The 50/30/20 Budget

Could you get back on track with your finances using the 50/30/20 budget?

Anyone who knows me understands that I’m not particularly fond of the word “budget.” While there might not be much of a difference between what I call my “spending plan” and a budget of sorts, it makes me feel better about how I spend my money.

But, even though I’m not big into budgeting, I know that it’s a necessity for many households. When you are in the process of figuring out how to pay down your debt, a budget can help. And many households feel better when they have a budget (a zero-based budget is becoming increasingly popular). I’m often asked for budget ideas.

One strategy I ran across recently, and thought might be of interest, is the 50/30/20 budget.

Piggy savings bank

What is the 50/30/20 Budget?

The 50/30/20 budget comes from Elizabeth Warren. The idea is to base your budget on your after-tax income (which is important if you want to be a little more accurate in your calculations). Next, you apportion your spending accordingly:

  • 50% of your income is for your needs. Make sure you understand the difference between needs and wants.
  • 30% of your income is for wants. I like that this budget plan allows for a little fun in your life, including your wants. However, you need to be clear about the difference. Your TV bill and the eating out are wants.
  • 20% of your income goes toward savings and repaying debt.

Really, this plan is a spin on the classic “live off 80% of your income” budgeting strategy. But it breaks out your needs versus wants, and encourages you to really think about where you are spending your money.

And, of course, this is just a guideline. If you could put more toward paying down debt by putting 40% toward debt repayment and spending only 10% of your monthly income on wants, you could get out of debt that much faster.

When you have a great deal of debt, it makes sense to tweak this rule somewhat to put more money toward debt repayment, since paying off high-interest debt is an investment in yourself and in your future. As long as you have high-interest holding you back, you aren’t using your financial resources to best effect.

If you are interested, I think the 50/30/20 budget offers some potential as a starting point, and then you can tweak the allocations to fit your own financial goals.

What do you think of the 50/30/20 budget? Do you have a budgeting strategy that you prefer to use? What works best for you?

photo by: Alan Cleaver

Written by Miranda Marquit

Miranda Marquit is a freelance writer and professional blogger, specializing in personal finance, small business, and investing topics. She writes for a number of financial web sites and blogs, and has been featured in numerous media. Read about life as a freelancer at MirandaMarquit.com and in her book Confessions of a Professional Blogger.

5 Responses to The 50/30/20 Budget

  1. Sounds like a good plan people can follow. Ideally you would be saving the 20% rather than paying debt which you shouldn’t have. I think 30% is a bit too much for the wants. But then again the economy must grow and people need to spend.

    • Miranda Marquit says:

      I agree with you, but we are rarely rational creatures. I think that this budget is a good starting place, and then it’s a good idea to tweak it according to your individual needs and requirements.

  2. I have tried a lot of this, but I definitely need to figure out if I am actually at 50/30/20. I would love to get way below 30 for wants (10??). I’ll keep you posted!

    • Miranda Marquit says:

      I was struck by how high the wants number is as well. But I do like the idea of including them in your budget, so that you can enjoy life. I would have to do it on an annual basis, though, since my wants mostly have to do with travel.

  3. Bet Crooks says:

    I think the “wants” number is actually a bit low because I think the definition of “needs” is stricter than most people use when budgeting. I think they would define wants vs needs something like this:

    Needs:
    hydro
    natural gas or heating fuel or wood
    water
    rent/mortgage
    landline telephone
    gasoline only if required for work
    car costs only if needed for work
    only truly essential work clothes, have to use same wardrobe pieces repeatedly
    survival food

    Wants:
    internet
    cable tv
    cell phone
    discretionary gasoline (including grocery shopping etc)
    discretionary car costs
    clothes including non-essential work clothes
    food we actually enjoy eating
    movies
    bars
    sports events you have to pay to attend
    personal computer and programs
    electronics (TV; cell phone; tablets; ereader; camera; videocamera)
    newspaper, books, magazines
    charity

    Needs vs wants can be really difficult to define because they are so personal.

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