You Need a ‘Noodle Budget,’ According to Tiffany Aliche. Here’s How to Make One

Photo to accompany a budgeting strategy.
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Tiffany Aliche is an expert on money. But right now she wants to talk about noodles.

Better known as “The Budgetnista,” Aliche is a celebrity personal finance educator seen everywhere from Good Morning America to Netflix’s Queer Eye. She’s also a contributing editor at NextAdvisor. 

But back in 2009, she was unemployed — a public school teacher laid off three days before classes started in September. That’s when she learned the value of a “noodle budget.”

Pro Tip

A noodle budget isn’t just for times of catastrophe. Want to build an emergency fund or save up for a down payment? Get your noodle on.

In Aliche’s lingo, “getting your noodle on” means stripping your spending down to the bare essentials during times of financial distress or uncertainty. Basically, this is what your budget would look like if you had to eat ramen every day. (Ramen noodles are famously cheap — at a typical cost of 25 cents per package, you could eat it three times a day for a year for about $275.)

You don’t have to go that far. But when things get really tough, as Aliche saw for herself, you do need to trim expenses where you can. 

How to Make Your Own Noodle Budget

“The noodle budget came from my mistake of not being prepared,” Aliche said in an interview. After she lost her job, she continued living at her normal budget, hoping she’d find work before her savings ran out. She didn’t. “I ran out of money,” Aliche recalls. “Knowing what I know now, I would have dropped down to my noodle budget.”

Here’s how to make yours: 

1. Look at your full monthly budget. This is everything you spend to make your life run, from bills and food to entertainment and shopping. To get a monthly cost estimate for each category, track your spending over 30 days using an app like You Need a Budget or your own Google spreadsheet. You could also work backward, reviewing your spending for the previous month and using those numbers as a baseline. 

2. Isolate your minimum expenses. Look at the things you don’t actually need, and cut them mercilessly. Cable, streaming services, entertainment … all of that could go, if it came down to it. And more: “Maybe you do your own grooming, like cutting your own hair,” Aliche says. 

(NextAdvisor contributor Jully-Alma Taveras calls her noodle budget a “survival number,” and offers a free downloadable worksheet to help you find yours.)

You don’t have to do this forever. That’s the beauty of a noodle budget. Instead, it’s a tool you can implement when money gets tight. With your spending in check, you can make the most of the savings you have stockpiled. And if you don’t have savings, you can make the most of any money coming in, stretching it out as long as possible.

The noodle budget makes sense at times of sudden income loss or unemployment. But it can also be preemptively deployed during terms of uncertainty, like if you’re worried you might lose your job in the future. You could even use a noodle budget to help build an emergency fund, or to keep overhead low when you’ve started a small business or new career.

You don’t have to go all in, either. Implementing just a few of your noodle budget cuts — or as Aliche puts it, getting “a little bit of your noodle on” — can make a big impact over time.