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Handbook of Methods Consumer Expenditures and Income Presentation

Consumer Expenditures and Income: Presentation

Information from the Consumer Expenditure Survey (CE) is available in press releases, reports, and analytical papers. Public use microdata from the survey from 1996 to the present are available for free download on the CE section of the BLS website (, and older microdata are available for purchase on USB flash drives. For microdata information and to purchase USBs, see: Tabular data also are available at the same location on the BLS website and by contacting the BLS Consumer Expenditure Survey Division directly at or 202-691-6900.

Publications from the CE generally include tabulations of average expenditures and income arrayed by consumer unit characteristics, such as consumer unit size, age of reference person, or income. Tabulations by two variables (cross-tabulations) are available for selected characteristics, such as age by income and consumer unit size by income.

Integrated Diary and Interview Survey data tables covering 12 months of data are published on a twice a year basis, and tabulations for 1960–61, 1972–73, and 1984 onward are available on the BLS website.

The Diary and Interview Survey public use microdata contain files of expenditure and income reports of each consumer unit. To protect the identities of respondents, selected geographic detail is eliminated, and selected income and expenditure variables may be topcoded. Topcoding refers to a confidentiality protection method were a subset of extremely high or low values are averaged together and the original values are replaced with the average amount. The Interview Survey files contain expenditure data in two formats: MTAB files that present monthly values in an item-coding framework, based on the CPI pricing scheme; and EXPN files that organize expenditures by the section of the Interview Survey instrument in which they are collected. Expenditure values on the EXPN files cover different time periods, depending on specific questions asked; these files also contain relevant non-expenditure information not found on the MTAB files. The public use microdata files include quarterly expenditure summary variables at the consumer unit level. The annual Interview and Diary Survey microdata files are available beginning with 1990, as well as for selected earlier years.

Each year, the CE conducts a free summer public use microdata users’ workshop to provide training on how to work with the microdata files. See:

Articles that include analyses of CE data are published online in the Monthly Labor Review (MLR), in the quarterly publication Beyond the Numbers, and in CE data comparisons and research reports. Other survey information is available on the Internet, including answers to frequently asked questions, copies of the Interview and Diary Survey instruments, a glossary of terms, and order forms for survey products. Starting with the 2000 data, estimates of standard errors for integrated Diary and Interview Survey data are available on the BLS website.

More detailed expenditure tables are available upon request. These tables are sorted by the same demographic variables as the standard tables on the CE website, but have more expenditure subcategories. Estimates for these subcategories have higher variance than the standard published tables. These detailed tables are not online, but will be emailed upon request.

Last Modified Date: March 28, 2018