Are We Eating Our Dreams?

daytime drama | Budget decision making | Center for Advanced Hindsight

Would you like to spend less money eating out and more money seeing the world?  Maybe a trip to a tropical beach or weekend getaway with friends or family?  If you’re like most people, the answer is Yes!  Exactly how much of a yes, though, may have a lot to do with your age.

In a collaboration between our startup, MoneyComb, and Dan Ariely’s Center for Advanced Hindsight at Duke University, a recent survey was conducted on spending habits and desires.[1]  We investigated how people feel about their spending across 9 common discretionary categories: things like eating out, entertainment, travel, and shopping for clothes, home goods, and electronics.  Also included were recreational purchases like gym memberships, personal services like salons and spas, and digital services like cable bills.

spending habits and desires | Budget management

Our hypothesis was most people would like to spend more on experiences and less on things.  The data, however, suggested people take a more nuanced view of these decisions.  For example, eating out is experiential and often social—two things that recent research suggests promote happiness.[2]  But far and away, it was eating out, along with digital services, which people felt they spend too much on.  On the other hand, where people wish they could spend more, did focus on experiences.  Three of the top four categories to spend more on were travel (1), personal services (3), and entertainment (4).  But number two on the list surprised us, home goods like furniture and décor.

We also found some interesting differences among generations.  Primarily we looked at Millennial adults aged 18-34 versus older adults.  It seems Millennials are much less happy with how they spend their dollars than Mom and Dad.  For example, Millennials, on average, wanted to cut their spending on eating out by a whopping 37% whereas older generations were looking for a more modest cut of about 13%.  Everyone wished they could travel more, with older adults wishing they could double the amount they currently spend on travel, but Millennials want that amount to almost triple as a relative percentage of their discretionary dollars.

In summary, a fairly clear picture emerged.  For the sake of simplicity, we combined our three shopping categories—clothes, electronics, and home goods—into one shopping bucket.  (Overall, the desire to reduce spending on clothes and electronics eclipsed the wish to increase on home goods.)  We also combined recreational and personal services into a category called Recharge.

Spending money infographic | Budget menagement Center for Advanced Hindsight


The bottom line: We want to move a large chuck of eating out dollars to travel, from shopping to recharge, and from digital services to entertainment.


So how do we do that? Well, unfortunately, it’s not that easy.  But we’re trying our best to help.  We’re working on a new personal finance tool that helps people track their day to day purchases so their actual spending matches up better with their desired spending.  It’s called MoneyComb.  To give it a try, go to


Health and finance startups: Like MoneyComb, you too can dive into BE research as a means of informing product development. The Startup Lab is accepting applications until July 3rd. Apply now.

[1] Our survey was conducted in May 2016 with over 250 respondents nationwide. 53% were aged 18-34 (Millennials), 47% were older adults.  Gender breakdown was about 50/50 and income ranges were generally representative of the US population.

[2] See “Time, money, and happiness” by Cassie Mogilner and Michael Norton.  Available online at