Throughout your career, your money will ebb and flow. If you’re a full-time employee on a regular pay schedule, it’s a bit easier to establish a budget because of the predictability of pay periods. However, if you have irregular or sporadic pay periods, budgeting can be a much bigger challenge – and much more important.

You should be aware by now that you need to set a personal budget to manage your expenses and plan for the future. And no matter where you are in your career, you have needs and wants. So how do you distinguish between the two and budget for them accordingly?


Over your lifetime, your needs and wants are always evolving. If you’re a student, your parents may still cover many of your expenses like housing and food, yet you may be on your own for car payments and gas. If you are a few years into your career, you may be saving to purchase your first home or having children. And those of you nearing or at retirement may have your home paid off and are saving for travel or to purchase a vacation home.


That’s why it’s important to take the time to interrogate which of your expenses are really “needs” and which are actually “wants”. A need is something you must have to survive like food, shelter, clothing and transportation. A want is something you don’t need to survive, but desire because it gives you comfort, satisfaction or even social status. You need a house, but you want a mansion. You need transportation, but you want a $150,000 Maserati convertible. And you need food, but you want to eat out at four-star restaurants every night.


Sometimes, though, the difference isn’t quite as clear-cut. The chart below shows an example of needs versus wants at various stages of your career. Think about where you are currently in your life and career. Keep in mind that this chart is only hypothetical and someone at any stage could have a wedding, buy a bigger house, or pay for someone else’s college education. Look at the chart and make a list of needs and wants right now and use your list as a roadmap for achieving both as you set your budget. It’s okay to even look ahead and plan for the next stage or all stages.


Health InsURANCE
Life Insurance
Long-Term Care InsURANCE
Children’s Education
Vacation Home
Bigger House
Expensive Car(s)
Downsize (Home)

Budgeting for

Now that you’ve made a list of your needs and wants, how do you budget for them? If you do any budgeting research on your own, you will most likely come across the 50-30-20 rule, which is a general approximation among financial industry professionals. It says to put 50% towards needs, 30% towards wants, with the remaining 20% designated for your savings or to pay off your debt.

Swim goggle infographic

HOUSING 25% | Transportation 10% | Healthcare 5%| Utilities 10% | FOOD 12% | savings/debt 10% | Insurance 5% | entertainment 5% | Personal Spending 15%

Save or Pay Off Debt?

Once you have a little extra money, which is more important – putting money into some type of savings account or paying off debt? It depends on your own situation. Generally, it’s best to strike a balance between the two. Check out these reasons for considering prioritizing one over the other.

prioritize saving

  • You don’t have an emergency fund of 3-6 months of expenses
  • The debt you have carries a low interest rate
  • You are able to participate in an employer 401k (or similar) plan
  • You have time (years or decades) for your money to grow

prioritize paying off debt

  • You have high credit account balances
  • Your credit accounts carry high interest rates
  • You have a high debt-to-income ratio

Budgeting 201 Bonus: Five Mobile Budgeting Tools

Budgeting is more than just using your mobile banking app to check your balances to make sure your account is overdrawn.

There are mobile tools, beyond computer spreadsheets or financial software, that will give you a real-time snapshot of your budget and expenses even when you’re on the go. Some send you an email or text alert when you are close to reaching or have exceeded your budget for a category.

Here are just a few of the mobile apps with different features and benefits that are currently available and come highly recommended for 2020. Test them and consider choosing the one that best meets your needs. (Source:; The Best Budgeting Apps In 2020 by Kristin Stoller, February 2020)



This is a basic, simple app that is for people who don’t want to connect an app to their financial accounts and prefer to manually enter their financial information and expenses.

Cost: free, pro version is $5.99/month or $50/year



This is a basic app that connects to your accounts and builds your budget based on your spending habits and then lets you know how you’re spending your excess each month.

Cost: free


You Need a Budget (YNAB)

This app is for detailed and super intricate budgeters. It links to your accounts and helps you understand where every single dollar is going. Rule No. 1 of YNAB is “give every dollar a job.” This means that you shouldn’t have any leftover money by the time everything is assigned.

Cost: Free for the first 34 days; billed annually at $84 or monthly at $11.99.

Personal Capital

Personal Capital

This app is for retirement and investment-focused budgeters. Once you link the accounts you want to be managed, like your checking, savings, and investment accounts, you’ll be able to get a general overview of where your money is going. The charts make it easy to track your expenses and cash flow from month-to-month. It’s a great app to monitor not only where your money is going, but if you’re on track to meet your retirement goals and other long-term plans.

Cost: Free



Perhaps the most comprehensive and preferred mobile budgeting tool, it allows you to set your budget up front or allow the app to learn how you use your money as you deposit, spend and save. As Mint learns more about you and your spending habits, you’ll be able to see where your money goes each month. It details patterns and shows you graphs by category on where your money goes. You can compare months, too, if you’d like. It will alert you when you’ve exceeded a budget category or when it doesn’t recognize an expense. It also provides you with weekly credit report updates to monitor your credit score.

Cost: Free


USA Swimming and OneAmerica have come together to offer you access to a financial professional, at no cost to you. A financial professional can help you create a personal economy including assistance creating a budget that takes into consideration your lifestyle and may help you achieve your short-, mid-, and long-term financial goals.

Schedule an appointment with a 
financial professional