What do you suspect puts a larger dent in your wallet? Your commute? Or your lunch? A recent survey by Accounting Principals suggests that most Americans, especially younger workers, spend substantially less on commuting costs than they do on food while at work. What’s worse is people don’t seem to understand that this is the case.

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Accounting Principals surveyed 1,000 employed Americans “about their financial attitudes closing out 2011 and looking forward to 2012.” Their findings on the amount Americans spend on food and coffee were surprising. 

Half of employed Americans buy their coffee at work, and of those, men spend more than women — $25.70 a week for men, and $15 a week for women. The average American male worker who buys coffee at work parts ways with more than $1,300 a year to geed this habit. On average, Americans spend $1,092 a year on coffee — a steep fee for what most consider a necessity for getting their work done.

But it pales in comparison to what Americans spend on lunch, especially younger workers. About three-quarters of workers between 18 and 34 buy their lunch at work (compared to just fifty-five percent of workers 65 and up), and they spend about $45 per week on food. This adds up to $2,340 a year. An average young American man, like myself, will spend $3,600 a year on food and coffee, while at work.

That’s a hefty tax on going to work — it even exceeds costs associated with commuting. Eighty-five percent of respondents spend money on their commute — the other fifteen percent presumably work from home, bike, or walk — which only comes out to about $1,500 a year to commute to and from work. Furthermore, 14 percent of Americans spend over $200 a week on commuting, which adds up to over $10,000 a year.

The interesting part is that Accounting Principals also asked respondents what perks or kickbacks they would like from their employers. While 42 percent of respondents would most want their company to reimburse them for transportation or commuting expenses, only 11 percent said they would want to be reimbursed for lunch expenses, even though lunch expenses are on average significantly higher than commuting expenses.

Goes to show, perhaps, that as a group we don’t think about our finances in a purely rational way, which is worth considering for the new year. Read the report here.

What other expenses do you suspect we over- or underestimate?

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  • Sunshine25

    I just order the food and tap water to keep the bill down.