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17.09.2012 in Budgeting by Lena Gott 5

List of Monthly Household Expenses

Anyone who’s ever tried to put together a family budget knows that it’s no easy task. Every family is so different, it’s difficult to give a standard example of expense categories for a monthly budget.

What one family considers important might not be on another’s radar, and everyone makes different amounts of income, adding to the differences.

Low income and high income households have vastly different budgeting techniques; a large percentage of a low income household’s income is spent on necessities, and a high income household may have additional expenses that a lower income household would never incur.

Monthly Household Expenses List for a Basic Family Budget

To help my readers get started with budgeting, I wanted to provide a universal list of household expense categories for an average American family.  Below is what I came up with.

It’s a standard listing of monthly expenses I would include in an initial budget for any family.  Of course, depending on your lifestyle and preferences, you may wish to tweak this original expense listing to suit your needs.

  • Auto /Transportation
  • Charitable Donations
  • Child Care
  • Clothing
  • Debt Payments
  • Entertainment
  • Groceries / Dining Out
  • Fitness
  • Gifts Given (Christmas & birthday gifts, etc.)
  • Hobbies
  • Household Maintenance
  • Housing
  • Insurance other than medical/dental
  • Investments
  • Medical/Dental
  • Miscellaneous
  • Savings
  • Subscriptions
  • Utilities
  • Vacation

Depending on how detailed you want to be, each one of those budget categories can contain several expense subcategories.

On one hand, it’s nice to see everything accounting for down to the little expenses; on the other hand, it’s almost impossible to keep up with such detailed expense tracking.  It’s really a personal preference, but the list above should be a good starting point.

Should Discretionary Costs Be Included in a Standard Monthly Budget List?

You could argue that a standard household budget shouldn’t include some of the expense categories above, especially discretionary ones like “hobbies” or “gifts given.” 

But let’s keep it real here – almost everyone incurs these expenses, so it’s smart to go ahead and include them in your budget instead of setting your budget up for failure.

Monthly Family Expense Categories – How Detailed Should You Go?

Once you get the bare bones of your monthly budget under control, the next step is to consider what goes into each bucket. If you have older children, consider costs you incur on their behalf, such as phone plans or car insurance. You’ll need to decide if you’d like to track these items separately in your budget.

I recommend creating different subcategories for every single major expense so you can easily delete/erase it when it is no longer applicable (such as eliminating the line item for your 21-year-old’s auto insurance after college graduation).

You can go as deep as you’d like with separately stated line items; the key here is to not duplicate or be vague.  Don’t create a “household cleaning” category and follow it up with “cleaning supplies.”  You’ll only confuse yourself, and if you get confused, you won’t be able to follow your budget.

Use This List of Expenses as a Starting Point – Monthly Expenses Vary by Family

My monthly budget example above takes into account sample expenses for a family like mine. Keep in mind that your monthly household expenses list will be tailored to your lifestyle.

For instance, dog owners would have an entire category devoted to pet care costs. Also, if you have family members living with you who need assistance, you will incur costs I didn’t consider.

Tips & Resources: 

One thing I like to do is search for coupons online before making any purchase. I can save money on all types of household items this way with very little effort. My first stop lately: Answers.com coupons.

Do you have any go-to coupon resources?

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This article has 5 comments
  • I like this list a lot, it takes into account EVERY aspect of your typical households. One could even take the list and separate it into two categories: Necessities & Luxuries.

    • Lena 18.10.2012 4:48 PM Reply

      Glad you like it, Marvin! I agree – I actually break out necessities vs luxuries as I create my monthly budgets. This way, I know what should be cut first when I need to “find” money. :)

  • Diane 31.01.2013 11:34 AM Reply

    Thanks a lot for posting this great article. Our family budget items are pretty much similar to your list of expenses. I tend not to use subcategories, I’m more comfortable with using tags to differentiate expenses within a category.

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