BOSTON (TheStreet) - The past two years has turned the fortunes of many Americans upside down, forcing spenders to save and debtors to face their creditors.

While the S&P 500 is on track to deliver its best performance since 2003 this year, that gain will offer little comfort to people who lost more than a third of their retirement savings last year or their jobs.

How did you fare in this tumultuous year? Many Americans live up to (or beyond) their means, making it difficult to measure their spending and saving habits against those of others. But here are some statistics that offer a financial snapshot of the typical U.S. household.


In 2008 (the most recent annual figures), the median household income in the U.S. was $63,563 before taxes, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.


The average American family's annual living expenses are $50,486, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Among these expenses were: housing ($17,109), apparel ($1,801), transportation ($8,604), healthcare ($2,976), entertainment ($2,835), insurance ($5,605) and food ($6,443).


Nationally, the personal savings rate among U.S. households have hovered around 6%, up from under 1% during the midst of last year's financial meltdown, according to the Federal Reserve.

A survey by found that 61% of 4,400 respondents reported that they "always or usually live paycheck-to-paycheck." Thirty% of workers with salaries of $100,000 gave the same response.

More than one-in-five workers say they have reduced their 401(k) contributions or personal savings in the last six months to get by. Among workers earning six figures or more, 23% report that they have also reduced their 401(k) or savings. One-third of all workers said they don't put any money aside into their savings each month, while 30% set aside $100 or less per month for savings and 16% save less than $50.

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Emergency fund

Even though financial advisors urge workers to save the equivalent of six months' salary in an emergency fund, found that more than one-third of the U.S. workers (34%) it surveyed admitted that they have only one week or less of savings to cover living expenses if they were to be laid off or incapacitated. Sixteen% said they had four to eight weeks of savings and 14% said they were prepared for 3-5 months. Only 20% said they would meet the six-month goal.


Americans between the ages of 55-45 have, on average, a savings of $22,500 I 401(k)s, IRAs and other retirement plans. Ages 46-54 average $44,000 in these plans and those in the 46-54 demographic have savings of $69,000, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute.


The Federal Reserve pegs total household debt at about $13.7 trillion and total outstanding consumer debt at $2.55 trillion. Home mortgage debt comes in at $10.4 trillion

The average debt load for American households, excluding mortgages, is nearly $17,000.


Nearly 91.1 million Americans, 78% of households, had one or more credit card at the end of 2008. The average household holds seven credit cards, including bank cards and retailer-specific credit lines. Half of college undergraduates had four or more cards in 2008 and had an average balance spread between them of more than $3,100.

Sources:,, Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finances.


Reported by Joe Mont in Boston.