In a world where your everyday needs can be met with the swipe of a plastic card or an automatic withdrawal from your bank account, it can be difficult to figure out where all of your money goes. That can lead to serious problems -- not the least of which is our nation's troubling retirement-savings shortfall.

But data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics' annual Consumer Expenditure Survey gives a clearer picture of where our nation, as a whole, spends its money. On average, an American household spends $140 per day on eight broad categories.

A man watches in dismay as money flies out of his wallet.

Image source: Getty Images.

The Average American's Daily Expenses of $140 | Create infographics

Unsurprisingly, housing, transportation, and food account for a whopping 65% of all of that money.

But here's the problem with this information: It represents the average (or mean) American household. As any statistician will tell you, when you're calculating an average, outliers can heavily skew the results. And that's certainly the case here, as the nation's wealthiest Americans make the average look highly unrealistic for ordinary Americans.

To get a better idea of where you stand against your similar-earning peers, figure out which quintile of the American population your household falls in based on income.


Bottom Pretax Income Threshold

Top Pretax Income Threshold

Average Pretax Income





















Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Now take that quintile and compare it to what the Average household in your cohort spends per day.

Average Daily Expenses for American Household, by Income | Create infographics

As you can see, this offers a much different picture. While the "average" American household spends $140 per day, over 60% of American households actually spend less than this amount.

There are lots of different ways to read this. Some could claim that the wealthiest pay too much into Social Security -- as they spend $40 per day on it, while the poorest only spend $1 per day. While it's true that those with more money contribute more to the program, it's important to point out that the BLS includes other forms of retirement payments -- e.g., pensions and self-employed retirement plans -- in this figure as well.

On the flip side, one could argue that it's insane that our wealthiest citizens spend more on housing than our poorest spend on housing, food, transportation, and everything else combined.

What this means for you
I could have stretched these figures out to show spending habits over a full year. But for some, visualizing your expenses like this can put things in a new perspective.

In the end, there's only one way to become financially independent: spend less than you earn and invest the difference wisely. For some, that might not be possible. But for many others, unnecessarily high spending could be robbing your future self of an anxiety-free financial life.

I suggest taking a close look at where your money goes on a daily basis and trying, at the very least, to come in below the average for your cohort. By doing so, you'll be taking an enormous step toward a safe and secure retirement.

If you're nearing retirement and it's too late in the game for you to make these changes, I suggest checking out how you can supercharge your Social Security benefits below.