I guess it’s official: The Census Bureau has weighed in and found that Americans are, by and large, spending a lot more money for their homes than before.

Homeowners in every state except Alaska are spending a larger percentage of their income on housing costs than they were at the start of the decade. Nationwide, homeowners spent 21 percent of their income on housing costs last year, up from 19 percent in 1999.

But for some categories of homeowners, the percentage leap is much higher. Thirty-four percent of homeowners are spending more than 30 percent of their income — which translates into more than 50 percent of their take-home payin many cases — on their housing.

And these costs don’t include things like maintenance and upkeep. It only includes your mortgage payment, taxes, insurance and utilities.

The real issue is that income hasn’t risen as quickly as housing costs have, making it supremely expensive for first-time buyers to purchase homes.

Of course, you don’t need the Census to tell you you’re house rich and cash poor. You feel it. Every time the roof leaks, the snowblower conks out, or there’s water in the basement. The furnace needs to be cleaned and serviced ($200+) and the driveway needs resurfacing ($185+). Even if you’re cutting your own grass ($30+ per week saved), you’ve still got to buy mulch, fertilizer, weedkiller, new tools, and get the lawn mower blades sharpened.

Even if you didn’t buy a fixer-upper, that sucking sound you hear is your wallet clearing out.

What’s the takeaway?

  • Prepare to spend a bucket of money if you are going to buy; .

  • Don’t buy above your pay grade;

  • Don’t use pay-option ARMs and interest-only loans to afford the house of your dreams, or it could turn into an ongoing nightmare;

  • And, plan for the maintenance costs before you buy, or you’ll find yourself pinching more than pennies in the years to come.

Oct. 3, 2006.