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Consumer Expenditure Surveys
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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.

Website

https://www.bls.gov/cex
Release Schedule Semi-annually

Data Source

The CE consists of two surveys, the Interview Survey and the Diary Survey. The Quarterly Interview Survey is designed to collect data on large and recurring expenditures that consumers can be expected to recall for a period of 3 months or longer, such as rent and utilities, and the Diary Survey is designed to collect data on small, frequently purchased items, including most food and clothing. Together, the data from the two surveys cover the complete range of consumers' expenditures. CE data are collected for BLS by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Data Type

Means & Aggregates

Collection Unit

The classification of interview families according to: (1) relationship of other family members to the reference person; (2) age of the children of the reference person; and (3) combination of relationship to the reference person and age of the children. Stepchildren and adopted children are included with the reference person's own children.

Sample Characteristics

The CE is representative of the entire U.S. civilian noninstitutional population. The sample includes people living in houses, condominiums, apartments, and group quarters such as college dormitories. It excludes military personnel living overseas or on base, nursing home residents, and people in prisons. The civilian noninstitutional population represents more than 98 percent of the total U.S. population.

Notable Sample Exclusions

The CE excludes military personnel living overseas or on base, nursing home residents, and people in prisons.

Methodology

https://www.bls.gov/opub/hom/cex/home.htm

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.

Supporting Documentation

  • CE data comparisons (XLSX)
  • Tables Getting Start Guide (HTML)

 

Last Modified Date: October 19, 2021