Transportation Costs in the U.S.: The 2nd Highest Expense Category

Personal transportation is expensive. Very expensive. The mean transportation cost in the United States, per household is $12,295 per year. That makes transportation the second highest expense category for Americans – 32% higher than the third highest spending category – the food we eat to keep us alive (which comes in at a comparatively small $9,343 per household).

All but $845 (6.9%) of those transportation costs comes from the cost of vehicle ownership – the cost of owning/leasing, insurance, financing, maintenance, fuel, and other related expenses.

average transportation costs in the US

What does that say about Americans?

How about the following, for starters:

  1. we drive too far
  2. we drive too frequently
  3. we commute at distances that are not responsible
  4. not enough of us are driving inexpensive cars or fuel efficient cars like electric cars
  5. we spend too much on the automobiles we drive
  6. we don’t bike, walk, or run enough
  7. we don’t take enough public transportation (in fact, only $845, or 6.9% of total transportation costs were in the form of public transportation)

Here is how transportation costs stack up against the “big 5” expense categories, by income:

ItemFirst (Lowest) 20%Second 20%Third 20%Fourth 20%Fifth (Highest) 20%
Health Care10.3%9.3%9.6%8.2%6.3%
Personal Insurance (Non-Health) & Pensions1.9%4.9%8.8%13.1%17.4%

Housing costs may be the largest. But that seems justifiable because of the sheer amount of resources that are needed to put a livable shelter over your head. And food? That stuff we put in our mouths to sustain our existence? Food costs have actually been decreasing as a percentage of total household expenses for decades (pandemic blip aside).

Transportation costs comfortably occupying the #2 spot, ahead of food, health care, and pensions/insurance? Indisputably the most ridiculous expense category, per capita.

Over the next 2 weeks, we’ll discuss how to spot and remedy ridiculous transportation costs. The good news is, where there is great waste, there is great opportunity for quick, easy, and high impact financial improvement.

Transportation Costs Discussion:

  • What are your total transportation costs and how does it break down?
  • What are you most disappointing and/or pleased about when it comes to your transportation costs?

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