The 50/20/30 Budgeting Rule and Downloadable Worksheet

There are dozens of choices when it comes to budget plans. If you’re still looking, or are completely new to the concept of budgeting, let’s introduce you to an age-old budgeting guideline: the 50/20/30 rule. Even though it’s a classic, it bears a fresh look, especially through the lens of the modern American’s financial viewpoint.

Three Categories and What They Contain

The 50/20/30 rule splits up take-home pay into three large spending categories — fixed costs, financial goals, and flexible spending. Here’s a list of what each contains.

  • Fixed Costs (50%) – These are the expenses most vital to your survival, which don’t vary from month to month: mortgage or rent, vehicle payments, and utilities.
  • Financial Goals (20%) – This category includes any monthly payments and contributions toward improved financial health: 401K and other retirement accounts (from post-taxed income), extra payments on credit card debt or student loans, building an emergency fund, and savings goals such as a down payment for a home or funding an education.
  • Flexible Spending (30%) – This category includes expenses that vary from month to month: groceries, gas, eating out, shopping, hobbies, and entertainment.

One of the best traits of the 50/20/30 guideline is its simplicity. There aren’t dozens of categories to micromanage, but it will still get the job done. This is a great starting point for everyone, especially if you’ve never stopped to look at the bigger picture of your spending balance.

Reduce Your Fixed Costs.

Financial experts recommend your fixed living costs not exceed 50% of your income, but — thanks to huge mortgages, multiple vehicles, and skyrocketing rent — many Americans will find themselves over this amount. Know what percentage of your income is consumed by fixed expenses, then identify ways to reduce them: refinance your home, negotiate lower interest rates, or choose not to buy new vehicles every few years.

Look for Ways to Spend More on Your Financial Goals.

Reducing your fixed costs will allow you to designate more income toward your savings and other financial goals. Maybe you’re barely saving 5% right now, but even small changes can make a difference. In our debt-burdened society, it can also be difficult to choose between paying off debt and saving for retirement, especially when you’re young and retirement is still far away. Remember that the more you contribute to retirement accounts when you’re young (both pre and post-tax), the more it will compound (that also goes for high-yield savings accounts). Even if your current focus is debt, continue to contribute as much as you can to retirement and savings. When you eliminate bad debt, use former payment funds to increase your retirement and savings contributions.

Be More Controlling with Flexible Spending.

You may never be able to completely predict all the categories under flex spending, but the more you can control, the closer you’ll get to flip-flopping that 30% with 20% and save more for future goals by spending less on immediate wants. Try limiting how much you eat out or go to the movies, and take advantage of rewards cards, fuel points, coupons, and rebates to reduce your grocery and gas bill on a regular basis.

It may be basic, but if you follow these tips, the 50/20/30 rule might just be the tool that helps you get out of debt and improve your financial outlook for good!

If you need a good starting point for setting your budget, check out our Budgeting guide and fillable PDF worksheet.

Article Source: Jessica Sommerfield for

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