Gifts, vacations, pets, clothing, eating out…these are the wild cards, the spending categories that rely on our discipline to keep within budget. After all, most of our other expenses are fixed – rent/mortgage, utilities, car payment, etc.

When I create a 12-month budget with clients and ask “how much do you want to budget for clothing?” the answer is often “oh, I never buy clothes.” Really? That can’t be true so then we have to tease out a reasonable number. Here’s where it helps to know what’s normal, what’s average, what do other people spend?

And, once you know what other people spend you’re more likely to adjust your spending if it’s way out of line. I remember the family of four who spent $2000 a month at the grocery store. They realized they had plenty of room to cut back starting with the $22 free-range roasting chickens.

Average American spending courtesy of The Motley Fool:

GIFTS:
Wedding gift: $106
Valentine’s Day spending for your partner: $89
Mother’s Day gift: $124
Father’s Day gift: $133
Holiday gifts: $906

VACATIONS:
On average we spend about 10% of our incomes on vacations and 75% of us go into debt (an average of $1108) to pay for them.
Four-day U.S. vacation: $581 (transportation, lodging, food, entertainment)
Twelve-day International vacation: $3251

EATING OUT:

PETS:
Editorial comment: Spending on pets isn’t discretionary but getting the pet in the first place is!
Dogs: $1680/year
Birds: $1368/year
Reptiles or turtles: $1404
Cats: $1116/year
Small Mammals: $3024/year (Really?!)

CREDIT CARD BALANCES:
Editorial comment: We spend as much as 83% more when we use credit cards than when we use cash; balances should be paid off monthly.
The average balance for households that carry debt: $9,333
The average interest rate: 17%
Annual interest cost: $1530

CLOTHES (not including shoes):
His: $323/year
Hers: $571/year

If you aspire to be average, now you know what that is!