For nearly half of all Americans, the old saying that “money burns a hole in your pocket” is true – at least when it comes to cash.
Every year, about $2,340 in cash “disappears” from Americans’ wallets when they simply lose track of their spending, according to a new survey commissioned by Visa USA.
Nearly half of all Americans lose track of significant amounts of cash spending every year, according to the survey. In fact, 48 percent of Americans say they can’t account for more than one-third of their cash, spending an average of $120 in a typical week, but losing track of $45. Among those who report “mystery spending,” men under age 35 are the worst at monitoring where it all goes, losing track of more than $3,000 a year on average.
“It’s understandable that consumers would lose track of some cash over the course of a week, but we were surprised by how much cash goes unaccounted for at the end of a week – a dollar here and a dollar there definitely adds up,” said Wayne Best, Visa’s chief economist. “On the bright side, the survey found that people believe plastic can help them manage their money. Four out of five debit cardholders said that using a debit card helps them track their spending.”
The nationwide telephone survey of 2,036 U.S. adults asked respondents to estimate their “mystery spending,” or the cash they spend but have no idea where it went. According to the results, almost half (48 percent) of respondents suffer from mystery spending, with 7 percent losing track of $100 or more each week.
One in five people who admit to misplacing more than $25 in cash per week say their mystery spending is “out of control,” and 62 percent feel that “small cash purchases make it difficult to track spending.” Furthermore, 47 percent say that “mystery spending makes budgeting difficult.”
Where does all the lost cash go? Those who lost track of $25 or more per week said they were most likely to mystery spend while:
– Out for a night on the town (58 percent)
– Grocery shopping (55 percent)
– Out with children (50 percent)
– Shopping during a sale (40 percent)
– Shopping with friends (33 percent)
Americans ages 34 and under – especially men – are the biggest mystery spenders. Men in this age range who lose track of their cash “mysteriously spend” an average of $59 per week, or $3,078 per year, with more than half (56 percent) saying their cash “disappears” during a night out. Meanwhile, their female counterparts mysteriously spend an average of $52 a week or $2,709 a year – most likely while shopping (67 percent).
What’s a Penny Pincher to Do?
While cash purchases – especially for smaller amounts – can be difficult to track, the survey revealed that people believe debit cards can help them monitor spending more closely. The majority (59 percent) of survey respondents who say their mystery spending is out of control feel it would be worse without using a debit card. Among debit cardholders surveyed, 64 percent say their debit card keeps mystery spending to a minimum.
“A Visa check card draws upon the funds readily available in your checking account and provides a record of all purchases, making it an effective way to manage money,” said Stacey Pinkerd, senior vice president, consumer debit products, Visa USA. “When you view your bank statement, that $2.99 latte from last Tuesday pops up, so there’s no question where the money went.”
Debit cards are quickly replacing cash as consumers’ payment method of choice. More than three-quarters of adults in the U.S. have a debit card, according to The Nilson Report1, a leading industry analyst publication, and the Federal Reserve Bank reports that debit cards are the fastest-growing payment type at retailers nationwide.2
Meanwhile, many places that traditionally accepted only cash – including fast food restaurants, movie theaters, taxis and convenience stores – now take payment cards. That means more places to use a debit card and fewer excuses for mystery spending.
About Visa USA
Visa USA is a leading payments brand and the nation’s largest payments system, enabling banks to provide their consumer and business customers with a wide variety of payment alternatives tailored to meet their evolving needs. Visa USA is committed to increasing the choice, convenience, acceptance and security of Visa payments for all stakeholders – financial institutions, cardholders and merchants. As of March 31, 2007, in the United States, more than 521 million Visa-branded cards have been issued by more than 13,000 financial institution customers. Visa products generated $1.8 trillion in total volume in the United States during the four quarters ended March 31, 2007. Visa enjoys unsurpassed acceptance around the globe. For more information, visit www.visa.com.
About the Mystery Spending Survey
The Visa Mystery Spending Survey is based on telephone interviews with 2,036 men and women 18 years of age and older living in private households in the United States; the survey included 1,176 people who use a debit card to pay for personal and household expenses. The survey was conducted from May 3 – 7, 2007, using Opinion Research Corporation as part of its CaravanÂ® omnibus survey service. Results of the survey have a margin of error of no more than +-3 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.
1 The Nilson Report, Issue 865, September 2006.
2 Federal Reserve Bank, “A Guide to the ATM and Debit Card Industry, 2006 Update.”