How much do Belgians spend?

Depending on the level of income and the composition of the family, family expenses vary. In proportion, those who spend the most on accommodation and food are the ones who earn the least.

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To find out if your budget is sufficient, you need to accurately measure your spending and determine the basket of goods you need, says Anne Dufrasne, sociologist with the Research Group for an Alternative Economic Strategy (GRESEA) and coordinator of the Econospheres network. To do this she evokes the Anglo-Saxon concept of “Living Wage”. This indicator shows what salary is needed to meet the real needs of a family. We rather tend to determine the “minimum wage”, essential as a minimum standard below which we cannot go down, but which says nothing about essential purchases. “These are not easy to identify, because they evolve. For example, telecommunications spending is now essential. It wasn’t like that thirty years ago.

In any case, the Belgian pays an average of € 35,209 per year (2020 data). The Flemings consume a little more (€ 36,447) than the Walloons (€ 34,096) and the inhabitants of Brussels (€ 32,057). For what expenses? 31.8% of the budget goes to housing (rent or credit, water, energy, etc.). The other important item (15.9%) concerns food and non-alcoholic drinks. The third is transport (9.7%). This is lower than in 2018 (11.4%), but 2020 was a year of imprisonment. The disparities are considerable, because “if there is enough money, it is not redistributed”, The researcher further specifies.

1. Income

The FPS economics distinguishes 4 income categories ranging from the lowest earning quarter of households (“income below quartile 25”) to those with the highest income (“income above quartile 75”). Between these two groups, the annual expense ranges from simple (€ 22,790) to double (€ 50,270). Quite often, the first group uses whatever they earn. The latter, on the other hand, has free time to save and invest elsewhere.

Two lessons can be drawn from these data. First, the less advantaged families spend proportionally less (15% of the budget) than the other groups (16%) on food. This suggests a poorer diet. The breakdown of the data shows that they are the largest buyers of ready meals and fried snacks. This affects health budgets. They spend more (10%) than the richest (7%) on their treatments and pharmaceuticals.

Second, the higher the income, the lower the share of housing expenditure. It is 39% for the 25th quartile and 27% for the 75th quartile, both for rents (or “fictitious rents” for lessors) and for charges. For example, 3% of the consumed budget of a family in quartile 25 goes to electricity compared to 2% in quartile 75. The FPS Economy also tells us that landlords spend on average € 38,742 in a full year, while tenants 26,113 euros. However, buying real estate will provide a return on investment upon resale. The two categories therefore do not play exactly on the same field… For Anne Dufrasne, the best way to eliminate these inconsistencies would be to freeze rents to limit their indexation.

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2. Composition of the family

The composition of the family unit is the other factor that greatly influences consumption. On average, a family with children under the age of sixteen needs 10,000 euros more per year than one without children, or 43,432 euros compared to 32,351 euros. This is mainly due to the loads related to the power supply. A couple with one child therefore spends an average of 41,406 euros compared to 46,066 euros for a couple with 3 children. We therefore see that each additional child in siblings always costs a little less.

On the other hand, housing costs and related expenses are higher (38% of the budget) for a person living alone than for a couple with one or more children (27%). Again, these figures represent expenses and not money otherwise available for savings and investments. A single person is less likely to prepare for the future than a couple with two salaries, especially if they have no dependent children.

Just as the presence of children increases consumption, age also has an influence. The health budget drops from 5% of total expenditure at the age of 65 to 8% at the age of 75. The price of housing and public services also tends to rise, from 31% to 65% to 38%. There are obviously big differences between those who are homeowners at this age and those who are not. On the other hand, expenditure in terms of culture and free time tends to decrease (-3% from 65 to 75 years) as does that of transport (-4% in a decade). A family unit made up of a 75-year-old member pays an average of € 6,000 less than a household whose oldest member is under 65, even if health care costs increase.

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