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 $20,091 a year on housing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest Consumer Expenditure Survey. That’s 33% of the average American household’s $61,224 in spending during 2018. 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 $9,761 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 almost 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 52% of spending by older Americans, says the BLS.
  • How much do we spend on fun, broadly defined? Figures for 2018 from the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, or BEA, indicate that U.S. households spent an average $5,000 on eating out and $1,600 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, $1,100 on beer, wine and spirits, another $900 on alcohol when eating out, $900 on hotels and motels, and $1,400 on foreign travel.
  • Hawaii, New York and California, along with Washington, DC, 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, Arkansas and Alabama.
  • Over the past 50 years, there have been two key changes in the way America spends, reports a June 2011 study by the BEA. First, we’re devoting far less of our income to life’s basics. Clothing, footwear, food and beverages accounted for just 11% of spending in 2009, down from 27.4% in 1959. This excludes restaurant meals, which have held fairly constant at around 6% of total expenditures. Second, spending on health care, financial services and insurance has soared. For instance, health care rose from 5.9% of total spending in 1959 to an astonishing 19.7% in 2009. This includes hospital costs, doctor visits, prescription drugs and eyeglasses. Much of this cost wasn’t paid directly by consumers, but rather by private insurers, Medicare and Medicaid.
  • In 2018, 31% of Americans said they were very happy, barely higher than the 30% who described themselves that way in 1972, when the first General Social Survey was conducted. 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.

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