The new year has come, and with it renewed dedication to fix up our finances.
Resolutions to cut the fat of unnecessary monthly payments out of the family budget, making room for what’s important is a typical approach, albeit one that becomes increasingly difficult as the year presses on.
But there are certain expenses that stand the test of time and New Year’s resolutions.
First in 2007 and then again in 2010, the Pew Research Center conducted a Social Trends report, aiming to find out what everyone was spending their money on. This report, titled “What Americans pay for — and how” sought to discover not how much each American spends on an average bill, but how many Americans are paying any given bill.
The researchers identified the 14 most common bills to pay, and then asked 2,000 participants to answer whether they considered any of the suggested bills to be a “regular household expense.”
The results provide an insight not only into emerging national economic trends, but also into national priorities.
Overall, only 7 percent of those who were asked whether they considered alimony or child support a regular expense in their home answered in the affirmative. When separated by age, two demographics were more likely to consider this category a regular expense than the overall average.
Adults ages 18 to 29 said yes at a rate of 13 percent, while 9 percent of adults ages 30 to 49 also paid either alimony or child support regularly. When divided into income levels, the lowest category available (those with a total family income under $30,000) also had the highest rate of those who considered alimony or child support a regular expense, with 11 percent of respondents in that category saying yes.
Among all adults surveyed, 12 percent said that they regularly pay into a store payment plan. The survey specifies that these plans are either for home furnishings or electronics. The survey also shows that 17 percent of adults say that home furnishings is a common expense, with or without a payment plan, with 25 percent among households making $100,000 or more claiming it as a regular expense.
Those surveyed indicated that child care is also among the most common expense for their household, with 13 percent responding that it is something they pay for regularly. Adults ages 30 to 49 are the most likely to have child care included in their pile of bills, with 20 percent in that age demographic responding yes. Interestingly, the rate of adults who say child care is a regular expense remains relatively consistent among all income levels.
Overall, 16 percent of adults claim housecleaning as a regular expense, but the old and rich seem particularly prone to pay for such services. Among those who make more than $100,000 a year, 34 percent responded that they regularly pay for housecleaning, a 24 percent increase from those who make $50,000 to $99,000 per year. Adults ages 65 or older are anywhere from 4 to 8 percent more likely to identify housecleaning as a regular expense than any of the other age groups.
Among the adults surveyed, 16 percent are regularly paying off school loans. Among those ages 18 to 49, 48 percent are paying for school loans. Presumably because more have already paid off their school loans, only 31 percent of those ages 30 to 64 are still paying for their education, while only 2 percent of those ages 65 or older continue to do so.
Landscaping or lawn maintenance, much like housecleaning, appears to be more popular among those with a larger income. While 19 percent of those surveyed overall reported it as a regular expense, 32 percent of those who make $100,000 or more are paying for such a service. In contrast, 13 percent of those who make under $30,000 per year do the same.
The prime age for paying for a health club or sport facility regularly appears to be between 30 and 49 years old. While 21 percent of the population surveyed said paying for health clubs or sports facilities is a regular occurrence, 26 percent of those 30 to 49 said the same, the most of any age category. Like many of the other categories listed earlier, money is also a major factor, with 46 percent of those who make $100,000 or more a year saying they regularly pay for access to such facilities.
One fourth of all adults (25 percent) say they are currently paying some form of school tuition each month. The highest age demographic that reports paying this expense is those ages 18 to 29, at 37 percent. That number decreases dramatically with age. Only 3 percent of adults ages 65 or older make tuition payments.
Pew’s survey revealed that 42 percent of American adults regularly make payments toward a car loan. That number may soon drop, however, since the number of people opting out of driving is increasing.
Credit card payment ranks fifth on the list, with 58 percent of all adults reporting it to be a regular expense. It’s an expense that seems to peak at mid-life (64 percent of adults ages 30 to 49 and adults ages 50-64 say it is a regular monthly expense, while only 50 percent of those ages 18 to 29 and those 65 and older claim the same) but it is also more prominent among the rich. While 46 percent of those who make under $30,000 a year make regular credit card payments, 74 percent of those who make $100,000 per year or more say they do.
The Pew study provides other insights into credit card use as well. For example, according to the study, 6 percent of respondents said they use a credit card because it’s more convenient. Only 30 percent said it was to pay for things when out of money. The study’s data also shows that only 24 percent of credit card users pay their balance in full every month. Those who make $100,000 or more per year were the most likely to do so, with 39 percent of that category responding they do so regularly.
In the first category of what the study calls “information age consumer staples,” 65 percent of those surveyed said that they make regular payments to have Internet service. The highest age demographic is adults ages 30 to 49, with 76 percent saying they make regular payments to have Internet access. Such access is also greatly divided by income, with those who make under $30,000 the least likely to pay for service (37 percent) and those who make $100,000 or more the most (91 percent).
The responses by those who make regular cellphone payments were relatively similar to that of Internet service, with 74 percent of respondents reporting it as a regular expense. While more in the lowest-income demographic are prone to pay for this service (74 percent), more in the highest income demographic are as well, with 94 percent of adults who make $100,000 or more reporting cellphone service as a regular expense.
The Pew study clarifies that “housing” as defined in this survey includes paying mortgage, condo, homeowners association fees or rent as a regular expense. According to its data, 76 percent of the respondents fit that description. Like many other bills on this list, housing payments peak at middle-age (90 percent for those 30 to 49 years old) and dip considerably after retirement (only 43 percent for those 65 or older).
According to the Pew study, the most popular bill to pay is for access to cable or satellite television, with 78 percent of all respondents admitting to paying regularly for this service. Like many other bills on this list, the poorest demographic is considerably less likely to have this payment regularly, with those who make under $30,000 a year 19 percent less likely to report this service than those who make $100,000 or more.