Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Census and the Consumer Price Index

The Census Bureau contacted us recently. We have been chosen [oh, lucky us!] to participate in a two-week project. People keep diaries on every penny they spend, and that's part of how the Consumer Price Index is calculated.

So when a person is already irritated with a massive government that intrudes into private life, interferes with business, and spends far too much money, that person is not a happy camper when the government wants to know every time we fill the gas tank, every stick of gum we might buy, and how much we spend on potatoes and socks. Luckily I paid all but one of the month's bills the day the census worker arrived, so none of that had to go in the diary which started the following day.

Looking at the diary, I was floored by its arrangement. Each day you're given 22-25 lines to record expenses. One page is for eating out, another for clothing & jewelry, another for groceries, another for any other expense. Do you catch that? The same space for eating out as for groceries. Now, I understand that if there are 4-5 people in a family, and everybody gets breakfast out, grabs lunch at the school cafeteria or restaurant, stops for a donut or a beer, and then eats out for supper, that means you won't even have enough lines to record the restaurant expenses. But compare that to groceries.

The trick to the groceries is not that "I spent $142.79 at Woodman's on Tuesday," but every item must be recorded. If you bought 5 cans of pineapple, those can all be recorded on one line. But every different item must be listed individually. I asked the poor census worker TWICE, "You must be joking, right? Everything sorted and listed from my grocery receipt?" When she assured me that they do indeed need my grocery purchases listed individually with their pricetags, I told her that that's incentive enough not to go to the grocery store until my two-week duty is done. (Gary said later, "You know, most people couldn't avoid that. We've got a freezer full of meat, canned goods in the basement, and a few bags of flour.") Besides, they allow us only 25 lines per day, with a space at the end of the diary for another 95 items. I'm not sure that would be enough for a grocery receipt that's nearly 3' long.

And a full page for clothing items every single day? In any given two-week period, we're far more likely to spend nothing on clothing & shoes than to buy even one thing.

They tell us that we have been randomly chosen, and that it is imperative that we participate because [get this!] we are representing thousands of our neighbors.


In the way we use our money?

Uh ... I don't think so!

I bet they will get one of the emptiest diaries they've ever seen. And it won't be because I'm not telling the truth about my expenditures. We just don't spend much.

They probably won't believe it. But maybe they could take a lesson: spend less than your income. It might do amazing things for the federal budget.


  1. Wow, yeah we are very similar. We might spend more on going out to eat than you guys do, but we definitely only do that like once a week... and I only go to the grocery store once a week or so and maybe buy like 19-20 items when I go. The idea of "if you don't have the money then don't spend it" doesn't seem to be the way most people think. It's a shame really. I am glad there are folks like us who watch what we spend very closely.

  2. I've thought about this, too. Now you are way more frugal than we are...but I think compared to most "regular" folks, we would be classified as very frugal. We put money away for a rainy day....and we can go many days without spending any money except for gas. We could also live for quite some time with what we have stocked in the house. Very interesting....I wonder if they will challenge your results? Interesting to know how they get those numbers.

  3. Wow, Susan, I think you're going to skew their results! The same thing would happen if we did that survey, and I hope they never ask us.

    As for the federal budget, today I heard Mark Steyn on the radio talking about a $60 million border crossing building that's been approved by our Congress for a town on the U.S./Canadian border that gets an average of SIX cars per day coming through. Though Steyn usually has a way with words, the story so exasperated him that he started yelling, "Stop spending! Stop it! Stop!" No wonder the US is in such trouble.