Changes in Living Expenses

The information on this page is from news releases that  the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) published in 2008 on the 25th anniversary of the Consumer Expenditure Survey.  It is interesting reading.

Changes in living expenses occur over time as our life style changes.  Also, changes in technology change our expenses.

The BLS began publishing the Consumer Expenditure Survey annually in 1980, but it was not until 1984 that a standard format was developed that is still very similar to what is used today.  It is updated each October for the end of the prior year.  The data and charts on this page are published courtesy of the BLS.

In 1984, we knew nothing about cell phones and Internet service.  The IBM personal computer had just been introduced in 1981.  The expenditures for these goods and services grew from zero in 1984 to two percent (2%) of total living expenditures in 2008.

The following information is not current, but it is interesting to see the trend over the 25 year period from 1980 through 2008.  If you want to skip this, and read the most current Consumer Expenditures Report, click here.

The BLS has not published a similar report since the anniversary report in 2008.

Period 1980 – 2008

Let’s look at the expenditures for basic survival.  This includes food, apparel and services, shelter (owned homes, rental units, and vacation properties), healthcare, and pensions and social security.

Click on chart to expand to full size.

Changes in Living Expenses

Items to note on Chart 1:

  • Food as a proportion actually decreased from 15.0 percent in 1984 to 12.8 percent in 2008.
  • Apparel and services fell from 6.0 percent to 3.6 percent over the same period.
  • Healthcare spending rose from 4.8 percent of the total in 1984 to 5.9 percent in 2008. The increase in healthcare was driven by the increase in the health insurance subcomponent, which rose from 1.7 to 3.3 percent of total spending.
  • Pensions and Social Security increased from 7.3 percent to 10.5 percent over the 1984 to 2008 period.
  • Shelter expenditures rose over the 1984 to 2008 period, increasing from 15.9 percent of total spending to 20.2 percent.

The second largest expense after shelter cost for the average American is the cost of an automobile (Chart 2).  In this period, the expenditures for vehicle purchases accounted for 8.3 percent of total spending in 1984.  This reached a high of 9.8 percent in 1986 and ended in a low of 5.5 percent in 2008, a recession year in which consumers sharply cut vehicle spending.

In the same period, the expenditures for gasoline and motor oil fluctuated between 2.9 and 5.7 percent of the total, largely due to fluctuating gas prices.

Click on chart to expand to full size.

Chart - Changes in Living Expenses

Current Consumer Expenditures Report

Currently, each year the BLS publishes a report that discusses and analyzes the most current Consumer Expenditures Report.

This report can be read at Consumer Expenditures Report.