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  4. What Is the No-Guilt Budget? (And Why it Works)
overhead view of a person budgeting at table

As a hard-core money nerd, I’ve experimented with different budgeting styles and methods — the 50/30/20 budget, the zero-sum budget (where every dollar is assigned a task) and even color-coded spreadsheets.

I finally landed on the one that works best for me: a modified version of the guilt-free budget. Also known as the anti-budget, the guilt-free budget has simple rules: You pay yourself first, then spend the rest on whatever you wish. That’s pretty much it.

It’s not really a budget, per say. You don’t need to track your spending, nor expend time and energy figuring out how much to spend on food, going out, avocado toast and what have you.

There’s no getting into the nitty-gritty of categorizing expenses or allocating X amount to each type of spending. And because you’re staying on top of your money goals, you can spend your beans without getting swept away by a wave of guilt.

Here’s why it’s my preferred budget, and how you can go about adopting it as your go-to mode to spend and save.

The Feel-Good Factor

There’s no shortage of rules and information floating around online about creating a budget. Here’s what’s often missing from the equation: How to feel good about your financial decisions. Not only do you want to do what’s best for you in terms of dollars and cents, but you also want to build confidence and develop a positive relationship with your money.

I’ve found that it doesn’t matter whether I spent $100 over in food in a given month. Or that I spent more during the summer on clothes. That granular budgeting typically leads to feelings of regret, guilt, and sometimes, negative self-talk.

Because I’ve already set money aside for both short- and long-term goals such as an emergency fund, vacation and retirement, I can enjoy my everyday purchases.

Give Your Brain a Break

It’s estimated that we make an average of 35,000 decisions a day. The more choices you’re required to make, the greater the decision fatigue.

Why put yourself through that extra mental work with money decisions? Most people hate thinking about money, so why go through the process of deciding whether to spend $5 on a latte or put that money into savings? Instead, you can spend your brain space on other tasks and decisions.

I like to put as many of my financial decisions on autopilot as I can. That includes automating my savings and setting up autopay on my bills.

Your Saving Goals

When you pay yourself first, you don’t need to worry about the important goals falling by the wayside. The entirety of your paycheck won’t get devoured by bills, food and nilly-willy purchases. Instead, it will go toward building your wealth and, ultimately, your well-being.  

Curious to try the guilt-free budget? Here’s how to go about it.

Prioritize Your Goals

Make a list of all your financial goals.

Next, list them in order of priority, as well as target dates and target amounts. This can be paying off credit card debt or student loans, going back to school, or saving to have a family or to buy your first home.

Next, whittle your list to a few goals. Focusing on just a few to make major headway on will help you stay focused and make larger strides.

For a short-term goal, I’m saving for a trip to Vietnam next summer. One of my super long-term goals is to save for retirement. It’s really hard to juggle financial goals, and if you try to aggressively save for all of them, you’ll find yourself stretched thin.

Figure Out how much to Pay Yourself First

You’ll want to figure out how much you want to save, and can afford to save.

 Because I freelance full time and my income fluctuates, I’ve made a slight modification to the guilt-free budget: After I figure out how much I need for my monthly living expenses, I’ll pay myself that set amount as income. Next, I’ll save anything extra based on percentages. Anything that’s left over, I can spend on whatever I please.


This is an important step. Ironically, it’s one of the easiest things to do: You just set up auto deposits for each of your savings goals. If you’re nervous about autosaving too much or not the right amount, you can always make tweaks later.

Trust me: Automating your savings is one of the best things you can do for your financial situation.

For me, budgeting doesn’t really work. It’s time-consuming, granular and tough to stick to. The simpler the rules, the easier it is to live within my means.  

Of course, it’s really up to you to decide your preferences and how you work best. But if you don’t like fussing over your money decisions on a daily basis, the guilt-free budget, or anti-budget, is worth considering.

What is your system for budgeting? Let us know in the comments below!

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