Mainers’ reputation for frugality is reflected in new data that show the state’s consumers focus on paying for heating oil, groceries and other necessities and skimp on discretionary items such as clothing and travel.

Maine residents did open their wallets a little wider last year, spending 3.5 percent more per person on household expenditures than they did in 2013, according to the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis. Per capita, Mainers spent $41,148 last year, up from $39,779 the year before.

But the growth in Maine was below the national spending increase of 4.2 percent. Nationally, Americans spent $37,196 per capita in 2014, up from $35,977 in 2013. And in New England, per-person spending was $46,008, up 4.1 percent from 2013.

Maine’s increase in household spending ranked in the middle of the pack nationally, landing at No. 25.

Mainers spent more last year than the year before on health care, gasoline and heating oil, but less on clothing, shoes and travel, the figures show.

Although the bureau has been collecting state-level data for decades, Tuesday’s release marked the first time it has issued a state-level report on what it calls personal consumption expenditures, or what non-economists call household spending. That captures goods and services purchased by individual households, spending on health care covered by Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance, and some other incidentals. The report seeks to cover spending by residents of a state even when they purchased goods and services outside of that state.

Compare Mainers’ spending with the national average in the following categories:
Total expenditures
Gasoline and oil
Health care
Housing and utilities
Clothing and footwear
Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis
Interactive: Christian MilNeil

In many ways, Maine’s relatively slow pace of spending growth reflects the state’s aging population, said Chuck Lawton, chief economist for Planning Decisions, a Maine research firm.

“People are keeping a tight rein on spending,” Lawton said, and an older population means households are smaller. A household consisting of an elderly couple is going to spend far less than a bustling home with three or four kids, he said. That shows up in spending categories such as clothing and shoes.

Although the bureau’s report focused on comparisons from 2013 to 2014, it did provide older – and sometimes surprising – data. For instance, in 2004, Mainers spent $963 per person on clothing and footwear, bureau figures show, and last year that figure was $986. The numbers are not adjusted for inflation, which means the average Maine resident actually spent less on clothing and footwear last year than a decade ago.

Lawton also said that aging baby boomers are selling their big suburban homes and moving into smaller places now that their kids have grown and left the house, and that leads to less spending in some categories. For instance, Mainers spent $779 per person for furnishings and household equipment in 2004, and that rose to $929 in 2014, barely keeping pace with inflation.


Maine’s aging population – it has the oldest median age in the country – also shows up on other sides of the ledger.

Nationally, average spending per capita for health care rose from $5,307 in 2004 to $6,128 last year. But in Maine, it rose from $4,727 per resident in 2004 to $7,289 last year, the bureau reported. Unlike most states, in Maine, residents spent more on health care than they did for housing and utilities ($6,360).

That’s largely because of Maine’s older population, said Emily Brostek, executive director of Maine Consumers for Affordable Health Care, but may also reflect an increase in the number of Mainers with insurance.

Consumers with no insurance, or with policies that limit coverage or carry high deductibles, tend to put off getting health care, she said.. When they get better coverage, they tend to tackle health care issues that they had been delaying.

“When people have good-quality health coverage, they are more likely to get services than if they don’t,” she said.

Bostek said the increase in health care spending also reflects rising costs in certain areas, such as higher prices for prescription drugs nationally. These are where efforts to keep costs down should be focused, she said.

“Our hope is that, as a country, we start looking for solutions to not just expand coverage, but to also make health care more affordable,” Bostek said.

More recently, Maine residents have been spending well under the national average for transportation services such as trains, planes and buses. In 2014, Mainers spent $852 per person while the U.S. average was $1,112.


Another area where Maine residents spent more than most Americans was for gasoline and “other energy goods.” The top two states in that category were North Dakota and Wyoming, both big, rural states where residents spend a lot of time driving. Maine also has its share of long drives, but the state was third in per-capita spending ($2,203) in that category largely because so many residents use oil to heat their homes, according to the bureau. National per-capita spending on energy was $1,258 last year.

And Mainers spent $3,736 per person on groceries, way above the national average of $2,780. Mainers were outspent only by residents of Vermont ($4,104) and Alaska ($3,924), a reflection of being far from the country’s agricultural heartland and the high transportation costs to get food to scattered northern supermarkets. As for eating out, Maine’s average of $2,404 is about on par with the national average of $2,355.

That represents a bright spot to Curtis Picard, executive director of the Retail Association of Maine, who said he sees evidence in the numbers that Maine is picking up the pace on spending. Although it might not be in the upper echelon of spending, Picard said, it isn’t lagging too far behind.

“Maine seems to be in the mix with the other states,” he said. “Steady growth is returning.”