Deep Dive Into a CNAs Budget

Disclaimer: The statements made in this post are the opinion of the author. They should not be viewed as financial advice. Please consult with a financial specialist before making any financial decisions.
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Certified Nursing Assistant may sound like a fancy job, but as far as entry level medical jobs go it is one of the most underpaid and under appreciated positions.

There are life savers every day that are getting underpaid.

That is the sad truth.

But it doesn’t mean that these people have to be destitute.

We’ll find out how in this budget deep dive.

For more budget break downs for underpaid medical professionals check out the pharmacist’s budget deep dive and one for an EMT as well.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

Calculating a Certified Nurse’s Assistant’s Take Home Pay

The median salary of a Certified Nurse’s Assistant (CNA) is $28,540. Since CNA salaries are generally low we will focus on this number.

First, it is important to calculate your gross pay. This is how much you make before anything is taken out. So for a CNA making $28,540 that would be $2,378 each month.

Please note that in no situations is your gross pay how much money actually hits your bank account. So let’s start chipping away at it.

First, you have federal payroll taxes for social security and medicare. This tax rate is currently 7.65%. The average CNA will pay about $182 a month (yearly gross pay, times .0765 divided by 12).

That leaves us with $2,196 for the average CNA to work with.

Now you have federal income tax. Not counting other deductions and rebates, that depends on your tax bracket. To figure out exactly how much you’ll pay, use this calculator.

Our average CNA would owe $145 per month leaving $2,051.

Next we have state income tax, which ranges from 0% in places like Texas and Alaska, to 4.4% in New York. So let’s go with the median number of 2.2%. Just know that yours may be higher or lower.

So at that percent the average CNA owes $52 per month, leaving $1,999.

Now that taxes are out of the way, you have deductions from your employer. Some of these are still your money, you just don’t have it to live on each month, like contributions to a 401(k). We won’t deal with those right now in this budget.

The other big expense that comes out is your medical costs. This ranges wildly from $100 for singles (or less on medicaid), to $500 for families, to over a $1,000 for more specific coverage.

Just to have a realistic budget we’ll go with $500 (which is a straight expense regardless of your income), just know that your situation will differ.

But at such a low salary the average CNA making $28,000ish a year will probably qualify for medicaid. I won’t include that here to show how tight you can make it and still succeed, but that is potentially even more money to keep in your pocket (or invest for the future).

That $500 expense leaves $1,499 for the average CNA.

While other expenses and taxes are possible, these are the most common, so these are the numbers we’re going to work with. $1,499 is the actual take home pay, also called the net pay.

How Much Can a CNA Spend on The Big Three?

The big three are also known as the three biggest money suckers. These are the places that most of your money goes every month if you’re an average American.

The three biggest money suckers are housing, transportation, and food.

The percentages I reference for how much you can expect to spend on each item can be found on

Let’s look at each in turn.


Housing is by far American’s biggest expense taking up an average of 33% of American spending.

That is entirely too much. 33% of your take of home pay leaves you with too little wiggle room, especially as a lower income earner.

Still, you need a place to live, so I would recommend using about 20-25% of you net pay and certainly no higher than 30%.

If you can get lower and feel comfortable, even better.

At 25%, the average CNA is paying at most $375 a month in housing. Remember, that that includes taxes and insurance if you are buying a home, so be careful.

While those numbers might sound absurd remember that these are averages, the amount you can afford will vary depending on your circumstances.

With such a low amount you’ll have to get creative.

If you have to get a roommate, do it. Or better yet, look into using your house to make money. With a little sacrifice you can make it work.

That leaves an average CNA with $1,124 per month.

Hopefully, looking at that number you see why having a lower housing expense is so important.


Transportation is another biggie. But mostly because people make it big on purpose.

The average amount spent on transportation in a budget is about 16%.

That’s $240 per month for an average CNA. But gasoline is only 5% of the budget, and insurance is somewhere between $100 and $150 at most.

So what is the bulk of that cost? Your expensive car payment!

Car payments are the most expensive part of owning a car, so the sooner you get out of a car payment the sooner you have more room in your budget.

Just do it!

But let’s assume that you have a car payment just so we have a realistic budget. Once again, adjust accordingly.

That leaves us with $884 per month for the average CNA.

Things are getting tight and we haven’t even made it out of the big three. But we can make it!


Food is the big expense that nobody seems to think about. You have to eat, so we just buy things. But that is not how it should be.

There are ways to lower your large expenses in housing and transportation, but they take time and a lot of commitment.

Food on the other hand is a variable expense, so it is easy to make a change in the next two to three months or sooner.

In other words, if you are tracking your spending for the first time and trying to create a budget, look to food as the first line to cut at for wiggle room.

That being said, food still costs money so don’t under spend and miss out on the nutrition you need to thrive.

If you want to know how much to spend on food, I have a whole post about food spending.

But assuming you’re an average person with a partner or a kid, then the maximum you should spend on food each month is $375 for the average CNA.

Please spend less than that if you can and be healthy.

This includes eating out to, so be careful with that.

The lower you can get your food budget, the more money you have for things that matter to you beyond just surviving.

If you spend the maximum recommended amount though, the average CNA is now left with $509.

Dealing With Other Expenses

Now, after you’ve paid for the big three, you have other expenses. These include your utility bills, internet, cell phone, entertainment, clothing, widgets, electronics, and anything else you want to buy.

How much you spend on each other those is up to you, but if you need help lowering some of those costs, I have a few suggestions.

If your utility bill is high, try taking drastic steps to lower it.

If you aren’t satisfied with you phone bill, don’t buy a new phone every year and switch to a cheaper provider. I use Reach Mobile and I’m enjoying it. You can get a bonus using my referral code K0D6L5CH if you’d like.

Try to negotiate your internet bill at least yearly.

Look into free or cheap forms of entertainment like outdoor activities and more.

Buy clothing second hand and electronics second generation.

Cut out anything that isn’t bringing value to your life.

And CNAs remember that it is really easy to spend based on your emotions. Take charge of your emotions so they don’t take charge of you.

Check out this link for more ideas on being frugal.

Now, please remember that you do not have that whole $509.

For reasons I’m about to explain, the budget for these items should be at most $359 for the average CNA.

See the example budget below for a break down of each item

The reason you should avoid spending all of it is you also need to be setting aside money for retirement.

Budget line ItemAverage Social Worker
Net Pay$1,499
Misc. Expenses$39
Retirement (minimum)$150
Example Budget

There are ALWAYS more expenses than you plan for. Have wiggle room in your budget.

How Much Do CNAs Need to Invest to Retire?

Retirement may seem like a long way off, especially if you are just starting out as a CNA, but it is never too early to start saving for retirement.

There are a variety of factors that determine how much you need to save for retirement, most of which I don’t have time to get into here.

Those include how much you plan on spending, do you have a pension, will your partner continue to work, how late you will retire, the expected inflation, and so forth.

If you are interested in preparing for retirement, I would recommend strategizing with a fee only financial advisor. It will cost more upfront to talk to one, but they won’t try to sell you life insurance.

For the purpose of this post, I’m going to go with a much simpler answer, and that is the advice from the Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason to “pay thyself first” a sum of 10% your income.

If you consistently pay yourself ten percent, over the course of a career you could have half a million in savings, or more.

Now the more you can put in the better, but if you need a place to start–start at 10%.

And the next year you get a small raise, take half of that raise and immediately invest that. You’ll never miss it and it will grow until you are able to retire.

The average CNA would invest $150 per month.

But remember, do as much as you can!

If you look back at the example budget, an average CNA has some miscellaneous spending money available, I highly recommend using some of that to invest for retirement.

If you want to be a millionaire investing in your 401k over 30 years then you’ll probably need to invest over $1,000 a month.

That seems like a daunting task, but with yearly effort to invest more and more you will be able to retire, even if you’re starting at a small income.

Start small and build up to it. You’ll get there as you put your mind to it.

The CNA Advantage

Every profession has an advantage of some kind that can be used to become more financially stable. These are things like high income potential, ability to get overtime, flexibility in schedule, or commission based work.

A CNA is such a demanding job it is hard to pin down your unique advantage. But let me give you some ideas.

Being a CNA is usually an hourly job. Hourly pay, in general, has the great potential of overtime work.

Being able to work overtime, while demanding, is rewarded with time and a half pay. That overtime money can be used to build an emergency fund and then invest for the future.

The other advantage is getting hands on experience in the medical world. One of the top complaints about getting a job is that you need job experience to get a job.

With a few years as a CNA under your belt you will be in a better position to move into a more highly qualified nursing position with higher pay.

Lastly, there is the potential to take on private nursing assistant work for those that provide care in home which could pay more than your hourly work at a hospital or care center. Look into this option as a side hustle.

Every job has an advantage and a CNA is no different.

Use your CNA advantage to create financial security.

The key though is to still stick to your regular budget then invest and save the rest.

Can you make an extra $1,000 a month with a side job? Easy!

That is your whole retirement right there if you invest it right.

CNAs don’t have to live in poverty. If you put your mind to it you will succeed.

What are other advantages that CNAs have? What other jobs do you want me to review? Tell me about it in the comments below.

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A list of definitions used on this blog can be found here.

Gross Pay: Your total pay before any money is taken out from taxes, insurance, or retirement investing.

Federal Payroll Tax: Tax that is paid on running payroll (paying employees) half of which is paid by your employer and the other half is paid by you. This tax pays for social security and medicare. Please note that if you are self employed you are responsible for the entire tax.

Federal Income Tax: Taxes paid to the federal government based on your taxable income (income that isn’t protected by tax shelters like a 401k or deductions). The more money you make the more you pay in a graduated or bracket system. This is where deduction and rebates come in that create tax returns.

State Income Tax: Taxes paid to the state government based on your taxable income. Each state has different tax rates and rules what is taxed.

410(k): An account offered through your employer that is not taxed upfront, but it is taxed taxed when you pull it out. (See retirement accounts on the definitions page)

Net Pay: Your actual take home pay after taxes and other deductions from your paycheck such as insurance premiums.

Variable Expense: Monthly expenses that are not consistently the same amount. Examples of this are food, your utility bill, and gas.

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