When it comes to an example of a family budget, there is no one size fits all answer. I frequently get asked "What are the average monthly expenses for a family of 4?" or "What does the average family spend on groceries every month?" And that is the data I went searching to find and share with all of you. As you dig into the data I'm about to share, I want to make a few things really clear:
- No two budgets are exactly the same... and that's OKAY! More on that below...
- There is no one size fits all budgeting formula that works for everyone
- The data below all come from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer Expenditure Survey released in September 2019 reporting 2018 data
As you review the information and tables, remember: this is consumer expenditure data for the median household nationwide, broken into various demographic categories. Use it as a guide, not a rule - as the average family in the US also can't afford a $400 unexpected expense either... and as you'll see, the average single-parent household actually falls further into debt each month, outspending their monthly income.
What are the Average Monthly Expenses for a Family of 4?
As it turns out, the US government collects and publishes data to help us answer exactly this question. The Consumer Expenditure Survey is conducted by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. It collects information from a sampling of the nation's households and families on their buying habits, income, and household characteristics. The information is collected via a quarterly Interview Survey and a weekly Diary Survey.
All of the data is reported as the average for a given household type. All of the terms I've used in the tables below also come directly from the survey. If you have any questions about where a specific expense is categorized, you can find it in the Consumer Expenditure glossary here. As an example, childcare costs are included in Household Operations.
What Does an Average "Family" Look Like?
Before we get to the average example family budget, let's look at exactly what the average family looks like. All too often, headlines report these numbers nationally - lumping all these households together. The statistic most frequently passed around is that the average household income is about $67,000...
But the reality is, most households aren't families! Households with children only make up 28% of the pie. And in married households with kids, income (and expenses) are far greater than the national average.
The data is far more informative when examined by household type. The Consumer Expenditure Survey breaks households into different types based on both marital status and age of children. I have highlighted in pink and focused in the tables that follow on data from the most relevant household types; these include Married with Children under the age of 6, Married with children ages 6-17, and Single Parent with at least one child under 18.
These households average 3-5 people per household vs. the 2.5 national average. The household income is also substantially greater for married family households than the national average (though single parents is far lower). Before I share the example of a family budget, take a look at the household types below and see how your family's demographics line up and which household type is the best comparable to your family.
AVERAGE DEMOGRAPHICS BY HOUSEHOLD TYPE
Example of Family Budget
Now that you have found the household type that most looks like your own, let's look at the average monthly expenses for a family of 4. I took the reported annual data by expenditure category, and divided it by 12 to come up with monthly numbers.
AVERAGE MONTHLY FAMILY BUDGET BY HOUSEHOLD
You can see how the average monthly expenses compare to the national average, as well as other household types with children.
How does your family's budget stack up to the averages above? Where do you spend more or less? And because I know people will ask, childcare expenses are lumped into Household Operations under Housing, and are highest for those with children under 6.
Key Takeaways from the Data
A few things I want to highlight from average monthly expenses for families. First, remember these are statistical, national averages. There are households that earn and spend more, and many that earn and spend less. These represent households from across the nation, from cities with high costs of living and more rural areas with lower costs of living.
Second, I've always felt like the headline numbers seemed too low to me - my husband and I would always ask ourselves how a family can afford to live on $67,000... and as digging into the data shows us, most don't. Most married families with children earn far more than the national average.
Next, the data paints a very difficult picture for single-parent homes. Many of these families are on public assistance (as shown in the income breakdown data), and outspend what they bring in every month. There are obviously exceptions, as with any statistic. But be kind to single parents - they are fighting an uphill battle and need the support of the families and community around them.
Finally, just like I don't subscribe to any preset formula for budgeting, I don't hold this out as THE example of a family budget. It can be a great resource to help you assess your own household budget, but as you may recall, the average household budget isn't in the greatest shape either.
Use this to help you analyze individual categories. Where might you be spending too much? Where can you focus on cutting back? But also know that no two budgets will ever look exactly the same. Your budget should be a reflection of YOUR family's goals, priorities and future aspirations.
Ready to Build Your Own Budget?
If you are ready to get a handle on your own family budget, but you aren't quite sure where to start, check out the Busy Moms Budget Workbook. This self-paced guide will give you all the tools you need to build your first budget, and stick to it, month after month. Also, all workbook customers get lifetime membership to the private Busy Moms Budget group, where I can address all your budgeting questions as they arise.
Average Budget Breakdown FAQs
This is a lot of information to take-in - and behind this data, there is even more of it. If there is something you don't understand, want to know the detail behind one of the line items, or if you're wondering where student loans and childcare show up... check out the Average Family Budget Breakdown FAQs here.
You can always find the latest data from the Consumer Expenditure Survey here. Be sure to save this post for your future family budget reference, and come join Family Finance Moms to share and talk about your family budget questions any time. You can find this post and more great budgeting tips on my Budgeting board on Pinterest.