It turns out it's not entirely your fault if you spend too much on shoes, golf, or any other temptation. How much we spend has a lot to do with where we live—not just how much self-control we have. According to Bundle.com, a new money comparison website, spending habits are heavily influenced by the place we call home. Not only are some states more expensive to live in than others, but different locales also have different spending cultures, which can determine how much money is left in your wallet at the end of the day.
Take West Virginia. The state that sent its flagship university to the Final Four of the NCAA men's basketball tournament is also the country's thriftiest state, with households spending an average of $24,517 a year (figures exclude rent and mortgage and are based on government and third-party data). Compare that with the big spenders in Connecticut, who spend an average of $57,331 a year. A closer look reveals that West Virginians spend only about $100 a month on clothing, and just $30 a month on hobbies. Connecticut households, on the other hand, spend almost $200 a month on clothes and more than $100 on hobbies.
So what explains the stark differences in spending patterns? The first factor, says Janet Paskin, managing editor of Bundle.com, is different income levels. "Income is obviously a big driver [of spending habits] … By and large, people spend the money they have," says Paskin. "But it's also probably true that there are different spending cultures… West Virginia is clearly one of those states where it's more modest," she adds. Connecticut, on the other hand, is home to some of the country's wealthiest residents.
While Paskin says it's hard to make statewide generalizations, some trends jump out: The 10 most frugal states are concentrated in the South, and include South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi. In contrast, the biggest spenders are primarily on the East and West coasts, and include Washington, D.C., Maryland, New York, and California.
The point of these rankings, Paskin explains, is to help people understand their own spending habits. "People are more open to talking about money now, and it's important for people to have a way to see how they're doing," she says. If they notice that they're spending more on groceries than their neighbors, perhaps they'll consider changing their habits. (Bundle.com data also allows users to look up spending averages by city, age, and demographic.)
Paskin warns against thinking that moving to a cheaper state will solve a person's money problems. "So many of us think, 'If I just lived some place cheaper or if I just got a raise, then I could start saving,'" says Paskin. But she found that even if people move to a cheaper location where they can save on expenses such as rent, they tend to increase their spending in a different area and don't end up saving more money. "People who aren't spending money on housing spend it on other things," she adds.
Among Bundle.com's other surprising findings:
- Austin, not New York, is the top spending city in the United States. In Austin, households spent an annual average of $67,076 (excluding rent and mortgage payments), which is 77 percent higher than the national average of $37,782.
- Detroit ranks as the lowest spending city, with households spending an average of $16,446 a year—including only $15 a month on entertainment.
- The average American household dedicates about a quarter of its budget to shopping, 17 percent to home-related expenses, and 21 percent to health and family, including health insurance.
For a complete list of frugal—and not so frugal—states, see Bundle.com's full analysis.