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Continuing the discussion about living on one income, I now wanted to look at average family expenses.

Adam wanted to see how other couples spend their money as a reference so I found some helpful information with the Consumer Expenditure Survey for 2011 (released this past September) from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What the Joneses are Spending

To keep this kind of fun, I'm calling the average family the Joneses.

According to the survey, their average income was $63,685 before taxes, own 2 vehicles, and has at least one full-time income earner.

Here are their annual expenses for 2011:

  •  Housing: $16,803
  • Transportation: $8,293
  • Food: $6,458
  • Insurance and Pensions: $5,424
  • Other: $3,381
  • Healthcare: $3,313
  • Entertainment: $2,572
  • Apparel: $1,740
  • Cash Contributions: $1,721

Grand Total: $49,705

So right off the top, you can see that while people talk about how expensive health insurance can be, the real money suck seems to be transportation.

Compared to the other expenses, it rose rose the most from 2010 (8%) and higher gas prices aren't to blame.


According to the survey, housing was the biggest group of expenses for families, with an average of $1,400.25/month.

Comparing it to our own spending, we had averaged around $1200/month (that was including the extra mortgage payments).

Putting a roof over your family's head is a priority for many couples, so this is not a bill to eliminate. However there are a ways for families to optimize it.

If you are renting and you're looking to lower your expenses  then taking the time to hunt for a great and affordable apartment can pay off.

If you have a mortgage, you may want to look at refinancing your mortgage into a more affordable payment.


Believe it or not, the average family spent $319/month on eating at home and $218/month eating out.

The eating out numbers include lunches out of the office and dinners out. These numbers actually match ours, a little more money goes to the groceries, but it's about what we spend each month.

With the food budget, we're looking at improving our cooking skills and picking up recipes so we eat at home a bit more. To that end, I picked up 4 Hour Chef and I'm happy with it.


With the average spending on transportation around $700/month and the average family have 2 cars, this part of the budget could have some room for big improvements.

Gas prices have risen, but for many family's the high expenses are due to car payments.

I've shared before how we paid off our car loan early and how we're focused on buying our cars with cash.

Our transportation expenses are basically gasoline and maintenance bills.  We don’t make six figures, but the great news is that we didn’t need that much to pay off the car loan.

Please check out the above posts if you two are looking to get out of car loans. You could use the money saved for other things.

Health Care

The survey noted that family spending on health insurance has increased from 1996 and that spending on health care has increased every year from 1997.

Even with that increase it only comes out to an average of $276/month. That looks to be about what we pay for premiums for our family.

Last year we had some medical bills that bumped up our expenses, though it should go back down this year.

Insurance and Pensions

This category is covers non-health insurance payments, including life. Social Security and pensions contributions also fall into this group.

It looks like the average family is contributing about $450/month. Looking back our 2012 spending, we put more money in, both with retirement (401(k) and Roth IRA) contributions and with life insurance premiums.

If you two are in a one-income household where only one spouse works outside the home, getting life insurance for both spouses is vital.

Even if your non-income earning spouse were to die, there would still be expenses involved with replacing the necessary labor needed to run the house (childcare, home maintenance, etc).

Your Thoughts on Family Spending

We shared some of our numbers, how about you? I really would like to get not only your feedback on the Consumer Survey, but also about your own family's spending habits. I'd like to see where Couple Money readers fall with their budgets.

What are you doing better than the Joneses? Or worse?

About Elle Martinez

Elle Martinez helps families at Couple Money achieve financial freedom by sharing tips for reducing debt, increase income, and building net worth. Learn how to live on one income and have fun with the second..

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