The amount of fast food that restaurant-goers eat tends to vary from consumer to consumer, but new data reveal state-by-state trends showing similarities in fast food spending habits in pockets across the country.
Fast food eaters who spend the most on average on their quick-service outings are in middle America, according to the Intuit Consumer Spending Index, which draws on credit and debit card data from Intuit's consumer budgeting tool, Mint.com.
Residents of Oklahoma spent the most per month on fast food compared with all other states, Intuit found. Oklahomans shelled out more than $101 per month on average in May, according to Intuit's data, which includes more than 2 million Mint.com users who opt into sharing their demographic information. Residents of Arkansas spent close to $84 a month on fast food and Kansas residents spent close to $83 per month on fast food in May.
"One of the biggest drivers of these regional differences is really just the opportunities and the breadth of restaurants people have to choose from," said Intuit data scientist Scott R. Baker, who noted that cash transactions aren't included in the Intuit index unless Mint.com users input them manually.
"If you're living in New York City, you have thousands of restaurants to choose from. If you're living in a small town in Arkansas, then maybe the McDonald's is only one of 10 restaurants that you can potentially go to every night," Baker said.
But while states like California and New York have big cities and likely more dining options, neither ranks as the state whose residents spent the least on fast food in May. That designation goes to Vermont, according to Intuit's May 2013 spending data. On average, Vermont residents spent less than $28 on fast food for the month.
New York does rank second on the list of states whose residents spend the least on fast food, however. New York residents spent just over $28 on fast food. But California doesn't even make it to the top five. Residents of the golden state spent close to $47 on average on fast food in May, according to Intuit's data.
These state rankings do shuffle depending on the time periods Intuit analyzed. But even so, the states that are home to residents who spend the least on fast food are concentrated in the Northeast, Intuit's data show.
For all of 2012, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Vermont and Connecticut were the five states in rank order whose residents spent the least on fast food for the year. In New York, for all of 2012, residents using Mint.com spent about $330 on fast food. Oklahoma residents, who spent the most on fast food for the full year spent $1,314 on fast food.
Spending data also revealed some notable trends among men and women as well as married vs. unmarried fast food eaters across the country. Men generally spent more money on fast food than women. On average, men spent about $58 on fast food in the month of May while women spent close to $47. And married users of the Mint.com budgeting tool spent about $60 on fast food for the month while single people spent about $46, according to Intuit's data.
"Men are more likely to spend on restaurants in general and I think that still remains true in the fast food category in particular," Baker said.
Overall, fast food spending has actually been flat over the past few years while overall restaurant spending rose, Baker noted.
"It may be that as the economy improves, people are upgrading a little bit more from fast food," Baker told "Big Data Download." "Fast food restaurants should maybe follow some of the rest of the market introducing more premium options so people will continue to go there even if they have a little more money to spend," Baker said.
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