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Your Take: You vs. What Average American Buys

Last week, NRP’s Planet Money took a look at What America Buys [3] and put together a graphic illustrating how much the Average American spends in each category of their budget. It’s based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics December 2011 CPI report and includes the “major” categories (smallest is “Books, magazines and newspapers” with 0.2%, so it gets fairly granular).

I thought it was interesting that “Rent, mortgages” captured 31.5% of spending. Assuming the average American saves 0%, that would put that amount in line with the rule thumb that you should spend less than a third of your income on housing. That said, once you add in everything related to housing like utilities and furniture/household items, it balloons to 41%.

The fun part of the chart is the comparisons between 1949 and 2011. There are three big things that jump out at you. First, food spending went way down from 40% of spending to just 15.3%. Next, housing spiked from 26.1% to 41%. Finally, medical care went from 3.2% of spending to 7.1%.

We don’t spend nearly as much on housing (we’ve lived in our house for 6 years so household item and furniture purchases are at a minimum, plus our incomes have increased while our mortgage has stayed mostly flat) and I benefit from low transportation costs (working from home). Medical care is going to be lower since we are both young and in good health, but I suspect we spend more than the 15.3% on food.

How does your spending compare?