The American

30 Years Of Spending Trends

Every year the Bureau of Labor Statistics produces The Consumer Expenditure Survey, a study that provides information on the buying habits of American consumers, including data on their expenditures, income, and consumer unit (families and single consumers) characteristics. This data is used to calculate inflation rates, consumer spending power and other key economic metrics. Below are a few stories as told by the data, and a playground to find more.


Each visualization has been picked to facilitate the exploration of a different aspect of the dataset. For each visualization, we provide preset configurations that tell a story. Click the story links and the corresponding filters will be selected. Then tweak the controls to find your own story!


The Radar Chart is useful for exploring who is consuming what. Who's spending more on entertainment? Elderly or young? Northeasterners or Westerners? Low income earners or High-income earners? Who eats the most eggs? Buys the most personal care items?


The Area Chart lets you drill down into the details of what the average american spends their money on. Expenditure items are grouped in convenient categories that can be expanded to examine the details.


The Money Tree is a unique visualization that gives insight into how the average american allocates key parts of their budget. In particular, it highlights the relative weight of those expenditures and incorporates Consumer Price Index data to illustrate changes in buying power.

Why: Timeline

'We should always be aware that what now lies in the past once lay in the future.' - F.W. Maitland
Marketers, economists, business people and investors analyze history to better understand why Americans consume the way they do. As you scroll through the site, the timeline below will remain fixed at the top of the page allowing for time period adjustment in any context. Expand, collapse or slide the range you want to examine and it will affect all the visualizations on the page.

Overlaid on the timeline, markers indicate major events that have occured since 1984. Use the links above to change the category of events being displayed.

Demographic Radar

Choose a story

Choose a story

Expenditure Layer Cake

The Money Tree

Reading the tree

  • Tree Height = income earned
  • Leaf icons = expenditure category
  • Branch length = % income spent on expenditure category
  • Leaf Health = relative cost of items in that category
    • Size of pink icons (blooms) represent increased buying power (costs rising SLOWER than inflation)
    • Browness of leaf represents decreased buying power (costs rising FASTER than inflation)

In general bigger, greener and bloomier trees suggest a 'healthier' consumer posture.

The left and right trees represent the beginning and end of the selected range in the timeline, respectively. Slide, expand or contract the timeline selection to see the trees 'grow' (or 'shrink!) over time.

Refine the data by selecting from the various demographics, and hover over the leaves for more details.

Choose a story