Anti-budget book

The Anti-Budget Might Be the Best Budgeting Tool for Freelancers

When I was getting started as a freelance writer, I wasn’t making much money.

And what I really mean by that is I was scraping by.

I was clawing at the job boards for work and spent week after week worrying how I would afford to pay for food and bills.

I tried to make a budget and stick to it, I really did. But when my income was so inconsistent and minimal, it wasn’t practical to budget at the beginning of the month. That would mean making some assumptions, and there are never any safe assumptions regarding freelance income.

It was around that time that I first heard about a new way of thinking about budgeting, called the anti-budget.

What is an Anti-Budget, and How Does it Work?

I first heard about the anti-budget from the lovely Paula Pant at Afford Anything (who is one of my go-to resources for all things personal finance, check out her blog and podcast for a treasure trove of information!). 

With the anti-budget, you don’t need to create categories for every little thing and assign a dollar amount to each. No envelopes, no apps, no-nonsense.

It’s waaayyy simpler than that.

First, figure out your core expenses. That means the bare minimum of what it takes to keep your household running. Think about things like:

  • Rent or mortgage payments
  • Food
  • Transportation
  • Utilities (electricity, AC/heat, and internet)
  • Savings
  • Investing
  • Insurance
  • Debt repayment

Next, when your clients pay you and you’re able to pay yourself, you’ll hit the areas above first, making sure you live to see another month.

Anything left at the end of paying these mandatory monthly bills is yours to spend on whatever.

That’s all there is to it.

You pay your bills. You spend the remaining money if you want. Save it if you don’t. Easy. No budget categories for clothing, miscellaneous, or dining out.

Once your bills are paid, the remaining lump sum (which hopefully you have, I know there have been months I haven’t had a dime left over) means freedom to choose your own adventure.

The Anti-Budget in Action

Let’s say that after you set aside money for taxes, you’re clearing $2,500 per month from your freelance jobs. We’ll also assume you have limited “mandatory” monthly expenses, consisting of mortgage, utilities, credit card payment, Roth IRA contribution, food, and payment on a car loan.

  • Income: $2500
  • Mortgage: $1000
  • Utilities: $200
  • Credit Card Payment: $250
  • Roth IRA contribution: $250
  • Food: $350
  • Auto Loan Payment: $175
  • Total mandatory expenses: $2,225

Subtract total mandatory expenses from income, and you’ll end up with your remaining money to spend.

In this example, you’ll have $275 for spending during the month. If your freelance business is taking off and you have a lot more income, you’ll have a lot more to spend.

One of my favorite parts of freelancing is that you can pay yourself as many times a month as you want. The fact that freelancers may have payments coming in at different times gives us an advantage over people getting paychecks twice a month.

If you’re waiting on a client payment to come through and it hits tomorrow, there’s no reason you can’t take a smaller paycheck now instead of waiting to create a larger one later.

And better yet, if your “first paycheck” of the month is enough to cover the mandatory expenses, every subsequent paycheck might go straight into your pocket. Meaning the anti part of your anti-budget gets a lot bigger!

The Main Thing About the Anti-Budget for Freelancers

The anti-budget means true freedom for freelancers. We’re no longer tied to budgeting categories and can treat our finances like we treat our time: with flexibility. And I don’t know about you, but that’s one of the main reasons I fell in love with freelance in the first place.

Have you tried the anti-budget? Do you have a budgeting tactic that you swear by? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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