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How to Budget as a Nurse

Find quick budgeting tips based on your income and savings goals.

Published July 25, 2022

When most nurses think of budgeting, they might feel restricted. But budgeting is a tool to help you meet your goals and find financial freedom. It lets you get the most out of your income, feel good about your purchases, and save for the future.

As a nurse, your days are busy, and you might not have a lot of free time to create a detailed budget or account for every purchase. However, small steps can go a long way in working toward your financial goals. Let’s look at why nurses should budget and how to create a budget in 6 easy steps.

Why should I build a budget?

A budget is simply a spending plan based on how much you make and your expenses. It accounts for everything from fixed expenses to discretionary spending and saving goals.

Why budget? If you tend to spend too much or feel guilty about spending, budgeting can help you stay on track and reduce stress around money. Budgeting can also help you achieve your goals, whether that means taking a vacation, getting your next degree, or saving for retirement.

Common financial challenges for nurses

Nursing comes with its own unique set of financial challenges.  You might come out of school with student debt that you want to pay off in a reasonable timeframe. Maybe you have an associate degree in nursing, and you want to pursue a bachelor’s degree to increase your earning potential. Or maybe you’re considering a master’s degree. Budgeting can put you on track to meet these goals.

Work-related expenses, like new uniforms or equipment, might make your credit card bill higher at the end of the month. Having these items in your budget helps you prepare for these expenses when they come up.

What do I need to know about budgeting as a nurse?

Nurses should keep a few things in mind while putting together a budget. Income is always a factor—there are only so many hours in a day. If you’re a travel nurse, you’ll likely be reimbursed for basic living expenses while staying in a different location. However, other costs might change depending on where you are.

Financial products designed with nurses in mind can help with budgeting or help you earn a little extra. For example, Laurel Road’s Loyalty Checking account for nurses offers a $300 welcome bonus and $20/month in cash rewards for the first year – just for setting up qualifying direct deposits.1 So, make sure you’re taking advantage of any extra benefits like this that can help you earn a little extra cash for your budget.

Start your budget in 6 steps

Budgeting comes down to balancing your total income, your total expenses, and your savings. For most people, it makes sense to look at your expenses on a monthly basis.

The 50/30/20 budget is a great way to get started. This budget method sorts your expenses into three buckets — needs, wants, and savings. Here’s how it works:

  • Your Needs: Up to 50% of your income should go toward your necessities, such as mortgage or rent, groceries, transportation, scrubs, health insurance, and minimum debt payments.
  • Your Wants: 30% of your income can go toward things you want but don’t necessarily need, like a vacation, a concert, or a night out.
  • Your Savings: 20% of your income goes toward savings, investments, or additional debt payments (after your minimum payments). This may be where you put away savings to pursuing another degree or pay down nursing school student debt faster with additional payments.

What does this look like? If you make $4000 a month after taxes, $2000 would go toward essentials, $1200 toward discretionary spending, and $800 toward savings. Try out our budget calculator below to see how your budget stacks up.

Budget Calculator : The 50/30/20 Rule

Our budget calculator will divide your after-tax income into three categories: 50% for needs, 30% for wants, and 20% for savings.

Budget Calculator : The 50/30/20 Rule

Our budget calculator will divide your after-tax income into three categories: 50% for needs, 30% for wants, and 20% for savings.


Your 50/30/20 Budget

Add your monthly income on the left to calculate.




Essential required expenses – including housing, utilities, and minimum debt payments.




May include expenses you don’t always need, such as restaurants, travel, or entertainment.




Should include emergency funds, retirement, and extra debt payments.

Now, let’s look at how to calculate your budget in 6 easy steps.

1: Calculate your income

To figure out how much you can spend, you first need to calculate your monthly income, after taxes. This is most likely the number on your paycheck (with some light math, depending on your pay schedule).

Almost all nurses are eligible for overtime pay if they work over 40 hours a week, which can make this step a little tricky. It often makes sense to average overtime pay over a few paychecks and use that number.

If you have pre-tax deductions taken from your paycheck, like health insurance or retirement, you should add that money back in to have it count toward your total income calculation. This will give you a more holistic idea of where your money is going when you categorize expenses.

2: Write out your expenses

Next, think about your monthly expenses and write them all down. You can use a spreadsheet, write them on paper, or use a budgeting app.

If you’re having trouble remembering your expenses, start by recording the utilities you pay, as well as housing costs. Account for any hobbies or things you do for fun, like concerts and movies. Look at your credit card bills and bank statement. Check what you’re spending money on and inventory everything.

3: Separate out your expenses

Remember the buckets from before? Now it’s time to categorize your expenses into those buckets. Look at the expenses from step 2 and categorize them all into needs and wants.

4: Decide how to adjust your spending

Now that you know what you’re spending your money on, you can see how that aligns (or doesn’t) with a 50/30/20 budget. Think of places where you can adjust your spending to better fit your budget and your goals overall.

This is a good opportunity to cut out expenses you don’t need, like subscriptions you’re not using. You may even be able to reduce your fixed expenses by negotiating with creditors for better rates, or by refinancing your student loans to a lower rate or lower monthly payment.

5: Set financial goals and priorities

Now it’s time to think about what’s important to you. Consider your long- and short-term financial goals. Do you want to pursue an MSN in two years? Retire in ten? Write these things down, too.

Why are goals so important? Staying on track is easier if you know you’re taking concrete steps toward something you want.

6: See how your budget can help reach those goals

Let’s look into the future. In this last step, look at the budget you created and see how it can help you meet your long-term goals.

Figure out how much you need for your goals. Realistically, how much should be in your savings account before you start taking classes for your MSN? What do you need to save to pay off student loans? This is the time to see how long it will take and adjust your budget if necessary.

Ready to get started budgeting? Remember, while it’s important to monitor your spending and stick to needs and wants budgets, you can always put more toward savings. Check in with your spending habits regularly, make sure you’re on track, and keep your goals in mind.

Information and interactive calculators are made available to you as self-help tools for your independent use and are not intended to provide investment advice, legal, financial, or tax advice. We cannot and do not guarantee their applicability or accuracy in regard to your individual circumstances. All examples are hypothetical and are for illustrative purposes. We encourage you to seek personalized advice from qualified professionals regarding all personal finance issues. Calculators do not include the fees and restrictions that certain products may have. This calculator does not indicate whether you would qualify for a Laurel Road loan. Please visit the applicable banking product pages on laurelroad.com for specific terms and conditions.

In providing this information, neither Laurel Road nor KeyBank nor its affiliates are acting as your agent or is offering any tax, financial, accounting, or legal advice.

Any third-party linked content is provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement by Laurel Road or KeyBank of any third-party product or service mentioned. Laurel Road’s Online Privacy Statement does not apply to third-party linked websites and you should consult the privacy disclosures of each site you visit for further information.

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