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What is the 50-30-20 rule?

Last Updated: January 30, 2024
3 min read

Key Points About: The 50-30-20 Rule

  1. The 50-30-20 budgeting method provides a framework for financial stability by dividing your monthly income into three categories: necessities, savings, and personal spending.

  2. 50% of your budget should go to rent, groceries, and everyday priorities, whereas 20% goes to savings or paying down debts.

  3. The other 30% is money that you can spend however you like.

If you’re like most people, the idea of making a budget stirs feelings of dread. Maybe even nausea.

Feelings of budget reluctance are pretty normal. After all, creating a budget can feel like a chore. Even learning about how to make a budget can feel like yet another “to-do” taunting you from a never-ending task list.

But budgeting doesn’t have to be stressful, stifling, or suck the fun out of your lifestyle. In fact, learning how to make a budget with the 50-30-20 rule could be your ticket to getting a handle on your financial situation while still doing the things you enjoy. If you stick to it, you’ll be able to cover all of your necessities and still have money left over to add to a savings account or pay down any balances you may owe like credit card or student loan debt. The best part? Using the 50-30-20 rule to make a budget is straightforward and you don’t have to be financially savvy to understand it.

Budgeting with the 50-30-20 rule

All you need to do to make a monthly budget with the 50-30-20 rule is split your take-home pay (that is, after taxes and deductions) into three categories:

  • 50% goes towards necessary expenses
  • 30% goes towards things you want
  • 20% goes towards savings or paying off debt

50% of your budget for necessities

Like zero-based budgeting, the 50-30-20 budget rule assigns each dollar of your after-tax earnings a specific purpose. It splits your budget up into three categories that allow you to spend some of your money how you would like, while also prioritizing saving and ensuring you have enough to cover your regular needs. The idea is that you’re able to find a sustainable balance.

According to the 50-30-20 rule, half of your take-home pay should go towards paying for “must-haves” (sorry, daily coffees and streaming services don’t count). For instance, if your monthly take-home pay is $2,000, according to the 50-30-20 rule, you should allocate $1,000 to pay for the monthly expenses that you need. This category includes any living expense that you must pay, and that is necessary for your survival, such as your rent or mortgage, groceries, car payment or other transportation, and utility bills.

30% of your budget for wants

After you’ve spent 50% of your earnings on necessities, it’s time to shift your focus to discretionary spending. According to the 50-30-20 rule, you can allot 30% of your take-home pay to things you want. These are the “fun” expenses or items that make life enjoyable—vacations, shopping, restaurants, takeout, and monthly subscriptions.

Now, 30% may not sound like much, but again, if your monthly take-home income is $2,000, then based on the 50-30-20 rule, $600 could go towards expenses that bring you joy.

20% of your budget for savings

The final 50-30-20 budget rule category is savings or debt repayment, and 20% of your take-home pay belongs here. The idea is that you’ll use this 20% to increase your financial net worth—either by lowering debt or increasing savings. This category might include pre-or post-tax retirement savings, student loan or credit card debt payments, investments, or contributions to an emergency fund.

Did you know?

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The bottom line

Creating a budget is deeply personal. Depending on your specific financial situation and savings goals, the 50-30-20 rule may or may not work for you. But whether you adopt the 50-30-20 budget rule or not, it may provide a useful framework for saving for your financial goals while planning for the future and still enjoying the present.

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