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 $21,409 a year on housing, according to the latest Consumer Expenditure Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That’s 35% of the average American household’s $61,334 in spending during 2020. 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 $9,826 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 more than 16% of spending. Add housing, and you account for 55% of spending by older Americans, says the BLS.
  • The total annual cost to drive a new car in 2020 averaged $9,561, 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 the pandemic year of 2020 from the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) indicate that U.S. households spent an average $4,600 on eating out and $800 on concerts, gym memberships, amusement parks, sports events, museums and movie theaters. We spent another $700 on cable and satellite television, $800 on tobacco, $800 on gambling, $1,300 on beer, wine and spirits, another $700 on alcohol when eating out, $450 on hotels and motels, and $400 on foreign travel. Most of these numbers are far lower than 2019, with the notable exception of alcohol consumed at home, which jumped 14%.
  • Hawaii, California and New York 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.
  • 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?

Previous: Today’s Savings Rate

Articles: Happily MisbehavingZeroing In and Happy: 10 Questions

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Free Newsletter