Posted by Arielle O'Shea
When our friend Jeff Yeager — you may remember him from his previous guest post — reached out to share some shocking money facts from last year, we knew they’d make a fun guest post. Not only can you count on him to have interesting tidbits of information to share, he’s always good for a laugh!
Being The Ultimate Cheapskate and writing about money for a living has its perks. For example, when I visit our local membership warehouse store, they know it’s a lost cause and immediately reload all of the free sampling stations when I walk in the door. And the other day when I called our longtime insurance agent to have our annual chat about ways to lower the premiums on our bundled policies, he launched a preemptive strike and offered up a couple of creative options for doing just that, without me even needing to ask.
Best of all, in my line of work I’m privy to a constant influx of press releases, survey findings, and other money-related data that makes for truly fascinating reading (really!). Years ago I started keeping a list of some of the more shocking financial factoids I ran across each year, compiling them into an annual top ten list. So here they are, in no particular order, my Top 10 Shocking Money Facts from 2013:
- What’s likely to be the single biggest user of electricity in your home? I always assumed it was the refrigerator, or maybe the hot water heater, washing machine, or television. Nope. According to a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), set-top cable boxes and DVRs (digital video recorders) now top the list of electricity-suckers in many U.S. households. In part, that’s because they’re using electricity 24/7, even when not in active use. The boxes use about $3 billion in electricity per year, 66 percent of which is wasted during periods of nonuse. The NRDC says that’s more wasted power than my entire home state of Maryland uses in a whole year.
- The soaring cost of college education has been top news in the world of personal finance for decades, but in 2013 there was even more bad news for parents. A new analysis by Child Care Aware of America found that in more than half of all states it now costs more per year to put an infant in a child care center than to cover tuition and fees at a public college. Child care center costs vary greatly by state/region, from a low of $4,863 per year in Mississippi to a high of nearly $16,500 annual in Massachusetts.
- It’s no surprise that the cost of “bringing up baby” continues to climb, with the most recent estimate from the U.S. Department of Agriculture pegged at $241,080 to raise a child through the age of 17… and that doesn’t include the cost of college. But here’s the double whammy of data from 2013: This past year, nearly one in three adults between the age of 18 and 34 STILL lived with their parents. Talk about an open tab.
- Having never owned a cellphone in my life (smartphone or otherwise), people always wonder how I manage to survive, and they’re constantly tell me about all of the wonderful advantages I’m missing by being among the less than 10 percent of Americans who still live cellphone-free. One thing I’m missing out on: The sheer joy of losing a cell phone, which according to one study happens to about 25 percent of all cellphone users every year. A report by the firm Lookout found that U.S. cellphone users lose about $30 billion worth of phones each year. Funny, I’ve never had that problem with my landline.
- The average cost of a U.S. wedding in 2012 was $28,400, according to the website TheKnot.com. That really caught my attention, in part because I’d just recently seen unrelated industry data that ironically showed that that amount is almost exactly the combined cost of the average U.S. divorce ($20,000, per Cameron Law PLLC as reported in the Huffington Post) and the average U.S. funeral ($8,343, per National Funeral Directors Association). Coincidence? I think not.
- And speaking of divorce, in a fascinating new paper published in the Journal of Consumer Affairs, researchers claim that early childhood experiences – especially parental divorce – are a major contributing factor to “compulsive buying behavior” in adulthood. The researchers contend that feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem common in many children of divorced couples manifest themselves in adult behaviors like compulsive buying, as a misdirected attempt to alleviate those carryover feelings from childhood.
- Another example of something that’s hard on the wallet and even harder on the environment: According to the Wall Street Journal, Americans go through roughly 100 billion of those flimsy plastic shopping bags every year, costing retailers – and ultimately consumers — about $4 billion annually. Only about 5 percent of those bags get recycled — the other 95 percent blow into my yard, I swear. That’s little wonder, since it costs about $4,000 to recycle one ton of those bags, the by-product of which is a block of plastic worth about $40.
- Over the last five years, nearly 40 percent of U.S. home improvement dollars have gone into kitchens, per the 2013 Houzz & Home survey. According to this annual poll, people spent an average of $28,000 on kitchen remodels over the past 5 years. Shocking, but here’s the irony: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says that throughout that kitchen remodeling boom (as well as preceding it), fewer and fewer meals are actually being cooked at home. Today, barely half of all meals are still prepared in the home, despite our record spending on kitchen remodels.
- Here’s a trend I thought I’d never live to see. The percentage of U.S. households without a car has roughly doubled over the past 20 years, and is now approaching 10 percent according to research by CNW Marketing. The fuel efficient trend is fueled by a number of factors, including financial necessity, the increasing popularity of car-sharing and public transportation, the urbanization of “millennials,” and the general aging of the population, with older Americans settling into car-free lifestyles. According to AAA’s 2013 Your Driving Costs study, the average cost to own and operate a sedan in the U.S. stands at $9,122 per year.
- If you’re still in denial about health care costs in the U.S. being out of control, consider this, as reported in the Huffington Post and elsewhere: Prince George’s royal birth last year took place in one of Britain’s fanciest hospital wards – complete with catering staff and a wine list – at a cost of about $15,000. The average birth in the U.S. costs approximately $30,000, and you have to provide your own wine if you want a post-birth toast.
About Jeff: Jeff Yeager is the author of four popular books about frugal living, including his most recent, “How to Retire the Cheapskate Way.” He is the host of “The Cheap Life,” a weekly web show on YouTube.