How Americans spend their money, in one chart


Americans are notorious spenders. Compared to many other nations around the world, households in the U.S. have a particularly low savings rate, and 28 percent of American adults have no emergency fund. However, consumer spending accounts for 68 percent of the country’s GDP, making it essential for economic strength. Our newest visualization takes a closer look at how Americans are spending their money.

  • While this chart shows the averages across all American consumer units, earnings and spending vary by factors such as location, gender, and age group. For example, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the 45-54 age group has the highest mean salary ($109,366), while the 75 years and older age group spends, on average, more than they make ($43,181 spent vs. $38,786 earned).
  • Americans’ income is typically allocated to one of three places: taxes, savings, or annual expenditures (spending).
  • Most consumer spending falls into the larger categories of food, housing, transportation, healthcare, insurance, and other goods and services. Housing alone accounts for almost a third of spending.
  • The savings rate is calculated by subtracting annual mean expenditures from annual mean income after taxes.

The data from this visualization comes from the Consumer Expenditure Survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The black bar on the far left of the chart shows the average income for the American consumer unit. As you go farther to the right throughout the visualization, it provides a greater level of detail for how that income is allocated. For example, it breaks down average income into taxes, spending, and savings (color-coded pink, blue, and green respectively). Then it breaks down spending into general categories, and finally into more specific categories. The average dollar amount spent is included with each section of the breakdown.

Top Consumer Spending by Category

1. Shelter – $11,747
2. Pensions & Social Security – $6,831
3. Food at Home – $4,464
4. Utilities – $4,049
5. Vehicle Purchases – $3,975
6. Food Away from Home – $3,459
7. Health Insurance – $3,405
8. Entertainment – $3,226
9. Other Vehicle Expenses – $2,859
10. Other Housing Expenses – $2,270

Changes to consumer spending will have far-reaching ramifications for the rest of the economy. Since there are warning signs that consumer spending is already starting to cool, some economists are concerned about problems down the road. For example, changes in consumer behavior are threatening traditional retail companies and have already led to nearly 200,000 lost jobs since the start of 2017.

More recently, the trade war has been taking a toll on consumer confidence and that’s a serious threat to economic growth. Perhaps next year, the breakdown for the average American consumer’s spending will look very different than it did for 2018.

How do you think consumer spending will (or won’t) change in the near future? Please let us know in the comments.

This article first appeared on How Much.