Millennials most likely to rack up card debt with things they don?t need

In a new survey, half of millennials say vacations, dining out, other non-essentials affected their card debt

Sabrina Karl
Personal Finance Writer
Data whiz and visual storyteller


You may think of “the basics” as food, clothing and shelter. But Americans have plenty of other expenses they consider non-essential these days. And for millennials, those discretionary purchases are taking a big bite out of their budget.

New survey data from brokerage firm TD Ameritrade shows that, on average, U.S. investors spend $697 per month on non-essential buys, like vacation, dining out and coffee. But the monthly average varies significantly among generations. Generation X is on the low end, at $588 per month. But millennials are spending $250 more each month, at $838. 

In addition to spending the most on discretionary purchases, millennial investors were also most likely to report a related negative: almost half said spending on non-essentials had impacted their credit card debt (49 percent). That’s in stark contrast to baby boomers, where less than a quarter (23 percent) said their card debt was taking a hit from non-essential buys.

See related: Consumers with the best credit boosted their card spending in Q3, says ABA

As for what “the basics” of today’s lifestyle include, travel and vacation lead the list, with more than 6 in 10 citing it as essential to their lifestyle. Dining out and take-out follow closely behind as essential to 59 percent of respondents.

Rounding out the top five basics of today are coffee (46 percent), technology and electronics (41 percent) and gifts for family and friends (40 percent).

TD Ameritrade’s survey was conducted online in September 2018 among approximately 1,000 U.S. adults who had at least $10,000 in investable assets. The survey’s results were released in January.

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Updated: 03-19-2019