You Don’t Need A Budget – Instead Do These 7 Things

Do you hate budgeting? Sick of hearing budgeting tips? You're in luck. No more budget printables for you! Well... only if you do these 7 things instead. Find the list on might be shocked by this admission. As a personal finance blogger, I don’t follow a strict budget.

Sorry to disappoint you, but strict budgeting just isn’t something we do in our household.

Before you freak out, there are ways to control your money without budgeting.

In fact, because we don’t budget we must pay extra close attention to our finances and do other things to make up for the fact that we don’t budget.

If you can follow the guidelines below, you might not need a budget either.

1) Have Crazy Amounts Of Self Control

Living without a budget requires crazy amounts of self control. You can’t just buy everything in sight just because you don’t have a budget.

Instead, you need to control your spending to ensure that you’re not spending more than you earn while still reaching your other goals.

The only difference between having a budget and not having a budget is the fact that you don’t have a set dollar amount you can spend in each category.

The money can be spent wherever you want in any given month, but once the money is gone, it’s still gone, budget or no budget.

You’ll have to pay extra close attention to what is a need versus what is a want. You must buy needs first and only buy wants when you have money leftover. Otherwise you’ll be in a nasty situation quickly. Self control is so vital to living without a budget.

2) Commit To Never Incurring Consumer Debt

It’s easy to swipe the credit card one too many times when you’re living without a budget. To live without a budget successfully, you must have a huge commitment to never incurring consumer debt. That means always knowing how much money you have in the bank to pay off your credit card at the end of the month.

Don’t ever allow yourself to spend money before you have it. Even spending a day before your next paycheck will lead you down a slippery slope if you don’t have a budget. It can be done, but it isn’t easy.

3) Track Your Spending Religiously

Even though you don’t have a budget, you’ll still need to track your spending religiously. I personally use Quicken and download my account activity a couple of times a week to make sure I know how my finances are doing.

If you don’t use Quicken, you can use other services like Mint or track all of your spending in Excel or on a sheet of paper. It doesn’t matter how you track your finances, but if you’re living without a budget you must track your expenses extremely accurately and often to be able to survive and thrive financially.

4) Analyze Your Spending Frequently

You can’t just stop at tracking your spending! You must frequently analyze your spending when you’re living without a budget. Look at your expenses and determine what is normal versus what might be getting a bit out of control. Don’t just compile your spending reports, actually analyze them.

It might be normal to have a couple of months of higher spending around the holidays, but only if you can afford it. Likewise, you might have a high spending month when you have to replace your tires on your car. Just make sure that you can afford these purchases by cutting expenses in other months or living well below your means.

5) Take Action When Spending Gets Out Of Control

Take action and correct expense categories that are getting out of hand as soon as you see a pattern of unwanted increased spending. When you don’t have a budget, it is very important to spot trends early and take action to correct them.

6) Create And Execute A Short And Long Term Goal Plan

Just because you don’t budget doesn’t mean you can avoid creating a short and long term goal plan for your money. Come up with a list of money goals you have in the next year and a list of goals that could be many years away. Try to put a dollar amount with each of these goals and plan on how you expect to reach them.

Whether you want a 70″ flat screen TV in 6 months and need to save $300 a month to get it, or you want to put 20% down on a $400,000 home in 5 years, you must have a plan to reach your future money goals.

It doesn’t just stop at creating a plan either. If you actually want to make these purchases, you’ll have to start putting money away today. By creating an executing a short and long term goal plan for your money, you just might be able to avoid having a traditional budget.

7) Systematize Saving And Investing

The problem with not having a budget is most people spend every penny that hits your bank account. You can’t do this if you want to live without a budget. Instead, you must systematize your saving and investing. In fact, you need to do it in a way that pays yourself first, too.

Automate your investing through paycheck contributions to your 401(k) or other retirement plan at work. Then, automate your investments to your Roth IRA or regular IRA through your brokerage account.

Automate your savings through a direct deposit from your paycheck into a savings account. Alternatively, you can set up automatic transfers from your checking account to your savings account on payday or the day after with banks like Capital One 360 which I have used for years.

You can even automate your savings for some of your short and long term goals by setting up targeted accounts named after your goal. This is another feature of Capital One 360 that I love.

Does All Of This Sound Like Too Much Work?

If the seven guidelines listed above sound like a lot of work, that’s because they are. In fact, it might just be easier to create and follow a budget rather than spend all of the time required to keep up with these necessary guidelines. Who would have thought it’d just be easier to follow a simple budget?

What’re your thoughts? Do you think everyone must have a budget? Or do these seven guidelines above allow you to skip making a budget? Would you add any other guidelines? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Photo by: Alan Cleaver Text added by: Lance Cothern

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About Lance Cothern

Lance Cothern, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensed in the Commonwealth of Virginia, is the founder of Money Manifesto. You can read more about him here or connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest.


  1. I love this article as we also do not follow a strict budget. We save, pay bills and spend the rest. While this method works to an extent (no credit card debt, all bills paid early, we save a good amount, etc.), we randomly added up our variable expenses last month and were appalled!!! So, now we’re doing more of what you’re suggesting – not following a budget but tracking our expenses. We’re already on track to spend HALF of what we spent last month!! Thanks for the great post!!

    • That’s the danger you can run into without a budget and without following the 7 guidelines above. I’m glad you found your money leaks and it sounds like you’re ready to plug them up 🙂

  2. I’m not disciplined enough to do most of these things. What I find works? Dealing in cash only AND checking my accounts online every single day. I get $xx for the week and if I don’t have the $$, I can’t buy whatever it is I’m lusting for. Knowing my balance every morning helps me put in perspective what bills are coming up, etc.

  3. Seems to me that if you’re doing all of these things and doing them well that you pretty much have a budget going already!

  4. It’s kind of funny to see happening, but I do think that “budget” is becoming somewhat of a dirty word to people! Seems like the trend is heading more toward a better general awareness of spending and money habits, and less toward crunching numbers in a spreadsheet. Love it!

    • I’d definitely say things are headed that way. There is absolutely nothing wrong with budgeting, but if people don’t want to budget, the should follow the above for sure.

  5. I have a rough-ish budget going. I know approximately how much I’ll spend on what going into the month. That said, I don’t “cut myself off” once I reach a spending threshold since (1) I rarely spend much as it is and feel guilty the rare instances I do already and (2) I’ve a high enough savings rate that a couple purchases here or there won’t break me.

  6. These are great tips for people who don’t want to budget. It does take a lot of self control and constant reflecting on spending habits.

  7. I think most of the points become much easier after having a budget and following it for a while. Control and smart spending become second habit and pretty soon you don’t need a budget to spend responsibly.

    Not sure that most people are disciplined enough not to have a budget but they could be after a few months of responsible money management.
    Great article.

    • Budgeting is for most people, not for everybody!

      If “control and smart spending” is natural to you (you learned from your parents when you were growing up, etc.), then you definitely do not need a budget.

      If “after having a budget and following it for a while,” “control and smart spending become second habit,” then you definitely do not need a budget.

      Budgeting is for most people, not for everybody!

      • I agree mostly with what you say. However, sometimes even when you think you’re in control, there may be small cracks in your spending. A budget can help find those, but so can just simply reviewing your expenses and making adjustments.

  8. Luke Ehresman says:

    Hmm. So what does it say about us if your first six steps are exactly how we would naturally approach money if we didn’t think about it?! I was reading this thinking, that’s us to the core: My wife has the crazy amounts of self control and I am the fanatical tracker and analyzer. We balance each other well and I think technically we could follow your 7 steps quite easily, without it taking up too much thought and time. But even if that is true, I would still set up a budget. It is definitely so much more freeing. No anxious thoughts that we are taking away from next months needs intrude when we splurge for a nice dinner out or want to help out a friend in need. We know exactly what we can afford and not afford because we’ve given a job to every dollar we make. For us, budgeting is a way to take anxiety of future needs and income out of the picture. Great article.

    • I’m all for budgeting if you want to. If you can’t make yourself budget, though, you need to make sure you stay on top of your money. I’m glad budgeting helps you guys 🙂

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