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Spending and saving through the years

This feature was produced in collaboration between Vox Creative and Chase. Vox Media editorial staff was not involved in the creation or production of this content.

By Donna Freedman

The majority of Americans may feel like their income isn't keeping up with the cost of living — that's according to the Pew Research Center — but the fact is our money goes alot farther than it used to when it comes to items like food and clothing, even after adjusting for inflation.

In 1960, the average family devoted 64 percent of its annual spending to housing, food, and clothing, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of that, 30 percent went toward housing, 24 percent to food, and 10 percent to clothing. By 2014, those necessities only accounted for about half of spending. The cost of housing didn't change as much as you might think: it accounted for 33 percent in 2014. But food only accounted for 13 percent of spending, and clothing for 3 percent.

Although it's hard to measure, we also get more for our money: consumers have access to fast fashion and more durable fabrics, and we have more meat and more variety in our diets. If we feel worse off, it may be at least partly because our definition of "necessities" has come to include laptops, smartphones, and cable television — which our grandparents couldn't have imagined.

Donna Freedman, a former newspaper journalist, created the Smart Spending and Frugal Nation blogs for MSN Money. She also writes for websites like Get Rich Slowly and NerdWallet.

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