Money Talk: How Does the Average American Live?

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It’s natural to be curious about how other people live and to wonder if you spend more or less than the people around you. Depending on where you live and the cost of living for your area, you might be paying more or less than someone across the country. Where you live doesn’t just affect how much you spend, either.

According to the biggest survey of U.S. health in 15 years, if you live in a rich area, you are more likely to be healthy; on the other hand, if you live in the rural South or Appalachia, you may not be as healthy. Health is not the only thing that differs across America. Americans across the country (and often in the same state) spend different amounts on various expenses.

As of February, the average home sale price was $152,000. The cost of purchasing a house changes depending on the size and neighborhood you want, but it can also drastically change depending on which city you live in within a particular state. The median sale price in Allston, Massachusetts, was $520,000 in 2013, whereas the median for homes in downtown Boston was $2,300,000, even though they are only a few miles away from each other.

Most home prices go up when you are near a major metropolitan area, but this isn’t always true, because most major cities have very popular areas and then less sought-after areas. In Illinois, the average price of homes for sale in Lincoln Park is $1,089,932, but there are also several homes for sale near the $200,000 mark, and prices differ widely across the Chicago area.

In addition to buying a home, purchasing and taking care of a car is another expense that is common for American consumers. The current average cost of a new vehicle is $30,500, but not everyone can afford that hefty price tag. According to a study by, of the median-income families in the nation’s 25 largest cities, only the average Washington, D.C., family can actually afford to pay that cost.

According to this study, buyers in Washington, D.C., could afford $31,940 on a car, whereas consumers in Tampa could only afford $14,516. Tax rates and insurance costs also affect how much you can buy depending on where you live. Not everyone chooses to purchase a new car, but Americans spend an average of $5,000 per year on gas and maintenance alone, as well as an average of $250 per month for a car payment.

Vacations are another common expense that Americans rack up. According to an American Express survey, people spend about $1,200 per person on vacations, or roughly $4,000 for a family of four. If you’re wondering what $1,200 might get you, your choices would include a seven-day stay in Huatulco, Mexico, or, for slightly less ($1,099), a seven-night stay in Samana, Dominican Republic, according to the Apple Vacations website – and these prices are just for one person. If you decide to visit a similar exotic location for only three days, you can lower your budget to about $700 per person.

Clothing and food expenses make up another big part of spending. It costs the average American family of four $146 to $289 per week to purchase groceries. The cost of feeding your family will change depending on your individual family needs, but it also changes based on where you live.

In Oahu, Hawaii, you will pay $6.29 per gallon of Meadow Gold (a non-organic milk) at Foodland; in New York City, the generic brand will cost you $3.29! On the clothing side, consumers spent an average of $59 per month on women’s clothing in 2013 and $25 on men’s clothing.

Americans have to have their entertainment, too. In 2012, the average American spent $2,605 on entertainment; more than $20 billion is spent each year on movies, and $13 billion — or more, depending on whom you ask — on video games. As far back as 2009, Americans were spending more than $14 billion per year on performing arts tickets as well. Americans spend billions more watching or participating in sports ($10 billion per year just on the National Football League!).

Despite being a very entertainment-driven nation, we don’t just watch movies and do nothing else: As of 2012, Americans were spending more than $20 billion annually on diets, with 108 million people trying various diets per year (this figure becomes much higher if you add in the amount that Americans spend on diet foods). The average cost for a gym membership is $39 per month, but 67 percent of people with gym memberships never use them.

Hopefully, by now you have a good idea of how other Americans live and how much they spend. Just in case you are a numbers person, here are a few more interesting statistics: According to Statistic Brain, as of 2013, Americans were spending a per-month average of $60 for electricity, $16 for natural gas, $38 on dental care, $227 on hospitals, $36 on cell phone services, $34 on legal services, and $3 on postal services.

These numbers might seem high to you (or maybe low, depending on where you live and what your own spending habits are) but they are just averages over an entire year, and some of them, like legal advice, you hopefully don’t need need every year.