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Data shows spending on basics up

Posted By Claes Bell On 09/23/2013 @ 2:00 pm In Personal Finance | 3 Comments

This month the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its annual survey of how American households spend their money last year.
The results seem to validate feelings among Americans that it’s getting harder for the average family to make it on their current income. Spending on necessities like transportation and food are up substantially, while spending on more elective items, like apparel and entertainment, are falling or basically flat.

Here were some of the more interesting takeaways:

  • Americans spent more in 2012 than they did the year before, even accounting for inflation. Spending in every major category except apparel showed an increase.
  • Spending on transportation has increased by a little over 17 percent since 2010, in large part because of a substantial rise in fuel costs between 2010 and 2011, but also because of increased spending on vehicles. The average American household spent $8,998 on transportation in 2012.
  • Households are spending substantially more to put food on the table than in previous years. Although restaurant spending also increased, spending on “food at home” rose more than 8 percent between 2010 and 2012.
  • “Cash contributions,” which include child support, alimony, support for college students and charitable contributions are also up substantially, rising 17 percent between 2010 and 2012. The BLS says much of the increase from 2011 to 2012 was attributable to increases in charitable giving, although I’d be willing to bet that the continuing meteoric rise in college tuition costs is also a factor.
  • American households’ spending on health insurance in 2012 was up about 13 percent over 2010 totals.
  • Spending on housing has been fairly flat, increasing just .5 percent between 2011 and 2012.

Overall, Americans spent about 7 percent more in 2012 than they did in 2010, while household income before taxes increased just under 5 percent in the same period.

With spending on basics going up, it’s no wonder that measures of overall wellbeing of Americans aren’t looking great. Gallup’s Well-Being Index — which includes items like access to medicine, food, shelter and healthcare — is still well below where it was prior to the financial crisis, and in another recent Gallup poll, a fifth of Americans said they had struggled to afford food in the past year.

How are you spending your money these days? Has that changed since 2011?

(Photo: Richard Masoner)

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