Personal Finance > Millionaire in the Making
How does your spending stack up?
From housing to child care, we all spend our money differently. Find out what your neighbors spend.
November 5, 2002: 4:15 PM EST
By Annelena Lobb, CNN/Money Staff Writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) In case you hadn't noticed, life costs money.

Everytime you turn around there's something else you need to buy, from food for the fridge to Halloween costumes for the kids. But between all those trips to the dollar dispenser and the barrage of checks you send each month in the mail, it's tough to keep track of where your money goes.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that an average American 'consumer unit' -- defined as a family, a single person who's financially independent or two people living together who share major expenses -- spends $38,050 a year.

The following provide a snapshot of average household expenditures on housing, food, entertainment, transportation and child care. How does your family stack up?


Consumers spent an annual average of $12,320 on housing costs in 2000, the most recent year for which BLS data are available. That's roughly a third of average annual expenses.

People in the West and Northeast spent the most on housing; $14,000 and $13,500, respectively. Midwesterners came in third, at about $12,000, and Southerners paid the least, clocking in at $11,000.

But that doesn't tell the whole story. The percentage of your income that goes to housing varies widely according to region. Residents of southern California or New York City and its surrounding areas, for example, could easily spend 35 percent of their income or more on housing, said CFP Stephanie Enright.

By region, homeowners in the West spend closer to 21 percent of their incomes on the roof over their head; and residents of the Northeast drop 20 percent on average, the Census Bureau reports. Those in the South and Midwest spend the least, at 17 percent.


Eating absorbs another 14 percent of consumers' total yearly expenses, the BLS notes in its Consumer Expenditure Survey.

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In fact, this basic necessity is claiming a bigger portion of the budget pie as dining out becomes increasingly popular among busy, dual-income families. Of the $5,150 or so spent on food, only about 58 percent went to groceries eaten at home.


The amount consumers spend to keep themselves amused varies more than most categories. It all depends on what you choose to include.

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According to BLS entertainment figures, which do not include the cost of meals out or alcohol, about 5 percent of consumer expenses goes to entertainment categories like vacations and movies.

Counting restaurant meals and alcohol, that figure jumps to 11 percent. But it varies by age bracket consumers under 25 are the biggest party animals, spending some 13.5 percent of their income on those three categories. They're followed by consumers aged 35 to 44, at 12.2 percent.

Retirees, however, may overspend in this category as well.

"Some people retire and spend too much at first on things like meals out and vacation," Enright said. "They're spending too much on them, when they've got a long life span and no foreseeable income."


Transportation expenses - second in line to housing expenses - have risen sharply in recent years. From 1999 to 2000, the BLS notes transportation spending jumped 5.8 percent. Consumers spend about $7,500 a year or almost 20 percent of annual expenses just getting around.

Those costs come almost exclusively from cars: 46 cents of every transportation dollar spent went to vehicle purchases, 17 cents to gasoline and motor oil and 31 cents to costs like auto insurance and repairs. Only 6 percent was claimed by public transportation.

Financial planning experts concur that shelling out extra and sometimes unnecessary dollars for cars is one of the most common ways people overspend their money.

"So often, my client will say, 'well, we weren't sure if this car would get us around', and they'll buy a car when they don't have emergency cash reserves or are falling behind in saving for retirement," said CFP Phil Cook. "They have lots of excuses."

Child care

Sixty-four percent of all families with children under 18 are two-income households, Census data reveals. And if mom and dad are working full-time, someone's got to take care of the kids. Enter daycare, nannies and au pairs.

According to the Children's Defense Fund, child care costs for a 4-year-old in a child care center average between $4,000 to $6,000 a year. Some centers in high-cost regions of the country, however, charge upewards of $10,000 or more per child. And costs rise when you put an infant in child care.

If you want a live-in nanny, it'll cost you even more. The average wage for a live-in nanny was between $385 and $515 a week, according to the International Nanny Association. That doesn't include employer-owed taxes, agency fees, health insurance or transportation costs.

The poorest families have it the hardest. Two parents working full-time for minimum wage in 2000 who managed to budget 10 percent of their income for child care -- that's $2,140 -- still would fall several thousand dollars short of the average costs cited above.  Top of page

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