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How The Poor, The Middle Class And The Rich Spend Their Money (Lam Thuy Vo / NPR)

How The Poor, The Middle Class And The Rich Spend Their Money

by Jacob Goldstein
Aug 1, 2012

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For a historic look at spending in America, see our post What America Buys. For more, see our Graphing America series.

How do Americans spend their money? And how do budgets change across the income spectrum?

The graph below answers these questions. It shows average spending patterns for U.S. households in three income categories — one just below the poverty line, one at the middle of the income distribution and one at the top of the distribution.

Both the similarities and the differences are striking.

Everyone devotes a huge chunk of their budget to housing, for example. Poor, middle class and rich families spend similar shares of their budgets on clothing and shoes, and on food outside the home.

But poor families spend a much larger share of their budget on basic necessities such as food at home, utilities and health care. Rich families are able to devote a much bigger chunk of their spending to education, and a much, much bigger share to saving for retirement. (The retirement line includes contributions to Social Security and to private retirement plans, by the way.)

The figures in the graph come from the Consumer Expenditure Survey, which has tons of data on spending patterns in the U.S.

Correction: A previous version of this post used incorrect numbers for spending on housing.

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