Today’s Spending

WHERE DOES ALL OUR money go and is our spending making us happy? This is what the statistics tell us:

  • On average, American families spend $22,624 a year on housing, according to the latest Consumer Expenditure Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That’s 34% of the average American household’s $66,928 in spending during 2021. Included in that figure are not just mortgage or rent, but also utilities, property taxes, furniture and appliances.
  • The BLS survey found that transportation eats up another $10,961 a year, or 16% of spending. This number takes into account vehicle purchases, gas, repairs and auto insurance, among other items. Add it up, and half our monthly spending is getting swallowed up by our cars and our homes.
  • While transportation is a major expense for most Americans, that changes as we grow older. Among households headed by someone age 75 and older, transportation spending wanes, but health care costs soar to almost 16% of spending. Add housing, and you account for 53% of spending by older Americans, says the BLS.
  • The total annual cost to drive a new car in 2022 averaged $10,728, calculates AAA. That figure includes finance charges, depreciation, maintenance, fuel costs, insurance, and taxes and registration.
  • How much do we spend on fun, broadly defined? Figures for 2021 from the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) indicate that U.S. households spent an average $5,700 on eating out and $900 on concerts, gym memberships, amusement parks, sports events, museums and movie theaters. We spent another $700 on cable and satellite television, $800 on tobacco, $1,100 on gambling, $1,350 on beer, wine and spirits, another $900 on alcohol when eating out, $700 on hotels and motels, and $650 on foreign travel.
  • Hawaii, District of Columbia, New Jersey and California have the country’s highest prices for goods and services, according to the BEA’s measure of so-called regional price parities. The least expensive states are Mississippi, West Virginia and Arkansas.
  • In 2021, just 19% of Americans said they were very happy, down from 31% in 2018. This plunge in reported happiness, which no doubt reflects the pandemic, marked a sharp break from the long-term trend. Between 1972, when the first General Social Survey was conducted, and 2018, the percentage of Americans describing themselves as very happy has fairly consistently hovered around 30%. Over this 46-year stretch, inflation-adjusted per capita disposable income rose 131%. In other words, our standard of living more than doubled, but our reported level of happiness showed no improvement. Money, it seems, hasn’t bought happiness.

Next: Save How Much?

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