The latest spending trends of the average U.S. Household

So, as you all know, I have a fascination with numbers. Some might call it an obsession. You’ve seen it in many of my past posts, including Obsession with Numbers as well as the entire Content Writing Experiment throughout its 4 week period.

Here’s the latest gem I stumbled across today.

$38,000 is the average amount a U.S. family spends. That’s not the cost of living, according to the report. That’s how much they spend above and beyond their cost of living.

Remember that post, Obsession with Numbers? If you recall, the average cost of living for a single U.S. citizen was $24,000 a year. That’s cost of living folks, not money spent. If you recall, the average cost of living for 2 individuals who are married, without children, is around $50,000 per year.

Let’s just take a moment to absorb that, shall we? $50,000 before children. That’s 2 adults. Add a kid into the mix and that number only goes up exponentially.

Now, I haven’t dug into that article with any serious depth yet, but from a skim glance I’m assuming they mean “family” to be 2 adults + 2 dependents (see children) under the age of 18. So, cost of living aside, the average family is spending $38,000 a year. Assuming a $50,000 a year cost of living for 2 adults, and let’s just say an additional 25k a year for 2 children, we can assume that the average cost of living for a family of four is around $75,000 a year. Possibly $80,000 a year. As I recall a few years back when Hillary Clinton was running for President she was suggesting that anyone making less than 80k a year should qualify for assisted living from the federal government.

So, assuming that you are the “average” family, and you make an average of $18 an hour according to the U.S. Department of Labor (the median wage for 2009) per adult in the house, that’s a combined income (before taxes) of just over $69,000 dollars a year for a family (2 adults, 2 children).

Now, looking at the numbers presented in my other posts, the cost of living for just two adults was around 50k a year, leaving just under 20k a year for “spending”. Add 2 kids into the mix and you are looking at upwards of $75,000 a year in costs of living alone…based upon an average median income of 70k for two individuals. And we haven’t even started talking about taxes yet….

Where the hell are people getting an extra $38,000 a year to spend when their median wages don’t even cover the cost of living?

Remember how I said I wasn’t going to get into the addiction to credit that most U.S. citizens have when I was writing that Obsession with Numbers post?

(Insert long rant about addiction to credit here)

Just kidding :) I’ve already covered it in other topics, and intelligent readers can clearly see the writing on the wall. My urging would be to read that post, because it delves into some really interesting numbers. One thing I did come across was this (probably not entirely accurate) little tool for instantly calculating the cost of living between your city and another, based upon data input by users from various cities around the world. Bearing in mind that I used to live just an hour north of Denver, the nifty little tool over at Expatistan lets me know that Denver has a cost of living that is 105% more than my cost of living here in Sofia.

That’s something I already know. I’ve talked extensively about the fact that our cost of living in Denver was upwards of 5ok a year for the two of us, yet here we have the exact same amenities and live for around $500 a month, or $6,000 a year. That’s right, folks. A whopping 6k a year in living expenses. Compared to 50k. For the exact same amenities.

I don’t know about you, but it’s not rocket science to me. There’s a reason I urge so many people to seek opportunities in other countries around the world as an expat. Living and working abroad is an amazing opportunity, with a ton of benefits, not the least of which is the ability to retain a vast portion of your income compared to living in a country that sucks your bank account dry.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my home country, but there are some serious issues with costs of living when you compare on a global scale, which is exactly why my wife and I made the decision 2 years ago to move out and head back to her home country of Bulgaria.

I don’t know the statistics regarding the addiction to credit, so I can’t say with any authority what things are really like, but I can remember from about 6 years back there was a news report that I remember which talked about the average U.S. citizen being roughly 40-50k in debt by the time they were in their late 20s after picking up a car + school loans they had to pay off. That’s before even getting into rent or mortgages or talking about marriage and kids.

What does any of this have to do with freelance writing? Well, in short…remember how I talk about only working 2-4 hours a day? My average work week is 20 hours, give or take. At least as far as contracts go. My magazine project is taking up a significant portion of my time, but it’s a hobby that I’m attempting to turn into a business, so it’s a little different. The point is, my job pays our entire costs of living for the entire year within a few months. Most people in the States are working a minimum of 40 hours a week for a median wage of $18 an hour against a cost of living that outweighs their income, forcing them to live on credit to make ends meet, much less experience anything above and beyond the drudgery of work.

It’s not rocket science. If you truly want to changes your circumstances, the entire world is at your fingertips. I was just having this very same discussion with one of our neighbors last night. He is a Bulgarian, whose daughter is my wife’s age, and he has been a friend of her family for years. He was talking about how even 10 years ago everyone’s dream was to find a job in the U.S. and get away from Bulgaria. Now, 10 years later, it’s the exact opposite, and he was expressing amazement at the fact that there are so many U.S. citizens living and working in this country.

The point is, so many writers complain about the rates and how it’s impossible to make a living in this day and age. Many writers claim that they need to raise their rates because “the cost of living has gone up”, but in the same breath complain that they can’t find work when they raise their rates because no one wants to pay such exorbitant fees.

And they are right. Why should a business be forced to pay 200 dollars an hour (random number) for something they can get from another writer who is willing to do the work for 40 dollars an hour (again, a random number used for the sake of the argument)?

I’ve talked a great deal about this in so many of my other threads, but the concept of livable wages and standard industry rates are 20th century terms. The entire world is a global pool of employees and opportunities now, and refusing to take advantage of those opportunities is like refusing a rope when it is thrown to you when you are dangling from the edge of a cliff, the rocks crumbling beneath your grasp and your fingers and wrist about to give out. There is an old saying about “your possessions coming to possess you”, and it really is something to think about.

The next time you start to feel the pressure of a rising cost of living or deal with jobs which are offering rates that you cannot afford to take because you have become accustomed to living at a certain level for so many years…think about it with a broader perspective. Look beyond your limited local view and look at the world through a pair of wide-angle lenses. Understand the issue is not that the “industry” is paying less, or that your “market” is taking a turn for the worse…it is the simple fact that the entire world has entered the workplace, and along with additional competition comes new workers who can do your job just as well as you can…for a whole lot cheaper because they live in countries like mine where the cost of living is a fraction of what it is in the United States. Understand that thinking on a local scale is a limitation, and that the only person holding you back from success…is you.

You either want it, or you don’t. There is no middle ground. In the words of Yoda, “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

(Please note that while my numbers from previous posts are based upon the U.S. Government’s own websites, the numbers presented from the thread which started this topic have not been “officially” researched in full as of the time of this writing, which means the numbers presented in this thread could potentially be off by a margin.)

T.W. Anderson is the founder of Complete Writing Solutions, and is a freelance writer specializing in travel writing, website content, interior design and home improvement, green-related topics, as well as anything else potential clients need him to be.

Posted in The World Is Your Oyster Tagged with: , , , , , , ,
2 comments on “The latest spending trends of the average U.S. Household
  1. Lucy Smith says:

    Just my 2c: I have a suspicion that a lot of these people, the ones who claim they can’t earn enough to live, are looking for work in the wrong places, or have a narrow view of where to look.

    Sure, the world is a global marketplace, but you can’t go wrong by actually looking for work locally, wherever you are. Especially if you aren’t a US citizen, like me – people just don’t seem to want to know, despite there being heaps of advantages to me living in New Zealand (like the exchange rate and time difference). Looking in your own town or city means that people actually get to know you, which increases your chances of getting repeat work. They don’t see you as just an hourly rate, unlike people who don’t have the opportunity to see you as a person, which I’ve found means you can charge more.

    It seems to me, from reading a lot of blogs, that a lot of people are slaves to Elance/Craigslist/content sites. That’s all very well, but I wonder how much better they’d do if they looked closer to home, rather than relying on faceless advertisers for their income.

    I love New Zealand, and I love being self-employed – with what I’m charging now, I can work 16 hours a week and even after tax still have decent money. Sure it can be expensive here, but I chose to live in a small(ish) town that’s only an hour or so from our biggest city, so you have everything in easy reach for only a fraction of the cost and hassle. And we have a state health system :-)

  2. Spot on :)

    Yep, Bulgaria has national health care as well. Saves me thousands every year.

    Looking for work locally is a great idea, btw. Believe it or not, I haven’t yet, mostly because of language barriers. I did have a company here in Sofia request an interview a few weeks back but I ultimately declined because they were after a full-time SEO writer, and I have zero interests in working full time for anyone.

    One of the overall business plans I set out 2 years ago was to expand into Bulgaria. I’ve thought about it this year, but to be honest…I’ve been so busy I haven’t had time to really set out to do so yet.

    I feel sorry for people who are slaves to Elance and places like that. I refuse to bid on work like that, because there are literally a thousand other writers out there JUST LIKE ME, who are just as qualified but live in places where they can work for (what is, to me anyway) pennies in comparison.

    I work as a subcontractor for a couple of places in between the random jobs I query for and land. I’m not starving, so I don’t spend hours every day looking for work. I spend about 2 hours per week browsing for jobs that are *really* up my alley, and the rest of the time I just take what my third parties give me, spend the rest of the time working on my fiction and my magazine, and we live well enough despite the fact I only work 20 hours a week or so. Wife is about the same, but only because she’s a full-time student.

    Good thoughts, Lucy.

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