At A Glance

Noteworthy Characteristics

  • Diary Survey includes questions on expenditures on specific types of foods purchased for home consumption and on foods consumed away from home by which meal and by type of restaurant.
  • Quarterly Interview Survey includes questions on types of cooking equipment and exercise equipment present in the home.
  • Allows users to relate the expenditures and income of consumers to consumer characteristics.



To collect data about buying habits (e.g., food expenditures, healthcare, housing), income, age, race, and other characteristics of households in the United States (U.S.).

Target Population

Households and families (referred to as “consumer units”).


Began in 1888. Conducted continuously starting in 1980. Data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Interview survey conducted quarterly. Diary survey conducted over 2 weeks. Twelve months of data tables are published in April and September of the following year. Free public use microdata are posted online in September. Most recent year published was 2018.


Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor

Special Note(s)

This annual survey consists of two components: Quarterly Interview Survey and 2-week Diary Survey, each with its own questionnaire and sample.

Caution should be used in interpreting the expenditure data, especially when relating averages to individual circumstances. Data shown in the published tables are averages for demographic groups of consumer units. Expenditures by individual consumer units may differ from the average even if the characteristics of the group are similar to those of the individual consumer unit. Income, family size, age of family members, geographic location, and individual tastes and preferences all influence expenditures.


Sample Design

Cross-sectional; panel/longitudinal survey.

Multiple-stage design to create a nationally representative sample.

Learn more.

Sample Size

Approximately 27,500 households interviewed in 2008. Diary Survey completed for approximately 14,200 households.

In 2013, 32,822 households were interviewed and 12,511 Diary Surveys were conducted. In 2015, the number of interviews per household decreased from five to four. The 2013 numbers are approximately 25 percent larger than they will be in 2015.

Special Note(s)

Adjustments for those not interviewed and calibration reweight the sample to the U.S. population each quarter.

Key Variables


NameMethods of Assessment
Age (of all adults and children in household)Interview/diary
Disability (work-related)Interview/questionnaire
Income (household)Interview/diary
Race/ethnicity (home owner/renter)Interview/diary


NameMethods of Assessment
Expenditures on specific types of foods purchased for home consumption and consumed away from homeInterview/diary


NameMethods of Assessment
Region, State, metropolitan statistical areaN/A


NameMethods of Assessment
Entertainment expenditures, including sports feesInterview/diary
Health insurance informationInterview/diary
Internet service expendituresInterview/diary
Inventory of durable goods in home (e.g., toys/games, electronic entertainment equipment, cooking equipment, exercise equipment)Interview/diary
Medical/healthcare out-of-pocket expendituresInterview/diary
Non-food expenditures (e.g., active toys/games, electronic entertainment equipment, exercise equipment)Interview/diary
Number of adults and children in householdInterview/diary
Number of earners in householdInterview/diary

Data Access and Cost

Data Availability

Annual data tables for the previous year are published in September. Midyear data tables are published in April.

Selected additional detailed data tabulations are available upon request.

Download 1996-2016 public use microdata. Purchase earlier years from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


Free for data published in 1996 and onward. Fee-based for earlier years.

Special Note(s)

Integrated data from the Diary and Interview Surveys have been published from 1984 onward. From 1980 to 1983, data from each survey were published separately and the published data covered only the urban portion of the population. Beginning in 1984, the published data include the total population, urban and rural.


Geocode Variable(s)

Region, State, Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA)

Existing Linkages

None noted.

Special Note(s)

Due to confidentiality restrictions, linkage capability is restricted. Names and addresses are removed from all forms and are not included in any statistical release. As a further precaution, the Bureau of Labor Statistics applies certain restrictions to the microdata shown on the public-use CD-ROMs. These include geographical and value restrictions to prevent the identification of respondents. Learn more.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics makes state (but not area) identifiers available for use with the public-use data sets, although some states are not identified for confidentiality reasons. The Consumer Expenditure Survey sample is not designed to be representative at the state level. Learn more about geographic identifiers from the Bureau’s Division of Consumer Expenditure Surveys or by telephoning the Division at +1 (202) 691-6900.

Selected Publications


Bhattacharya J, DeLeire T, Haider S, Currie J. Heat or eat? Cold-weather shocks and nutrition in poor American families. American Journal of Public Health 2003;93(7):1149-1154.

Christian T, Rashad I. Trends in U.S. food prices, 1950-2007. Economics & Human Biology 2009;7(1):113-120.

Fan JX, Brown BB, Kowaleski-Jones L, Smith KR, Zick CD. Household food expenditure patterns: a cluster analysis. Monthly Labor Review. 2007;130(4):38-51.

Kroshus E. Gender, marital status, and commercially prepared food expenditure. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior 2008;40(6):355-360.

Paulin G. Variation in food purchases: A study of inter-ethnic and intra-ethnic group patterns involving the Hispanic community. Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal. 2001;29(4):336-381.

Paulin G. The changing food-at-home budget: 1980 and 1992 compared. Monthly Labor Review 1998;121(12):3-32.

Tsai SS, Tan L. Food-at-home expenditures of Asian households. Monthly Labor Review 2006;129(6):15-26.


Data Query System




Annual Public Use Microdata Users’ Workshop: Held at BLS every July. Free of charge. Learn more.