Using An Anti-Budget to Manage Money

Once you start getting serious about managing your money, you may think to yourself, “Wow, I should really make a budget.” And for most people, that’s a great starting place! But just like diets, sticking with a budget can be really hard…and really boring. So what’s the solution?

May I suggest: the anti-budget! For the vast majority of the time, I use an anti-budget to manage our money. The idea is this: take your income, then subtract savings, investing, and all the bills you need to pay (housing, utilities, phone, debt payments, etc.)., and then do whatever you want with the remaining amount! No tracking needed!

What Our Anti-Budget Looks Like

I use a pretty straightforward Google Sheets spreadsheet to keep track of our anti-budget. While the actual amounts fluctuate over time, here are the main components:

Monthly Take Home Income: This is simply the total of my husband’s and my paychecks over the course of a month. We have one shared checking account, which works for us and streamlines payments.

Savings & Investments: We have multiple savings and investment vehicles, and all our automated so that we don’t have to remember to “pay ourselves” multiple times a month. Remember: whenever you can, take your will power out of the equation.

Recurring Bills: These are expenses that cost the same amount every month, with the vast majority also set up for auto-payment. This section is also a glimpse into our values: we believe in monthly house cleaning, carrying term life insurance, and prioritize monthly charitable giving to numerous organizations.

Credit Cards: Given that we don’t spend much actual cash these days, these amounts are usually the total of all other expenses for the month. This might include gasoline, eating out, clothes, toys, and other fun purchases.

So, there you have it! That’s our anti-budget!

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Things To Consider

This method might not be the best for you if you’re a significant over-spender. Warning signs of this may include:
– You can’t pay off your credit cards in full each month;
– You’re pulling from cash savings to tide you over between paychecks (or God forbid, taking out payday loans); or
– You become defensive over your purchases.

If you find yourself in any of these situations, you may want to (temporarily) try out a more traditional budget. This will help you pinpoint your spending habits better than an anti-budget. For example, transitioning to paying for two kids in daycare was a huge financial change for us – it was an additional $1400/month! By the end of that first month, we were pulling from savings to pay off our credit card balances.

When I realized what was happening, we agreed to start logging all our purchases on a mobile app to see where we could cut costs. By the following month, we had a rough budget (based on our spending from the month prior) that helped us stay within our means.

However, once you can consistently keep your spending within bounds, I highly recommend switching over to the anti-budget. When you only have to keep track of ONE number – the amount that’s leftover after your savings contributions and bill-paying – it frees up so much mental space! Just think of what you could do with that energy instead. Perhaps find a better debt repayment plan, or find a better job, or even plan an affordable and fun vacation. The possibilities are endless.

Additional Resources

Here are a few resources that may help you in deciding whether an anti-budget is right for you:

My Why of Financial Independence: Having a strong “why” for changing your finances really helps you over the initial hump of behavior change. Read my story and reflect on your own in the process.

Paula Pant’s Anti-Budget: Paula Pant at Afford Anything is a big believer in the anti-budget. Click the link to check out how she does it.

The Fioneers Anti-Budget Journey: My new favorite bloggers, the Fioneers, wrote a post pretty similar to the one you’re reading right now! Only theirs is about a year older, and it’s much more comprehensive 🙂 It evens includes a free anti-budget template – definitely check it out!

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