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Debt.com » Research » More Americans Are Budgeting – and Getting Out of Debt

More Americans Are Budgeting – and Getting Out of Debt


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Debt.com’s annual poll of 1,000 Americans shows debt is a major reason to start budgeting. Fortunately, the budget has been a proven solution.

For six years, Debt.com has polled Americans on their budgeting behavior. More than 8 in 10 now have a monthly budget, a number that’s been trending upward since this survey’s inception in 2018.

One of the major reasons is also the most alarming. Nearly 1 in 4 say debt “prompted them to start budgeting.” That’s shot up more than 13 percent in only five years. The budgeting seems to work for them, because nearly 9 in 10 say it’s “helped them get out or stay out of debt.”

As positive as that may sound, it also alarms Debt.com’s president Don Silvestri. He feels everyone should spend on a budget through the hard times – and the good.

“If you only create a household budget because you’re worried about debt, what happens when the worst is behind you – will you stop budgeting?” Silvestri wonders. “If that happens, you’ll stop budgeting, get back in financial trouble, then start budgeting again. Budgeting should be preventative medicine, not emergency surgery.”

The survey’s other key findings:

  • Nearly 9 in 10 say “everyone should budget.”
  • 27% of those who don’t budget says it’s because they “don’t have much income.”
  • 39% prefer creating a budget using a pen and paper.
  • Half say they’re living paycheck to paycheck.

Far more respondents budget now than five years ago

Nearly 1 in 4 respondents say debt is the reason they started budgeting

More than 8 in 10 say budgeting has helped them “get out or stay out of debt”

4 in 10 respondents prefer budgeting with pen and paper

Most respondents (39%) prefer budgeting with a pen and paper over using technology like apps.

Most respondents who don’t budget say it’s because they “don’t earn enough money to warrant a budget”

For full survey results, click here

Who should budget? Percentage of respondents
Everyone 87.26%
People with a lot of debt 5.46%
People with a limited income 5.94%
People who earn a lot of money 1.34%

Do you budget? Yes No
Percentage of respondents 84.56% 15.44%

Why don’t you budget? Percentage of respondents who don’t budget
It’s too time-consuming 25.47%
It makes me feel anxious/bad 23.60%
I don’t have much income 27.33%
It causes disagreements with my spouse/significant other 6.21%
I have budgeted, but it’s never helped me 17.39%

Have you been able to stay out of debt without a budget? Yes No
Percentage of respondents who don’t budget 56.52% 43.48%

What prompted you to start budgeting? Percentage of respondents who budget
I want to increase my wealth/savings 38.78%
Debt 22.68%
Rising costs of living due to inflation 15.99%
Retirement 15.19%
Loss of job/income 5.78%
Divorce/loss of spouse 1.59%

How does your household feel about budgeting? Percentage of respondents who budget
My whole household works to stay on budget. 43.31%
I’m single, financially independent, and I budget! 23.24%
I love to budget, but my significant other doesn’t. 21.77%
My significant other is on a budget, but I am not. 8.28%
I live with my parents, and I don’t use a budget because I’m saving up to live on my own. 3.40%

Have you used websites for tips on how to build a budget? Percentage of respondents who budget
No, I never thought about it 60.09%
Yes, I have visited websites for advice other than Debt.com 24.49%
Yes, that’s why I visited Debt.com 15.42%

How do you prefer to create a budget? Percentage of respondents who budget
Pen and paper 39.34%
Spreadsheets 29.93%
Mobile apps 20.98%
My bank/credit union’s budgeting tools 4.76%
A financial advisor 4.99%

Which method of budgeting would you be most interested in trying? Percentage of respondents who budget
Mobile apps 42.45%
Spreadsheets 23.16%
Pen and paper 18.96%
My bank/credit union’s budgeting tools 7.95%
A financial advisor 7.49%

Has budgeting helped you get out or stay out of debt? Yes No
Percentage of respondents who budget 86.72% 13.28%

Have you been able to stay out of debt without a budget? Yes No
Percentage of respondents who don’t budget 56.52% 43.48%

Do you think dining out or ordering food should be included in a grocery budget? Yes No
Percentage of respondents who budget 73.44% 26.56%

Do you live paycheck to paycheck? Yes No
Percentage of all survey respondents 50.00% 50.00%


For full 2022 survey results, click here

Debt.com polled more than 1,000 Americans on their budgeting and spending habits. The majority say they budget their finances and it’s helped them get out and stay out of debt.

For the past five years, Debt.com has conducted its annual budgeting survey. The number of respondents who say they budget their spending and saving has increased each year.

The latest has hit an all-time high. More than 8 in 10 (86 percent) respondents track their monthly income and expenses. In 2021 and 2020, that was 80 percent. Pre-pandemic, in both 2018 and 2019, that number was roughly 70 percent.

Howard Dvorkin, CPA and chairman of Debt.com, has a hunch that world events over the past few years have motivated more Americans to keep an eye on their spending.

“It’s quite likely that both inflation and the pandemic have made Americans keen to budget,” Dvorkin says. “It’s a one-two punch.”

This year, the data is broken down by who actively uses a budget and who doesn’t.

The survey’s key findings:

  • One reason budgeting might be more popular is that it’s much easier. While 39 percent of respondents still use pen and paper to create their budgets, that’s much less than the 66 percent from Debt.com’s first budgeting survey in 2018. Nearly 30 percent now use either mobile apps or online tools from their bank or credit union.
  • Fully 85 percent of those who budget say that simple process got them out of debt or has helped keep them out of debt.
  • Sadly, almost a third say they don’t budget because “I don’t have much income,” and half are living paycheck to paycheck.

Who should budget?

More than 8 in 10 of those who budget say it’s helped them get out or stay out of debt

How survey respondents prefer to create a budget

Most respondents who don’t budget say they don’t earn enough to warrant a budget

Who’s living paycheck to paycheck to make ends meet

Who should budget? Percentage of respondents
Everyone 90.24%
People with a lot of debt 3.77%
People with a limited income 5.12%
People who earn a lot of money 0.87%

Do you use a budget? Yes No
Percentage of respondents 85.60% 14.40%

Why don’t you budget? Percentage of respondents who don’t budget
It’s too time-consuming 20.13%
It makes me feel anxious/bad 18.12%
I don’t have much income 31.54%
It causes disagreements with my spouse/significant other 9.40%
I have budgeted, but it’s never helped me 20.81%

Have you been able to stay out of debt without a budget? Yes No
Percentage of respondents who don’t budget 50.34% 49.66%

What prompted you to start budgeting? Percentage of respondents who budget
I want to increase my wealth/savings 39.73%
Debt 22.57%
Rising costs of living due to inflation 17.16%
Retirement 11.63%
Loss of job/income 7.11%
Divorce/loss of spouse 1.81%

How does your household feel about budgeting? Percentage of respondents who budget
My whole household works to stay on budget. 44.24%
I’m single, financially independent, and I budget! 24.38%
I love to budget, but my significant other doesn’t. 21.56%
My significant other is on a budget, but I am not. 7.90%
I live with my parents, and I don’t use a budget because I’m saving up to live on my own. 1.92%

Have you used websites for tips on how to build a budget? Percentage of respondents who budget
No, I never thought about it 65.24%
Yes, I have visited websites for advice other than Debt.com 24.49%
Yes, that’s why I visited Debt.com 10.27%

How do you prefer to create a budget? Percentage of respondents who budget
Pen and paper 39.16%
Spreadsheets 28.56%
Mobile apps 22.23%
My bank/credit union’s budgeting tools 6.77%
A financial advisor 3.27%

Which method of budgeting would you be most interested in trying? Percentage of respondents who budget
Mobile apps 47.40%
Spreadsheets 19.64%
Pen and paper 18.62%
My bank/credit union’s budgeting tools 7.67%
A financial advisor 6.66%

Has budgeting helped you get out or stay out of debt? Yes No
Percentage of respondents who budget 84.88% 15.12%

Have you been able to stay out of debt without a budget? Yes No
Percentage of respondents who don’t budget 50.34% 49.66%

Do you think dining out or ordering food should be included in a grocery budget? Yes No
Percentage of respondents who budget 70.85% 29.15%

Do you live paycheck to paycheck? Yes No
Percentage of all survey respondents 49.81% 50.19%

Methodology: Debt.com surveyed more than 1,000 Americans and asked 12 questions about their budgeting and spending habits. People responded from all 50 states and Washington, DC and were aged 18 and above. Responses were collected through SurveyMonkey. Percentages were rounded up to the nearest whole number and might not total 100 percent.

For full 2021 survey results, click here

Who should budget? 2021
Everyone 88.22%
People with a limited income 6.77%
People with a lot of debt 2.26%
People who spend a lot of money 2.75%

Do you use a budget? Yes No
2021 80.24% 19.76%

What prompted you to start budgeting? 2021
I want to increase my wealth/savings 37.63%
Debt 31.57%
Retirement 16.41%
Loss of job/income 8.96%
Divorce/loss of spouse 5.43%

How does your household feel about budgeting? 2021
My whole household works to stay on budget. 40.36%
I’m single, financially independent, and I budget! 36.72%
I love to budget, but my significant other doesn’t. 18.23%
My significant other is on a budget, but I am not. 2.86%
I live with my parents, and I don’t use a budget because I’m saving up to live on my own. 1.82%

Why don’t you budget? 2021
I don’t earn enough income 34.01%
It’s too time consuming 20.30%
It makes me feel anxious/bad. 19.80%
I have budgeted, but it’s never helped me. 19.29%
It causes disagreements with my spouse. 6.60%

Have you used websites for tips on how to build a budget? 2021
No, I never thought about it 49.10%
Yes, this is one of the reasons why I visited Debt.com 29.19%
Yes, I have visited sites other than Debt.com. 21.71%

How do you prefer to create a budget? 2021
Pen and paper 61.38%
Spreadsheets 17.21%
Mobile apps 9.76%
My bank/credit union’s budgeting tools 7.86%
A financial advisor 3.79%

Which method of budgeting would you be most interested in trying? 2021
None – I’m not interested in budgeting 25.67%
Pen and paper 23.53%
Mobile apps 25.13%
Spreadsheets 12.30%
My bank/credit union’s budgeting tools 8.02%
A financial advisor 5.35%

Has budgeting helped you get out or stay out of debt? Yes No
2021 87.77% 12.23%

Have you been able to stay out of debt without a budget? Yes No
2021 50.27% 49.73%

When I shop for groceries… 2021
I shop with a list, stick to my budget, AND use coupons 46.92%
I shop with a list and stick to my budget 27.22%
I shop without a list, but control my spending 20.11%
I walk in to buy one thing, and walk out with a cart full of stuff 3.42%
I buy whatever I want 2.33%

Do you budget for special events and holidays? 2021
Yes, I save for these events throughout the year 61.93%
No, I spend on special events without a budget. 16.14%
Yes, but I shop at the last minute and often go over budget 10.90%
No, I don’t buy gifts or celebrate special events 11.03%

Do you budget separately for special events and holidays? 2021
No, I spend on special events without a budget. 42.93%
No, I don’t buy gifts or celebrate special events. 16.30%
Yes, I save for these events throughout the year. 20.11%
Yes, but I shop at the last minute and often go over budget. 20.65%

Do you think restaurant meals should be included in a grocery budget? Yes No
2021 60.97% 39.03%

Do you budget for the “little things”? (For example, vending machines, gas stations, coffee shop runs, etc.) Yes No
2021 56.23% 43.77%

Methodology: Debt.com surveyed 1,019 people and asked 15 questions about their budgeting and spending habits. People responded from all 50 states and Washington, DC and were aged 18 and above. Responses were collected through SurveyMonkey. The survey was conducted from March 8, 2021 to April 26, 2021.

For full 2020 survey results, click here

Who should budget? 2020
Everyone 97.48%
People with a limited income 1.39%
People with a lot of debt 0.64%
People who spend a lot of money 0.49%

Do you use a budget? Yes No
2020 79.46% 20.54%

What prompted you to start budgeting? 2020
I want to increase my wealth/savings 42.46%
Debt 31.33%
Retirement 13.41%
Loss of job/income 9.57%
Retirement 7.56%
Divorce/loss of spouse 3.22%

How does your household feel about budgeting? 2020
My whole household works to stay on budget. 50.40%
I’m single, financially independent, and I budget! 29.49%
I love to budget, but my significant other doesn’t. 15.93%
My significant other is on a budget, but I am not. 2.18%
I live with my parents, and I don’t use a budget because I’m saving up to live on my own. 1.99%

Why don’t you budget? 2020
I don’t earn enough income 32.05%
It’s too time consuming 24.54%
It makes me feel anxious/bad. 21.43%
I have budgeted, but it’s never helped me. 16.12%
It causes disagreements with my spouse. 5.86%

Have you used websites for tips on how to build a budget? 2020
No, I never thought about it 55.12%
Yes, this is one of the reasons why I visited Debt.com 23.66%
Yes, I have visited sites other than Debt.com. 21.21%

How do you prefer to create a budget? 2020
Pen and paper 58.61%
Spreadsheets 23.47%
Mobile apps 8.39%
My bank/credit union’s budgeting tools 6.78%
A financial advisor 2.75%

Which method of budgeting would you be most interested in trying? 2020
None – I’m not interested in budgeting 28.26%
Pen and paper 27.34%
Mobile apps 22.94%
Spreadsheets 12.48%
My bank/credit union’s budgeting tools 5.69%
A financial advisor 3.30%

Has budgeting helped you get out or stay out of debt? Yes No
2020 85.63% 14.37%

Have you been able to stay out of debt without a budget? Yes No
2020 51.56% 48.44%

When I shop for groceries… 2020
I shop with a list, stick to my budget, AND use coupons 46.70%
I shop with a list and stick to my budget 27.26%
I shop without a list, but control my spending 19.11%
I walk in to buy one thing, and walk out with a cart full of stuff 4.08%
I buy whatever I want 2.84%

Do you budget for special events and holidays? 2020
Yes, I save for these events throughout the year 59.93%
No, I spend on special events without a budget. 15.88%
Yes, but I shop at the last minute and often go over budget 13.23%
No, I don’t buy gifts or celebrate special events 10.95%

Do you budget separately for special events and holidays? 2020
No, I spend on special events without a budget. 52.48%
No, I don’t buy gifts or celebrate special events. 17.61%
Yes, I save for these events throughout the year. 16.70%
Yes, but I shop at the last minute and often go over budget. 13.21%

Do you think restaurant meals should be included in a grocery budget? Yes No
2020 59.32% 40.68%

Do you budget for the “little things”? (For example, vending machines, gas stations, coffee shop runs, etc.) Yes No
2020 57.71% 42.29%

For full 2019 and 2018 survey results, click here

Who should budget? 2019 2018
Everyone 94.45% 92.61%
People with a limited income 2.43% 3.64%
People with a lot of debt 2.08% 2.50%
People who spend a lot of money 1.04% 1.25%

Do you use a budget? Yes No
2019 68.69% 31.31%
2018 70.24% 29.76%

What prompted you to start budgeting? 2019 2018
Desire to manage my money better 34.43% 36.15%
I have always budgeted my money 25.22% 18.96%
Debt 13.24% 16.44%
I want to increase my wealth/savings 7.94% 9.33%
Retirement 7.44% 7.56%
Loss of job/income 7.31% 8.44%
Divorce 2.40% 1.93%
Loss of spouse 2.02% 1.19%

How do you feel about budgeting? 2019 2018
My whole household works to stay on budget 43.81% 48.15%
I’m single, financially independent and use a budget 39.65% 34.67%
I’m on a budget, but my significant other is not 13.76% 11.11%
I’m living with my parents, and budget because I’m saving to live on my own 1.39% 3.85%
My significant other is on a budget, but I’m not 1.39% 2.22%

Why don’t you budget? 2019 2018
I don’t earn enough money 39.61% 33.80%
It’s too time-consuming 21.05% 21.25%
I have budgeted, but it’s never helped me 15.51% 19.86%
I have budgeted, but only for special occasions and holidays 14.13% 16.72%
I never overspend 8.31% 7.32%
I make so much money I don’t need to budget 1.39% 1.05%

Have you used websites for tips on how to build a budget? 2019 2018
No, I never thought about it 32.78% 26.74%
Yes, this is one of the reasons why I visited Debt.com 28.01% 41.52%
I have a budget that I created on my own 22.46% 11.65%
Yes, I have visited sites other than Debt.com for advice 16.74% 20.08%

What tools do you use to budget? 2019 2018
Pen and paper 67.05% 66.22%
Spreadsheets 28.66% 32.00%
I budget in my head 25.38% 26.52%
I use my bank/credit union budgeting tools 15.28% 13.33%
Mobile apps 13.26% 16.74%
I have a financial advisor 5.43% 5.93%
I don’t budget 0.88% 0.44%

Have you ever thought about trying any of these budgeting tools/methods? 2019 2018
Pen and paper 73.65% 72.01%
Spreadsheets 32.63% 36.19%
Mobile apps 32.63% 32.46%
Budgeting tools/software provided by my bank/credit union 20.36% 18.28%
Financial advisor 14.67% 18.66%

Has budgeting helped you get out or stay out of debt? Yes No
2019 75.88% 24.12%
2018 72.74% 27.26%

Have you been able to stay out of debt without a budget? Yes No
2019 29.25% 70.75%
2018 26.67% 73.33%

When I shop for groceries… 2019 2018
I shop with a list, stick to my budget, AND use coupons 46.21% 57.33%
I shop with a list and follow in according to my budget 32.07% 23.41%
I don’t bring a list, but I control myself from overspending 14.52% 12.44%
I usually walk in wanting to buy one thing, and walk out with a cart full 4.80% 5.48%
I buy whatever I want 2.40% 1.33%

Do you budget for special events and holidays? 2019 2018
Yes, I save throughout the year so I can afford to celebrate with my loved ones 33.21% 33.63%
I rarely have the money to budget for special events or gifts because I am living paycheck to paycheck 23.11% 24.74%
I set a budget and start saving a month or two before the event 21.09% 24.74%
I usually don’t buy gifts or celebrate special events 14.14% 10.52%
I shop at the last minute and I often break my weekly/monthly budget for special events 8.46% 6.37%

Do you budget separately for special events and holidays? 2019 2018
I rarely have the money to budget for special events or gifts because I am living paycheck to paycheck 44.04% 45.10%
I usually don’t buy gifts or celebrate special events 17.73% 8.04%
Yes, I save throughout the year so I can afford to celebrate with my loved ones 14.40% 19.23%
I set a budget and start saving a month or two before the event 12.19% 12.94%
I shop at the last minute and I often break my weekly/monthly budget for special events 11.63% 14.69%

Do you separate the cost of meals at restaurants from your grocery budget? Yes No
2019 62.12% 37.88%
2018 57.93% 42.07%

Do you budget for the “little things”? (For example, vending machines, gas stations, coffee shop runs, etc.) 2019 2018
Yes, I put extra money aside for the “little things” 42.68% 44.74%
I probably should, but I don’t 29.04% 28.44%
No, these things cost me little money so I do not budget for them 28.28% 26.81%

Methodology:  Debt.com surveyed 2,654 people and asked ten questions related to their budgeting behavior. People responded from all 50 states and Washington, DC and were aged 18 and above. Responses were collected through SurveyMonkey. The survey was conducted from Feb. 04, 2020 to Feb. 24, 2020. *In 2019 Debt.com surveyed 1,153 people using the same type of consumer-focused questions regarding budgeting utilizing SurveyMoney. And in 2018 Debt.com surveyed 961 people with the same survey tool.

Methodology: Debt.com surveyed more than 1,000 Americans and asked 12 questions about their budgeting and spending habits. People responded from all 50 states and Washington, DC and were aged 18 and above. Responses were collected through SurveyMonkey. Percentages were rounded up to the nearest whole number and might not total 100 percent.

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