There’s a first time for everything right?! I am so excited to turn the blog over to Alexis Busetti from over at Cistern and Grove today! She’s breaking down how to handle spontaneous spending and still maintain the budget. Enjoy!
It’s happened to all of us. The spending plan for the month ahead is all lined out. You’re SUPER PROUD of yourself because this time you thought of everything. Aunt Sue has a birthday – check! Little brother has a field trip with the preschool – check! Puppy is due for her annual vaccinations – check! No surprises here.
Then you meet with your awesome group of friends for your weekly playdate and someone throws a wrench in the plans. You’re peacefully enjoying your time at the free jungle gym when someone suggests that next week you meet at the aquarium; someone found coupons for 50% off. It sounds like a lot of fun, but you totally did not plan for the extra expense of admission for 3 kids and 1 adult to the downtown aquarium, even if the tickets are half price. What do you do? You can’t steal from Aunt Sue’s present, she’s going to love those fuzzy slippers you already bought for her. Brother is super excited for the field trip. And puppy has to have the shots both for her health and to renew the city pet license.
Early on, when we started our path toward real financial freedom, we instituted a budget. And, well, I may have kicked and screamed a little. It felt so RESTRICTING! All I saw was how, when scenarios like the one above came up, I was going to miss out. Kind of like how you never noticed all those cookies in the impulse section at Target until you started doing Whole 30. Then, my sweet and wise husband gave me an awesome word picture: He said the budget provides us with freedom within a fence. Yes! That made so much sense. We have a fence around our property to keep out what doesn’t belong and protect what is precious inside.
So, how does this kind of practice lead to freedom and not constriction? Well, we have learned to build spontaneity into the budget. I remember hostessing a cosmetics party years ago for a friend of mine who had just begun to sell these items for her business. A strange phenomenon happened, so many of my guests were saying how they could not make any purchases until they talked with their husbands. While this is a sweet sentiment, my husband and I found it a bit bizarre. He told me with no strings attached, “That’s why you have a cosmetics and personal fund.” For sure. If I wanted to buy something, or not, it was totally within my fence to do so.
Now, back to the scenario about the aquarium trip. Where could that money ultimately come from? Some people might choose to put it on the credit card, you know, just this once. But I think there’s a better solution. Maybe the entertainment fund has enough cushion in it to cover that kind of outing. Or maybe it’s possible to pool a few bucks from some related categories and make it work. Another idea is to have some sort of miscellaneous fund built into your spending plan. Trust me, it feels much less restrictive when you know you have a place to draw the money from IF you decide to follow through with whatever purchase comes at you.
If you are already in the habit of living by a budget, chances are you have school events or gift giving already accounted for. But what about those expenses that just don’t seem to have a category or place of their own? The ones that don’t present themselves often enough to deserve an entire line in your plan? I suggest you give yourself a relatively liberal “miscellaneous” category each month.
The trick to making this work is to consider the size of the miscellaneous fund. It should be large enough to easily cover one or two minor, unexpected expenses each month. But it shouldn’t be so large that it becomes a sinkhole where money gets lost. “Oh Honey, a brand new guitar amp? Um. Was that in the budget?” “Totally, we’ve got money in ‘miscellaneous!’” Not a great idea.
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The point is to allow yourself the freedom of splurging or easing up the spending on some trivial things every once in a while. When you are able to do that, you’ll find the act of budgeting itself to be much more sustainable. Your budget can fit into your life much better when it actually accounts for your lifestyle in a realistic way. I know people who have announced to me at times that they have cut sugar out of their diets, completely. Okay. Listen, that won’t work for me. I know if I ever tried to do that, I would FAIL miserably. Not having a little wiggle room for fun or the spontaneity in your finances is like that for most people. You will fail if your plan is too strict. And it’s much better to keep the inertia going and have a plan that works for you than to fail trying to maintain something that is not realistic or too strict. You’ll never see real progress that way.
If you make this change, my guess is, you’ll breathe a little easier and you may even find you feel less pressure to dive in on all of these little extras. You’ll think about it differently. Now that potential expenditure has a name; do you really want it enough to blow your newly created fund? So, even though it’s totally counterintuitive, plan for a little spontaneity!
And because I LOVE the ways Sami always signs off, here it is: Until next time, spend safely.
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