Visualization of US consumer spending

Here's a nice dataviz of US consumer spending as of April 2009. How depressing is that minuscule slice labelled "reading"?

How The Average U.S. Consumer Spends Their Paycheck (via Sociological Images)


  1. My spending on reading would be even less. The public library hasn’t started charging yet. I might splurge at a yard sale and spend a buck for 4 books.

  2. On the plus side, reading is (relatively) a very cheap way of spending time even for us bibliophiles, what with public libraries, second-hand books and so forth. Even paying full price for a hardback compares well with going to the movie theater these days. Plus, reading online is still reading, right?

    As an example of free online reading, I’ll submit George Orwell’s essay on why reading is an inexpensive hobby, well within a working class budget:

  3. Perhaps the cost on “reading” is low because there are a lot of people checking out for free or reading online instead of “spending” on reading material…

  4. The small amount of money spent on reading, as indicated by the colorful doughnut, does not reflect on the amount of time spent reading or type of material that people people read. I don’t read newspapers, largely because the newspaper in my city is just a regurgitation of AP news stories that I can get from them directly without any additional bias thrown in for my seventy-five cents. But I spend more time reading now then I ever did before, simply because I have access to more material thanks to the Intertubes.

  5. Falcon_Seven nailed it, as does Machineintheghost’s second paragraph.

    I wonder what this graph would look like if TIME was the factor being measured, as opposed to money.

    On the other hand, the disparity between time spent reading and money spent on reading would show that reading may be widespread, but that most people don’t consider the production of reading material important enough to pay for. They love it, as long as it’s free. Boing boing is a perfect example of that. [Just kidding]

  6. Regarding the miniscule amount spent on reading, a few thoughts Cory:

    – Why Reading wasn’t lumped in with “Entertainment” is beyond me…

    – In schools, reading requirements are up markedly since I attended high school, and those books wouldn’t be included (bought by school districts, not individuals)

    – Reading on the Internet is free (at least it is, once you pay your ISP bill)

    – Book sales are up (at least in the interesting to you category of Young Adult (ages 12-18) readers

  7. IsolatedGestalt asked where does consumner debt service fit in to this chart – what is missing is that the chart represents 125% of consumer income.

  8. Odd that the chart doesn’t show the ~30% spent on taxes. It might not be discretionary, but neither is food.

  9. I’d like to see something etched out for communications. I mean I pay more than twice my power bill for landline, cell(IMHO too expensive), and internet.

  10. Hehe, the icons for “Healthcare” and “Tobacco” are almost identical…

    Even though I buy almost exclusively from used bookstores (and read a lot of public-domain ebooks), I’m pretty sure I still spend more than .2% on reading.

    (Why is the “Other” portion on Transportation so big? Do that many Americans buy bus and subway passes, or is that just a few airplane flights making up that chunk?)

  11. $63,091 – 49,638 = income after direct taxes witheld (Federal, state, local income taxes), but where are the property taxes in the chart?

    Also, a family earing $63K a year paying over $13,400 in taxes, that seems a bit high (probably accurate (I’m not saying it’s wrong), but it seems high).

    Sales taxes are, I assume, included in each category in the above chart (sales tax when buying a copy Little Brother at the local book store inflate the monies spent on books to cover price plus local sales tax).

    Downloads of Creative Commons books, like this, would not be included in the above chart.

  12. Another way to look at the “reading” segment is that books are a very cost-effective form of entertainment. A $9 paperback will keep you occupied much longer than a $9 movie ticket, so you don’t have to spend as much on books even if you spend plenty of time reading.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if American children have collectively spent more hours reading the “Harry Potter” books than watching the films, even if ticket and DVD revenues amount to more money.

  13. Oh come on. I’ve read more books than I can recall in the last year and spent at most $100 on reading. That $100 went to rare, obscure or out of print books, or in a few instances, must have reference books. Otherwise, I have access to public libraries, the internet, many friends willing to share their books, etc.

    I have no need to own fiction I can easily pick up at the library unless it’s a hard-to-come-by translation of something obscure the library is likely not to have, and even then, unless it’s essential to the library, which is rare for fiction, I turn around and sell it for usually 50-70% of what I paid.

    My girlfriend is in a reading intensive grad. program for literature and I bet she barely spends double what I do on books.

    I don’t doubt that a number depicting how many books the average American reads would be a sad number, but the number we spend on reading tells us almost nothing. Well, I guess it tells us we’re careless with our money, and given cheap credit and the option, will neglect out abundant free resources.

  14. Remember libraries, borrowed books, used books (increasingly popular as cost of a paperback approaches $10), periodicals (whose prices are subsidized by advertising)… And as folks have said, even at hardback prices books are a heck of a lot more cost-effective than coffee when you figure the rate at which they’re consumed.

    I don’t track my own budget tightly enough to isolate out reading material. The items actually recorded as books — which is limited to those I didn’t pay cash for — plus periodical subscriptions read as about $350 for the past year. Actual purchases were probably at least $100 higher. But I’m sure I’m atypical, and remember that by definition half the populace is below average.

    The question really is where they got their numbers from, and how they’ve been divided up. My usual rule on such graphics is to assume that each category has broad error bars so they’re best used as relative indicators rather than absolute. The items which show as huge probably are huge; the exact order of the others may well be swamped by noise.

    Having said that: Yes, the publishing industry needs our support. I’m subscribing to several SF magazines in part because they’re the traditional place for new writers to break into the industry; I really should add at least two more to that set. Whether I can find time to keep up with them or not.

  15. It’s not depressing at all, books don’t cost that much and generally take longer to digest then say a 2 hour movie. Plus we also have this MAGIC place called libraries where books are free

  16. Not surprisingly I’m well above average on the spending of money on reading. Between new books, used books, and buying out of print books online, I’m pretty sure my reading expenses are between $400-500 a year.

    Unfortunately more and more of my purchases are online, as the majority of independent bookstores here in Calgary seem to have closed, and used bookstores are becoming few and far between, especially in and around the downtown core. (I used to be able to make a day of used book browsing as there were 5-7 within the core.)

  17. How depressing is that minuscule slice labelled “reading”?

    Wife reads 2-3 books a month and has nearly $0 expendature a year. Libraries rule.

  18. I’m with #! up there. I’m curious about consumer debt. I know in my finances a massive amount of my income goes to paying down medical debts. I don’t know if it would count as healthcare as it was already paid for with credit cards, and due to the interest rates is way higher than it would have been if I had insurance available to me when I got sick. I’d like to think I’m not the only one that is battling the credit companies.

  19. I’d say its a whole lot less depressing than the 34% spent on housing , 12% on food and 6% on healthcare — which would account for 50% + of expenses going to ‘essential’ items. And that ‘education’ didn’t even hit 2% — which probably explains why our country is less and less competitive globally.

  20. Considering that I had to design and build a steam-powered machine which would interpret Moby Dick into morse code, which was then hand stitched into a series of wool puppets, I am having trouble discerning betwixt “entertainment” and “reading”.

  21. I call bullshit on that chart.

    Forgive me for turning the topic from reading, but that graphic donut is a bad fiction. I’m healthy and spend and spend less than $600 a year on the doctor, dentist and medicines. At over 60 my Blue Cross single payer premiums now exceed 50% of my income with only part time work. I don’t work full time because we cannot afford private care for the elderly in the family. I do it. My Blue Cross is $7,300 a year now. 22 years ago a it cost one weeks wages $450. 40 years ago, a year’s coverage was $34. Young families of four that live around us are paying $12,000 to $16,000 a year for health insurance.

    That education percentage at 1.9% means no higher education not even a state university. The University of Utah’s average tuition cost today is $17,000. It means that the children of that “typical family” have an infinitesimal chance of matching their parents income levels.

    {musical accompaniment : I Don’t Wanna Grow U by Tom Waits }

  22. Timothy Hutton @ 8:
    “Also, a family earing $63K a year paying over $13,400 in taxes, that seems a bit high (probably accurate (I’m not saying it’s wrong), but it seems high).”

    To me, that figure seems much too low:

    Just the US federal budget alone is roughly 3 trillion dollars per year. That works out to about $10,000 per person. I have no idea what the average state taxes are in the ‘States. Is it only from sales tax?

    That chart-o-gram claims that the ‘taxes’ per 2.5 person/family is $13,500, not $25,000. What gives?

  23. @STEVEW
    “Average” statistics rarely translate directly to “typical”. To read it more correctly, it says that you spend $1000 every year of your adult life on education, which adds up to something more reasonable, no?

  24. One thing that occurred to me right off the bat is that pet expenditures don’t seem to be taken into account. I would hazard that a majority of households have at least one pet, and I know for myself, that’s a good chunk of my change. Or is vet care combined into healthcare, and pet food into the general food category, and so forth? Just curious about that.

  25. Time and money are different. People who spend a great deal of time reading might not spend much money on it.

  26. Taxes: 15%
    Housing: 20%
    Transportation: 20%
    Healthcare: 20%
    Food: 10%
    Debt: 20%
    Everything else: 20%

    Total: 125%

  27. it’s interesting because when i tell people i live in NYC they think its sooo expensive. but, my transport costs + rent costs are way less than the 51% here.

  28. Dope and Porn? isn’t that in the same as health and entertainment? and depending it’s vice verse or vice first or whatever.

  29. oh no! no one ever reports their REAL dope and pron spending. That is why it is called “vice”.

  30. If you want inexpensive pets, go with hamsters. You can raise one essentially on pocket change.

  31. Do hobbies like the SCA fit into vices? My wife and I have to buy/make clothing for both our mundane lives and our SCA lives, not too mention armor, sure costs less than a new car these days but sheesh not exactly cheap and I make much of it myself…Where is the double cost doughnut? The everyday/fanboy Mobius strip cost display?

  32. In fact, if you handed a hamster some pocket change, she might happily stuff it in her cheeks.

  33. Very interesting as a discussion-starter, but of course a lot of the breakdowns are arbitrary – for example, why is alcohol broken out from food and entertainment, but cell phones (well over a grand a year in most iPhone households) aren’t?

    Given that a fourth of Americans don’t even read a single book per year, the 0.2% figure for reading expenses seems about right. We’re both in grad school and are on track to spend about 5 times that much, though the percentage of our income would be much higher if we weren’t both working full-time.

  34. But Takuan SCA often involves nasty bruises and hangovers from trying everyone’s “New Batch” of ale. It’s not all prancing about Morris Dancing,(though Morris Dancing has got to bad for you).

  35. I’m in agreement with the taxes.

    According to the chart I spend more on property tax in a year than I do on healthcare…

    Of course this also takes into account an average of people. I know people who pay way more rent to live in 1/5 the space of my house because it’s trendy… The same goes for buying things. My wife and I watch our money and look for good deals, but we do spend it if we need to.

  36. come hither Demidan, I have a stick and bucket to show you. (hey has there ever been a Morris lolrus?)

  37. Doesn’t include tax or interest, isn’t grouped in any organized way, makes it hard to compare size of slices. Poor visual presentation of quatatative information.

  38. i have to admit, i love the reaction against your “how miniscule” remark. everybody loves a good library.

  39. Regarding education expenses, don’t forget that 90% of K-12 education in America is in publicly-funded schools, paid for by taxes, both state and local. In my town, it costs $15K/year to educate a student (annual budget divided by number of students, a gross simplification of cost, but the best I have), so if I send two kids to school, am I spending $30K/year or the $9K/yr I pay in taxes? The chart assumes the latter.

    Antinious – glad to see we agree on the 125% of income spent per year.

    Regarding book costs, I spend a lot each year $600 or so, but since they tend to tech books of ‘ox-stunning’ proportion, they hit $30+ a title. (I bought ‘The Cost of Everything’, but it’s sheer size makes it unreadable – think hardcover NYC phone book)…

  40. Aggregate stats are meant to give people a sense of things and aren’t meant to apply to a real individual. For instance average national house prices don’t really reflect any particular individual market and different methods are used to sort smooth things out. The idea is to sort of give a bench mark, but not always a particularly useful one. They create a horizon of expectation that will obviously vary depending on who you are and where you live. Also totaling the various components often yields a result over 100% due to rounding.

  41. I wonder where child care fits into this graph. Part of education, perhaps? I understand it’s averaging people over all ages and stages of life, but for the four or so years (plus after school in grades K – 5+) it’s quite a chunk of change for many families.

  42. I really HATE how we’ve become “consumers”.

    We used to be Citizens.
    We used to MAKE stuff ourselves.
    Now we are just marketable (or not) demographics ripe to buy more shit from the man.

  43. DaughterNumberThree @49, you just made me doubt the validity of the entire chart.

  44. This is odd…I was always told that we had a negative savings rate, but here it’s around 15%. Just goes to show how much methodology matters.

  45. It’s impressive watching progressive Americans unwittingly align themselves with the Frankfurt school after so many years of being duped. We’re such suckers.

  46. I would like to know how household spending now compares to previous decades. How about similar charts for the 80’s, 60’s and 40’s? How much did the average family spend on electricity and food in the 60’s?

  47. Nice chart. Too bad the dollar figures outside of the ring are presented in a low-contrast font that is difficult to read for the 10% of American men with some form of colorblindness.

  48. How depressing is that minuscule slice labelled “reading”?

    It COULD indicate that Americans are doing their reading in a way that doesn’t cost money, such as reading online or going to the library. I kind of doubt it, though.

  49. Pixel23 @10 Odd that the chart doesn’t show the ~30% spent on taxes. It might not be discretionary, but neither is food.

    Americans pay an average of 30% tax?! Americans are really not getting their money’s worth. I live in Finland and pay about 25% income tax (I’m sure the national average is higher). For that money, I get free healthcare, a monthly child allowance, affordable daycare (the fee is based on parental income), free preschool, free primary and secondary school, free university education (with student allowances, so not only is it free, they pay YOU), and probably some other things I can’t think of right now. The same benefits are available to anyone, regardless of income. What on earth is the US government doing with all the tax money?

  50. @ #60 posted by jackie31337

    “What on earth is the US government doing with all the tax money?”

    Invading and bombing other countries and people, spying on us, putting us in prison, giving it to crony companies like Halliburton, Big Pharma, Blackwater, Monsanto etc.

    It sucks to be American.

  51. The one complaint of libraries is
    They only have a few copies of a book, most often only one. That’s if they even have one at all. Also, not all libraries carry a good selection of mass market/trade paperbacks (not every book gets a hardcover release)

    So to read the book I want to, the odds of me having to wait or be disappointed are higher at a library. This has happened to me often.

    With a bookstore, I rarely do not find what I want.

    Online is even better. With stuff like Cory’s, I can download and read it, RIGHT NOW. Don’t even have to get in the car. The internet is always open too, I get a book urge at 4am, I’m SOL with brick retail.

  52. Hmmm… I’ll bet no one else has yet mentioned that reading is cheap. I should probably do that myself, to make sure it’s been said at least once.

  53. jackie31337: Americans pay an average of 30% tax?! Americans are really not getting their money’s worth. I live in Finland and pay about 25% income tax.

    Actually, Finish income tax brackets are similar to those of the US: [1] [2]. (Although US tax brackets go up higher for the highest incomes.)

    Income tax is not the only tax, though. You also pay 22% for value-added-tax on spending in Finland, 28% capital gains, 10& inheritance, and probably dozens of other taxes such as property and whatnot. From this source Fins pays 45%-55% of their income in compulsory deductions.

    This isn’t to say that one system is better than another — I’d prefer it if our system were closer to the Fins — but you are definitely paying for what you get.

  54. My business partner impulsively ordered us both Amazon Kindles this weekend. I’m looking forward to frequent pay-ins to the “reading” category.

  55. There are no SAVINGS represented on this chart because up until the recession/depression set in we weren’t saving and in fact have been profligately over-spending.

  56. Hosing Part has Huge percentage 34.
    I thinks its good for Realtor
    Thanks for sharing….

  57. I don’t see where everyone is getting the tax numbers. The two given figures are income before taxes and expenditures. It does not necessarily follow that the difference between what one earns pre-tax and what one spends is taxes. Taxes plus expenditures could be more than earnings, thus consumer credit + interest is not adequately represented in the chart either. This chart is therefore incomplete in two very significant ways.

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