Compare Your Budget With Other US Consumers and the World

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The NYT Economix blog and a new BLS report had some nice graphics comparing how the average consumer spends their money in the US, Canada, United Kingdom, and Japan. The data is from 2009.



Compared with the other countries, Americans spent more of their budgets on housing and health care, and less on recreation and entertainment. The Japanese spent the largest share on food, with a higher percentage spent on food than even housing. This is somewhat surprising, given the stereotype of small living spaces in Japan and large living spaces in the US. But remember, these are percentages and not absolute numbers.

You might think that out-of-pocket healthcare costs are lower in the other countries due to government-subsidized universal health care, but the Economix article points out that the total healthcare expenditures per capita in the US are also much higher (around double) those of other countries. I can’t believe they spend more on clothing than healthcare! Of course, my wardrobe turnover rate has been described as “glacial”.

Our spending breakdown still has a much, much bigger slice going towards housing, and a much smaller slice going towards transportation and food. We are lucky to have nice employer-sponsored health insurance.

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  1. Wow, Japan spends more on “food at home” than we spend on both “food at home and food away from home”. Crazy.

  2. You say they spend more on clothing than health care. I like how Britons spend 3x less on healthcare than alcohol/tobacco. 🙂

  3. All in all it shows USA as a fat overweight lazy society. We spend less on food because we get junk food. We spend less on alcohol because I assume we get cheap beer. Of course we spend less on culture. We spend less on clothing because we all buy cheap clothes made in poor countries. We spend more on health care because any movement (like the current one) to correct it is destroyed by politicians justices who reject what once was a conservative proposal because it’s currently being made by a democrat.

    The numbers paint us in a bad light, but who among us would admit it?

  4. That’s because we (the UK) get free healthcare, cheaper (historically free) education, and have high alcohol taxes and 20% sales tax (on nonessentials). Japan has high food prices due to tariffs that favour Japanese farmers. I really don’t think these comparisons are at all informative.

  5. I am making a wild guess here, but if americans would eat at home more expensive food, such as fruit, veggies, organic meats and dairy products, fish (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), etc may be, just may be, they would not need to spend as much money on healthcare.

  6. Fred Fnord says

    Note that your conclusions are somewhat flawed, because this is ‘consumer spending’.

    This does not include employer spending on health insurance, and probably (although I can’t find a good confirmation) also does not include employee spending on health insurance that is taken out of their paycheck (pre-tax dollars).

    If that were counted, the US health care numbers would be MUCH higher.

  7. It’s probably a bit skewed. I don’t believe they calculated what percent of the high taxes went towards health care. Taxes should be considered “out of pocket” as well. I’m not defending the US health care system because it’s horrible, but I am thinking this doesn’t quite tell the whole story on items that are funded through higher taxes.

  8. Washington Post has an article two Sundays ago on Heealthcare expense. Basically US healthcare is the most expensive in the world any way you slice it. Every single procedure is more expensive in the US… and based on my experience we are certainly not getting better quality care than other developed countries.

    However, the high margin for pharmaceutical and health-related manufacturer in the US do encourage innovation (or creative way to milk the cow depending on whom you ask). One interesting conclusion from the research is that US is essentially subsiding the whole world on the R&D of new medicine.

    Without US, medicine advancement will be dramatically slowed because government-sponsored universal care (like in many developed countries) provides no incentive to developing new technologies.

    I don’t see the cost of healthcare in US coming down anytime soon, so I am just going to look at the glass as half full, that our exorbitant healthcare cost helped everyone else in the world to afford new treatments…

  9. Interesting stuff.

    They are not telling us the income amounts or the amounts for taxes, set aside for savings or invested. So this is just the % of the amounts spent.

    I found detail on Japanese spending :

    Since the numbers are ‘out of pocket’ spending so they do not count the majority of healthcare costs in the US paid by employer insurance premiums. Only your own out of pocket costs.

    You have to keep in mind that some of this stuff is simply more or less expensive in different countries. Food in Japan is expensive. Clothing is cheap in the USA compared to most places. Cigarettes are about $11 a pack in England versus $5-9 in the US So the British could smoke less than us and still spend more than Americans.

  10. I’d like to see taxes included in these charts instead of just post-tax amounts. That would make health care and a couple other categories change quite a bit.

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