Medical experts have long known that personal economic instability and poverty make a massive difference in our health. Not being able to afford a doctor’s visit, hospital trip, or medication means that medical conditions go untreated, causing short-term pain, long-term complications, and a higher risk of dying young. Mental illness, substance use disorder, and chronic illnesses correlate with poverty. And exposure to toxins, limited access to food, and elevated stress levels can negatively affect children’s development even before they’re born.
According to Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy, 85% of Americans live over the poverty line as of July 2022, but economic downturns impact everyone’s financial health. Considering that the median income in the U.S. is under $50,000 — less than twice the federal poverty limit for a family of four in 2022 — economic hardship can wreak havoc on personal habits. We surveyed 976 people to determine whether the historic inflation in 2022 compromised their personal health as much as their wallets.
- Almost everyone (94.6% of respondents) reported being more careful with their finances in 2022.
- The most common methods of cutting back were cooking food at home (74.3%) and purchasing generic foods rather than name-brand (72%).
- More than half of participants (51.4%) reported cutting back on or quitting prescription medication to save money.
- People were more hesitant to give up subscriptions to mental health apps than physical health apps.
- Canceling in-person memberships and activities was a more popular decision than canceling subscriptions and at-home pursuits.
To find out how inflation impacted the average American during the summer of 2022, we surveyed 976 people from all walks of life across the U.S. We asked them a series of questions about the changes they’ve made to survive in the current economy.
After getting to know a little bit about their demographics (age, gender, and annual household income), we asked about how our respondents’ spending habits have changed in the following areas:
- Grocery shopping
- Cooking and takeout
- Doctor’s appointments
- Luxury services
94.6% of our respondents reported being somewhat or much more careful with their spending habits in at least one area due to the state of the economy. 63.2% reported definitely being more careful, and 31.4% said they were a little more careful. Of these, 79% had annual household incomes under $100,000:
- $10,000 to $49,999: 35.8%
- $50,000 to $99,999: 43.2%
- $100,000 to $149,999: 7.8%
- $150,000 to $199,999: 4.7%
Unsurprisingly, those with smaller incomes feel more pressure. People with slightly more expendable income (in the $50,000-$99,999 annual income range) may not have to scrimp quite as often as their low-income counterparts, which would explain the higher number of people who’ve changed their habits.
More men (52.9%) reported being more careful with their spending habits than women (46.6%). 0.5% of participants in our survey were nonbinary, transgender, or didn’t report their gender identity, so at this time, we can’t make any statements about LGBTQ+ poverty in 2022. However, because the LGBTQ+ population — especially the transgender community — is significantly more likely to be impoverished, they likely feel the impacts just as strongly as their cisgender counterparts.
Our respondents overwhelmingly belonged to the millennial generation, with 53.4% of all participants being born between 1981 and 1996. There weren’t many discrepancies between generations regarding who felt the most impact. In our survey, those who made changes in their life because of economic stress were:
- Baby boomers: 8.0%
- Gen X: 27.2%
- Millennials: 52.9%
- Gen Z: 12.9%
There were no observable trends between age and personal habit changes, implying it’s a personal decision influenced by any number of factors rather than generational mindsets or historical economic downturns that older generations might have experienced.
The grocery store is one of the first places you’ll find prices exploding. The weekly cost of food per adult jumped from an average of $305.32 in January 2022 to $328.54 in July, with prices ranging up to $360 and more immediately preceding the spike in interest rates. An extra $100 per person monthly adds up quickly, particularly in families with growing children. We were interested in finding out where the average American cut corners to combat the growing cost of food.
Most commonly, people cut back on or stopped buying:
- Delivery from apps (65.1%)
- Meat products (61.4%)
- Coffee from chain cafes (61.3%)
- Organic food (59.5%)
- Fresh produce (57.6%)
Instead, many purchased more generic or store-brand foods (72%) and bulk products (64.5%). These cost-saving switches decreased food quality, meaning participants were more likely to consume fillers and have less nutritional diversity in their daily diets. Still, it’s always better to have slightly less nutritious food than no food at all. Respondents also reported cooking at home dramatically more often, with 74.3% cooking some or a lot more at home since the start of the summer.
Moving our bodies is an important way to stay healthy both physically and mentally, no matter what exercise looks like for you. Luckily, you don’t have to spend money to stay fit, but the United States accounts for one-third of all global spending on physical activity annually. It’s an obvious place to cut back on spending, and most of our respondents agreed.
People who answered our survey were slightly more likely to stop or decrease payments for in-person physical activities, such as gym memberships (50.2%), than subscription services they could perform at home (49.9%). The difference is minute, but there is still a difference.
Interestingly, more people canceled their gym memberships outright than downgraded their package (28.4% versus 21.8%, respectively), whereas more people downgraded their app subscriptions rather than canceling (28.5%, compared to 21.4% canceling). Many activities that you can do in a gym have low-cost alternatives, such as running outside or performing body-weight exercises. However, it’s difficult to recreate a heavy lifting schedule from an apartment. Apps typically either don’t require equipment or have large one-time purchases, like stationary bikes.
We provided a list of the top 12 fitness apps and asked which, if any, the participants had stopped using or downgraded. Of them, the three most reported were:
- Daily Burn: 20.8%
- Apple Fitness Plus: 16.7%
- Crunch Live: 12.1%
Two of the three apps provide exercise videos roughly equivalent to free videos you can find on YouTube and other video platforms. The third (Apple Fitness Plus) gives recommendations based on past habits, which may not be as helpful for someone with a set workout routine. Exercise apps that require significant investments in equipment upfront, such as Peloton, are less likely to be downgraded or canceled than those whose services can be found elsewhere.
Even with private insurance, the cost of medical care in the United States has skyrocketed. One study found that the average American spent more than $12,500 on their health in 2020, even when accounting for the high number of canceled or delayed appointments due to the pandemic. (This spending figure has quadrupled since 2000.) When economic troubles strike, whether that means less room in your budget or a complete loss of health insurance, medical care’s high prices mean it’s one of the first things cut.
During the summer of 2022, 68.6% of our respondents reported that their financial situation kept them from getting timely medical care. 36.9% of our participants didn’t attend a doctor’s appointment to save money, and 31.7% delayed a necessary appointment.
The often overwhelming cost of prescription medications also impacted our respondent’s health. 44.9% reported wearing their contacts for longer than allowed so their dollars could stretch further. Alarmingly, more than half (51.4%) cut back on or stopped taking their medication due to their financial impact:
- 23% stopped taking medication entirely
- 28.4% cut back on their medication
Considering two-thirds of all doctors’ appointments involve prescription medication, according to the CDC, not being able to see a physician can also put pressure on a person to not comply fully with a medication regimen.
Mental health is another often neglected but important part of your health, though mental health care has started to become destigmatized in recent years. Even though it’s a new addition to our general understanding of self-care, participants in our survey were less likely to give up mental health care than physical health care, with 3.6% more saying they’ve dropped a doctor’s appointment than a therapy session.
When it comes to online therapy and mental health subscription services, our respondents canceled or downgraded in relatively small numbers compared to other health areas. 23.4% downgraded their subscription plans, and 24.4% canceled their subscriptions altogether. The top three mental health apps that users reported downgrading included:
- Circles: 16.3%
- Headspace: 12.7%
- BetterHelp: 12.4%
Two of the three are self-led mental health care apps focusing on mindfulness meditation and social connection. These are arguably some of the easiest tasks to do ourselves (though it always helps to have professional guidance). The inclusion of BetterHelp in spot three signals a bigger problem: people can no longer afford adequate therapy. Poverty and financial issues can significantly strain our mental well-being, which makes access to affordable mental health care even more important. It’s essential to take care of yourself no matter what that looks like.
Personal comfort is also part of our health, especially if you spend all day working from home. One of the first things our respondents did to tighten their budget was adjust their thermostat temperature. About two-thirds (67.3%) increased their home’s average temperature this summer to save energy costs. In a world where climate change means higher summer temperatures every year, this adjustment comes at some cost to their comfort and, eventually, health. While not everyone has or needs an air conditioning unit, as temperatures continue to climb and more heat records are set nationally, risks of heat exhaustion and heat stroke rise too. If you’re raising the temperature, be sure to keep an eye out for:
- Feeling faint or dizzy
- Excessive sweating
- Cool, clammy skin
- Nausea or vomiting
- Muscle cramps
- Rapid, weak pulse
These are signs of heat exhaustion, which may escalate into heat stroke (which is much more dangerous). Drink water, take a cold shower, and see if you can get somewhere cooler if you’re experiencing these symptoms. If they don’t go away or get worse, go to the emergency room. Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition.
When trimming your budget, essential things like medical care and groceries are a last resort. Reducing unnecessary spending — whether that’s daily fast food stops or, in the case of some of our participants, cleaning services — can help keep your paychecks lasting longer without sacrificing your well-being. These luxuries vary from person to person, but there were two major places our participants cut back.
64.0% of our respondents have gone to car washes less or stopped completely since inflation rates rose. 32.1% of participants stopped completely, whereas 31.9% went less, revealing an almost perfect three-way split as 36% either didn’t go to car washes or didn’t change their habits. Only about half (54.5%) of those who cut out this expense wash their own car now. The other half have forgone car washes altogether, instead relying on sparse summer rains to remove dirt and debris.
One survey showed that in 2021, almost 10% of all U.S. households hired an outside cleaning service for their homes. Some may use cleaning services once for a thorough deep clean, while other families use a cleaning service weekly, biweekly, or monthly to help them stay on top of a regular cleaning schedule. Throughout the 2022 inflation spike, 52.5% of our participants who used cleaning services regularly either started using their cleaning services less or stopped altogether. Less than half of those who stopped relying on these businesses picked up the slack themselves. 48.2% resumed cleaning their own house after letting their cleaning services go.
We asked 976 respondents what lifestyle changes and spending adjustments they had to make to survive in the current state of the U.S. economy. Specifically, we compared participants’ habits during June, July, and August 2022 (where inflation rates have been at an alarming 8.5-9.1%) to the first half of 2022 when inflation rates averaged 7.4%. While that number is still very high, the difference of a percentage point or two can make a huge difference in people’s spending habits as they try to keep afloat. We asked questions to determine what people would be willing to give up, such as Starbucks coffee, or if they continued to purchase pricier items, no matter the inflation rate.
Innerbody Research is committed to providing objective, science-based suggestions and research to help our readers make more informed decisions regarding health and wellness. Analyzing the average American’s spending habits — particularly surrounding health-related purchases — during times of extreme inflation helps us understand how we prioritize our health and what goods and services we consider extraneous enough to cut under stress. We hope to reach as many people as possible by making this information widely available. As such, please feel free to share our content for educational, editorial, or discussion purposes. We only ask that you link back to this page and credit the author as Innerbody.com.