Why I’m Not Writing a Budget This Month

March 4, 2015

On Monday, I briefly mentioned that I’m going to stop publishing two posts re: my monthly budget – specifically, the first post where I tell you what my plans are. I’ve been toying with this idea for a few months, mostly since my freelance income picked up, which began to throw my final numbers way off. I would tell you I was going to live off 52% of my income, then end up living off just 40%, and it made me feel like the original budget was redundant. But the other reason I’ve been thinking about not writing that first post is because I’ve been wanting to see how I’d do if I didn’t write a budget at all…

That sounds crazy, right? As the girl who just wrote that she budgets monthly, semi-monthly and weekly, I’d have to agree. However, it’s because I’ve been budgeting that way for so many years that I feel comfortable enough with my spending habits to know I’m not going to go on a spending spree, simply because I don’t have a budget in-place. Truth be told, my budgets never stop me from buying what I want at the grocery store or from going for one extra meal out with a friend, even if it’s going to put me over by $10-15. I check my bank account and credit card balances so often that I know exactly where I’m at, at all times, without it.

Anyway, I’ve decided that the month of March will be a little test for both myself and my finances. I’m not going to write a budget, and I’m not going to add up my spending until the end of the month. The old me would’ve been too scared to attempt this, but for where I’m at now in my financial journey, I’m excited to see if I can loosen the reins a bit and just live my regular lifestyle… sans budget.

Here’s why I think it’ll work:

  1. I pay myself first. Ok, technically I pay myself first at the end of the month (first paycheque covers expenses, second goes into savings) but that’s been my system for months and it works well.
  2. I spend the same amounts each month. Since the start of the shopping ban (which was almost 8 months ago!), I’ve been spending the same amounts in almost every category of my budget each month. I made the mistake of letting lifestyle inflation occur once before, which is primarily why I’m doing this shopping ban, but I don’t think it’ll ever happen again.
  3. I have goals. I know what I’m working towards, which guides all my financial decisions. Above all else, I think this is the key ingredient for any good financial plan.

When March is over, I’ll add up all my spending, compare it against my last few budgets and see how I did. If it’s similar, I’ll try it again for another month… and another month and another month. I’ll always add up my spending at the end of the month; that’s something I plan to do forever, so I can see final numbers at the end of the year. But I’d love to get to a place where I don’t need to budget anymore. Many of the successful personal finance bloggers and wealth builders I know do not budget. It takes a lot of self discipline, mostly in the form of saving first and living on less, but that’s what I’m striving for. Wish me luck!

Are any of you successful non-budgeters!?

  • Brittany @ Fun on a Budget Blog March 4, 2015 at 4:56 am

    I’m excited for you to do this because I’ve wondered about the same thing. Can’t wait to hear how it turns out!

    • Cait Flanders March 4, 2015 at 8:24 am

      I have a good feeling about it, but we’ll have to wait and see how it goes! :)

  • C@thesingledollar March 4, 2015 at 4:56 am

    I do wish you luck! I like to budget at the beginning of the month, but I think of it more as a rough guideline rather than as gospel. If I go over in a category, I shift money around from another one. I just like to have an approximate sense of what ought to be happening. But you’re very experienced, like you say, so I predict that things will come out about as they would have anyway :)

    • Cait Flanders March 4, 2015 at 8:29 am

      Mine has morphed into a guideline, too, but it still just feels like a mess at the end of each month, once I factor in all my freelance income. I’m excited to try and remove that tiny annoyance, and just see how the numbers turn out.

  • Anne @ Money Propeller March 4, 2015 at 5:06 am

    Welcome to the club :) we set savings targets for the year and tweak our spending based on how we are forecasting to fall by the end of the year. If we’re behind, we semi subconsciously cut out spending. I personally can’t get to a point where I’m spending time budgeting like a lot of people, but I have the luxury of fairly high income and a pretty solid understanding of where I spend money.
    I suspect you’re going to like it, but maybe not as you’re pretty hard core on the budgeting front and have found it so useful in the past. hhard

    • Cait Flanders March 4, 2015 at 8:33 am

      I think I’m going to like it, too. And it’s funny you made the comment re: your high income, as I’d wondered if that’s why this might be easier for me now. But I don’t have a particularly high income, I just know how much money I need to live a happy life… and it’s usually less than half of what I make. So, here’s to the test!

  • L March 4, 2015 at 5:16 am

    I’m excited to read about the results :) I sort of budget I guess. I have one that basically stays the same for most bi-weekly pay periods and like yourself I won’t go on some crazy spending spree unless I have saved for it. Good luck and like most things you set your mind to I’m sure you will rock it!

    • Cait Flanders March 4, 2015 at 8:34 am

      Yea, I think I’ll always have that semi-monthly budget in my head, where I know what needs to happen on each payday. I just won’t have a formal monthly budget that maps out every dollar, before it comes in. Thanks for the support, L!

  • Ophelia March 4, 2015 at 5:34 am

    I’ve been a successful “non-budgeter” for years, it is totally doable.
    In January I usually sit down and figure out my main savings goals for the year and create a graph on paper (which I sometimes hang where I can see it) I also have spreadsheets (because I’m a spreadsheet nerd).

    I pay myself first, parts of each pay cheque go to savings (and to expenses). The rest of the money is sort of “free money” in that I can do what I want with it, but it is finite, so I better make good decisions.

    At the end of the month I’ll enter my expenses in my spreadsheet and see how I did. I will then graph my savings against my January savings goal graph to see how I measure up against it (if I’m below the planned line then the next month I try to save more – if I’m above the planned line its a bonus) – I hope that makes sense.

    I could forego tracking at all, but I actually enjoy it, I like to figure out where my money is going so that when life happens and I need to “tighten the belt” I know the easy places to cut back.

    I’ve never really been in debt, at least not CC debt, and have been lucky to have parents that financed my car loans at low to no interest (my next car I will be buying with cash so that is how far I’ve come) Now my only debt it my mortgage, and I pay myself first to save money towards a lump sum each year, and again I do it all without a monthly spending budget. I have a monthly savings budget that has a bit of flex room, and then I track expenses after the fact.

    It becomes pretty easy to say no to new clothes (that aren’t needed) when you have $50 in your chequing account and know you still need to buy food for the week.

    Good luck, I hope you enjoy it. It’s quite freeing once you get used to it.

    • Cait Flanders March 4, 2015 at 8:37 am

      Sounds like a great system, Ophelia! And YES to this comment: “It becomes pretty easy to say no to new clothes (that aren’t needed) when you have $50 in your chequing account and know you still need to buy food for the week.” I use my credit cards to pay for everything, so don’t *really* see that, but I still try to only spend on my credit cards whatever is left in my chequing account… if that makes sense? So if I know I only have $200 in chequing, I basically stop spending money on my credit cards, other than on food.

  • Kate@GoodnightDebt March 4, 2015 at 5:43 am

    Good luck! I’m a non-budgeter. I’ve only tracked my spending one month over the last year (last month!) for a friendly “How much do 2 people spend on food” challenge. Otherwise, I know what my fixed expenses are and then operate from a no or low spending perspective. My spending fluctuates, but nothing crazy.

    I’m excited to see how you like it!

    • Cait Flanders March 4, 2015 at 8:38 am

      Thanks, Kate! It’s nice to hear from more non-budgeters. I feel like I’m being initiated into a new club. ;)

  • Tonya@Budget and the Beach March 4, 2015 at 5:44 am

    When I used to work full time I never had a budget and I did OK. I knew I was saving for retirement and never seemed to be “lacking.” I probably could have saved more if I did have a budget, but I felt pretty content. Now that money is super tight….really need that budget. Good luck and looking forward to seeing how it goes!

    • Cait Flanders March 4, 2015 at 8:39 am

      Yes, I couldn’t have done this a couple years ago when things were tighter… you are right about that, and thanks for the perspective!

  • Rob March 4, 2015 at 5:59 am

    Hi Cait. As for me, I’m more comfortable working with a budget established at the beginning of each month. Like yourself, our monthly expenses are mostly fixed in nature; however, as the month progresses and I record the expenses as they roll in, I’m in a better position to spot ahead of time as to whether some expenses have incurred increases (like food, gas, utility, etc. expenses) and this then makes it easier for me to adjust my spending pace, heading into the end of each month. It also means that I have some time to consider how to adjust the following month’s budget, taking these inflationary increases into account (rather than wait till the last minute at month end). Also, with a pre-established budget, I can vary my planned spending better in the event that some unexpected spending need arise (like an appliance all of a sudden conking out on me, it’s happened in the past). But each to their own, I say. This is the method that’s most comfortable for me.

    • Cait Flanders March 4, 2015 at 9:21 am

      I thought I’d budget the same way I have been for years, too. And who knows – maybe I won’t like NOT budgeting. But I’ll see how this month goes, and go from there. Either way, I’ll still always track my spending. :)

  • Sara Oss March 4, 2015 at 6:22 am

    I’d like to blame being married and sharing a money pot for why I couldn’t go without a budget. But truthfully I don’t think I could have done it single either. I don’t have the mental space for the smaller purchases, which really add up.

    • Cait Flanders March 4, 2015 at 9:24 am

      They do! But the shopping ban stops me from making all of those :)

  • Jewel March 4, 2015 at 6:32 am

    When I paid off my consumer debt a couple of years ago, I started coasting — stopped keeping a budget, stopped tracking, and with our move, and renos, found myself with a credit card balance again! Not a very large one, but more than I can pay at the end of the month, so I am back to the monthly budget. I didn’t track expenses at the end of each month, just had a vague idea of what I had spent.

    Had it not been for the renos that never end, I don’t think I would be in this position. I know you can budget for them, and we did, just never expected so many surprises!

    So I am back to the monthly budget, making sure I keep my discretionary spending in check, keep contributing to my savings, so that will be intact when I am once again out of consumer debt in about 6 months at the most — and forever this time.

    I am sure adding up the expenses at the end of the month will keep you on track. Once I pay off my sad little credit card, and am comfortable with my finances again, I may try the same thing.

    Love your post, have a great day!

    • Cait Flanders March 4, 2015 at 10:07 am

      Oh, I can only imagine how renos would throw you off track! I’m not a homeowner, but imagine I’d add big cushions to any renos I wanted to tackle one day, for that same reason. I’m sure you’ll be comfortable with your finances again soon. :)

  • Barry @ Moneywehave March 4, 2015 at 6:50 am

    Over the years I’ve become pretty comfortable with my budget so I don’t usually go over. That being said, I still track my “eating out” budget since I charge everything to credit (for points). If I didn’t track my spending it would be way too easy to go over.

    • Cait Flanders March 4, 2015 at 10:09 am

      Yea, that’s a big problem in Toronto – so much good food, so much temptation to eat takeout. It’s less of a problem when you work from home ;)

  • Jacquie March 4, 2015 at 9:16 am

    oooooooo I want to hear how it goes!!

    I budget in a weird way because my expenses are really low (lucky me!) and I have no debt. When I get paid, I pay myself first, then use my google calendar to see what bills have to be paid before my next cheque, and what social activities I have lined up. Then I have a chunk of money left. When I tried to separate it into categories like “entertainment” “clothing” “groceries” it felt too restrictive. I just know that if I’m going out a lot with friends, clothes shopping is not happening. Or if I do want to buy a coat or something, it means I’ll be cooking at home a lot more. Also since I’m a natural planner, I do set aside money for trips later that year, or if there’s something large like furniture that one cheque can’t take care of.

    I realize there are a LOT of flaws in this system, so I’ve started tracking my spending again. I always think of your post where you realized you could be saving more. Just because I have the money for lunch out every day, doesn’t mean I should be buying it.

    • Cait Flanders March 4, 2015 at 10:10 am

      There’s only flaws in your system if something in it isn’t working for YOU. You don’t have to change things because you read that others do it a certain way. If it works for you, and you feel good about your money, that’s all that counts!

  • Melanie March 4, 2015 at 10:37 am

    I think that’s a great idea especially if you have unknown amounts you’ll receive from freelancing. It’ll also be one less post you’ll have to write. ;)

    For me, I have a spreadsheet where I have separate columns for each paycheque, up to 6 of them. This prepares me for known expenses that will arise in the next few months. My variable expenses just go into one big category (food, gas, personal care) and put an amount that seems reasonable to me. The rest goes to paying debt and any amount that I didn’t spend from the variable expenses goes towards my debt as well.

    • Cait Flanders March 4, 2015 at 11:30 am

      Yea, I’m trying to write fewer/better posts. There’ll always be a need for these ones – to explain little things I’m doing/trying – but I’d rather write 1 great post every week than a bunch of random ok ones. So, maybe I’ll revise the end-of-the-month post, to make it a little longer! We’ll see.

      And it sounds like you have a good system going!

  • Kayla @ Shoeaholicnomore March 4, 2015 at 12:03 pm

    I’d love to try this out someday, but for right now I need my budget at the beginning and end of each month. It keeps me on track and allows me to see when I have a surplus of “extra” that I can put toward debt and savings. I like the idea though!

    • Cait Flanders March 5, 2015 at 10:06 pm

      I feel you! This is the first time I’ve ever felt confident that I could do this. It’ll definitely be an experiment!

  • ARBM March 4, 2015 at 1:49 pm

    I am just joining the budget club, and leaving the non-budgeting club… lol…
    But I’m moving to a different stage in my life where I can’t just float along like I did, so this is why I need to learn how to budget and follow that budget until it becomes second nature, as it seems to have with you. I’m excited to see how it works out for you.

    • Cait Flanders March 5, 2015 at 10:07 pm

      And I’m excited for you to get into budgeting! I can’t imagine where I’d be, if I hadn’t written and stuck to those for the past 3.5 years. Hope you find them as helpful as I did :)

  • Alicia March 4, 2015 at 3:09 pm

    This is how I’ve basically always done it. I do have something written down as a guideline – $300 for food, $75 for cell phone, etc – but I have a good handle on where my money is. I think this is the luxury of having a healthy enough salary that even if you do spend an extra %, it isn’t detrimental to your goals and keeping a roof over your head. I personally like it this way. Though sometimes I rob Peter to pay Paul… As long as it isn’t constsnt, I’m ok in the end.

    • Cait Flanders March 5, 2015 at 10:09 pm

      Yea, people keep saying it must be a high income thing… I don’t know if it’s necessarily that, so much as I just know I always spend in a certain range, and can’t imagine why I’d go over that. But I guess we’ll see how this month goes, and go from there.

  • Abigail @ipickuppennies March 4, 2015 at 3:30 pm

    I think it’ll be interesting to see how you do.

    We have a pretty loose budget because I need my last shreds of sanity. Between health problems and other foibles, our spending is never completely predictable.

    So I shunt certain amounts into various accounts each month, budget for our monthly spending (another fun wrinkle: I only get paid once a month) and throw whatever is left and bills and into the savings account.

    • Cait Flanders March 5, 2015 at 10:10 pm

      Makes sense to me!

  • Sara Hamil @ They Call it Gumption March 5, 2015 at 7:32 am

    I’ve never created budgets the detailed way that you do. I split my expenses between my two pays and know exactly what goes where so my bills are all paid on time. What I’ve never done is break down how to spend the money left over after the bills are paid. That money is used for groceries, going out, gas, things I need, etc. What I’ve found helps to keep me on track is taking that money out in cash so that I can see exactly how much I have. Seeing it helps me remember that whatever I have is what needs to get me through to my next pay and therefore helps to keep my spending in check.

    • Cait Flanders March 5, 2015 at 10:13 pm

      That worked for me for a long time, too, back when I used to pay for everything with debit!

  • Kathleen March 5, 2015 at 12:34 pm

    I drove myself CRAZY with budgeting at first. I remember thinking, holy smokes, I need a new vacuum filter, but is that groceries? Does that mean I should spend $11 less on things to eat for this week in order to afford to clean my house? Or do I wait until next week?

    IT WAS AWFUL! I stopped budgeting per se well before I paid off my credit card. Instead, I paid my bills and used my debit card. It wasn’t elegant, but it freed me from the prison of agonizing over whether I could buy cleaning supplies with my grocery budget.

    • Cait Flanders March 5, 2015 at 10:15 pm

      Ha, yea that’s a good point. I know I’ve bought dish soap or Advil or something like that at the grocery store on occasion, but have never really taken the time to remove it from my grocery budget. So, in some ways, I’ve been loose about it this whole time, I guess… but now we’re really letting go!

  • Isabelle March 5, 2015 at 1:27 pm

    I don’t really have a budget. I allow myself a certain ‘salary’ every two weeks and I must pay everything with it. And I do! My goal is to have a bit left at the end of the 2 weeks. If that happens, the leftover goes into savings and then I start fresh with the same amount again.
    Everything else goes into a TPS/TVQ/taxes/RRSP/TFSA accounts. At the end of the year (I love Dec 31st!), after paying all my TPS/TVQ/taxes/RRSP/TFSA, if there is money left from that chunk, it goes into the savings account. So when I start the year, I know exactly how much savings I have that can be used for ‘fun’ (in my case, travelling).
    I use my credit card for everything but I think of it as a debit card. Each night I pay it so I always know exactly how much there is left in my account to reach the end of the two weeks. It works quite well.

    • Cait Flanders March 5, 2015 at 10:18 pm

      You pay it off each night? Now that’s dedication! I check my accounts almost daily, but only pay off my credit card on pay day, and then carry on for another two weeks.

      • Isabelle March 6, 2015 at 7:15 am

        Well, I don’t spend money every day so I guess that technically it’s not each night! But if you already check your account daily, it’s just one more click to pay your CC. Maybe it’s dedication but honestly, I think it’s fun!

  • middle class March 5, 2015 at 4:48 pm

    Even though I consider myself self-disciplined with money, I’ve never kept a budget. Last year, I did track all our household spending and it was eye-opening to see the actual numbers ($) we spent per month, rather than guessing at it.

    I put my savings on auto-pilot for the most part, and we spend what is leftover. We always try to think twice before purchasing and look around for deals. We don’t have a super high income so we always have to watch our spending.

    • Cait Flanders March 5, 2015 at 10:20 pm

      Sounds like you’re doing exactly what I want to do! Save first, then spend, then track it all. And no budget. :)

  • Potato March 5, 2015 at 8:11 pm

    I call it “building my frugality muscles” — after years of really detailed budgets, I slacked and slacked, and now basically just check that the right amount goes into long-term savings and let the rest go on autopilot.

    Looking back on your years of budgeting, could I suggest a lessons learned/wrap-up post? You mentioned above why you’re dropping down the budget process — is there anything you would have done different with hindsight? Should/could you have made this move earlier even? How do you know when your frugality muscles are built and budgeting is automatic?

    Anything you would have changed about your budgeting process? If you were designing a how-to-budget course for people facing the uphill climb out of debt, what would it look like?

    • Cait Flanders March 5, 2015 at 10:21 pm

      I think it’ll take more than a post. ;)

      • Potato March 6, 2015 at 10:26 am

        I see. Well, if I’m reading between the lines correctly there, let me know if you need an editor!

  • Ronnica, Striving Stewardess March 6, 2015 at 12:06 am

    I’m a major budgeter (I tweak mine almost everyday). It helps me visualize something relatively abstract.

    That said, knowing my goals is huge in keeping in check, more so than any budget.

    • Cait Flanders March 6, 2015 at 11:01 am

      Goals are HUGE. If you keep them in the back of your mind, they affect all your financial (i.e. spending) decisions.

  • Mrs. Frugalwoods March 6, 2015 at 4:17 am

    Woohoo! Non-budgeter here! We don’t budget at all, but we do add up our expenses at the end of every month to ensure we’re on track with our savings goals. I find budgeting unnecessary at this stage of our lives. Like you said, since you’re already living in the frugal mode, there’s no need for a budget.

    Mr. FW and I operate on “frugal autopilot,” which basically means we approach everything from the perspective of ‘I’m not going to spend any money.’ Obviously we are going to spend money, but starting from that viewpoint helps us to save more and more.

    I view every purchase as a debit against our future goals, which really helps to keep us in check! I’m excited to hear how you find this experiment. Good luck!!

    • Cait Flanders March 6, 2015 at 8:07 am

      Yeaaaa, I knew you guys were in this club! I’m excited to join it :)

  • Jenny from Germany March 8, 2015 at 11:17 am

    Right now I’d be totally lost without a budget. For some reason in the past few weeks I just want to shop shop shop.But not because I want buy stuff but because I want to spend money. Feels totally weird. Maybe that is because I set a more serious goal towards paying off my car and my budget is more limited as it was before. I really hope that urge will pass. Can’t wait for the day I can live without a budget again but for right now I am way too scared to fall back into old habits. Looking forward though how it will work for you!

    • Jenny from Germany March 8, 2015 at 11:53 am

      Oh and Cait I forgot: A couple weeks ago you mentioned you had given an interview to a German newspaper. I found the article through google at the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” (you badass, the second largest and one of the most credible newspapers here. Good job!) unfortunately to late because it is not online with the newspaper anymore (at least not for free) but I did found several others who put the article up on their websites. Even an Austrian one:


      Basically it just says how you got into debt, what you did to get out, a bit about your blog and a general overview on how much Canadians are in debt. I spare you the comment section because as always Germans don’t seem to appreciate personal success and are arrogant and snobby… (sorry about that, but this is what I have to live with everyday *lol*)

    • Cait Flanders March 8, 2015 at 7:33 pm

      Haha, am I a bad ass!? I love it! And you’re the second person to tell me to avoid the comments section, so I did. Truthfully, we have to avoid them on Canadian newspaper websites, too. It’s crazy how mean humans can be, when they can write anonymously…

      Thanks for sharing the link, and good luck with your continued budgeting. :)