Compare your spending to the national average


Eating out at restaurants accounts for half of food spending in the U.S. Image: Flickr / twicepix / CC-BY-SA

Creating a budget can be very tough for a multitude of reasons, not least of which is considering what we “should” spend. Comparing your spending habits to the national averages can help you make a more informed decision.

Housing tops spending

As of December of 2011, the American average for housing spending is 41 percent of income, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is a much larger portion of income than housing has been in the past. In 2009, the same statistics agency put housing, household operations, housekeeping supplies and household furnishings at 34.1 percent of household income. This disparity over just 2 years is partially from falling real income and partially because “average” can be very difficult to calculate. Generally, however, housing is the most costly expenditure in a family’s budget.

Eating out: still expensive

One thing that remained consistent over the last few years is that average Americans spend between 13 and 15 percent of their income on food. About one-half of this spending actually comes from food purchased to prepare or eat at home, and the other half comes from food purchased and eaten away from home. This means half the cost of food is eating out, a habit that has gotten more and more expensive over the years. Eating out tends to be somewhere between one-third and two-thirds more expensive than eating from a grocery store and preparing food at home, so cutting down on how much you eat out can have a huge impact on your budget.

Transportation Costs

Over the last five years, spending on transportation has stayed steady at about 17 percent of income. In 2009, this meant that the costs of purchasing a vehicle, keeping it running, maintaining it and putting fuel in it added up to an average of $8,800 per family per year. Transportation is also one of the easiest-to-reduce costs on this list, as everything from bike riding to public transportation can reduce the cost of transportation.

[Installment loans can help cover the gap when unexpected car repairs stretch the budget.]

Costs of medical care

Including insurance payouts, deductibles and other associated expenses, medical care accounted for just more than 7 percent of spending in 2011. For most Americans, this adds up to just about $4,000 in one year. This is in comparison to the 3.2 percent of income that medical care accounted for in 1949. Low income families tend to spend as much as 20 percent of their income on medical care, while families with more income spend a maximum of 16 percent on medical care each year.


Visual Economics
Bureau of Labor Statistics
New York Times

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