Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.
NerdWallet wants to set you up for success by helping you create a realistic budget that accounts for all of your expenses.
We advocate the 50/30/20 budget as the best way to spend your money responsibly.
Use our calculator to estimate how you should divide your monthly income into needs, wants and savings. (Jump to more information below about the 50/30/20 rule.)
The 50/30/20 rule
The 50/30/20 rule divides your take-home income into three categories: 50% for needs, 30% for wants and 20% for savings and debt repayment. Here’s how it breaks down:
Monthly after-tax income. This figure is your income after taxes have been deducted and the cost of payroll deductions for health insurance, 401(k) contributions or other automatic savings have been added back in.
50% of your income: needs. Necessities are the expenses you can’t avoid. This portion of your budget should cover costs such as:
Minimum loan payments. Anything beyond the minimum goes into the savings and debt repayment bucket.
Child care or other expenses that need to be covered so you can work.
30% of your income: wants. Distinguishing between needs and wants isn’t always easy and can vary from one budget to another. Generally, though, wants are the extras that aren’t essential to living and working. They’re often for fun and may include:
20% of your income: savings and debt. Savings is the amount you sock away to prepare for the future. Devote this chunk of your income to paying down existing debt and creating a comfortable financial cushion to avoid taking on future debt.
How, exactly, to use this part of your budget depends on your situation, but it will likely include:
Starting and growing an emergency fund.
Saving for retirement through a 401(k) and perhaps an individual retirement account.
Paying off debt, beginning with the toxic, high-interest type.