Ten Biggest Expenses of the American Family

Young couple standing with their children in front of a house
A family of four standing in front of their house. (Image: Ariel Skelley/Blend Images/Getty Images)

Budgets seem to get tighter every year for the average American family. If the income rises at all, it happens much more slowly than expenses. To get a handle on the family budget, Business Insider website recommends breaking down the budget and seeing exactly what your expenses are.


According to Visual Economics, the largest expense for the average family is housing or shelter. The typical rent or mortgage makes up approximately 18 to 30 percent of the family's income.

Social Security and Pension

The second largest expense for most families is Social Security and pension allocation. This money is generally taken out of the wage earners' paychecks, so many families may overlook it as an expense.

Utilities and Services

Adding to the cost of housing is the expense of utilities and services to your home. Include electricity, gas, water, cable and other expenses you pay monthly.


A family's grocery bill is generally determined by the size of the family and age of the children. Obviously, a larger family will have a greater food bill, but growing children even in small families can raise the cost significantly. Don't overlook the cost of dining out.


Cars and other modes of transportation take a huge bite out of the family budget. Include the price of purchasing an automobile as well as auto insurance, fuel and maintenance. If you live in an area with public transportation, you may pay a smaller amount, depending on whether you use public transportation, taxis or limos.


Again, the size of the family and ages of the children determine the price of entertainment. This is one expense that can be cut if the budget gets tight. Include the cost of movies, concerts, sporting events and any other entertainment your family enjoys.


Clothing is essential, and has to be replaced as people grow, styles change and the fabric wears out. Certain jobs require more expensive clothing, but this is another area where the budget can be cut if necessary.

Health Care

Health care costs include health insurance, doctor visit co-pays and dental visits. You'll also want to add what is spent on prescription and non-prescription medication.

Charitable Contributions

If you are committed to making regular contributions to your church or charity, this is likely to be one of the 10 biggest expenses. During slow economic times, many families cut back their contributions, which is why many charities suffer during recessions.


College and private schools drive up the expense in the family budget. Also include expenses related to public education, such as supplies, lunches, field trips and other school fees not included in another part of the budget. If you have student loans, you'll want to include that to this expense line.


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