Chart: How Do People Pay For Things (By Age)?

Nov 10, 2016
Chart of the Week, Question of the Day, Research, Credit Cards, Checking Accounts, Debit Cards, Current Events

New Federal Reserve of San Francisco report is chock-full of graphs about payment preferences gathered from their 2015 Diary of Consumer Payment Choice. With so many graphs to choose from, I thought this one could kick-start a great discussion:


Just to orient you as to what is being measured here, this graph focuses on the number of transactions rather than the actual value. So, while the percentage of cash transactions might seem high, most of these transactions were for small dollar amounts.

Here is the accompanying text from the report:

Consumers 65 and older made the most cash transactions, averaging 36 percent of their total monthly transactions. Every age group made more cash transactions than credit card transactions, and cash transactions continued to comprise at least 24 percent of each age group’s total reported transactions. Comparing 2012 to 2015, however, cash use dropped the most for participants between 35-44 years, who had the smallest share of transactions made with cash. This group saw a decrease in their number of cash transactions, with cash’s share falling from 40 percent in 2012 to 24 percent in 2015.


Questions for your students:

  • Before you show the chart…
    • Track your money transactions for a week. What percentage of your transactions were cash, check, debit, credit? OR
    • Looking at these six payment types, what do you think your individual bar chart would look like? What payment type do you use the most? How about the least?
  • What are some of the factors you personally think about before deciding how to pay for something?
  • Compare your age group (18-24) with your grandparents (65+). What are the major differences in how the two groups pay for things? What do you think accounts for these differences?
  • What would be examples of electronic payments? Are any of you using your checking account to make online payments?

Want this resource and questions in slide format to use in class? Click here!


Check out this NGPF Activity: Payment Decisions

  • In this Common Core aligned project, students will make and explain their payment decisions in young adult scenarios and write persuasively about payment options.

About the Author

Tim Ranzetta

Tim's saving habits started at seven when a neighbor with a broken hip gave him a dog walking job. Her recovery, which took almost a year, resulted in Tim getting to know the bank tellers quite well (and accumulating a savings account balance of over $300!). His recent entrepreneurial adventures have included driving a shredding truck, analyzing executive compensation packages for Fortune 500 companies and helping families make better college financing decisions. After volunteering in 2010 to create and teach a personal finance program at Eastside College Prep in East Palo Alto, Tim saw firsthand the impact of an engaging and activity-based curriculum, which inspired him to start a new non-profit, Next Gen Personal Finance.