personal finance

Budgeting Is Officially a Flex

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Getty Images

Great news for anyone who has ever sat nervously at a group dinner scanning the menu for the cheapest option (soup — it’s always soup!) and praying no one wants to split the bill: Quiet frugality is over and “loud budgeting” is in. The phrase — which means exactly what it sounds like — was coined by TikToker Lukas Battle in December. “Loud budgeting is a new concept I’m introducing for 2024,” he announced in a video that now has more than 1.5 million views. “It’s not ‘I don’t have enough.’ It’s ‘I don’t want to spend.’”

The difference is that you’re owning your cheapness. “If you know any rich people, you know that they hate spending money. So it’s almost more chic, more stylish, more of a flex,” explained Battle. Even if you’re budgeting out of necessity like the rest of us (let’s be real), it’s now acceptable — encouraged! — to claim it as a lifestyle choice, just as you would talk about your weekend plans or your dog. It’s assertive, a healthy boundary, not a restriction. It’s sharing wine with your friends in the park because it’s fun, not because you can’t afford the drinks at a bar. (Sure, maybe you can’t. But who cares! You’re having fun.)

The timing was perfectly executed. Loud budgeting hit the internet as “no-buy January” was taking off and the whole world was recovering from an era of wild spending. “We all had this YOLO, seize-the-day mentality with money coming out of COVID,” says Jenny Park, who posts about personal finance as @mohaewithjennypark. “We did that for about a year and a half, and now reality is setting in. People are like, Wait, I need a sustainable way to continue living my life, and also pay my student loans. How do I manage this?

Unlike conventional budgeting, which is traditionally associated with spreadsheets, anxious math, and hushed lectures from your parents, the “loud” version is out and proud — you’re comfortable telling the world what you’re willing to spend and what you aren’t. It’s also well suited to sharing on social media. Search #loudbudgeting on TikTok and you’ll turn up thousands of people talking about what they spend in a week, how they save on groceries, their 75 Hard Style Challenge (don’t buy any new clothes for 75 days; document your outfits the whole time), and other money hacks.

In many ways, this is a positive development. People who are socialized to talk about money are often better at managing it, research shows. Natalie Fischer, 25 — better known as @investwithnat on TikTok and Instagram — says that her desire to be open with her own finances grew out of the fact that so many people, particularly in her parents’ generation, consider it taboo. “I get comments from some older people who are like, ‘Why do we need to be loud about our budget? That stuff is private.’ But for our generation, we need that community,” she says. “We value transparency. That’s how we’ve held each other accountable.”

The concept is resonating. Natalie has been making videos about saving money for over two years, but when she started to change the verbiage in her content — “here’s how I’m loud budgeting” — she says she saw an uptick in viewership and comments. “I think it’s a great label to help people rally against overconsumption,” she says. “It’s basically rebranding the idea of budgeting.” Which can be a tough sell, especially for younger people, she adds. ”Our generation is more impulsive with our spending because we’re always online. So we really need this.”

Fischer’s own loud-budgeting strategy has involved cleaning out her closet and creating a capsule wardrobe of neutrals that she rewears regularly, even in her own content. “I had a lot of one-time outfits because it looked good for Instagram, but I’m cutting back on that and I think a lot of other people are too,” she says. She’s noticed that many of her peers are doing the same or renting outfits on FashionPass instead of buying them. There’s less pressure to wear a new outfit in every photo and video; if anything, it’s cooler not to.

Jenny Park points out that it’s powerful to destigmatize a topic that many people find shameful or awkward. “My hope is that people see this as an opportunity to have transparent conversations with their friends about money, and to stop trying to follow their friends’ lifestyle,” she says. “For example, if you are planning to go to a bachelorette or a bachelor party, say what your budget is before you commit. Or if you are making social plans with friends, be comfortable saying, ‘Hey, I’m trying to eat out less. Can we just cook at home?’”

Talking unapologetically about money is one way to stick to a budget; another is being conscious of who’s talking to you. “When I was first learning about personal finance, one thing that helped me was watching YouTubers who talk about it,” says Park. “I’ve realized that you are what you consume. So I intentionally unfollowed influencers or creators who were talking a lot about shopping and started following people who are living the lifestyle that I was trying to normalize for myself.”

None of these tips are new, of course — it’s just a way of injecting novelty into something that’s often hard to get excited about. Through its “loud” lens, budgeting becomes an act of self-actualization, not self-deprivation. “Any time that you can reframe personal finance in a way that’s more liberating, rewarding, or enjoyable, it creates an entry point for someone who would otherwise be intimidated by it or who thinks it’s just about pinching pennies,” says Park.

That said, there can be a dark side to budgeting as a TikTok trend, says Park. Overeager people who are new to personal finance might start making decisions based on information that they get on social media rather than sound, well-vetted advice. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there, at best, and predatory information at worst,” she says. Some people push risky investments; others might sell budgeting courses or products that don’t have much value. Both schemes prey on people who don’t know better.

Realistically, the loud-budgeting label will probably feel stale after a few months, like any trend. By then, the New Year’s money-saving energy will have worn off anyway, and people will be back to buying status water bottles or whatever else they’re into at that point. Ideally, though, they will have also learned some new savings habits that stick. What seems most likely to continue, however, is people talking about their money — what’s working, what isn’t, and what they want to change. And that is, overall, a good thing.

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Budgeting Is Officially a Flex