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News Release Information

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Contacts Technical information: Media contact:

Consumer Expenditures for the Washington Metropolitan Area: 2017-18

Households in the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-MD-VA-WV, metropolitan area spent an average of $91,118 per year in 2017–18, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Regional Commissioner Sheila Watkins noted that this figure was significantly higher than the $60,580 average expenditure level for households in the United States. Washington-area household expenditure shares were significantly different from the nation in three of the eight major categories. For example, the share of expenditures for personal insurance and pensions, which accounted for 14.2 percent of the average household’s budget in the Washington area, was significantly higher than the national average of 11.6 percent. (See chart 1 and table 1.)

Highlights of the Washington area’s 2017–18 spending patterns:

  • Housing: This was the largest expenditure category for Washington-area households and averaged $30,872. Housing accounted for 33.9 percent of the area’s household budget, similar to the 33.0-percent U.S. average. (See table 1.) Housing expenditure shares among the 22 areas nationwide for which data were available ranged from 39.4 percent in San Francisco to 30.1 percent in Detroit. (See table 2.)
  • Transportation: Washington-area households spent 14.4 percent of their budgets on transportation, compared to the national average of 16.0 percent. Of the $13,095 in annual transportation expenditures in Washington, 84.0 percent was spent buying and maintaining private vehicles; this compared to the national average of 92.1 percent. Among the 22 metropolitan areas published nationwide, Washington was among the 14 areas to have a transportation expenditure share that was not significantly different than the national average. Transportation expenditure shares for the 22 published metropolitan areas ranged from 19.3 percent in Detroit to 10.9 percent in Honolulu.
  • Personal insurance and pensions: Washington households spent 14.2 percent ($12,930) of their annual budget on personal insurance and pensions, making this the third-largest expenditure category for the area’s households. The portion a local-area household spent on personal insurance and pensions was significantly above the national average of 11.6 percent.
  • Food: The portion of a Washington household’s budget spent on food, 12.3 percent, was similar to the 12.9-percent U.S. average. Washington-area households spent $5,629 (50.2 percent), of their food dollars on food away from home and $5,582 (49.8 percent) on food at home. In comparison, the average U.S. household spent 43.6 percent of its food budget on food away from home and 56.4 percent on food at home.

Technical Note

Data in this release are from the Consumer Expenditure Survey (CE), which the U.S. Census Bureau conducts for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The data in this release were averaged over a 2-year period, 2017 and 2018.

A household in the CE survey is defined as a consumer unit which includes families, single persons living alone or sharing a household with others but who are financially independent, or two or more persons living together who share expenses. The terms household or consumer unit are used interchangeably for convenience.

Differences in spending among metropolitan areas may reflect differences in the cost of living, but they also may reflect other causes. Spending differences may result from different consumer preferences or variations in demographic characteristics, such as household size, age, or income levels. However, expenditure shares, or the percentage of a household’s budget spent on a particular category, can be used to compare spending patterns across areas. Sample sizes for the metropolitan areas are much smaller than for the nation, so the U.S. estimates and year-to-year changes are more reliable than those for the metropolitan areas. Users should also keep in mind that prices for many goods and services have changed since the survey was conducted.

A value that is statistically different from another does not necessarily mean that the difference has economic or practical significance. Statistical significance is concerned with our ability to make confident statements about a universe based on a sample. A large difference between two values may not be statistically significant, while a small difference could be significant; both the sample size and the variation among the values in the sample affect the relative error of the estimates.

For additional technical and related information, see Data for the nation, the four geographic regions of the U.S., and 22 metropolitan areas nationwide are available at Metropolitan definitions used in the survey are available at The metropolitan area discussed in this release is the Washington, DC-MD-VA-WV Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes the District of Columbia; Calvert, Charles, Frederick, Montgomery, and Prince George’s Counties in Maryland; Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Fredericksburg, Manassas, and Manassas Park cities and Arlington, Clarke, Culpeper, Fairfax, Fauquier, Loudoun, Prince William, Rappahannock, Spotsylvania, Stafford, and Warren Counties in Virginia; and Jefferson County in West Virginia. Metropolitan area news releases for the Consumer Expenditure Survey are available at

Information in this release will be made available to sensory impaired individuals upon request. Voice phone: 202-691-5200; Federal Relay Service: 800-877-8339.

 Table 1. Average annual expenditures, characteristics, and percent distributions, United States and Washington, DC, metropolitan area, 2017–18
Category United
Washington, DC

Consumer unit characteristics:

Income before taxes

$76,118 $115,585

Age of reference person

51 48.8

Average number in consumer unit:


2.5 2.6

Children under 18

0.6 0.7

Adults 65 and over

0.4 0.3


1.3 1.5


1.9 1.8

Percent homeowner

63 63

Average annual expenditures

$60,580 $91,118*

Percent distribution


100.0 100.0


12.9 12.3

Alcoholic beverages

0.9 1.2


33.0 33.9

Apparel and services

3.1 3.0


16.0 14.4


8.1 6.9*


5.3 4.6*

Personal care products and services

1.3 1.4


0.2 0.2


2.4 2.8

Tobacco products and smoking supplies

0.6 0.2*


1.7 2.0

Cash contributions

3.1 2.9

Personal insurance and pensions

11.6 14.2*

Note: An asterisk (*) represents a statistically significant difference from the U.S. average at the 95-percent confidence level.

Table 2. Percent share of average annual expenditures for housing, transportation, and food, United States and 22 metropolitan areas, 2017–18
Area Housing Transportation Food

United States

33.0 16.0 12.9


31.5 15.7 12.6


32.8 16.3 11.5*


32.3 15.8 11.9


37.5* 12.0* 12.1


35.3* 13.2* 13.3

Dallas-Fort Worth

36.7* 16.8 11.1*


34.2 15.2 12.4


30.1* 19.3* 12.3


38.0* 10.9* 18.1*


34.1 15.9 11.8*

Los Angeles

35.7* 13.6* 13.2


37.3* 15.3 11.8

Minneapolis-St. Paul

33.6 12.9* 11.6*

New York

39.0* 12.0* 12.3


32.8 15.6 12.6


31.0 19.0 11.7

San Diego

35.9* 14.3 13.3

San Francisco

39.4* 11.3* 12.6


34.5 14.1 13.4

St. Louis

32.9 15.1 11.7


35.5 15.3 14.3

Washington, D.C.

33.9 14.4 12.3

Note: An asterisk (*) represents a statistically significant difference from the U.S. average at the 95-percent confidence level.


Last Modified Date: Wednesday, October 02, 2019