Consumer Expenditure Surveys
The Consumer Expenditure Surveys (CE) are a pair of nationwide household surveys conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to find out how consumers in the United States spend their money. It is the only federal government survey that provides information on the complete range of consumers' expenditures as well as their incomes and demographic characteristics. BLS publishes 12-month estimates of consumer expenditures twice a year with the estimates summarized by various income levels and household characteristics.
Data Comparison: Diary to Interview
As seen in Chart 1 below, the CE estimates of average annual expenditures in the Diary Survey have hovered around 70 percent of the Interview Survey mean. Diary estimates of alcoholic beverages, entertainment, food, housing, and reading compare well with the Interview Survey, with Diary Survey means ranging from 82 percent (food in 2020) to 102 percent (entertainment in 2020) of the Interview Survey means. Diary estimates of all other expenditure means ranged from 25 percent (education in 2020) to 51 percent (Personal insurance and pensions in 2020). Diary estimates for apparel and services, entertainment, and personal care products and services, are the only expenditure categories with average annual expenditures higher than the Interview Survey means. In 2020, the average annual expenditure means in the Diary Survey for apparel and services was 39 percent higher and personal care products and services mean was 131 percent higher than the Interview Survey mean. The average annual expenditure for entertainment in the Diary Survey was only 2 percent higher than the Interview Survey mean.
Differences in the means are directly attributed to differences in design and purpose. The Interview Survey is a rotating panel survey in which approximately 10,000 addresses are contacted each calendar quarter that yield approximately 6,000 useable interviews. The Interview Survey is designed to collect larger expenditures that are more easily recalled by the respondent. On the other hand, the Diary Survey utilizes a separate sample where approximately 5,000 addresses are contacted each calendar quarter, yielding approximately 3,000 useable diaries. Households associated with the diary report expenditures over a two-week period. The Diary Survey is designed to collect detailed expenditures that are more easily recalled over a single week. For more information, see the chapter Consumer Expenditures and Income in the BLS Handbook of Methods.
For more information on these detailed expenditure ratios, please see the CE tab in CE data comparisons.
Methodology and Concordance:
The CE estimates provided in this comparison were developed using the same methods used in estimating average annual figures in the CE tables. For more information on this methodology, see the Tables Getting Start Guide. Weekly expenditures from the Diary Survey were annualized in order to compare the results to that of the Interview Survey.
Last Modified Date: October 19, 2021