Guide to What Percentage of Income to Save

By Kim Franke-Folstad · September 27, 2023 · 14 minute read

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Guide to What Percentage of Income to Save

If you want to build financial security and hit your long-term savings goals, it’s probably a wise move to put a portion of each paycheck into a savings account.

Week by week, month by month, and year by year, the money will grow and help you afford your dreams, whether that means buying a house, funding your kids’ education, or having enough cash to retire early. Or all of the above.

But it can be challenging to know how much to stash away. Some people save 10% of their take-home pay, others three or four times that. Still others deposit a round number (be it $50, $500, or $5,000), into their savings account on a regular basis.

So how much should you aim to save? That depends upon a variety of factors, including your personal style and financial aspirations. In this guide, you’ll learn how to use percentages to your advantage when it comes to saving, plus hear smart advice on how to prioritize and reach your goals.

What Percent of Your Income Should You Save?

There isn’t a set percentage of how much of your annual income you should save. Much will depend on your particular circumstances. For example, your income, your cost of living, your expenses, and your debt level will all matter. A person who earns $75K per year, lives in an expensive city, has student loans to pay off, and is supporting a family of four will likely find it more difficult to save money than someone who is earning $125K, lives in a less pricey location, has zero loans to pay down, and is single with no dependents.

That said, you are likely to hear that 20% is a good number to aim for in terms of the percentage of your income to be saved. If that proves too high, then 10% is a good figure to use as a goal.

Pros and Cons of Saving a Fixed Percentage of Your Income

Sure, saving money is important. But what about saving a percentage vs. a specific dollar amount?

There are pluses and minuses to saving a fixed percentage of your income. This approach may or may not work for everyone. Consider the upsides first:

•   It’s consistent. You know that every paycheck, the percentage you’ve indicated will be heading into savings, helping you reach your financial goals. Even if your earnings vary, your savings will be aligned.

•   It protects you against lifestyle creep. If, say, you are saving $500 per pay period and then get a raise, you might just spend all of that additional cash you are earning. Called lifestyle creep, that means your expenses rise, gobbling up your enhanced income.

When, however, you set a percentage to go into savings, you know that the amount will automatically adjust with any income fluctuations. For instance, if your pay varies depending on your hours or goals achieved, you will always be allocating the same ratio of your money to savings, whether you earn more or less.

But there are potential downsides to consider too.

•   When you determine a percentage of income to save, it may feel more challenging to know how much you’re socking away. Again, if you allocate $500 a month to savings rather than a percentage, it’s easy to calculate where you stand at any moment during the year.

•   The way a percentage automatically adjusts to income changes may not suit you. For example, if you are saving 20% of your salary and then get a $10K raise, the amount funneled into savings will rise correspondingly. But what if you wanted to earmark that money to pay down your credit card debt more quickly? You will have to take steps to adjust where your money goes.

The 50/30/20 Rule

If you’re wondering, “What percent of my income should I save?” the 20% figure is likely to crop up often. One reason: the 50/30/20 budgeting plan, which was made popular by Sen. Elizabeth Warren and her daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi, in a book they co-wrote. It suggests savers should allocate their money as follows:

•   50% of their after-tax paychecks toward essentials like housing, food, healthcare, and minimum debt payments.

•   30% toward discretionary spending

•   20% toward savings

So, someone who takes home $3,000 every two weeks (or $78k per year) might put $1,200 a month into savings. They would have $15,600 at the end of the year.

That’s just a guideline for getting started, though, so don’t panic if putting 20% into savings seems impossible right now. You can start at 10% or bump it up to 30% or more.

Recommended: See how your money is categorized using the 50/30/20 Calculator.

It All Starts With a Budget

Ack. The b-word: Budget. Making a budget may sound boring or even arduous, but it doesn’t have to be either. And sticking to a realistic spending plan can make or break a savings plan.

By prioritizing monthly expenses — from keeping a roof over your head to gassing up the car to indulging in a gelato or good sushi every Friday — you may be able to avoid impulse spending and hold on to more of your hard-earned dollars.

You can track your spending manually with a notebook or spreadsheets, or keep the data in the palm of your hand with a money-tracking app, where you can see your expenses, savings, and earnings all in one place whenever you want to take a peek.

4 Different Types of Savings

Once you determine what percentage you’ll be able to save from your salary, you may want to break down that amount even further, into separate designated “buckets” or sub-accounts for different goals, which could include things like:

1. Emergency Fund

An emergency fund has the potential to turn life’s potholes into speed bumps.

It’s money you can use to pay for unexpected expenses, such as medical bills, home repairs, and fender benders. And your emergency fund might serve as a lifeline if you lose your job and don’t have another source of income.

A good rule of thumb is to save at least three months’ salary, but you don’t have to come up with those dollars all at once.

You could start by saving a small amount each month — and you can always add to the fund when you get a raise, bonus, or tax refund. (You also should be prepared to replenish the fund if you have to use all or part of it at any point.)

The money in your emergency fund could go into a savings account at your local branch bank, or you might want to check out the benefits of an online bank account which might offer no account fees and a solid interest rate.

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2. Short-Term Goals

Most of us have goals we hope to fund in the next few months or couple of years. This could be anything from throwing your significant other a memorable birthday party to booking that vacation to Positano to affording a new car. You can start your own short-term fund at your financial institution. You can label the account “holiday spending” or earmark it for any other short-term goal: “Fall Wardrobe,” “Beach Vacation,” or maybe a “New Laptop.”

You may want to automate your savings and have money whisked from your checking as soon as your paycheck hits.

3. Long-Term Goals

Setting aside money for a long-term goal — a down payment on a house, a honeymoon in Bali, a year in Paris with your bestie — can feel like a slow slog. But you may improve your chances for success if you set up an account for the money and designate a consistent amount to slip in there from every paycheck.

Depending on your timeline, you may want to check into a certificate of deposit (CD), or you could stick with that same high-interest savings account, which you can build with automatic deposits and link to other accounts with a tracking app. These are secure ways to save towards future goals.

4. Retirement Savings

Another aspect of how much of your annual income you should save involves preparing for retirement. If you have a 401(k) investment savings account available through your employer, you’re likely already building wealth for retirement with automatic contributions every payday. And if your employer offers any type of matching contribution, you have an opportunity to grow your money even faster.

Beyond that, it’s up to you how big of a slice of your savings pie you want to put toward retirement at any time.

If you’re just starting out, and especially if you have some debts to pay off, saving for retirement may seem like the least of your worries. But the earlier you start putting money away, the faster it can grow. Time is the investor’s true friend; it allows you to ride the ups and downs of the market without panicking as you work toward your goals. (Remember, investments aren’t insured, so you need to be aware of the risk involved.)

If you don’t have an employer-sponsored plan — or even if you do, but you want more investment options or maybe more help than you’ve been getting — you can open your own traditional or Roth IRA outside of work. When considering which type of retirement account to open, IRA or 401(k), you might want to keep an eye on what fees might be associated with each plan.

It’s important to note that employer-sponsored plans allow investors to contribute more annually than an IRA would (basic limit in 2023: $22,500 for a 401(k) for those under age 50 vs. $6,500 for an IRA). And if the employer offers a matching contribution, that’s essentially free money you wouldn’t get from an IRA.

💡 Quick Tip: Want a simple way to save more everyday? When you turn on Roundups, all of your debit card purchases are automatically rounded up to the next dollar and deposited into your online savings account.

Deciding on Your Goals

Goals are a good thing: They can provide motivation for saving. But they can’t just hang out there; they probably need some prioritizing. That doesn’t mean that you are picking just one to focus on. More likely, you are going to decide how to divvy up that percentage of your income that goes into savings.

Say you are committed to saving 20% of your income. You may want to determine percentages for:

•   Retirement

•   Your child’s college education

•   A down payment on a house

One person might split that as 10%, 5%, and 5%. Another might instead do 8%, 2% and 10%. It depends on your particular goals, how else you might finance them (perhaps you expect your child to take out student loans), and the urgency of each.

Setting a Timeline

Some goals will be easy to plot on a timeline. For example, if your wedding is in a year and you’re saving $6,000 for your honeymoon, you’ll need to save $500 a month.

Others goals will likely need more finessing. (The amount you might need for retirement, for example, can be tough to pin down.)

But you’ve got this. You’ve probably been editing your mental wish list since you were a kid saving for candy … no, a toy … no, a bike. And you’ll likely be doing that for the rest of your life. If there isn’t enough money, something has to go or at least wait.

Could you drive your old car for another year or two, thereby saving money daily, if it meant getting a house sooner? Should you work another year before taking time off to be a stay-at-home parent? Would a weekend in Vegas be just fine as this year’s vacation if it meant next year you could afford 10 days in Greece? Only you can make those choices.

Deciding how much money you’ll need when you’ll need it, and how long it will take to save it may seem daunting as you start toward each new goal.

But it also can help you stay motivated to note when you’re making headway. And you might even find new ways to cut expenses as you go — especially if you use an app to track your progress.

Pay Off Debt

The average American had almost $8,000 in high-interest credit card debt as of the end of 2022. In addition, many people are also shouldering other debts, such as car loans and student loans.

If you’re a part of those statistics, paying off those debts could be the most important part of your saving plan.

How’s that?

•   Any debt on which you’re paying interest can feel painful. But if you’ve missed some credit card payments and you’re paying the default rate, say 27%, you’re likely putting an awful lot of money toward your past instead of toward your future.

•   High-interest debt can drag you down, so it’s important to ditch it as quickly as possible. Once you know where you stand with your budget and your savings goals, you may want to start by building a sort of “starter” emergency fund and then move forward with a personal debt reduction plan, like the debt avalanche, debt snowball, or the hybrid debt fireball, which focuses on paying high-interest debt in a way that can build momentum and keep you motivated.

Here’s how the debt fireball method works:

1.    Categorize your debts as either “good” or “bad.” (“Good” debts are generally for things that have potential to increase your net worth, like student loans or a mortgage. “Bad” debt is usually considered to be debt incurred for a depreciating asset, like car loans and credit card debt.) As you develop the list, note all the debts with higher interest rates, above what student loans and mortgages charge (say, 8% or higher) This is likely the “bad” debt you’ll want to focus on first.

2.    List your “bad” debts from smallest to largest based on their outstanding balances.

3.    Make the minimum monthly payment on all outstanding debts, then funnel any excess funds to the smallest of your “bad” debts.

4.    When that balance is paid in full, go on to the next smallest on the bad-debt list. Blaze through those balances until all your “bad” debt is repaid.

5.    When that’s done, keep paying off your debt on the normal schedule while also putting more into various savings strategies that will help get you to your goals.

Remaining Flexible

Consistency can be a key to successful saving. Otherwise, it’s just too darn easy to let yourself off the hook from paycheck to paycheck, month to month, and year to year. But that doesn’t mean your savings plan has to feel like a forced march.

Flexibility is also important.

A savings plan that seems smart and doable today may feel like torture six months from now. Or you might get a raise and decide your plan is actually far too easy and you could be socking away much more.

You might need a major car repair (or a whole new car). Get married. Have a baby. Get sick. Get fired. Or get hired for your dream job and have to move to Dubai.

Life changes. So it makes sense to tighten and lighten your budget — and the savings aspect you build into that budget — as necessary. If you’re tracking your expenses regularly, you may be better able to gauge how you’re doing and make any course corrections that much more quickly.

Anything Saved Is Better Than Nothing

It can feel discouraging when you get started on a long-term savings plan. Say you want to accumulate $60,000 for a down payment on a house. Perhaps saving 20% of your paycheck is impossible right now. And putting a couple of hundred dollars as a start can feel as if you will never reach your goal.

But over time, that little bit of money regularly contributed will indeed grow and propel you ever closer to your goal. Getting in the habit of contributing frequently can be a goal in and of itself, even if the amount is not as high as you’d like.

You may have also had this experience with shorter-term goals, such as building an emergency fund. Even if you only start by contributing $20, you will eventually reach your aim with steady saving.

Start Saving With SoFi

If you’re ready to start on the path to achieving a savings goal, look for a financial partner that minimizes fees and maximizes interest, to help your money work harder.

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FAQ

Is it good to save 50% of your income?

It’s a wise move to save a portion of your paycheck, and 20% is an often-quoted figure to aim for. Fifty percent may be too high for many people, but if you can afford to save half of your take-home pay, you may get to your savings goals that much more quickly.

Is 20% of your income enough to save?

Many financial experts recommend saving 20% of your income or more if you can. The 20% figure is part of the popular 50/30/20 budget rule. However, some people may want to save more if possible, especially if they have a couple of major long-term goals they are saving for, such as buying a home, saving for their children’s education, and affording an early retirement.

What is the 60/20/20 rule?

The 60/20/20 rule is similar to the 50/30/20 budget guideline. In this case, it means that a person allocates 60% of their take-home pay to necessities, 20% to discretionary spending, and 20% to savings.


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