Baby boomers tempted to criticize the spending habits of their millennial children might want to take a look at their own recent purchases before starting to lecture. The latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey reveals that older and younger generations are a lot more alike in how they spend their money than you might expect.
Stereotypes about avocado toast and $5 lattes aside, boomers, millennials, and Gen Xers all spend roughly the same share of their income on items, including food, furniture, entertainment, and hobbies. However, because the average boomer earns more than their millennial counterpart, they also spend more. People born between 1946 and 1964 spend an average of $61,204 a year, compared to $48,576 annually for millennials.
Where does all that money go? Government data gives us a good idea of how boomers are spending their cash.
Boomers spend $3,100 on dining out every year
Eating out is a luxury, and it’s one that baby boomers enjoy. In 2016, the average boomer spent $3,100 on meals at restaurants, take-out, and other food away from home. That represents 5.1% of their total spending. Millennials spent slightly less — $ 2,946 — but because they also earn less money, those dinners and lunches made up 6.1% of their total spending.
In fact, roughly 42% of boomers’ total food spending happened at restaurants. The remaining 58%, or $4,224, went to food at home. Overall, 12% of this generation’s spending went to food. To save money on food, avoid overpriced restaurant foods and make sure you know the tricks grocery stores use to get you to fill your cart.
What are the other big items in boomers’ budgets? Keep reading to see how your spending compares.
1. $1,133 on cellphone service
- Boomers spent $94 a month on their cellphones.
Many people won’t leave home without their iPhone. Boomers who want to stay connected spent $1,133 on cellphone service in 2016. That’s on par with the $1,110 millennials spent but less than the $1,459 Gen Xers shelled out. To save, consider switching providers, bundling services, or even switching to a prepaid plan if you only use your phone occasionally.
Now might also be the time to reconsider your home phone service. Boomers spent $394 every year on landlines, about $300 more than their millennial kids spend on similar services.
Next: The price of a stiff drink
2. $518 on alcohol
- About 1% of boomer spending is on alcohol.
Boomers like to booze it up. People in this group spent $518 in 2016 on alcohol, more than anyone else except Gen Xers, who spent $552. The share of spending going to alcohol has remained steady for years, though Americans are drinking more wine and less hard liquor than we did in the early 1980s, NPR reported.
Next: The cost of keeping a home spic and span
3. $182 on laundry and cleaning supplies
- Boomers spend more on laundry and cleaning supplies than any other age group.
The average baby boomer spent about $15 a month on laundry and cleaning supplies in 2016. Other household necessities, including toilet paper, paper towels, lawn and garden supplies, and postage, cost $582 a year. Boomers spent $174 every year just on postage and stationery, more than double the $79 that millennials spent on these items.
Next: Pets are lovable, but they aren’t cheap.
4. $706 on pets
- Average annual spending on pets in the U.S. is $583, but boomers spent $706.
Americans spent about $1 out of every $100 on pets, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Boomers shell out slightly more, with 1.2% of their spending going to care for cats, dogs, or other pets, about $59 a month. Overall, Americans spent $66.75 billion on animal companies in 2016, according to the American Pet Products Association.
Next: Can you guess how much the average boomer spends on cigarettes?
5. $386 on smoking
- The average pack-a-day smoker spends $1,887 a year on cigarettes.
The share of Americans who regularly light up has been falling for years, from 20.9% in 2005 to 15.1% in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Still, millions of boomers still light up, and people in this age group spent an average of $386 in 2016 on smoking. Once you add in extra health care costs and other expenses, smoking can cost you $1 million to $2 million over a lifetime, according to some estimates.
Next: Boomers give more to charity than younger people.
6. $2,717 on cash contributions
- 4% of boomer spending goes to cash contributions.
Boomers donate an average of $2,717 every year to charities, political groups, and religious organizations. (That figure also includes money given to family members, alimony, and child support payments.) Only members of the Silent Generation (those born from the late 1920s through the early 1940s) give away more of their money. Cash contributions account for about 2% of millennial spending and 3% of Gen X spending, compared to 4.4% for boomers.
Next: The high cost of getting around
7. $9,762 on cars and other transportation
- Boomers spend $1,942 on gas every year.
The average baby boomer spends nearly $10,000 a year on cars and other transportation-related costs, 15.9% of their total spending. That includes $3,864 on vehicle purchases, $1,942 on gas, $977 on car maintenance and repairs, $215 on vehicle finance charges, and $1,395 on insurance. They also spent $655 on public transportation. Overall, 6.3% of boomer spending was on transportation, compared to 7.8% for millennials. Millennials were also slightly less likely to own a car than boomers — 83% versus 90%.
Next: Clothing budgets shrink as people age.
8. $1,602 on clothing
- Boomers spend less on clothing than Gen Xers and millennials.
Whether it’s because they no longer have to invest in a work wardrobe or no longer have to bear the cost of buying clothes for their kids, boomers spend less on clothing than younger generations — 2.6% of their total spending versus 3.8% for Gen Xers and 3.6% for millennials. Gen Xers spend almost $1,000 more per year on apparel than boomers.
Next: Health care costs boomers thousands of dollars every year.
9. $5,492 on health care
- Baby boomers spend more than $600 a year on drugs.
Aging baby boomers spend $5,492 a year on health care, 9% of their total spending. Health care makes up just 5% of total spending for millennials. Insurance is the biggest expense for boomers, costing them $3,730 a year on average. Other medical services, such as eye and dental care, X-rays, and nursing home care, cost boomers $913 a year. They also spend $603 on drugs, almost four times what millennials spend. Boomers feeling burned by the high cost of prescription drugs might want to try shopping around to different pharmacies or talking to a pharmacist or doctor about generic alternatives.
Next: Housing is the single biggest expense for boomers.
10. $10,740 on shelter
- 17.5% of boomer spending goes to shelter.
A roof over your head is the biggest expense for people of all age groups. Boomers spend $10,740 every year on shelter, which represents 17.5% of their total spending. Once you add in other housing-related costs, such as utilities, furniture, and appliances, boomers are spending $18,917 every year. Three-quarters of boomers are homeowners compared to just one-third of millennials. So they spend more on property tax and home maintenance than younger generations, who spend a bigger chunk of their money on rent.