How the 80/20 principle applies to your money

How the 80/20 rule applies to your money...’ve probably heard of “the 80/20 rule.” The technical term for this common phrase is called the Pareto principle, named after . . . you guessed it, a man named Pareto.

In the early 1900s, Vilfredo Pareto noticed that 80% of Italy was owned by 20% of the population. On a much smaller note, he observed that 20% of the pea pods in his garden produced 80% of the peas. His observations developed into a general thought about the way things are distributed and the Pareto principle was formed.

The basic concept behind the 80/20 principle is that most of an effect comes from a small percentage of the cause. Business consultants have used this principle to create dozens of books and suggestions as to how you should manage resources, approach sales, and handle customers. You can almost apply the principle to any situation; so let’s see how it applies to money.

The 80/20 Principle for Side Income

I’m focusing on side income because I think it’s more applicable with this theory and because I have first-hand experience with making money with side jobs. If you’re the hustler type, you know that your time after work is limited. By necessity, you trim down aspects of your side hustle to become more productive during your off hours. When you do this, you’re living the 80/20 principle. You realize that the majority of income comes from the focused work, so you ‘cut the fat’ in order to optimize the productive time.

Real life example: When I was in college, I detailed cars for extra money. As a way to speed things up, I had my friend help me. He was a perfectionist, so I thought he’d be good at detailing cars. Unfortunately, while I finished an entire half of a car, he was still working on the floor mats. He was spending 80% of his time on 20% of the goal.

Lesson: Don’t focus all your efforts on the things that don’t add much to the big picture.

The 80/20 Principle for Budgeted Expenses

Think about your budget – what budget categories do you break most often? Eating out? Entertainment? What about the uncategorized section? You know, gadgets don’t always make their way into a budget category.

Real life example: A couple of months ago, I bought a guitar. No, it wasn’t in the budget, so we used money that would have otherwise gone to savings to pay for the guitar. The expense of a guitar was easily the biggest extra expense for that month and the next, but we allowed it to happen because we were paying way too much attention to the smaller budget items such as entertainment. The 80/20 principle comes into play here because we were giving the small things 80% of the attention and leaving the big purchases out of the equation.

Lesson: Don’t spend all your time focusing on the small stuff if it means that you’ll let the big things slide. Redirect your energy to keeping the big ticket expenses toned down and let the small items balance themselves.

What areas of your finances can you see the 80/20 rule show up? Have you ever given much thought to this principle at work, home, or with your budget? Leave a comment!


  1. I think I’m guilty of the 100% / 0% rule – all or nothing. If I slip up on the budget, then it just goes out the window for awhile!! I’ve been reading up on financial matters lately and I’ve decided that I must give myself more grace. In the end, I’ll be more on track – even if I’m slipping up.

  2. Interesting principle. I haven’t heard of that one before. Maybe I could apply that into my life. Thanks!

  3. I’ve never put this principle into regular financial matters…I have heard of this principle but in a different way…80% of work is done by 20% of the workers. (So much for ‘many hands make for light work’ LOL)

  4. Such a helpful “rule-of-thumb” in so many circumstances. At work, 20% of the workers do 80% of the work…or worse yet, 20% of the people create 80% of the problems! I agree completely with you that often we spend more time sweating the small stuff when we neglect the big stuff. One thing that my wife and I do is we give 20% of what we make. We find that it helps us keep the right perspective about money, and God blesses the rest of the 80%.