How Americans Spend Money - U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data reveals trends as well as income-level differences

8/12/2013 9:10:00 AM
Having been through a recession and several economic highs and lows in the midst of a slow recovery in recent years, Americans’ spending habits have gone through some changes, with notable shifts in food and health care spending. Moreover, there are differences between how individuals from low- and high-income brackets have spent money, while statistics comparing spending in 2011 to spending in 1949 reveal significant changes in American lifestyles in the last 60-plus years.

So check out these figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. You may find yourself wondering how your own spending compares to that of your countrymen, as well as to those who made purchases in the mid-20th century.


Overall consumer spending rose 3.3% in 2011 after a decrease of 2% in 2010.
The largest spending increase in 2011 came in the transportation industry, where consumers increased spending by 8%.How Americans Spend Money - U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data reveals trends as well as income-level differences

Food spending

In 2011, the average U.S. citizen spent $3,838 on food for the home and $2,620 on food away from home, for a total of $6,458 spent on food, an increase of 5.4% over 2010.
The largest spenders in the food for home category in 2011 were those in the $15,000-$19,000 income bracket, who used an average of 10.2% of their income for those purchases. In comparison, Americans who earned over $150,000 spent 5.4% of their income on food at home.


Between 2009 and 2011, the average American devoted around $16,500 to housing, about the same amount that was spent in 2009 and 2010.
When it comes to housing, Americans across the board, regardless of income level, tend to spend the same percentage of their income – about 28% – toward putting a roof over their heads.

Health care

Health care spending continues to rise. In fact, health care spending has gone up every year since 1996. In 2011, the average American spent $3,313 on health care, up from $3,126 in 2009. Those in the lowest income bracket spent 8.2% on health care and health insurance, while those who earn over $150,000 spent 4.5%.

Clothing and shoes

Each income bracket studied by the BLS spent between 3% and 4% on clothing and shoes during 2011. There is a variation across genders, however, as women spent a little over 1% more of their income on clothing than men did.

Automotive, entertainment and other

Overall, Americans spent 5.7% of their income on new or used car purchases, 5.3% on gasoline, and 1.6% on car parts and car repairs. Also, 1.9% of income was spent on TV, music, cable and satellite fees, and other related expenses, 1.7% was spent on movies, concerts, gym memberships and related expenses, and 0.9% was spent on alcohol.

1949 versus 2011

Some of the most interesting statistics involve comparisons between 1949 and 2011. Significantly, the percentage of income spent on food as opposed to housing has nearly flipped, while spending on medical care has more than doubled.
During 1949, 40% of income was spent on food and 26.1% was spent on housing. In comparison, in 2011, 15.3% of income was spent on food and 41% of income was spent on housing. National Public Radio’s Planet Money says the rise in spending on housing parallels the increase in the size of homes that Americans live in: “People are buying (and renting) much bigger homes today. In 1950, the average new house was less than 1,000 square feet; in 2000, the average new house was over 2,000 square feet.”
Americans in 2011 spent 7.1% of their income on medical care, in comparison to their 1949 counterparts, who spent 3.2%.
Clothing spending also underwent a major shift, as 11.7% of income was spent on apparel in 1949, while just 3.6% went toward apparel in 2011.

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