Convenience costs — blunder or lifestyle move?
New data from a consumer advocacy site shows that Americans are racking up $751 billion annually on so-called “convenience costs” — think Uber, Grubhub food deliveries, Amazon doorstep deliveries, and home cleaning services, among other lifestyle-easing purchases.
The data on convenience costs comes from Finder.com, which calculates the $751 billion figure and lays out the convenience cost types that are eating into America’s household budgets.
According to Finder, the most common type of convenience service Americans find themselves spending money on is ride-hailing services, with 50% of Americans using services such as Uber, Lyft, and Via. Home services, such as cleaning and lawn maintenance, were deemed popular with 45% of Americans, who spent an average of $107 per month and a total of $1,283 per year to keep their homes in tip-top shape.
Next in line on the Finder list is food delivery services, with 44% of Americans relying on online platforms such as Uber Eats, Grubhub, and DoorDash to deliver their food to them safe and sound. Americans that use these delivery services spend an average of $77 per month, or about $929 per year.
While Americans say the “most common” reason for using convenience services is to save time and money, about 20% claim they simply don’t have a desire to do these jobs themselves. Others say these services increase their own productivity (17%), and over 1 in 10 (11%) use them to support the local economy.
Additionally, men (75%) and women (73%) are both big users of convenience services, while Millennials (86%) use convenience services more than their older counterparts — 75% of Generation X and 53% of Baby Boomers use these services.
“The amount of money we collectively spend on convenience is astonishing — it’s more than the gross domestic product (GDP) of Saudi Arabia or Switzerland,” says Jon Brodsky, chief executive officer of Finder.com.
Brodsky adds that it’s important to consider how much consumers truly need each of these services.
“Cutting back on even one of the common convenience services could help you save a substantial amount of money every single month,” he says. “Using these services half as often could save the average American about two thousand dollars per year, which is money that can be invested for a more fruitful future instead of a more convenient right now.”
Pros and cons?
Ask a financial expert about the burgeoning use of convenience costs, and you’ll likely get a glass-half-full and glass-half-empty response.
That’s because there are upsides and downsides to convenience services, says Sahil Vakil, a financial planner and founder of MYRA Wealth in New York City.
“Convenience costs like Uber, Grubhub, and home cleaning services can make anyone’s life easier and less stressful,” Vakil says. “However, it’s important to manage your time wisely and consider the impact your decisions are making on your finances. Overall, some convenience is acceptable, but it can get out of hand quickly. The key is prioritizing what you need the most help with and figuring out ways to take care of the rest yourself or ask a family member for help.”
On the lethargy front, the “apathy factor” can cost Americans hundreds of dollars a month that they could be putting into savings instead. Consider these monthly costs, Vakil notes:
- Starbucks every workday for $5 each = $100
- Cleaning service at $150 two times per month = $300
- Getting takeout once per week at $30 each = $120
“In this example alone, this individual could be taking $520 per month and saving it or using it to pay off some of their debt,” he adds. “The opportunity cost here is highly visible.”
Convenience can be financially inconvenient
As consumers get busier with work, families, and other responsibilities, the amount of convenience costs in their budgets will only go up.
“This is a negative aspect for any individual’s financial future,” Vakil says. “Convenience costs can eat up a big portion of consumers’ budgets, and the burden is taken on by their savings and bank accounts. Many people will spend so much money on food or services that they could take care of themselves, that they go over budget. It can lead to credit card debt and a decline in savings.”
“People who live paycheck to paycheck will not be able to put money into their emergency funds or retirement savings,” Vakil adds. “So, when the time comes that they need cash, they won’t have it. In addition, they’ll miss out on years of compound interest.”
Other financial experts agree, noting that convenience costs fall into that budget hole where consumers don’t realize they’re spending so much money on third-party lifestyle services.
“Convenience always comes at a cost, and those that are willing to pay can get just about anything prepared, boxed, and delivered,” says Mark Nicholson, marketing director at Personal Money Network, an online loan services platform. “It’s nice to have groceries or dinner delivered from time to time, but these types of options quickly add up.”
According to McKinsey & Company, 15% of U.S. consumers have joined a subscription service in the last year so they might receive products on a recurring basis. That not only includes Uber and Lyft, but also newcomers to the convenience services market, like Dollar Shave Club, Blue Apron meal kits, and Stitch Fix personal styling.
Additionally, about half of U.S. consumers have a streaming video subscription of some kind as of last year, according to Nicholson, and U.S. consumers are willing to pay an average of 11% more for “extra convenience,” he adds.
Convenience costs more than ‘okay’ for Millennials
The idea of “convenience costs” has been popular with Americans for a long time, since back when Domino’s delivered their first pizza, and popularity has grown as private delivery services like Federal Express and UPS have delivered Christmas gifts to American households every holiday.
Also, early 20th-century families were used to deliverymen bringing ice, milk, and even beer to household doorsteps.
But technology is really pushing convenience services into the consumer mainstream, and younger Americans are driving substantial demand for, well, on-demand purchases.
“Technology and the Millennial economy have certainly helped to increase convenience costs to an all-time high, with no indication of slowing down,” says Igor Mitic, co-founder of Fortunly.com, a financial advice and information platform. “The real question about such services being a financial burden entirely depends on how the funds are applied.”
For example, Millennials are spending more on Grubhub deliveries and Uber than previous generations, Mitic notes.
“Although these could be considered convenience costs that could be avoided, there are intangible benefits to those that choose to spend their money this way,” he says. “For example, some may choose to carpool with Uber to work or to have a weekly grocery delivery basket because it suits their lifestyle and needs.”
Since Millennials tend to participate in the gig economy and juggle a variety of freelance jobs, they’re especially used to being immersed in different economic models. “By using convenience services to free up several hours per week, that time can actually be reapplied to jobs that actually make it more profitable to work than to spend time grocery shopping,” Mitic says.
To Mitic, more free time equals more real income, especially in the new emerging Millennial economy.
“For this reason, I think the $751 billion that Americans spend on convenience will continue to grow as Millennials will inevitably become the largest demographic,” he says.