If you’re trying to rework your budget, you may not be sure where to start. It may be helpful to begin by comparing your spending to what others are doing.
According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average pretax household income in the United States in 2019 was $82,852, while average household expenditures added up to $63,036. This means that the average American spends about 76% of their income.
Learn how that number breaks down and how much is allocated to expense categories, such as rent, health care, transportation, childcare, clothing, self-care, and even entertainment. Plus, find out how you can save money on some of your big-ticket monthly expenditures.
How Americans Spend Their Money
The data shows that the average American spent $8,169 on food and $20,679 on housing in 2019. The latter accounts for around 25% of the average American’s income. This number is actually well within the appropriate range for housing costs, as many experts say you should spend no more than 30% of your income on this expense.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics data also found that:
- $1,833 was spent annually on clothes and other related services.
- $10,742 was spent on transportation, including gas and vehicle purchases.
- $5,193 was spent annually on health care.
- Entertainment spending averaged $3,050 annually.
- Education expenses averaged $1,443.
- Personal insurance and pensions cost $7,165.
Trends in Income and Spending
From 2017 to 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an increase in both average annual income and spending, although income increased by more. This trend continued from 2018 to 2019. Year over year, the average income before taxes increased by 5.4%, while spending increased just 3%.
The most notable changes in spending from 2017–2018 to 2018–2019 were increases in new vehicle purchases (10.5%) and health care (4.5%), which were offset somewhat by drops in entertainment (-4.2%) and miscellaneous spending (-6.8%). Education expenses increased slightly (2.6%) after falling the previous year.
Consistent with previous years, Americans spent a large part of their budgets on housing, transportation, food, personal insurance, and health care. Together, these expenses took up 62.7% of the average household income.
Evaluating Your Own Spending
These averages aren’t meant as exact targets for you, but it can be helpful to have a benchmark to evaluate your current spending. If you see a specific category where you’re spending noticeably more than the average, that might be a good place to start for a deeper look.
Here are some examples of adjustments you might make in a few common areas of overspending:
- Education: Consider a more cost-effective college or university; apply for scholarships and grants or even a no-loan college.
- Entertainment: Although many Americans spent less here in 2018–2019, it’s still usually one of the easiest areas to make changes. Consider cutting cable and relying solely on a streaming service like Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime (or cutting out a streaming service or two if you have a lot of subscriptions).
- Food: Limit eating out to once a week or month, and start cooking most of your meals at home. You may also consider a membership to a bulk store such as Costco or Sam’s Club, which can also save you money. And instead of those weekly happy hours with friends, try hosting a rotating potluck instead. That way, you’ll get to socialize and “eat out,” but you’ll do it on the cheap.
- Transportation: Vehicle purchases were up significantly in 2018–2019, according to the data, but if you still need a car, consider buying a used car instead of a new one, driving a more cost-effective car, or even forgoing a car altogether and relying on public transportation. If you decide that purchasing a new car is necessary, aim for one with a monthly payment that fits into your budget (including the insurance, maintenance, and gas costs).
- Health care: Shop around for affordable health care plans, such as a high-deductible health plan (HDHP), which will have a much lower premium. Just be sure to tuck away some funds in case of a medical emergency.
- Apparel: Save money on clothing by buying secondhand or selling unused clothes on resale stores and websites such as Tradesy or eBay.
- Childcare: Cut back on childcare costs by nanny sharing or doing a childcare swap with a friend who also has children.
The Bottom Line
If you feel like you’ve been overspending every month with no idea why, these averages can be a helpful starting point to see where you stand and what might be going wrong. These numbers change every year as the consumer price index shifts and consumer behaviors change, so make a habit of checking in every so often so you can make adjustments to your own budget.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How much does it cost to raise a baby?
According to a 2015 report by the USDA, the cost of raising a child for a typical middle income family in the U.S. would be $284,570 in inflation-adjusted dollars over 18 years. This includes the cost of housing, clothing, food, education, everyday care, transportation, and miscellaneous items. Adjusted to 2021 dollars, that's $318,500.
How can I better track my spending?
The first step to effectively tracking your spending is to create a budget around your current spending habits. You'll be able to compare how you actually spend to how you would like to ideally spend and identify any monetary leaks that have gone unnoticed. If you use just one method for transactions, everything will be together, making it even easier to track how much you're spending and where.