Are your household expenses normal?


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Sweaty palms, anxiety, light-headedness and an inexplicable urge to hop right in line.  Sound familiar? Yes, you’ve just been dealt a hand of deal anxiety — that paralyzing fear of missing out on a bargain. It can strike anywhere: Home Goods, the grocery store, even right in your own home. All because there’s no way to know if you’re actually making smart budgeting decisions or unwittingly overpaying for the basics — or is there?

In this age of online banking and budgeting, it’s gotten supremely easy to track where our money goes. Tools from individual banks or from independent websites, like Mint.com (which corrals all of your spending and income information together), can help categorize expenses and make it easier to wrap our brains around exactly how we spend. But there’s another fun bonus from these sites. They can also tell you how much other people spend (OK, not how much specific individuals spend, but the population as a whole).

For example, Mint.com allows you to compare your utilities expenses with others in your city and across the country — the same goes for mortgage and rent payments, food and dining expenses, and entertainment spending. You can even see what others are spending at specific retailers or with a certain electricity provider (hmmm, perhaps I’m overdoing it at T.J.Maxx …).

Here are a few highlights of Americans’ household spending habits:

  • Mint.com users spend a whopping $460-plus per month on utilities (including cable and internet), while New Yorkers on Mint only spend an average of about $400 per month.
  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2010, Americans spent an average of roughly $1,380 per month on housing, or about 26% of their pre-tax income.
  • Per household, people spent about $500 per month on food in 2010, nearly half of which was spent on food away from home. Not surprisingly, there was also a major disparity between urban and rural areas (hint: it wasn’t the country-dwellers who spent more).

So what can you do with this juicy new info? (It seems a little voyeuristic, no?) For starters, anywhere you’re spending more than average, try to find a deal. For example, many cable and Internet providers will offer a discount if you call and tell them you’re considering switching. And while you’re at it, do consider that option. Since choosing a provider when you moved in, others may have become available, and many offer discounts for new subscribers. Or, if you’re overpaying on mortgage interest ($3,350 per year, or about $280 per month is average), consider refinancing now. Instead of heading into a home store, search the Web for sales and discounts. There are dozens of other ways to trim your budget; the key is to understand what kind of spending is “normal.”

Tell us below: How do you save on your household expenses?

Kelly Anne Fitzpatrick is a NYC-based lifestyle writer. A graduate of the University of Miami’s journalism program, she writes on fitness, health, home and style topics. She is a staff writer at Greatist.com and a copywriter for Noom. Kelly Anne has also written for various South Florida regional publications and freelances for ConsumerSearch.