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How much money do your readers waste on non-essential purchases?

August 2, 2019

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Managing a budget is an evergreen personal finance story for business reporters to tackle by focusing on these two questions. Here's where to get started. (Stock image from Pexels)

The question is likely to spark some strong response among your readers. According to an April 2019 poll, conducted among 2,000 consumers by OnePoll for online insurer Ladder, nearly two in every five, or 38%, of 2,000 respondents said they don’t think they can afford to save for retirement or buy life insurance. 

Yet they spend an average of $18,000 a year, close to $1,500 a month, on eating out, streaming services, rideshares, gym memberships they don’t use, and other nonessential purchases, according to the survey. Case in point: The monthly premium on a $500,000 term life insurance policy for a 35-year-old male costs less ($14.70) than what respondents report spending on coffee ($20.25). 

The average U.S. consumer still struggles with managing a budget, which is a basic step toward financial stability.  About a third of U.S. consumers live paycheck to paycheck, according to this 2017 report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Managing a budget is an evergreen personal story for business reporters to tackle by focusing on these two questions:

How many of your readers have a budget?

According to the OnePoll, only 24%. Does their number reflect what’s happening in your demographic? Find out by conducting your own online poll. Do readers differ in how they manage budgets by age or income? 

Include a behavioral economist in the discussion, who can explain why some readers don’t manage their money well, and a Certified Financial Planner who can offer advice on how to do better. Free worksheets on budgeting are available from several online sources, including this one from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC).  

Cover this angle, and then combine it with the next story to sustain reader interest.

Have your readers take this 30-day challenge

Budgeting is boring, so make it a game. After you report the story above, ask four to six readers to participate in a 30-day challenge, with the goal of seeing their spending behavior change. Trent Hamm, who dug himself out of debt in 2006 and writes The Simple Dollar blog, offers a wealth of ways to change your financial habits.


  • Dorianne Perrucci

    Since 2001, Dorianne's freelance bylines have appeared in leading print and digital news outlets, including The New York Times, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, TheStreet.com, The Star-Ledger and NJ Biz. During the financial crisis of 2007-2009, Do...

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