10 Recommended Category Percentages for Your Family Budget

Household and Personal Budget Guidelines

One of the most difficult things to do when setting up a family budget for the first time is to try and figure out how much you should spend in each category.  The whole purpose of a budget is to set you straight on your spending habits and bring them back into line, right? So there’s a couple of ways to go about getting your spending back in line:

1. Find Average spending percentages nationally, or

2. Track your spending and create percentages off what you already spend.

The Big Factors

The amount of money depends a lot on living factors like, where in the country you live, if you have small children, if your battling a medical condition, etc. Are you a married couple with no kids?  Then you’ll probably spend more on clothing and entertainment than a single mom with 3 kids. Studies have shown that lower income families spend a lot more money on food as a percentage of their overall budget that higher income families. We know that:

  • Spending varies by income level
  • Costs depend on family size
  • Costs also depend on location

So every family and individual is different.  There is no perfect combination.

The Category Average Percentages

National Average Budget Category Percentages of Net Income
Category Percent of Overall Spending
Housing (mortgage/rent, Real estate taxes) 24%
Utilities (water, power, garbage collection, 8%
Food 14%
Clothing 4%
Medical/Healthcare 6%
Donations/Gifts to Charity 4%
Savings and Insurance 9%
Entertainment and Recreation 5%
Transportation (car payments, gas, service) 14%
Personal/Debt Payments/Misc 12%

So that’s the average, based on statistics gathered from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey.  Since this is based on what people actually spend and it varies so much by family, location, I wouldn’t recommend relying on it heavily in forming your family budget categories.  So you ask, what should you be spending in each category to give yourself an edge in getting out of debt?  Here are some percentage guidelines from Dave Ramsey, financial guru:

Category Percentage of Overall Spending
Housing 25-35%
Utilities 5-10%
Transportation 10-15%
Healthcare 5-10%
Food 5-15%
Investments/Savings 5-10%
Debt Payments 5-10%
Charitable Giving 5-15%
Entertainment/Recreation 5-9%
Misc Personal 2-7%

How to Get it Right

While no budget is the same, it’s important to start somewhere. Start with these guidelines (and that’s all they are) and tweak it to fit your needs.  But above all else you must spend ONLy what you bring in,  so don’t tweak it too much that you find yourself overspending again.  This is where I started and I found that I was able to bring our family food budget down significantly.  So I’m sure it’ll help in many areas of your budget as you find you can live on less.

More Help

There are a few products that I recommend that will help you form a budget and stick to it.  There’s nothing that brings more clarity to your finances that being able to see the big picture in one place and to be able to see what’s going on in each category of your budget.  Mvelopes is one of them.  It’ll help you set up your budget and give you easy control over it.

Also take a look at our free sample family budget template.  It’s gives you a place to lay out all your income and expenses to be able to see where your money is going.

Other excellent tools include You Need a Budget (YNAB), and Quicken Online (totally free).  Also check out my review of Quicken Online.


  1. Why does no suggested budget ever mention child care.

    There is nothing more important.

    • Because you should be caring for your child yourself. Nothing is more important.

      • How bout eatin’?

      • That is a Terrible thing to say. In the new America most families cannot afford this. Why is this usually the mantra of the people who also oppose raising the Federal Minimum Wage?

      • “Because you should be caring for your child yourself.”
        Nice to hear from someone who chooses to be unemployed because they happened to marry someone with a decent job, or they completely leech off the system.

        While you carry that attitude, I’m off working. You and your kid can sit home and watch Dora while I contribute to the rest of the economy.

  2. Hi Chris – according to Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace book, page 295, regarding Work Sheet 5 (Budget), Child Support is listed under the Personal category.

    My question is… how can Dave Ramsey recommend the Saving category be 5 to 10% when Baby Step Four is to save 15% for retirement? He has Retirement Fund under the Saving category in Work Sheet 5 on page 293. Any ideas?

    • Hi Rob – I think these are just general percentage guidelines based on Dave Ramsey’s Gazelle online budgeting tool. I think when you get to step 4, you will (should) be able to up the savings percentage to 15%.

      • this is based off of net income. most people have their 401k or retirement contributions taken out of gross income from their jobs. savings i think falls under the home/car repairs, vacations, emergency fund category. just my personal opinion and interpretation.

  3. Probably cause most parents can’t afford child care so one has to stay home! that’s how it is here…

  4. Dr. Satyapriya Rout says:

    What about education? I have seen many budget planners like this. And everyone forgets to mention about children’s education. In which category education comes?? I cant come under personal or life?? It should be mentioned as a separate category. Expenditure on education is a major portion of the income, especially when it is not state sponsored.

    • Good question, but this budget is assuming the kids go to public school for free (here in the US) up until 12th grade (about 18 yrs of age). If you live in an area without free public education, or choose to pay for private school, the money should be carved out of other budgeted areas like savings, entertainment, or charitable giving.

      • frances geoffrion says:

        We go to state schools in CA and they are very good, but stuff comes up like sports fees, class donations, field trips. we paid $500 for football and $300 for track every year for our athlete.

  5. Tim Jagoe says:

    How do I get more money?

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  7. So here is what my 2016 budget looks like for a family of four:

    Food: 16%
    Transportation: 13%
    Household: 7% (includes clothes)
    Debt: 11% (included minimum credit card payment and student loan)
    Savings: 1% (for yearly vacation)
    Housing: 35% (includes all utilities)
    Health Care and Fitness: 24%
    Financial: 3% (life insurance)
    Entertainment: 7% (includes gifts and charity)
    Education: 3%

    Yes, it actually adds up to 120% of my net income! This is a combination of a loss in income due to plans to sell a rental property, and a more realistic estimate of maintenance costs (we have been deferring a lot of home maintenance, and haven’t been putting anything towards maintenance on the rental, and our car is about out of the warranty period and we expect increased costs there.)

    The only figure that seems really out of whack is health care, and this figure is based on a realistic estimate of costs versus previous years and is something we really have no control over aside from choosing the insurance plan that will minimize this cost. But we are also pretty locked in to our other costs, our car is almost paid off and we can’t downside, we bought our house at the trough in housing prices so it would cost more to live anywhere else unless we move to a really bad neighborhood, we have two growing kids and can’t really cut back on buying food or switch to cheap junk food. If we stop paying the student loan, cut our entertainment costs by 80% (this includes gifts *and* charity), don’t replace anything that breaks, and quit contributing to my 401k to get the match it will only be almost enough. If instead we completely cut out all food and household expenses it would not be enough.

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