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How to Budget Your Family's Water Usage

Average Water Usage Per Household
In many areas, you can buy rain barrels to collect rainwater for lawn and garden use.
In many areas, you can buy rain barrels to collect rainwater for lawn and garden use.

It probably comes as little surprise that the amount of water used by a typical household varies widely from region to region. Likewise, it makes sense that there appears to be a connection between a nation's level of wealth or poverty and its water consumption.

The United States leads the water-consumption pack, with an average per-capita consumption of 660,430 gallons (2,500 cubic meters) of water per year -- enough to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool. That's roughly double the worldwide average of 328,894 gallons (1,245 cubic meters) per year. Nations such as Italy and France use similar amounts of water, while China and many southwestern African countries have consumption levels as low as 158,503 to 211,337 gallons (600 to 800 cubic meters) per year -- about one-third of the U.S.'s average [source: Streeter].

Those numbers may seem high across the board, but remember that they take a very wide water footprint into account. A consumer's water footprint includes not only the water he or she directly drinks, washes in or spills, but also accounts for the water used to make the products he or she uses, eats and wears. A person eating a 2-pound (1 kilogram) steak, for example, is eating a product that required roughly 4,226 gallons (1,600 liters) of water to raise the cow and process the meat. Likewise, clothing maker Levis estimates that one pair of cotton blue jeans consumes 919 gallons (3,479 liters) of water -- for growing the fibers, producing and shipping the fabric and washing the finished product -- during its life cycle [source: Kaufman]. Nearly every aspect of our lives, from the food we eat to the jeans we wear, requires fresh water.

Some of these water uses are so broad and widespread that a single household can do little to affect them. But there are still many ways that you can change your water use and see a direct benefit. The average American household spent $51 per month in water utility bills in 2009. You can make a significant difference in the amount of water you use around the house -- and save hundreds of dollars each year on your utility bills. [sources: Streeter, WaterSense]. We've got a few tips to get you started on the next page.