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.
21 Replies to “I Don’t Budget, And It’s Ok”
I want to see you ‘from frugal to free’ and not ‘from frugal to misery’
I say, forget the budget, just stay aware of where the money is going. Calculate what you can and cannot afford or what you should and should not spend the money on.
You have been an absolute bad-ass and a small splurge here and there will not make a difference. Actually, scratch that. It WILL make a difference – it will make you happier 🙂
I was so heavy on budgeting and I just embraced the fact that it just not work for me and my husband. We are just staying frugal at this point with an occasional treat. And I stopped stressing about it.
Marian, you nailed it. I actually gasped out loud when I read ‘from frugal to misery’, because that sums it up perfectly. I agree- budgeting won’t add anything to my life. And I want to start adding in more good stuff, not letting it slip away.
I think it just depends on the person. For me it helps having that guideline. Without it I was doing too much mindless spending. I think as long as you’re living below your means and saving some money, whatever works for YOU is best.
I agree, it definitely depends. What’s more personal than money? You’ll only succeed at it if you do what works for you and your life.
I agree with you and Tonya – just depends. I personally love having a budget. Im a planner even if I don’t always stick to the plans I make. Budgeting has been a nice framework in which to start making spending optimizations. Because my husband and I have our finances totally intertwined, we’ve got money leaving the pool in two directions, so budgeting in Mint is also just another way to keep track of what’s going where. It impresses me that you can keep yourself on track without a budget!!
Well, to be totally transparent, I also use Mint. I use it to track my spending, but I never set up budgets. It’s mostly just to see my income, and what I spend money on, which is mostly groceries, gas, and utilities. Pretty boring, hahah!
Is it possible that having a budget would actually help you feel free to spend some money on enjoyment? That way you can have a concrete blueprint of where your money will go, which might help you to see that you can still spend a certain amount on “fun” and still do okay. For me, budgeting actually helps lessen my anxiety about spending on things I enjoy, because I also know all my needs and goals are attended to first. Just offering a different perspective (:
I’ve thought about that. But for me, I go into ‘anything extra should be saved!’ mode so quickly. Coming from a really financially uncertain background, I still have trouble understanding the ‘fun’ budget category. Feels wrong! That’s something I’m working on personally.
Our budget is more of a spending tracking like with you and Mint. We know about how much we should be spending each month, and when we see spikes, we make sure they don’t become the norm. 🙂 Pretty boring, plus what’s the point of budgeting and saving for savings sake and feeling miserly about it rather than spending mindfully and enjoying occasional things that may not be accounted for with a budget.
Good approach, and it’s good to know when something doesn’t work for you and may make your goal seem unattractive and easier to stray from.
When I was totally broke, saving for savings sake was my lifeline. Now that I’ve reached some financial goals, it’s more important for me to remember that enjoying today is still important. Constantly looking to the future is no way to live. My life now is important too!
Same here – mostly on autopilot, so I’m about tracking and not budgeting! Works for me.
When something gets out of whack, I take notice. But not holding myself to strict budgets seems to work for me.
I only had a few brief phases of budgeting. I feel like I was more focuses on money then. Like you, I tend to just be naturally frugal except for a few specific categories.
I’ve always THOUGHT that I had a struggle with spending money, but when I look at my previous 12 months of savings rates and see a range from 8% to 76% with most months having a fairly similar income, it probably wouldn’t hurt to consider a budget, or at least do some deeper analysis on my spending to figure out what the heck I did to cause such a wide range.
I think frequent check ins are key if you’re not going to budget. Not budgeting can’t mean ignoring finances, or never changing habits. I like to check in every few days, especially on my credit cards. Understanding your habits and needs can be enough to keep you honest, but you gotta do the work.
For the past few years, I’ve been doing monthly check-in’s. When I was recording every purchase manually in excel, I thought that was just a bit too much. I was probably spending less but I wasn’t just being a PF nerd, I was getting obsessive about it and it didn’t feel healthy. Maybe weekly or twice a week would be the right middle ground. Thanks for the tip!
That’s what I’m afraid will happen to me! Glad you stopped an unhealthy habit in it’s tracks
My monthly budget help me to know what I have and until where I can push the things. For example I can live 3 months and a half without a job and with same level of expenses (even I am sure in case of loosing the job I will push down the expenses).
I like the numbers. There give me confidence and limit. I like the mathematical models.
But if is not for you, don’t push. It is important to feel confident in you.
Whatever gives you confidence is the right move! I really understand why people love their budgets. 🙂
I like your website’s simple design and your positive attitude.
You seem like the kind of girl that enjoys a more bohemian lifestyle.
any plans to travel outside of the US?
So many plans to go abroad! Hopefully Japan and the Caribbean next year. Thanks for the kind words!
I never budget but would like to start doing so. Too much of my money goes into the ether. I’m pretty good at saving, but I know that I would be better at it if I had a budget.