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Observe the 50/20/30 Rule When You Budget: Guest Blogger

Until we met LearnVest, our idea of being financially responsible was shopping at sample sales. But the online personal finance and lifestyle resource has changed the way we think about money—for the better. It’s filled with tools and support to help women gain control over their finances (for a taste, just check out their free Financial Bootcamp series). This January, as we focus on ways to make this our best year ever, we’re tapping the LearnVest experts to give you their best advice! It’ll be fun and educational, we promise.


When it comes to our money, there is no shortage of ways we could spend it: food, rent, gifts, medicine, clothing, education, technology, gym membership, gas … you get the picture. At LearnVest, we’re often asked, “How to budget my money?” so we came up with the ultimate guideline for when you set up a budget: the 50/20/30 Rule.

When creating a budget, which you can do for free in the Money Center, it’s tempting to throw up your hands, say, “Forget it,” and hope for the best. The 50/20/30 Rule changes that.

No matter whether you’re a mom with two kids or a recent college grad working your first job, this rule will help you not only figure out how much you should be spending in each area every month; it will also tell you in what order you should be spending your money.

The 50/20/30 Rule Broken Down

The 50/20/30 Rule is easy because instead of telling you how to break down your budget across 20 or more different categories (who could possibly keep track of that?), it splits everything into three main categories:

1. Essential Expenses

No more than 50% of your take-home pay should go toward Essential Expenses, which are the expenses you need in order to maintain the fundamentals of your life: shelter, food, heat, etc. Only four expenses go in this category: housing, transportation, utilities and groceries.

2. Financial Priorities

At least 20% of your take-home pay goes to Financial Priorities, which are the goals that are essential to a strong financial foundation. These include your retirement contributions, savings contributions and debt payments, if you have debt.

You should make these contributions and payments after you pay your Essential Expenses, but before you do any other spending.

3. Lifestyle Choices

No more than 30% of your take-home pay should go to Lifestyle Choices, which are personal, voluntary and often fun choices about how you spend your discretionary income. They often include cable, internet and phone plans, charitable giving, childcare, entertainment, gym fees, hobbies, pets, personal care, restaurants, bars, shopping and other miscellaneous expenses.

While Lifestyle Choices are the last things you should buy in your budget, you should never feel guilty about that expensive purse or ordering a nice bottle of wine at dinner…as long as you’ve taken care of your Essential Expenses and Financial Priorities first.

Special Offer for BB Readers: Get exclusive access to a free 15-minute financial checkup with a LearnVest Planning financial expert, plus a 20% discount on any Planning Package by visiting and using the code BIRCHBOX20 at checkout. 

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