Hara Hachi Bu and Money: The 80% Solution

Financial Diet: Spending Until 80% Full

Fitness has been one of my goals for this year (as it probably is for many people, in a lot of years), but this time I’ve put forth more effort into it. Aside from the most important part – taking action – I’ve done a little more reading on ways to improve health.

Of course, as I say here periodically, health and money are interrelated. Improve one, and you can help the other.  Now in this case, I thought I’d actually do something a bit different. Here,  I thought of applying a health-related principle to money. That concept: Hara Hachi Bu.

From what I’ve learned, Hara Hachi Bu is an Okinawan approach to regulating eating. The idea is that one should eat until reaching the point of being 80% full. The result? People eat less, don’t gain unnecessary weight, and have better health. It’s been said that Okinawa has an exceptionally high percentage of centenarians compared to the rest of the world. Eating fewer calories, when paired with an active lifestyle, might really help longevity and the ability to live a healthy life to 100.

It got me thinking – why not apply the 80% concept to our spending?

If calorie restriction and eating until 80% full might play a role in longevity, maybe spending 80% of what we think we need can play a role in longevity of our savings as well. If we spend less, we can increase our income minus expense gap. This increased savings, with time, proper investing, and the power of compounding, can result in a substantially increased net worth and financial security. This extended life of our savings can help us live a higher quality of life for a longer period of time.

Now, I don’t think this is just a matter of taking a high level of spending and bringing it down by 20%. Rather, I’m talking about taking what would be a reasonable budget made by financially responsible people, and living on 80% of it.

This could entail spending (and living on) less as follows:

  • Housing – moving to a less expensive area or living in a smaller home
  • Cars – driving an older used car, or for a family getting rid of a second car
  • Food – cutting out dining outside, and going the extra mile to make frugal dining choices

It’s almost like thinking about what you need to live comfortably, and then spending at 80% of that level. Maybe we can get used to that, just like the body gets used to living on less calories when stopping at 80% full.

Update: Just so everyone knows what I mean by 80%, I’m referring to 80% of current expenses. I’m not referring to spending 80% of income and saving 20%. Rather, I mean take whatever your expense level is and multiply it by 0.8. For example, if a family earns $100,000 and spends $80,000, they’re saving $20,000. By applying this Hara Hachi Bu concept, the family would take the $80,000 expenses, multiply by 80%, and spend the resulting amount instead: $64,000. In this case, savings as a percentage of incomes goes up from 20% to 36%!

My Questions for You

What do you think of the idea of living on 80% of an otherwise reasonable expense level?

Do you think that doing this could extend the life of your savings and substantially grow your net worth?

Much like the Hara Hachi Bu rule, do you think that this approach is one that would require a higher level of discipline than many of us are accustomed to?


  1. says

    It depends on your current / expected spending level. I know people who if they cut their spending to 80%… they would live a very miserly quality of life, and if you are financially stable, there is no point to that. On the other hand, I think most people (myself included) can/should cut back to 80% to achieve a faster savings rate for a goal or save for a bigger purchase.

    By the way, I am trying to revamp my diet and I’ve discovered that I cannot be hungry. But I am still having – some – success sticking to a low-cal diet because I eat foods that are filling. For example, a giant Asian pear = 125 calories. A bag of chips = 125 calories. But after the pear I am pretty full for an hour. The chips doesn’t even SCRATCH the surface of filling my hunger. Perhaps there’s an analogy to spending – spending your dollars on things that make you feel “full” / satisfied / content. And don’t spend it on things that might look attractive in the moment but won’t be ultimately satisfying.

    Sorry for the giant comment… I think I’m going to move it into a post! LOL.

    • Squirrelers says

      Well Heeled – you make a great point. When it comes to food, I know what you mean – two items might be of similar caloric value, but impact your hunger/appetite differently upon consuming them. The point I like is how you’re tying that to purchases. Some puchases make us “full”, and others leave us with our appetite intact. Interesting!

  2. says

    Absolutely – if everyone could sock away 20% of their after tax income they’d be in awesome financial shape. I suppose the question then is lifestyle inflation. If you make $30,000 one year, and $100,000 another, should you save $6,000 or $20,000 in the future? On the health side, if you are eating 80% to fullness and you gain weight (and increase your appetite) should you try a different number?

    • Squirrelers says

      PK – Good question. I’m thinking about looking at expenses a bit differently, not as a percentage of income. Rather, I’m thinking about an 80% of one’s expenses. For example, if expenses are $30,000, then this would mean taking them down to $24,000. So, we would be spending until 80% “full”, as it would relate to the concept of Hara Hachi Bu

  3. says

    I like it a lot. 80% is a good number to shoot for. Personally, we are trying to save as much as we can right now and are doing better than that. It would be great if we can hit the 80% target once I quit my job though.

    • Squirrelers says

      RB40 – 80% of current expenses, right? So what I’m referring to here is taking your current expense level, and then only spending 80% of that amount going forward. If we can do that, it would help!

  4. says

    i have been doing it for years, but never had a name for it. I take out savings first and live on what is left. My savings actually exceeds the 20%, but as an old(er) person, my expenses have decreased. I downsized 14 years ago, my children are grown and I live a rather simple lifestyle. I do not feel deprieved and actually I enjoy what is really important which is spending time with the family.

  5. says

    We use something similar. We live on about 70% of our monthly income; 10% goes to savings and 20% goes on the dreaded debt (which is going by September). For this one needs good income so that the proportions translate into decent amounts of money. What we alos have is an ‘I’m so worth it fund’ where about 7% of our monthly income goes – as the title indicates this is for the finer things in life.

  6. says

    For some people, the question would be: how much is my lifestyle going to degrade? this is true for those who are already living on a tight budget because the income is tight. Having said that, anything you save for a rainy day will come in handy later on.

    • Squirrelers says

      BTI – true, living on a tight budget makes that tough for some. I think that for some it might be due to “fixed” commitments, like debt. If one could have a clean slate and just budget based on current and future needs, it might be possible to live on 80% of current expenses.

  7. says

    I don’t think I could do this very well. For one thing we’ve cut our expenses pretty low already, and we are always on the look-out for more ways to cut. That said, we are retired and have about 10 years to travel and enjoy retirement before we get to the age where we can’t do it as much. We are saving more than we used to when we had kids to support, but we are also spending more on ourselves. It’s our time to enjoy some of the fruits of our labor.

  8. First gen american says

    I can definitely cut 20% of my food budget as we eat out at least once/week but it would be tough to do it in other areas. My housing and cars are paid for, utilities are low because of conservation methods we’ve implemented and we don’t have too many vices that are expensive. I have reached the point of diminishing returns.

  9. says

    I’ve heard of cutting back 5-10% at a time, but not the 80% solution. Sounds like it would be a similar idea though, just more jarring at first. The idea behind a smaller cut back is that you don’t really notice it, and then you can do it again.

    I am really curious though about how to determine when you are 80% full.

    • Squirrelers says

      Jackie – as for how to tell when 80% full in terms of hunger? Good question! I have heard that there’s a delay between when we’re actually full and when our brains recognize this (not sure how accurate, but it makes sense), so maybe there’s some judgement involved. Apparently people have been applying the concept :)

  10. says

    Michael Pollan also talks about this when it comes to healthy eating — it is an interesting concept! Unfortunately I don’t think my bank will take kindly to my paying only 80% of the mortgage payment, but I see what you are getting at. :)

  11. says

    Interesting concept. I try and save as much as I can, but putting a figure like spending 80% might make me more effective with saving. Just like I want to lose weight vs I am going to lose 10 pounds. Thanks!

    • Squirrelers says

      The 80% figure seems to be a nice number to work toward. If one spends 80% of their current spending level, it seems like good things might ensue from a long-term net worth perspective.

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