Woog's World / "The high cost of living"
Published 1:05 am, Friday, May 7, 2010
The results are in, and we're not No. 1. We're not even 2. Westport is No. 3 on the list of the "Most Expensive Suburbs in Connecticut."
We spent an average of $137,754 per household last year -- not including mortgages. That places us behind New Canaan ($145,883 per household) and Darien ($144,758). Nationally, we're No. 6. The most expensive suburb in the country is, believe it or not, Kenilworth, Ill.
Hard to believe that a bunch of Midwesterners managed to spend $150,340 per household last year.
I can handle losing the title to our Gold Coast neighbors -- it's all in the family. And I could understand if the Most Expensive Suburb went to some Westchester place, like Bedford or Scarsdale. After all, everyone knows the cost of living is much higher there -- just look at their property taxes.
The West Coast is represented by towns like Palo Alto and Beverly Hills, though I have never thought of them as "suburbs." But to be beaten out in the spending sweepstakes by a bunch of farmers on a lake -- the mind boggles.
The $137,754 each Westport household spent last year -- that's a lot of disposable income. (And remember, the figures -- as compiled by Bundle.com, which I had not heard of until this morning, but which obviously has its finger on the wallets of America -- are from 2009. Last year was not exactly a high point in the country's consumption history.) So what do Westporters dispose their income on?
Food and drink, for one thing. We stuff ourselves at a rate 271 percent above the national average, which is $6,514. I'm not sure where we do this, because every time I go to a favorite restaurant I find it's gone out of business. And for every fine meal at The Dressing Room or Le Farm, you're as apt to see hedge fund honchos chowing down at the diner or Five Guys.
Westporters spend 266 percent more than the national average of $6,398 in the "homes" category. This might even be low, seeing as how our homes are probably more than 266 percent larger than the average American abode. In fact, the average Westport home entertainment center may be larger than the average U.S. home. Hey, those comfy home theater seats don't come cheap.
Our shopping expenses are a mere 213 percent higher than the nation ($8,668) as a whole. I find this statistic hard to believe. Either Main Street had a fire sale or Wal-Mart jacked up its prices last year, and I don't recall either of those things happening.
In the "getting around" category, Westport households spend just 139 percent more than the national average ($5,477). I guess our higher-than-normal Prius ratio balanced out the fact that in our three- and four-car garages, those Priuses are sandwiched between Escalades, Lincoln Navigators and Lamborghinis.
I looked with some alarm at our per-household health care costs: a whopping 380 percent above the U.S. average of $8,026. I'm not sure if our doctors charge more, our kids' braces are made of zirconium, or we demand more than our fair share of tummy tucks, Botox injections and boob jobs.
"Travel and leisure" checks in at a hefty 323 percent beyond the national average, which came to $2,699. I'm not surprised; if you're one of the three people left in Westport during any school vacation, you know our town doesn't let any grass grow under its feet. One thing this figure probably does not account for, though, is what could be called "vacation offsets." Each summer, hordes of New Yorkers move in to rent the homes of Westporters who use the money to vacation in, um, the Hamptons. Go figure.
For some reason, there is no "entertainment" category. Westport might have come in on the low end of that one, seeing as there is nothing to do here.
Turning serious -- again, go figure -- Bundle.com did not bundle together expenses like "charitable contributions." I've got no firm facts, but based on what we've seen in recent years -- including the less-than-stellar, but others-pick-up-the-slack year of 2009 -- Westporters always step up to the donation plate.
Whether it's the ABC House, Westport Public Library, Field of Dreams, Westport Country Playhouse, Haiti earthquake relief, a new piano for the Staples music department, Near and Far Aid, or a thousand other causes -- when Westporters ask, neighbors deliver. It would be interesting to see if our town registered 1,000 or 2,000 percent higher than the national average when it comes to giving back, and paying it forward.
The Westport (and New Canaan, and Darien) figures helped push Connecticut to the top of the overall chart. Our little state spends more, per household, than all 49 others. In fact, our neighbors in New Canaan spent more money each year dining out ($25,486) than the average household in No. 50, West Virginia, spends on every category ($24,517).
For sports fans, the three sweetest words are "We're No. 1!" When it comes to the Bundle.com spending contest, should we be proud that Westport is as high as No. 3?