Consumers opened their wallets last year, spending an average 3.3% more on household expenditures than they did in 2010, according to federal data released Tuesday. It was the first yearly increase since 2008, the height of the Great Recession.
Overall, average annual spending rose to $49,705.
Spending on transportation rose 8% to an average $8,293 in 2011, with outlays on gas climbing 24.5%, according to the annual consumer expenditures survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average nationwide price for a gallon of regular gas rose 26.2% to $3.51 over the year, according to AAA.
Americans also bought more food -- both at supermarkets and restaurants. Overall spending on food increased 5.4% to $6,458. A year earlier, spending on food had dropped 3.8%.
Cash contributions, which includes payments to support college students, alimony and child support and charitable giving, also rose 5.4%, while health care spending jumped 4.9%.
The return to somewhat freer spending is a reversal from the Great Recession and its immediate aftermath. In 2009, expenditures fell 2.8% from 2008, while spending dropped another 2% in 2010.
But the rise in spending last year barely outpaced inflation, which increased 3.2%.