THE GRID: SPENDING TRENDING

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One number simply boggles the mind. The other brings things somewhat down to earth. The first is $7.9 trillion, the figure the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis tells us is the total for personal consumption expenditure in the U.S. in 2003. That's 70 percent — more than two-thirds — of the nation's gross domestic product for the year.

The statistic that pulls the $7.9 trillion figure down to a more manageable level is $40,700, the average amount one of the 110 million households in the U.S. spends in a year for goods and services, including health care. That's the number — which breaks down farther to about $112 a day in consumer spending — that helps shed light on what makes consumers tick and what consumer trends are all about. We can draw conclusions about what households are spending more of that $112 a day on and what they're using less of it for as the average household mean income hovers around $42,000.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics fields an annual data set called the Consumer Expenditure Survey, which drills into detailed demographics and geography as it reveals spending patterns and how they're in flux, particularly as Americans' greatest changes are in their use of time and in their focus on health. The nation spends more on health care, food out of the home, insurance and entertainment, and less on food for the home, cash contributions to charity, apparel and household furnishings. While consumer market sectors such as digital entertainment and Internet services and health-related amenities expand, food for the home manufacturers and retailers, apparel marketers and home furnishings brands are locked in market share wars that will only grow fiercer as Generation X (49 million 28- to 39-year-olds) slowly supplants the Baby Boom (78 million 40- to 58-year-olds) in peak earnings and household formation over the next decade.

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