What is the 50/30/20 rule budget?

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In a Nutshell

The 50/30/20 rule budget is a simple way to budget that doesn’t involve detailed budgeting categories. Instead, you spend 50% of your after-tax pay on needs, 30% on wants, and 20% on savings or paying off debt.

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The 50/30/20 rule budget can be a great tool for people who don’t have the patience for tracking their spending in detailed categories.

The 50/30/20 rule budget only requires you to track and divide your expenses into three main categories: needs, wants, and savings or debt. This reduces the amount of time you have to spend detailing your finances and allows you to focus more on the big picture instead.

To figure out the dollar amount for each category, you’ll need to first calculate your after-tax income. To do this, simply start with your take-home pay on your paycheck and add back any deductions that aren’t taxes. These items may include things like health insurance and retirement contributions.

Once you’ve figured out your after-tax income, you’ll use 50% of that number for your needs spending, 30% for your wants spending, and 20% for debt or savings expenditures.


How to use the 50/30/20 rule budget

The first thing you must do is calculate how much money you can allocate to your needs, wants, and savings or debt. Let’s say you’ve calculated your after-tax income as $6,000 per month. In this case, you’d have $3,000 for needs, $1,800 for wants, and $1,200 for savings and debt.

Now that you know how much you can spend in each category using the 50/30/20 rule budget, the question is which expenses go in each category. You’ll have to use a bit of discretion in determining what fits into each category, but here are some general guidelines to follow.

Needs are expenses that you absolutely must keep in your budget no matter what. These include things like housing, utilities, transportation and healthcare expenses; at least the minimum payments on your debts; and the bare minimum of basic clothing and supplies for living.

Wants are expenses that you choose to spend your money on but that you don’t need to live your life. This category includes expenses like dining out, alcohol, cable TV, internet, shopping trips, vacations, memberships, subscriptions, gifts, entertainment and other luxuries.

It’s easy to confuse many wants as needs. A simple way to determine if something is a need or a want is to ask if you could live without it. If you could, it’s a want, not a need.

Finally, the savings or debt category is money you set aside for your future or to pay off debt faster than required. You can use this money to build an emergency fund, save for a down payment on a home, invest for retirement or pay off your student loan debt or credit card more quickly than required.

If you want to save money more quickly, you’ll need to set aside some of your wants money for extra savings.

Is the 50/30/20 rule budget good for you?

Overall, the 50/30/20 rule can be a sound budgeting method for some people. But whether the system is right for you depends on your specific circumstances.

Having just three categories to track might help you focus on fine-tuning your finances instead of getting bogged down in the process of categorizing each individual expense. For others, the lack of structure could make it harder to find ways to improve their spending habits. Ultimately, you need to decide whether a budgeting system that’s less detailed or more highly detailed will be best for you.

Another potential issue with the 50/30/20 rule budget is the breakdown of money allocated to needs, wants, and savings or debt. Depending on your income and where you live, 50% may not be a large enough percentage to cover your needs.

For instance, people who live in areas with a high cost of living may have to put a large part of their income toward housing, making it almost impossible for them to keep their needs under 50% of after-tax pay.

Finally, some critics of the plan say the 50/30/20 rule budget doesn’t work well for higher-income earners, because it calls for too much spending on wants versus needs or savings and debt.


Bottom line

For people who don’t like detailed budgeting, the 50/30/20 rule budget is a simple approach to keeping their finances in check. With only three major categories to track, you don’t have to dig into the nitty-gritty as much as you would with a normal budget.

Unfortunately, the 50/30/20 rule won’t work for everyone because of individual circumstances, such as residing in an area where the cost of living is high. Keep in mind, though, that you can adjust the rule for your particular needs by changing the percentages to match your personal situation and financial goals. If that doesn’t work, there are plenty of other budgets you can try, too.


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About the author: Lance Cothern is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. His work has appeared on Business Insider, USA Today.com and his website, Mone… Read more.