I stumbled across a short but powerful 20 Something Finance article today, and thought I would share the simple but staggering numbers reported in this online publication.
The average two-person household now spends more than $11,000 on transportation costs annually, and 93% of this number is associated with car ownership. Transportation continues to be the second largest budgetary expense for individuals and families in the country, behind housing. But the truly shocking detail in this analysis is the fact that we spend 31% more on transportation costs than we do food in our country. Furthermore, healthcare expenditures, which is one of the most hotly debated topics in our country, still comes in a distant fourth.
Let’s take a moment to think about this in the context of what we say is important to us as a society. We talk about basic needs, food, clothing and shelter. I routinely hear people say “I’m just happy to have a roof over my head and food on the table.” I’m not a religious person, but I appreciate the good the comes from prayer, and when families sit around the table and pray, what do they thank God for? The good meal that sits in front of them, the home that they keep, a healthy family, the people that they care for… you know, the important stuff. Have you ever heard of someone thanking God for the SUVs in the driveway? OK, maybe it’s happened once or twice. But you get my point, right?
If we accept that where we spend our time and money is generally associated with where we place value in our lives, then why don’t we see how we have made transportation a higher priority than food or health? Why don’t we make better choices in an effort to lessen the financial burden of driving? And finally, when we spend approximately half as much money on health care as we do simply moving around town, why is healthcare cost such a huge political issue, but affordable/efficient transportation solutions continue to gasp for proper funding and political attention?
All evidence points to the fact that we, as a nation, do not see how much we spend on transportation, specifically our cars. We don’t see how our country is literally designed around the automobile, making transportation a disproportionately huge percentage of our budget when compared to “basic needs” expenses like food and healthcare. If shelter, food and family health are the key priorities in our lives, why does simply getting to these things cost us almost as much as the latter two combined? Think about what I just said… getting to your job that provides food and healthcare for your family actually costs more than the food or healthcare themselves.
Perhaps this is a simplistic argument, but there is likely no greater dissonance between what we truly value and what we actually spend than transportation costs in our country. The little we think about transportation as a necessity in American society, as a political issue, as a reason to live where we live and make better transit choices is completely disconnected from how much of our budget we spend on moving about. Furthermore, if you don’t see the ability to own a car as something to be grateful for, you’re unlikely to see that not having the money to own a car puts someone at a severe disadvantage in our country.
At Thanksgiving, are we thankful for our home, our cars, our food and our health in that order? Perhaps asking ourselves this question will help us realize that our priorities might be a little out of whack.