Visualizing How Americans Spend Their Money

by howmuch

In April 2019, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the latest Consumer Expenditure Survey (CE) report to analyze broader economic trends related to consumer spending. Our new visualization uses the BLS data from this report to paint a picture of how the average American household allocates its budget.

The BLS report uses data from 2017, the most recent year available. According to the BLS, consumer spending increased 4.8% in 2017 compared to the year before, despite a 1.5% decrease in average income before taxes. In this time frame, consumer expenditures also increased more than the Consumer Price Index (a key indicator of inflation), which rose by 2.1%. Average consumer expenditures in 2017 amounted to $60,060.

Given the rise in consumer expenditures, we wanted to visualize how the average American household was spending its money. In creating the visualization, we used selected categories of the Consumer Expenditure Survey (CE) to represent average household expenses, including housing, food, and insurance. Almost all of these categories experienced expenditures increases from 2016 to 2017.

The Largest Spending Categories for the Average American Consumer

1. Housing – $19,884 (33.1%)
2. Transportation – $9,576 (15.9%)
3. Food – $7,729 (12.9%)
4. Personal insurance and pension – $6,771 (11.3%)
5. Healthcare – $4,928 (8.2%)
6. Entertainment – $3,203 (5.3%)
7. Other expenses – $2,214 (3.7%)
8. Cash contributions – $1,873 (3.1%)
9. Apparel and services – $1,833 (3.1%)
10. Education – $1,491 (2.5%)

There are a few other takeaways from the BLS report. Average household income after taxes was $63,606, leaving $3,546 to be allocated toward savings after all expenditures were accounted for. However, these numbers represent the U.S. average and don’t tell the whole story. Consumer spending varies significantly from household to household, based on factors such as income, location, cost of living, household debt, and whether someone is a homeowner or a renter. According to the BLS report data, the average consumer in the bottom 60% of earners spent more than they earned. Similarly, the average consumer under the age of 25 and the average consumer over the age of 65 had expenditures greater than their income.

Want to see how cost-of-living, household size, and occupation affect your household budget? Use our Cost of Living Calculator to help create a budget that works for you.

Data: Table 1.1