Where We Spend: 27 Things That Cost Us More

Time magazine has dedicated an entire issue to consumer spending trends this month, and one interesting infographic illustrates the changes in monthly household spending since 2007.

It shows that, while overall spending is down 2% from four years ago, we are shelling out more for certain items each month -- 27 things, to be exact.

A closer look and you'll see it's not all things that we'd prefer to be spending our money on. Some costs are just going up ... and we have to deal with it.

Curious to know where the increases lie? Here's the breakdown of where Time says spending has increased, as well as a few tips on how to save. The numbers below show the average 2011 monthly costs.

Next: Your health

Health Care
Overall, monthly spending on health care is up 5% to an average $601. While nursing homes and physician services saw no increase in spending, we are paying more for:
  • Hospitals: $277
  • Home health care: $30
  • Medical laboratories: $12
  • Pharmaceuticals: $119
A 2010 study by Prudential found that home health care costs increased an average of 13% since 2008. The Kaiser Family Foundation also concludes in an annual health benefits survey that families are paying more out-of-pocket for medical expenses.

Meanwhile, based on the Healthcare Economic Indices released by Standard & Poor's, hospitals and providers will likely pass on their own rising costs onto private insurers -- which will probably pass them right along to the insured. In fact, the average annual medical insurance premium jumped 9% to $15,073 this year from 2010.
While drug costs are going up, remember to always request a generic substitute from your doctor.

And one tip on how to save on home health care -- consider investing in long-term care insurance. As fellow MoneyWatch blogger Steve Vernon writes, "It's time to review the steps you should take to protect your assets from being depleted by long-term care expenses, which can cost $50,000 or more every year. At that rate, it won't take long to deplete your retirement savings."
Next: Cell phone service, Internet ... and higher ed

'Other Services': From Connectivity to Education
The broad 'other services' category, which includes everything from laundry to foreign travel, is down 2% overall to an average of $427, Time found.

But nestled within it are some things we are paying more for.
Among them:

No huge surprises here. College costs have been rising at about two to three times the pace of inflation. And in our commitment to connectivity, companies feel they can charge us more for cell-phone and Web access.

Just be sure you're getting your money's worth. A survey by BillShrink finds we waste an average $336 per year on our cell phone plans. The unlimited plan isn't necessarily the better deal. And if cable TV costs are getting too high, consider some of these ways to cut the cable cord.

Next: Temporary quarters

Hotels and (Some) Housing
Housing costs get divided up into two boxes: Traditional housing and utilities, and "Lodging and Food Services" -- which is essentially temporary quarters, including hotels and dorms.

Both categories dropped about 1% overall, with traditional housing slipping to about $665 (not in New York, we presume) and lodging falling to $234 overall.

Within those categories, though, there were a couple of exceptions:

  • Hotels: Up $25
  • Housing at schools: $9
  • Electricity: $60
It's weird to see hotel spending on the rise. You'd think with all the flash travel sites promoting deals, we'd be able to save in this department. But, maybe, after years of staycating, we feel the need to splurge?

But about those energy costs: You may be able to make a dent there. Remember, even if your appliances and electronics are turned off, they're consuming energy as long as they're still plugged in. This so-called "vampire power" can really add up, especially when you consider just how many pieces of home electronics we all have nowadays: TV, video game console, desktop computer, phone chargers and more. Consider investing in a $10 conserve socket or "smart" power strip to automatically reduce your energy consumption.

Next: Wine, Fruit and Poultry

Recent increases in food prices have been well documented -- but it turns out we're actually we're spending a bit less on food, overall. Spending is down 1% since 2007, to $281 per month.

Seafood, beef and sugar/sweets saw a decline, although we're spending more on the following:

  • Poultry: $17
  • Fresh fruit: $10
  • Wine: $9
My suspicion is that the ridiculous popularity of couponing may account the dip in spending. Note that it's food items that usually don't have coupons -- poultry, fresh fruit and wine -- that show an uptick in spending. But even if you're not an extreme couponing devotee, use these shopping tricks to help cut costs when you're at the supermarket.

Next: Clothes

Clothes spending for the whole family was on the rise, found Time: The only category where spending fell was shoes. Here are the increases:
This has much to do with the rising cost of cotton and gas to produce and transport clothing, which created an expensive trickle-down effect to the consumer.

Next: Drugs, cleaning supplies and toys

'Other Goods'
More clothes, it turns out, mean more laundry. No wonder spending in this wide category has inched up 2% since 2007 to $375 per month.

Specific goods we are spending more on include:

  • Household cleaning supplies: $42
  • Personal care: $35
  • Games, toys and hobbies: $22
  • Watches: $3
To save on household cleaning supplies, you can save some money by going DIY, mixing your own products that you likely already have around your house. (These include some serious chemicals, so don't improvise: Get the how-to on homemade cleaning concoctions at the DIY Network.)

Next: TVs, Bikes and more

This category saw the biggest spending jump since 2007 - an increase of 25%.

Time says it's a sign that we "fostering more homemade fun that we did before the downturn." Specifically, spending jumped in the recreation items:

  • Computers: $17
  • TVs: $13
  • Bicycles: $2
  • Movie theaters: $4
Despite these hard times, we enjoy spending money on experiences and leisure activities ... and I'm not going to quibble with that. This is actually one of the smartest ways to spend, because it has a high correlation to happiness.

Next: Some Furnishings

While overall spending is down 1% in this category, thanks to declines in furniture and appliance spending, we are paying more for the following items:
  • Dishes: $6
  • Outdoor equipment: $2
Dishes -- like mattresses and appliances -- should last a long time; I suspect that in our age of frugality, consumers are investing more in these long-lasting durable goods.

The rise in spending on outdoor equipment - grills, lawn mowers, sprinkler systems - may also be a sign that consumers are spending more time (and money) at home. If you can't sell your home or go on a vacation, make the most of your situation ... right?

Farnoosh Torabi is a personal finance journalist and commentator. She is the author of the new book Psych Yourself Rich, Get the Mindset and Discipline You Need to Build Your Financial Life. Follow her at www.farnoosh.tv and on Twitter/farnoosh More on MoneyWatch

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