How Americans’ spending habits are changing

How Americans' spending habits are changingPhoto from Unsplash

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With a shift toward online retail, the growth of social media and the rise of inflation, the experience of going shopping has changed over time, as has Americans’ spending habits. To learn more about what’s motivating consumers to spend (and scrimp), we surveyed 1,000 Americans across different income levels and generations. The findings give a look at how people are adjusting their daily expenses in response to wider economic and lifestyle trends.

Key takeaways

  • 41% of Americans don’t view themselves as financially “well-off.”
  • Nearly a quarter of Gen Z (24%) have felt pressured to showcase wealth on social media.
  • 42% of Americans go shopping to treat themselves at least once a month, and 21% do so at least once a week.
  • Boredom was the top experience causing Gen Z to spend.
  • Gen Z leads all generations in dining out, doing so for 26% of their meals (about 1 in every 4).
  • 73% of Americans are willing to cut back on daily spending to save up for long-term goals.

Dining delights and gas-price frights

“Going out” continues to be a core experience for Americans, though survey data shows that eating out and driving are also easy places for people to cut back when trimming budgets.

On average, Americans dine out 20% of the time or once every five meals. Dinner is the most popular meal for eating out, with nearly 6 in 10 Americans favoring it for their restaurant or takeout experiences. Gen Z treats themselves the most to meals outside the home, about 1 in every 4 meals (26%).

In addition to how often people dine out, Americans also have various reasons for choosing to not eat at home, including convenience and speed (66%), schedule accommodation (52%), and as a treat (41%). These choices highlight a blend of practicality and pleasure in America’s dining-out culture, even if nearly a third of Americans (29%) are eating out less to save money.

Getting out of the house is another aspect of the spending equation: With today’s gas prices fluctuating with the season (and even by the week), Americans have been adopting a few strategies to reduce their fuel expenses. These include combining errands into a single trip (66%), avoiding long idling periods (52%), and opting to walk short distances rather than drive (41%). They’ve also made lifestyle adjustments like selecting nearby restaurants and switching to electric vehicles.

Beyond the basics

Americans often find themselves reaching for their wallets in moments ranging from celebration to stress. Let’s take a deeper dive into these non-essential spending habits.


More than 2 in 5 (42%) of the Americans say they treat themselves monthly, while 21% indulge in non-essential spending at least weekly. Emotional catalysts that trigger the most spending are celebratory moments (32%) and boredom (25%), while job-related stress has prompted 20% of Americans to open their wallets.

Gen Z is most often triggered by boredom.

Keeping up appearances

In this digital era, the way we interact online can affect how we perceive success, financial and otherwise.


When asked if they feel well-off financially, 41% of Americans said no. Of those recalibrating their everyday spending, 42% have pulled back on impromptu online purchases in favor of long-term savings — especially Gen Z (47%). This generation, which is also likely to have the most time for financial planning ahead of them.

Scrolling through social media and looking at displays of wealth – whether it’s travel or luxury purchases – makes nearly half of Americans (47%) experience negative feelings. Close to 1 in 5 Gen Zers (24%) admit they’ve felt pressure to showcase wealth on social media.

The realities of spending

Modern financial behaviors are crossing paths with what Americans see online and experience in their day-to-day routines. As the economy keeps changing, consumers look prepared to adjust accordingly and continue to set themselves up for success, however they define it.


Empower commissioned a survey of 1,000 Americans about their spending habits between December 7, 2023 and December 11, 2023.

About Empower

Empower is a financial services company on a mission to empower financial freedom for all. We offer investment, wealth management, and retirement solutions for individuals and all sizes of organizations. Connect with us on

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