Budgeting isn’t always fun, ok, maybe its never really enjoyable.
The advantage of good budgeting, is not running of money, not overspending and therefore having a little less stress (totally worth it)! If you are very good with your budgeting, you can even work towards staying debt free and hopefully save for the things you might want like a tropical vacation destination or an early retirement. Fabulous idea, but why is it often so hard to do? A good first step, is to find out where your mystery money goes; below is a list of 6 places to find some of those outlays.
I know that I get paid every two weeks, but it never seems to be enough, and it vanishes faster than I expect – sound familiar? We all know where the big payments go of course, like mortgage or rent, insurance payments, car payment and monthly bills and more.
But there are other smaller expenses, and lots of them, that can add up to big money departing from your bank account. First, you need to find these expenses, then plan for them in your budget, if needed. If the expenses aren’t totally necessary (do I really need another pair of boots?) consider reducing, limiting or eliminating them altogether.
Expected Costs: Planned grocery shopping, breakfast or lunch at school or work, some fast food dinners on crazy sports or school event nights, special evenings out on the town.
Hidden Costs: Eating out or ordering in too often because you don’t feel like cooking or are short on time, fast food to cure boredom or kill time, vending machines because you are thirsty. Ice cream, bagel or donut runs to keep the kids quiet(er), kid’s hot lunches at school -when a month’s worth of money is gone in two weeks! A quick stop at the convenience store or drug store chain that turns into three bags of stuff you didn’t really need. Starbucks simply because it’s there and so many more. This list can be endless.
Possible Solutions: Keep a snack bag and water bottles in the car. When my kids are “starving” in the car, rather than stopping for fast food or junk, I have a stockpile of granola bars, snacks and drinks to keep them from “dying” before we get home. When you do cook dinner, double it so there are more leftovers for another night and to bring for lunch the next day. Make your lunch and bring it to work or school, and make those lunches easy to make so you are more likely to do it. I put often pack up my lunch in a container the night before so I only need to throw it in the bag with an ice pack in the morning. My husband just noticed that if he brings a “healthy snack” to work like yogurt or a banana, he saves both calories and money. The yogurt from his cafeteria at work was costing him over $3 per serving and then he is not tempted by the fresh baked cookies strategically located by the cash register!
Expected Costs: I have my favorite charities that I have chosen (as opposed to the charities that decide to choose me because they would love for me to donate). At work, we are always collecting something for someone, so these are the charities, I expect. I myself, have organized many of these fundraisers both at home and at work over the years, so I am a guilty party on this list of (deductible) expenses.
Hidden Costs: More and more often, both the school I work at and my children’s schools are collecting for charitable organizations. This is in addition to the PTA fundraisers we have always participated in. I have always made a point to participate in everything but I have noticed the number of fundraisers increase greatly over the years. Fundraising through the schools has become more popular. The kids learn about charitable giving and the fundraising agencies have a new source to tap. Even at cash registers, they frequently ask for charitable donations.
Possible Solutions: I have learned now, to expect these donations but also, to be a little bit choosy about which ones we participate in. I also don’t need to participate at multiple schools, either home or work is fine. When I know there will be several fundraisers throughout the year, I can make my donations smaller for each one or just only donate to some of them. Sometimes, I can honestly say now, “I already gave at the office”.
Special Event Expenses
Expected Costs: Regular holiday & special occasion expenses including food, entertaining and gifts. This was never a category on my budget spreadsheet that required a separate line but as the family grows, there are more events to be celebrated. When I plan ahead for them, my paycheck doesn’t vanish as quickly.
Hidden Costs: Baby showers, bridal showers, new baby in the family, sweet 16, graduations, Christenings, house warming, Confirmations, another long list. These aren’t on your radar until shortly before they happen, so it can be tricky to plan ahead and budget for them.
Possible Solutions: Look a year ahead (when possible) for relatives who may be having some bigger family occasions so that you can work these expenses into your budget rather than getting slammed unexpectedly. Creating a special savings account or envelope for Other Occasions, can help you set aside money for these instead of cutting into money you had earmarked for another purpose.
Expected Costs: Registration payment, uniforms
Hidden Costs: New sneakers again, new cleats again, equipment replacements, tournament fees, hotel stays and related costs for out of state tournaments, gifts for the coaches
Possible Solutions: Gently used sports equipment can be very helpful. Save by getting early bird registration discounts and multi child reductions. Hand me down equipment from siblings or friends is also helpful.
Expected Costs: Many related expenses, your children’s gifts, a family party at your home, an outside kid party at a part place, party favors, relatives and friend’s birthdays.
Hidden Costs: Family birthdays, all the nieces and nephews are now having children and so the family keeps growing! When my kids get invited to friend’s birthdays, a gift is of course expected. Sweet 16’s, bar mitzvah, bat mitzvah and more. Again, making a monthly allotment for this type of expense, helps soften the blow.
Possible Solutions: If this type of expense is part of your Miscellaneous category, you can make a separate line for it, some months or years are worse than others. It is a good idea to estimate what you may need for several months and plan for it. This can be helpful rather than absorbing the cost and juggling funds to cover costs you weren’t expecting that month. If you over estimate and don’t need those funds – fabulous, use the “found” money elsewhere.
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Hair, Nails, Makeup & Barber
Expected Costs: This was an expense that crept up on me slowly. Anyone that knows me, will tell you I wear the least amount of makeup possible and wore none until I was over 40. My sister first, then my husband trimmed my long straight hair for years. Only in the last 10 years have I had to even consider these hair and makeup expenses. Once you start though, it doesn’t seem to go away.
Hidden Costs: Just add it up, if you dare: regular hair cuts and color plus gratuity, every 5 to 6 weeks – it’s a hefty cost for lovely hair! There are also the boys barber shop visits on the list.
Possible Solutions: For me, I still wear minimal makeup and get my nails done infrequently so this cost is not much for me. You can always do your nails yourself or have a friend over and do each other’s. You can certainly color your own hair – I’m way to afraid of a “hair color gone bad” experience to try that. One good way I have been able to save money on hair color maintenance expense is that my salon offers an online Black Friday special. I email this straight to my husband so he is not stumped for a good stocking stuffer idea. When you buy a gift card you get 20% extra so $100 purchase gets you $120 worth of hair care. If you are going to get your hair done there anyway, it is a savings. One year I thought he never got the certificate, so I did and consequently, I had twice as much on account, oh well!
It is certainly not possible to just eliminate all these expenses you may have, but it is wise to be honest with your budget regarding them. If you plan for these expenses and know you have money set a side for them, they wont throw off your financial plan. You want to avoid draining your emergency or vacation fund for expenses you could have planned for ahead of time.
What I have learned is to be more specific and generous with my “miscellaneous” category on my budget spreadsheet. Rather than mystery money that vanishes each month, I am paying more attention to what this money is and making some sub categories to plan it as part of my budget. I study my bank statements to see how much hidden money was spent and where. As a result, I am spending less in some areas and planning ahead for other expenses. If I happen to over-budget and the money isn’t needed, I am happy to have extra in my account. In short, I have more knowledge and control over where my money goes each month.
Where did you find your hidden budget costs?? Leave a comment to let us know!