Financial Planning
November 26, 2021

What is discretionary income?

Discretionary income is the portion of your budget left over after your essential needs are paid.

What is Discretionary income?

Discretionary income is the extra money you have after paying for necessary expenses. It’s “discretionary” because how you use it is up to you and your own discretion. It’s money you’re free to spend, save or invest as you like, because your essential priorities are already paid for. 

How is Discretionary income calculated?

To calculate your discretionary income, start with adding up your monthly essential expenses, including fixed costs, like rent and insurance, and variable costs, like food. Subtract the total from your monthly after-tax income (in other words, the amount in your monthly paychecks, after your employer deducts for taxes). That’s your discretionary income, the amount you have for non-essential “wants.”

In short, discretionary income equals gross income minus taxes and necessary expenses.

If you have student loan payments, discretionary income is an important calculation. The Department of Education uses it to set your repayment plan and on how much you should pay every month.

Disposable Income vs. Discretionary Income: What's the Difference?

Discretionary income is different from “disposable income,” which is the money left over only after paying your income taxes. Disposable income typically still needs to cover essential expenses, like rent, utilities, health care and food. 

In short, disposable income equals gross income minus Income taxes

Why is Discretionary income important? 

Understanding your discretionary income is important to making a household budget, planning for the future and allocating funds for emergencies.  

A common rule of thumb for household budgets is the 50-30-20 rule, where 50% of your income goes to your needs, 30% for your wants and 20% towards savings. Once 50% of your income has been allocated to needs, the rest is considered discretionary. 

Under the 50-30-20 rule, you can spend, save and invest your discretionary income as you like. And you might think “discretionary” just means your shopping budget. But it’s more than entertainment, splurges, extras and luxuries. It’s also dream vacations, cars, weddings and other milestone events. 

A lot of things that require saving and investing have to be allocated from your discretionary income. Be mindful that savings are pulled from your discretionary income. 

                                                                       Get your financial plan with Bright.

Bright can help you budget and save

Bright can get you debt-free fast, so you have more discretionary income, and your Bright Plan can build a budget, so you can track your spending habits. 

Bright can also help you save more automatically, moving funds to personalized saving pockets, to reach your goals faster. 

Powered by MoneyScience™, a new patented system built on 34 algorithms, Bright studies your finances, learns about your goals and moves funds when it makes sense for you.

If you don’t have it yet, download the Bright app from the App Store or Google Play. Connect your bank and your cards, set a few goals, and let Bright get to work.

Recommended Readings:

Why loans don’t always work for debt consolidation

Tips to Avoid Common Budget Mistakes

Pranay Chirla
Technical Content Writer
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