How to Make a Budget You Can Stick to With the Easy 50/30/20 Rule
Like the little black dress of financial planning, budgeting is one piece of advice that will stand the test of time. No matter what stage of life you’re in, sticking to a budget is the cornerstone of establishing your financial health and power. Although it is featured in nearly every expert’s list of financial “must do’s,” few actually break down how to track your money without micromanaging every swipe of your debit card.
Enter the 50/30/20 rule.
The 50/30/20 rule is one of the easiest ways to set boundaries for your spending while also planning for your future. It means putting 50 percent of your paycheck to needs, 30 percent to wants, and 20 percent to savings.
Following the rule requires taking stock of how you spend your paycheck and what your priorities are. For example, is regularly ordering takeout considered a necessity or a luxury? Could you save some extra dollars by foregoing an expensive gym membership? What about your plans for the future? Do you have dreams for starting a business? Attending grad school?
These future decisions are dependent on your current spending and saving habits. Budgeting is the place where you can (and should!) speak up for the things you care about and explore your goals for the future. Here’s how to put the 50/30/20 rule to work for you.
Set aside 50 percent of your monthly after-tax income for necessities.
Aim to spend no more than 50 percent of your monthly income (after taxes) on necessities like rent, groceries, and Internet. If you haven’t already, estimate each of the recurring expenses you can anticipate each month. What’s the total?
If you’re spending over 50 percent on these necessities, start setting goals to reduce your costs. This might take time and can be difficult in cities with a high cost of living, but the 50 percent rule is an opportunity to negotiate your spending. Perhaps you can start small and find ways to cut down on grocery bills. If you’re already pinching pennies, maybe you need to consider re-examining big-picture expenses, like the neighborhood you can afford or the number of roommates you have.
Play with 30 percent of your income.
The next part of the 50/30/20 rule advises that no more than 30 percent of your spending should go towards “fun” purchases. Think: a new pair of shoes, drinks with friends, a premium Spotify subscription—the list goes on.
To map out how much you spend in a given month, break down your “fun” fund into more manageable categories. This will depend on your lifestyle, but most women create monthly allowances for entertainment, going out to eat, fashion, beauty, etc. When you plan these categories, the budgeted totals can be flexible and should be updated over time to better reflect your actual spending.
Plan ahead with at least 20 percent of your budget.
Finally, at least 20 percent of your income should go towards repaying your debt and growing your savings. If you have student loan payments or credit card debt, it’s in your best interest to pay this off as quickly as possible. Once your monthly necessities are accounted for and you’ve set limits for month-to-month spending, create a standing dollar amount to repay debt and loans. Bonus points if these payments are deducted from your paycheck automatically.
If you have room in your income, plan to save as much as you can. First, set up an emergency fund equal to three months of your income. From there, prioritize setting aside money for retirement and continue to grow your savings fund. Once you build a comfortable nest of savings, investing should be the next step in growing your money.
Track your spending and be realistic about your habits.
While the 50/30/20 rule is key to creating an effective, manageable budget, it’s only half the story. When it comes to budgeting, it’s equally important to see how your spending measures up in real life. You might have set a certain dollar amount for groceries, but are your bills actually within your limit? Remember that a budget is a living document, and it can be updated to reflect what is actually possible in your life.
There are many approaches to tracking your monthly spending, so find something that works for you. Just remember that not knowing where to start is not an excuse to do nothing at all.
If you’re just starting out or are trying to wrestle your 45 down to a 30, it can be helpful to manually track your spending. Create a notes section in your phone, record every purchase, and doublecheck your bank statements at the end of the month. This both ensures accuracy and creates a sense of accountability. Once you’re comfortable with your spending, apps like Mint and PocketGuard do the heavy lifting to track the budget you just created.
Once you’ve mastered the basics, managing your money will become second nature.
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