This may come as a shock to some of my newer readers, but I actually do not budget.
I generally live my life on frugal autopilot- I just avoiding spending money. At this point, I’ve been doing this frugal living thing for two years, and I’ve optimized my life to save as much as possible.
Or so I had thought. I was reviewing my monthly spending and I realized that I’m not nearly as frugal as I was when I was paying off debt. Last week I even went out to eat! ($5 Bahn Mi, holler.) 2015 Kara would be disgusted.
So I asked myself: should I start budgeting? Especially now that I’m on a freelancer’s irregular income?
It’s a good question. Over time, I’ve definitely loosened my grip on my spending. A year ago, my life was about ruthless budget optimization. I had just paid off my student loan debt, and I was desperate to build up my savings, and start contributing to a retirement fund.
With a lot of catering and budget cutting, I doubled my emergency fund and maxed out my IRA in five months last year. It was a crazy time, and I saw crazy results.
But I’m not doing that anymore. I worked seven days a week at a three jobs last fall to make that happen. I was exhausted all the time. I spent money on the bare essentials, and I shoveled the rest into my different savings accounts.
I don’t regret that time. All that work paid off and paved the way for me to be where I am today. I’m proud of myself, certainly. I’m also not interested in living that way for the rest of my life.
I always told myself that that kind of schedule and the iron grip I had on my spending was temporary. I had to claw my way out of my debt hole. I had to build up my savings.
Now I’ve done both those things. I’ve maxed out my IRA for this year, and it’s looking like I’ll put another $1,000 to retirement before the end of the year. I’ve got a healthy emergency fund. I’ve saved enough for my upcoming road trip. I’m bringing in a little less each month than I was in the first half of the year, but it’s still coming in.
It’s ok that I went out to dinner last week. That $5 was spent on a badass sandwich, and I got to catch up with a friend and my boyfriend. That was money well spent- I wouldn’t be better served by putting that five bucks in my saving account. And to be fair, my food spending is up across the board because summer is the slow catering season. Rather than catering 2-3x a week like I did in the spring, I was down to maybe once a week all summer.
For me, a budget would be more of a hindrance than a help. I have it within me to be absolutely rigid in my spending. I have no problem with saving money. I know how to do it, I enjoy doing it, and I’m good at it. What I struggle with is spending money. I still find it difficult to spend my money, even in areas that matter to me. Budgeting would feed into this rigidness. It would turn me from frugal to miserly. It would make me miserable to be around.
So I’ve decided that I am not going to start a budget. I’ll continue to live my life on frugal autopilot. I’ll also continue to check in with my monthly spending. Lifestyle inflation has claimed those more frugal than I! I’m still too low of an earner to fall prey to it.
What do you beautiful people think? Should I stick with frugal autopilot, or should I start a budget? How has lifestyle inflation crept up on you?
Kara Perez is the original founder of From Frugal To Free. She is a money expert, speaker and founder of Bravely Go, a feminist financial education company. Her work has been featured on NPR, Business Insider, Forbes, and Elite Daily.