Shoestring Living: Are you a typical consumer?

Molly Logan Anderson

We all face struggles in our daily lives, and, as much as I wish it wasn’t the case, it’s human to wonder about how other folks spend their money. Recently, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its Consumer Expenditure Survey 2009 results, giving each of us a better idea of where we all stack up against the averages.

Taking many facets of our spending into consideration, the survey depicts a realistic view of American spending today. Take a look to see how your own budget compares. And for those of you still operating without a budget, hopefully you’ll feel inspired to grab the reins and take control of your spending for once and for all.

The average American

I was surprised to see the stats on the today’s average American surveyed, who is described at 49.4 years old, with an average of two vehicles and an annual salary of $62,857 before taxes and $49,067 after taxes. Sixty-six percent of those surveyed were homeowners.


According to the survey, Americans spend $16,895 or 34.43 percent of their after-tax income on housing. This includes money allocated for shelter, utilities, even furnishings. Interestingly, this percentage is nearly identical to survey results of the previous year.


Groceries are my weakness, and I’m always wondering how much money other families actually spend on food. According to the study, we spent an average of $6,372 in 2009 or 12.99 percent of the monthly budget. This seems a high percentage, but in line with my own spending. It’s staggering to think you’ve eaten roughly 13 percent of your hard-earned income.


Using a slightly larger piece of the pie when compared with food, transportation absorbs an average of 15.61 percent of our net income, with 4.05 percent of that, or $1,986 spent on gasoline and oil. 

Insurance and pensions

Money spent on personal insurance and pensions is down slightly from 2008 and at $5,471 encompasses 11.15 percent of income. In all honesty, I’d expect it to be even less. It’s good to know that folks are still saving.

The rest

Remaining income is divided among apparel and services, health care, entertainment and “everything else.” The most significant percentage among them is the “everything else” category, which consumes 10.45 percent of our incomes, but is not made up of anything significant enough to be mentioned specifically.

So where do you fall? I’ll be making some improvements in my own little pie chart, and I hope feel inspired to work on yours, too.

Molly Logan Anderson is a freelance writer who lives in the western suburbs of Chicago with her husband, Mike, three kids and two labs. Join Molly on her family’s journey of living a frugal life and making financial freedom their reality.