August 19, 2015

Food and Housing Is Lower Portion of Spending Now Than in 1950

I've seen some talk lately about how housing costs are becoming a higher percentage of peoples spending.   The point of the discussion was that this was a bad thing and getting worse.    On the other hand though, food used to cost a lot more as a percent of our income and that trend has gotten better.    How does housing plus food spending today compare to 1950?

I looked at spending in 1950 versus 2008 household spending levels back five years ago.    So I'm kind of rehashing the topic here but I figured why not look at it again.

The BLS has a report on 100 years of consumer spending  with data for specific years including a direct link for 1950   I compared that to the 2013 data.  I used this 2013 table which happens to break it down by age but I just looked at the overall average figures for all families.

I looked at the main categories of spending and what % of the total for those categories.    Here are the charts for 1950 and 2013 :


You can click on the images for a larger view.

As you can see the amount spent on housing has gone up a lot but the amount spent on food is about half what it was.   If you combine food and housing then we're spending a little bit less at 54% in 2013 versus the 56.9% in 2015.  

Food is cheaper today then it used to be but at the same time I think we're getting more for the money we spend.   This document from the congressional research service has a chart Figure 5 on page 12 below:

From that we can see that people spent around 25% of their food money at restaurants in 1950 versus around 40% nowadays.

The basics of food, housing and clothing was 68.4% in 1950 and just 58% in 2013.

Some other points I found interesting ...

In 1950 we spent 1.7% on alcohol and 1.8% on tobacco.   Those numbers are down to 1% for booze and 0.8% for smokes as of 2013.   On the other hand our spending on reading and education has doubled from 1.5% in 1950 to 3% in 2013.    These are both positive trends, though the total impact on a family budget isn't huge.

Now someone might concluded that people have to spend more on housing because it is more expensive.  Or you might think we spend less on food because we don't have the money to do so.   But you can dig into the details on food prices to see how its really cheaper today relative to the 1950s.  

Here are example staple prices from the 1950 document versus example prices I found for Safeway:

1950 2013
flour, 5lb $0.49 $2.79
butter, lb $0.73 $3
eggs $0.60 $2.49
1/2 milk $0.41 $2.09

and figuring the prices as a % of a weeks family income :

1950 2013
flour, 5lb 0.60% 0.23%
butter, lb 0.90% 0.24%
eggs 0.74% 0.20%
1/2 milk 0.50% 0.17%

So you can see there across the board the individual items are a much lower % of your income.


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