The 50/20/30 Budget Rule
The following is a guest post from Lloyd who runs the blog The Extra Income Project.
Download your budget planner and cash envelopes here, to get started budgeting today!
I’m a big proponent of creating and maintaining a personal finance budget. I didn’t for many, many years. I thought I was good with money. I owned a home and a business, life was happy and my family and I had no complaints.
I was about to learn not only that I could have been better with money but that setting up and keeping to a budget would have made all the difference when the following happened.
It started when we immigrated to the other side of the world and rented our family home in the UK. We had difficult problems with tenants paying rent that are unremarkably difficult to deal with from the other side of the world. No sooner than starting these difficulties, the financial crisis joined the fray.
The crisis hit my property. I was caught up in the Northern Rock saga, bleeding cash for a mortgage on a variable rate interest with no way to service it because our tenant wasn’t paying the rent. I then started to experience clients struggling to pay their bills leaving me with no income. Then a side-line business I was running suffered the sharp end of some unscrupulous behaviour with suppliers.
Stock I had ordered using credit cards went “missing”. To add insult to injury the credit card companies found loopholes in the insurance part of their contracts which should have protected me from the loss, refusing to pay out. They started heavy-handed debt collection despite me lodging disputes.
It didn’t end there. In 2009 amidst these battles, I experienced an accident that left me with serious health issues that spanned over two years. I was prevented from working for months on end. As a freelancer, I was paid for my time, if I didn’t work I didn’t earn.
Taking stock of your debt
Debt is a compounding problem. If you don’t face it quickly it becomes an overwhelming problem.
Many don’t see it coming. Looking back, I should have. I thought I was wiser than that.
Often by the time you realise you’re into a level of debt you can’t handle there’s a tendency to bury your head in the sand and try to ignore it. Somehow, we think, it’ll fix itself. It won’t! If you’re reading this knowing you’ve gone past that mark; know that you can get out. I’m the proof you need! There was one thing that I did that turned my situation around quite radically.
The one simple thing?
I made a plan. In fact, that’s not the most important part of it. The most important part was that I created a budget.
It sounds so damn simple, doesn’t it? That’s because it is.
A budget helps you understand where your finances are going. It’s like a time machine into the future for every financial decision you are making today.
A budget needs to drive you toward a goal.
By creating and sticking to a budget I was able to pay off $5,000 of credit card debt in just 6 weeks!
I had one goal. To pay off my debt, fast. I look back and realise that was no mean feat. I pushed myself to the extremes in terms of living frugally. But my budget helped me find money where I didn’t think I had it. I found out where my money was going and redirected it all toward the debt that mattered.
And since then, by sticking to a budget I’ve made massive strides to pay off debt that reached hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Start a budget today
A budget is easy to set up. If you want a head start I give away the budget spreadsheet on my website if you sign up to my mailing list.
But even then, I found that many don’t know how to approach managing their income when they set up a budget. The power of a budget hinges on setting financial goals. Whether that’s building up savings, investments, retirement funds or paying off debt.
When I reached out to a few people on my blog I found that they didn’t know how to dissect their income to ensure they meet those financial goals. The consequence of that is living life from pay cheque to pay cheque and not being able to pay down that debt or step toward financial goals a pace that you can feel good about.
Questions came up like, how much should I be spending on my bills? How much should I save?
I’m about to introduce you to a powerful rule of thumb that will help you avoid this. It’s a rule I use now and it’s incredibly effective. It’s called the 50/20/30 budgeting rule.
The 50/20/30 budgeting rule
Naturally, it stems as an approach to dividing up your income. This is easier for those in permanent employment who have a fixed income. If you’re on a variable income then you can take two approaches to planning. You can average out and estimate your income from a number of weeks or you can opt to base your figures with a pessimistic view to your income.
Regardless of how much you earn and how regular your income the 50/20/30 budgeting rule helps you in three ways:
It will expose whether you are living beyond your means
It will help you focus on hitting the path to your financial goals
It will force you into cutting costs or raising your income to ensure you meet your goals
How does the 50/20/30 budgeting rule work?
It works by breaking your income into three portions.
50% of your income will be ascribed to fixed or essential expenses. These are the types of expenses that you can’t live without, for example rent, mortgage, loans, motor costs, insurance and travel expenses.
20% is put toward financial goals or savings. If you are in debt you are using this money to pay off that debt. This 20% should also be used for building up an emergency fund as a priority and then a savings account dependent upon whether you have debt or not.
If you are carrying high-interest debt I’d suggest focussing on that over savings. If you are carrying some low-interest baring debt it can sometimes be wise to put a little bit of cash to build up some extra savings. If there’s one thing I learnt from having no income for months as a result of my accident it’s that having a pot of savings can be a lifesaver. I didn’t have that luxury and I paid in the long term by having to survive using high-interest credit.
Finally, 30% should be used for flexible or variable expenses. These types of expenses are generally your lifestyle expenses. They include things like phone usage, groceries, gas for your car and entertainment such as eating out, movies and hobbies.
All of these expenses can be modified by choice. You can choose to travel less, car pool or bike to work. You can choose not to eat out, or reduce the amount of times you do eat out. You can cut down on the types of things you spend in your groceries.
Cutting costs through your budget
When I tell you that a budget can help you find money you didn’t know you had your flexible and variable expenses are generally the areas you’ll find that money the fastest.
For example, when I first started my budget I included several months of expenses to give me an immediate picture on where my income was going. I quickly realised I was spending $1800 a year just by grabbing a coffee from the local café on the way to work each morning. I was spending more than double that on buying lunch at the local bakery at work!
Cutting those expenses alone, and finding alternatives like taking leftovers with me to work, guaranteed I could pay off a $5,000 credit card within a year. By finding more and more of those expenses, reducing my groceries and eating and living frugally I was able to pay off such a debt in less than two months.
The real power in the 50/20/30 budgeting rule
The 50/20/30 budgeting rule becomes all the more powerful when you stick as rigidly as you can to the percentage guidelines.
By ascribing 50% to the top tier, your essential expenses, then 20% to your financial goals you may find, particularly if you are living beyond your means, you don’t have 30% left to live off.
This forces you to find cost savings to survive but relies on your determination to pay those top two tiers first.
Necessity is the mother of all invention
If you want to find out how creative you can be at finding or making cash it’ll be when you need it most. The easiest way is to find the savings in the money you pay out and how hard that has to depend upon your shortfall.
But there’s only so far you can go with reducing your expenses. Once you hit that point you have to hit look at raising your income. And there are a lot of ways you can earn extra cash – you can sell your old stuff at a car boot sale or on eBay. You can take up a second job, take on a boarder if you have a spare room, rent a room on Air BnB, try pet sitting, babysitting, take surveys online, start a blog and earn income online. The list could go on and on.
And if there’s one thing you’ll learn from Francesca’s blog, which you’re on right now, or my blog, it’ll be how to make extra cash online and save money elsewhere.
Does anyone else budget with the 50/20/30 rule or want to give it a try?
Ways To Make Extra Money Now:
- Start a blog with Siteground! This can start off as a fun side hustle, and have the potential to turn into a huge full time income (which is still fun!). Yes, you CAN make money blogging, and it’s the best thing that I ever did. To get started, read my post How To Start a Blog.
- Answer simple questions on survey sites! This is a really easy money earner and I love it because I do it when I don’t need to really think too much e.g. Netflix on in the background. Sign up to the best survey sites over here.
- Matched Betting – you don’t need to be good at maths, it’s not gambling, it’s tax-free, it can be done at any time of day and earn you thousands extra per month. All explained here and you can sign up to my favourite site that will guide you through the steps.
- Mystery Shopping – I always thought these were a scam or a pain to do, until I got started! Since then, the free food and other items (e.g. clothes for me and my daughter) have convinced me otherwise! My favourite legit sites are rounded up for you here.
nice post thanks for sharing it!
Wonderful insight! Quick questions – how do you put all the words and such on your images? They look great!
Thanks Lynn – I use Picmonkey 🙂
WOW you overcame some real hurdles there, incredible stuff. Having a budget is so important, it tells your money where to go before your feelings do. I moaned continuously I didn’t earn enough, there was nothing left to save blah, blah, blah. Rubbish! I just spent recklessly, and the minute I made a budget realised I could save far more than the average person, there were no more excuses left!
You’ve done so well budgeting!
This is a great post I really like the idea of the 50/30/20 rule it will really help me form some sort of structure by following a strict formula.
Thanks Kumba – let me know how you get on!
wow brilliant formula, i have been trying to save money for the last 5 years to save up for a house without much effect to be honest, and i have just been working out all my finances and how easily i could be saving money with this formula, its just sticking with it now!
Glad to hear that Lisa, I really hope it helps. I have other budgeting articles on here too 🙂
I like the idea of a basic structure like this, but I think I’d encourage people to take a hard look at their finances as well. For instance, if someone is paying interest on credit card debt, I think every penny beyond absolutely essential expenses should be devoted to that debt. Blithely spending 30% of income without paying down those interest rates is akin to financial suicide in my opinion. But in general, keeping to this general outline will provide for a good degree of financial security. On the other hand, reaching financial independence in a relatively short time period will probably take closer to a 40-50% savings/investment rate.
Yes, definitely. This is just a guideline for people.
I love this post but have trouble reading the pink text…it just doesn’t show up on screen
Ah sorry to hear Lorilie, it’s part of my theme when I do links unfortunately. I made it bold in the hopes it would be easier to read. Happy that you enjoyed the post though 🙂
I’m wondering if I would create and apply this to my annual income or monthly income. Which one was it designed for?
I would personally do it for your monthly budget 🙂 but up to you!
Great post..shook me out of my slumber..i am a late starter in the frugal living but once you start cutting down on things like coffee on the way to work, and lunches outside, etc, it saves money and once we realise that we have succeeded in saving the money, care should be taken not to splurge..there in lies the secret to long frugal living and savings.
I so agree with you. Good luck on your frugal journey!
I use a similar approach, except that my 3 major areas are called Savings, Necessary/Fixed and Can Go Without/Variable. The first 2 categories get top priority when divvying up the budget.
Sounds good Anna!