How do we measure up to national averages?

by Karen on May 6, 2009

One of the main concepts of frugality is that life isn’t a competition when it comes to finances. I try to avoid comparing myself to other people, because we inevitably fall short in terms of material possessions.

Just for fun, though, I took a look at some national averages to see where we fall on the spectrum. I was actually surprised to discover that in some ways we’re right on target. I had hoped we’d be considerably more frugal than the national average, but it turns out we’re pretty average.

Housing

I couldn’t find any hard and fast statistics newer than 2004. As of 2004, the average American spent 21% of their income on housing costs. But that was 5 years ago, and so much has changed since then. According to CNN Money, mortgage costs should equal no more than 28% of your income. Our rent is about 26% of our monthly income, so it looks like we’re pretty average in that respect.

Savings

This is my favorite category. :) As of February, the national personal savings rate reached 4.2%. We save a minimum of 21.5% of our after-tax income every month. Yay us!

Food

I’m sort of bummed about where we fall here. According to the USDA food plans, families of 2 living on a “thrifty” food plan spend $82.10 a week on food. Doesn’t sound too thrifty to me. We typically spend $60 a week at the grocery store, but our monthly food costs are closer to $400 total, or $100 a week.

We’ve become increasingly lazy about monitoring food costs, and those extra trips to the grocery store and occasional meals out really do add up. So we’re closer to the “low-cost” food plan, which is about $104.60 a week (again, that doesn’t really sound “low-cost” to me). We’ve always struggled with food spending, and this little comparison exercise has really opened my eyes. We need to crack down.

Debt

The average American owes $8,329 to credit card companies. We owe $0 to credit card companies. Woo hoo! When it comes to student loan debt, we fall above the national average, though. The average American student graduates with about $21,900 in debt (that’s $43,800 per couple). We owe about $60,000 to student lenders, or about $30,000 each. That’s about 37% more than the average. :(

Retirement

Again I struggled to find recent statistics for what the average American saves for retirement on a monthly or even yearly basis. I guess there are too many factors. But a number that gets tossed around a lot as a “recommended savings amount” is 15% of your income. We’re just getting started on retirement savings, and we made the decision to start slow for now at a 3.5%. Not so good, but our plan is to ramp up our retirement savings when we finish paying down our debt and get our liquid savings where we want it to be.

This was an eye-opening exercise that really showed me where our strengths and weaknesses lie. We should be able to easily cut our food costs, netting us about $160 a month for savings and debt repayment. We just renewed our lease, so there’s not a lot we can do about our housing costs until we move, but when we move we’ll try to get below the national average. I’d like to fall on the lower end of the scale in all of these categories (except savings and retirement, of course).

How does your budget compare to national averages?

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1 Kasey May 6, 2009 at 10:12 am

Thanks so much for this post! We’ve only been budgeting for a few months, and had to up some budget items because I got a too frugal too fast. But it’s exciting to see food is actually our strong point, I have felt like we overspend every month, but we are just under the thrifty monthly amount! Savings is where I need to focus my energy, as we are not actively saving at all right now.

Kasey’s last blog post..Garden in the City

2 Ryan P Smith May 11, 2009 at 7:10 pm

Great post, here is another bit of info. National avg. of healthcare spending is $2810 per household or 5.7% of income.

http://www.reuters.com/article/pressRelease/idUS206464+30-Mar-2009+PRN20090330

Ryan P Smith’s last blog post..Annoying Debt Collector Calls Unwarranted

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