Chancellor George Osborne has said he wants the government to be running a surplus in the next Parliament and can get there without raising taxes.
He told the Conservative conference the public finances should be in the black when the economy was strong as insurance against a "rainy day".
His comments were taken as suggesting more years of spending restraint.
Business welcomed the goal but Labour said Mr Osborne had missed targets before and could not be trusted.
The BBC News Channel's chief political correspondent Norman Smith said Mr Osborne's underlying message was that austerity would continue after the next election despite the return to growth.
In his keynote speech in Manchester, Mr Osborne also said he intended to freeze fuel duty for the rest of the Parliament, up to May 2015, if the money could be found.
"Provided the recovery is sustained, our goal is to achieve that surplus in the next Parliament. That will bear down on our debts and prepare us for the next rainy day."
But the Institute for Economic Affairs think tank said Mr Osborne was "still failing to tackle government spending sufficiently" and would miss his target unless he got to grips with it.