, etc.

But when it comes to legal gambling, casinos alone earn about $125 billion every year!

We also love to play the lottery, dropping $66.5 billion per year on scratch-offs, Instant Win, Power Ball, and other lottery tickets.

Apparently, we’re not deterred by the fact that the chance of winning the lottery are about one in 175 million per ticket – less than the chance of getting struck by lightning, eaten by a shark, or hit by an asteroid!

We’re not winning more often, but we sure are buying lottery tickets in record numbers, as state lottery sales have increased every single year since 1965.


This will blow you away: we spend about 14% of our incomes on cigarettes.

That’s about $80 billion each year, or about one-seventh of our total budget.

In states where tobacco taxes are high, like New York State, low-income smokers spend up to one-quarter (25%) of their incomes on cigs!

Gift cards

American consumers spent about $130 billion on gift cards last year!

But aren’t we getting equal value when we spend them? Remember that those cards come with fees, and a huge percentage of gift cards go unused/are lost/or expire.

In fact, about $2 billion worth of gift cards go unredeemed each year. So THAT’S why retailers want you to buy their gift cards so badly!

Warranty plans

There are no clear statistics as to how much we spend on warranties and service plans every year. But we do know that 88% of stores try to get you to buy a service plan, including 74% when you buy electronics.

And about 16 percent of consumers do opt to pay for that additional service plan.

But data shows that the warranty plan rarely is a wise purchase since they’re marked up so much, the retailer that sells you the plan gets to keep 50% of that amount as profit immediately.

Gym memberships

The average gym membership can range from 20 bucks all the way up to $100 every month, but that’s just a good investment in our health and fitness, right?

It wouldn’t be a waste of money at all if we were actually using that gym membership. However, data shows that gyms count on only about 18% of members coming to the gym at all on a consistent basis!

Speeding and parking tickets

One in every six Americans (20%) will get at least one speeding ticket every year, which equals about 41 million tickets annually, or 100,000 tickets each day!

That’s a big price to pay for our lead foot, as these days, the average cost of a speeding ticket (including court fees if necessary) is $152.

So we spend $6.2 billion annually just on speeding tickets!

It’s hard to compile statistics on parking tickets, but we do know that issuing parking citations brings in $130 million each year…just for the City of San Francisco!

Coffee outside of the home

Coffee is a $11 billion industry in the U.S., and growing every year.

However, the big profits are being made when you buy your expensive oversized lattes and Frappuccinos outside of the home.

In fact, if you have a Starbucks addiction, you’re not alone, as Americans who regularly buy coffee spend about $1,092 annually.


We definitely love to spend for the holidays, leading with Christmas, where the average American spends $916 (on gifts, extra food, parties, etc.)

Halloween is also a fun-but-expensive holiday, with $2.8 billion spent every year just on candy to give away, and we even spend $310 million for costumes for our pets!

We spend about $4.14 in green on St. Patrick’s Day every year.

Valentine’s Day is big business, with $18.2 billion in spending, including $1.7 billion changing hands on flowers, alone.

Easter isn’t far behind, with $16.8 billion in spending annually.

“Health” and wellness

We spend $33.9 billion on alternative medicine every year,

$5.8 billion just on sinus treatments,

and $1.4 billion on over-the-counter teeth whitening.

Other random, crazy and notable things we spend a lot of money on:

The pet industry hauls in a total $50.96 billion every year.

Pretzels: $550 million

Engagement and Wedding Rings: $11 billion

Chocolate: $16 billion dollars (we eat 2.8 billion pounds of it!)

Perfume: $4.2 billion

Romance Novels: $10 billion (when the perfume didn’t work)

Tattoos: $2.3 billion

Tattoo Removal: $66 million (Oops!)

Golf Balls: $500 million

Girl Scout Cookies: $800 million (That number must be higher since I’ve spent about $799 million on Girl Scout Cookies, myself last year!)

Taxidermy: $800 million

Video Games: $17 billion dollars

Professional Sports: $25.4 billion

Dollar Store Purchases: $30 billion

Toilet Paper: $2.6 billion

Ringtones: $5 billion worldwide

Baggage Fees: $3.36 billion

Lawn Care: $40 billion

Child Care: $47 billion (Wait; so we spend almost as much on our lawns as for the people who watch our little ones?!)

Twinkies: $500 million

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