How do your living expenses compare with these government guidelines? The Allowable Living Expense National Standards come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey and are used by the IRS to help figure affordable repayment structures for delinquent taxes.

One Two Three Four
Food eaten at home purchased from grocery or other food stores, excluding non-food items… also all meals and snacks eaten in restaurants (includes fast food, take-out, delivery, and tips)
$315 $588 $660 $794
Housekeeping supplies
Laundry and cleaning supplies, miscellaneous household products, lawn and garden supplies, stationery supplies, postage, and delivery services
$30 $66 $65 $74
Apparel & services
Clothing, footwear, material, patterns and notions for making clothes, alterations and repairs, clothing rental, clothing storage, dry cleaning and sent-out laundry, watches and jewelry, and repairs to watches and jewelry
$88 $162 $209 $244
Personal care products & services
Hair care, oral hygiene products, shaving cream, razors, etc., cosmetic and bath products, electric personal care appliances and other personal care products
$34 $61 $64 $70
Expenses taxpayers incur that are not included in any of the other categories, or expenses that exceed the allowed amounts above, or for credit card payments, bank fees and charges, reading materials and school supplies
$116 $215 $251 $300
TOTAL $583 $1,092 $1,249 $1,482
For families with more than four people…
start with the four-person total allowance and add $298 for each additional family member

So how do our expenses compare? Well, we never eat out because of the soy allergy thing, so we have no restaurant or fast food expenses… which is probably offset by the fact that we buy almost entirely organic food now and the fact that living in this part of New England means that food is more expensive than most other places. However, our food costs still fall well within the government guidelines. In all of the other categories we spend far less than the allotted amounts… natural cleaning products, an aversion to chemicals, and avoidance of soy additives can really pay off. The miscellaneous category for us is almost entirely taken up with natural and additive-free cat, dog, parrot, and wild bird food, mandatory vaccines and vet visits, and such… but overall I found the comparison of our expenses to these government standards to be extremely encouraging.

How about you?

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Maybe I am reading it wrong, but why no utility bills? Heating fuel? Auto expenses? Health insurance? These expenses seem to be necessary, too.

Shirley (Choosing Voluntary Simplicity)

Jo, this chart shows only five of the necessary living expenses. The ones you mentioned… utility bills, heating fuel, auto expenses, health insurance… apparently vary so widely from person to person and area to area that they can’t be generalized into a single chart. Housing expenses, for example, are done by state and by each individual county.


Interesting. The breakdown would be a little different for me, but I think I am close to the total for my category.


Wow – this is interesting! I’ve always wondered how what we spend on this type of stuff compares to what other people spend. I can see I need to put on the brakes a little in some of the groups.

Ruth Ann

The food category seems low to me, especially since it includes meals eaten out and tips. I realize all of these categories are probably low because the IRS is listing only basic amounts and they would pick the lowest but I think most people probably spend more on food than this figure. I know we do.


My total for food, housekeeping, and personal care is pretty close to this, though not exact by category. My clothing expenditure is lower. It’s very interesting to see these numbers and have some idea how one compares to an average.