Give Your Income a Plan – The 35/45/20 Rule

So you want to start making real progress on getting out of debt or building wealth, right? But where do you start? I’ll tell you…it’s not buying stocks or consolidating your student loans and it’s especially not by buying another lottery ticket.

No. You need to start on the ground floor by looking at yourself and streamlining how your most important tool, your income, is working for you.

If you are like most people… you’re itching for payday. As soon as the check clears your feeling pretty good, maybe even a little too good. A big lump sum, $500, $1000, $2000 or more, in your bank account that immediately starts burning a hole in your pocket… just wanting to be spent on new cloths, gadgets, or experiences. Hey, you earned it right?

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But what happens when the weekend is over or it’s the end of the month and your bills are due? How big is that pile of cash now?

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The problem is physiological. That single shot of cash is giving you an artificial high of “wealth” by feeling that you have more money than you really do.

So how do you avoid this trap?

You have to give your paycheck a purpose by developing a plan.

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I am going to give you the thought process that my wife and I currently use that helped crush our debt and accelerated our net-worth growth rate by almost 100% year over year.

You may have heard of the 50/20/30 rule – 50% of your post-tax income goes to needs, 20% goes to savings/debt, 30% goes to wants – i.e. fun stuff.

Why would you want to be normal? If you really want to change your life you have be different. We flipped the ratios around and currently live by the 35/45/20 rule. (A mouthful, I know!)

The 35-45-20 Plan

35% is your needs, or living expenses – rent, utilities, food, etc.

45% goes to debt payments or savings and investing. This portion swings wildly from debt payments to savings & investing depending on where you are in your financial journey.

20% is your wants – night out with friends, new shoes, movie tickets, etc.

If you think it’s nuts to only live off of 35% of your income check out our Ultimate Guide on understanding your budget and trimming the fat. 

Build a system of Accountability

How we held ourselves accountable to the above ratio was by developing an automated system for our income.

Instead of having our paychecks dropping into one checking account we started thinking of multiple accounts. This was taking “making a budget” to the next level, instead of putting the onus on us to constantly juggle and really blurring the lines of where the money was going from a single account we instead set our paychecks to direct deposit into 5 separate accounts…

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Checking Account #1 Fixed Expenses
Checking Account #2 Debt Payments/Investing (eventually)
Checking Account #3 Allowance
Savings Account #1 1 Month Emergency Fund
Savings Account #2 5-12 Months Emergency Fund

Checking Account #1 – Fixed Expenses – 35%

What are your “fixed expenses”? Think of the items that have a recurring bill, such as your rent or mortgage, utilities (water & electric), cable/internet, cell phone, groceries, etc. Think of expenses that typically don’t fluctuate significantly month to month. Write these expenses down… and add them up. Now, since some of these expenses fluctuate slightly due to external factors, such as hot summers and cold winters (i.e. A/C, Heating) electricity usage, and food prices, add another 10% to the total to cover that flux.

For example, if your fixed expenses add up to $1000 per month add another 10% on there, so you’ll have $1100 per month going into this account. If you get paid bi-weekly you will need $550 per paycheck going into Checking Account #1.

Checking Account #2 – Debt Payments – 45% to 0%

Depending on your income level, the status of your current emergency fund, or debt level this account will change in meaning as you progress on your financial journey. Like what was stated before…if you are getting paid bi-weekly whatever your total debt payments are every month you’ll need at least half of it going into this account per paycheck.

Checking Account #3 – Allowance – 20% 

So now take that lump sum of money and send 20% of that to what we will call your “allowance” fund. The money that you can use to spend how you want, going out to dinner, buying that fancy coffee every once in a while, or that new gadget. This is where living within or below your means comes into play.

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When my wife and I started living within 20% for the “fun” expenses our mindset started to change, we started adding more weight and value to the items or experiences we were buying. We don’t feel as if we are restricting ourselves here, we just ended up focusing on things that actually held value to us. Ultimately, we came to the conclusion that we were wasting so much money with our old habits, adding up thousands of dollars per year!

Savings Account #1 – Easy Access – 1 Month Expenses Emergency Fund

As we talked about earlier, having an emergency fund helps you handle life’s unexpected moments by giving you the money you need when you need it to avoid taking on additional debt. This account should equate to about 1 months worth of living expenses and should be easy to access, within less than 24 hrs. This account will be available when an appliance breaks down, or unexpected doctors visit. This account should not be touched unless an “emergency” happens.

Savings Account #2 – (5 – 12 Month) Emergency Fund – Online High Yield Savings Account

So this account should equate anywhere from 5 to 12 months worth of living expenses and should be accessible within 3 days or less. So we should be thinking of online savings accounts here. Your money is in a safe spot that is just out of immediate reach to prevent you from making impulse decisions.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Steps to using the 35/45/20 Rule – From Debt to Wealth

Alright, so lets go through an example of using the 35/45/20 Rule…

Step 1 – Build 1 Month Emergency Fund

If you are starting out without an emergency fund of at least a one month’s worth of expenses your first goal should be to create one. This may mean paying the minimums on your debt payments at first, with the remainder of the 45% going to building up that small emergency fund. Remember, you can’t focus on aggressively paying off your debt if your constantly reaching for your credit card to cover small expenses that popup outside the norm.Step 1

Step 2 – Eliminate Debt

When you’ve completed your small emergency fund can you now attack your debt with the full salvo of 45% of your income. Step 2How you go about this is up to you. What worked for us was “The Debt Snowball” method outlined by Dave Ramsey. Take all your debts ordered smallest to largest and contribute more than the minimum to the smallest debt until it is paid off. Then roll that money over and put it toward the next smallest debt, and so forth and so on until your debt is eliminated.

Step 3 – Build Up a 5 – 12 Month Emergency Fund

After successfully eliminating your non-mortgage debt your next goal is to strengthen the rest of your emergency fund. Start throwing that 45% into Savings Account #2 until you hit that 5 to 12 month equivalent number. It is up to you what that amount is… be it 5 months, 12 months, or any number in between. This account is your fall back for extreme emergencies, job loss, significant health issues, etc.

Step 3

Step 4 – Wealth Building & Investment

So now this is where the fun starts to happen… Your non-mortgage debt is gone, you have a strong emergency fund set aside… now what?

Don’t fall into the trap of seeing all this freed up income as giving you the right to start a shopping’s spree. Stay focused!

It’s time to start building real wealth.

Checking Account #2 changes it’s meaning now to “Investing”.

Step 4

How you define “Investing” is up to you.

You may start saving up for your first home or your first investment property.

You may start to dabble in index and mutual funds in a taxable investment account.

Or maybe a little bit of everything… that is ultimately up to you.

What matters is that when you start to leverage 45% of your post-tax income to “investing” and wealth generation you are now way outside of the normal. Stay there.

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Plan, Automate, Execute!

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If you made it this far.. congratulations! Hopefully you followed all that…

So in conclusion, by giving our income a plan and a purpose while also automating our paycheck we changed our mindset, and ultimately our path to financial success. The 35/45/20 rule may sound like a challenge but you have to break outside the norm if you want to achieve above average results. This process has amplified our net-worth growth by 100% year or year by eliminating our debt and supercharging our investing potential.

Let us know your thoughts on the 35/45/20 Rule or whats plans you’ve had success with! We would love to hear from you.

So what are your thoughts? We would love to hear from you! Leave a comment below or send us an email via our Contact Page.

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Categories: Debt Solutions, Financial Essentials

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