How to Budget Your Money With the 50/20/30 Guideline

by Stephany Kirkpatrick

Whether you're a parent with two kids or a recent college grad working your first job, our 50/20/30 guideline can help you assess your budget. LearnVest Planners often use this approach working with new clients to help illustrate the big picture of where their money is going.

50/20/30 Broken Down

1. Fixed Costs
These are bills and expenses that don’t vary much from month to month, like rent or mortgage payments, utilities and car payments. We also include subscriptions, such as gym memberships and Netflix accounts, in fixed costs because you’re committed to paying them on a monthly basis.

When it comes to fixed costs, we generally suggest that you aim to keep your monthly total no more than 50% of your take-home pay.

2. Financial Goals

Consider putting at least 20% of your take-home pay toward important payments or contributions that will help you secure your financial foundation. At LearnVest, we believe there are three essential goals everyone should strive for: paying down credit card debt, saving for retirement and building an emergency fund. But your financial goals can also include larger savings priorities like a down payment on a new home.

3. Flexible Spending

Finally, consider budgeting no more than 30% of your take-home pay toward flexible spending. These are day-to-day expenses that can vary from month to month, like eating out, groceries, shopping, hobbies, entertainment, or gas.

We include groceries in flexible spending because even though food is a necessity in your budget, how you spend on food can vary. Some weeks you might eat out more, while others you may buy more groceries to cook at home. At LearnVest, our Planners often say that it doesn’t really matter what you spend your money on each month in this category, as long as you're aware of your spending and not going over your total flex budget each month.

One Note About Retirement

As you might have noticed, the 50/20/30 guideline applies only to take-home pay. Any contributions you make to retirement before your paycheck hits your bank account are not included. For that reason, you may actually be contributing more toward your financial goals than this breakdown would suggest. And you may find that it's a good thing to keep that retirement money out of sight, out of mind!

How the 50/20/30 Guideline Can Apply to Your Own Budget

If you’re just starting to put together a budget, the 50/20/30 Guideline can serve as a useful benchmark for how to divvy up your paycheck. When it comes down to it, though, how you spend (and save) your money depends on your specific goals and lifestyle.

As part of the LearnVest Action Program, you can work with a dedicated Planner who can give you a clear plan of action for your money, including helping you to create a budget that has the right balance for you. If you’re curious, you can get started by trying out our online budgeting tool for free.

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