What to do When the Budget Doesn’t Work: a Confession of Sorts

when the budget doesn't work

Let’s face it; we are imperfect people in an imperfect world. We can’t expect anything we make to be perfect, including our budget. We’ve all had times when the budget doesn’t work when put to the test. Sometimes there’s more month than money, sometimes it’s a true emergency, and sometimes it’s just a lack of planning. Sometimes it feels like we just struck a match and sent our hard-earned money up in flames. Imperfect people create imperfect budgets. Here’s what to do when the budget doesn’t work.

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Ask Yourself why the Budget Doesn’t Work

After you’ve tracked all the expenses and surveyed the damage ask yourself why the budget didn’t work this month. Or last month. Or maybe ever. Be honest with yourself; did you have the best of intentions on never eating out, seriously underestimate how much you spend on gas on a monthly basis, or forget to budget for that one thing that’d been on the calendar for six months? You know, that thing – the in-law’s anniversary party you cohosted, the best friend’s birthday dinner you looked forward to for months, your sweet niece’s birthday…

True Emergencies…

Or, was it truly an emergency, something you didn’t see coming? Do you have an emergency fund started? Have you set money aside for emergencies? Or just made a plan to set money aside? There is a big difference. Emergencies are no fun; we experienced one this summer; it just now feels like our son is “out of the woods” with this whole ordeal and he has function back in his thumb. Read Our Emergency: Why We Cash Flow Medical Bills for more on that ordeal to catch up.

Our emergency fund is not large or even “fully funded,” but building it up was already a priority and that made a big difference for us; we would’ve made the same decision to operate on his hand with our without savings, but knowing we had that cushion when hospital bills started rolling in (and they JUST started rolling in) helped us breathe a little easier and just focus on our son without the added stress of wondering how we would pay for his medical care.

…or Disasters Waiting to Happen

We fell into this category recently; I felt all adult and responsible when I suggested to my husband we go ahead and start an auto sinking fund. We opened it with the minimum amount required, $100, and not long after one of our vehicles had a dead battery which cost more than $100 to replace. We hadn’t even had a chance to contribute more money to our glorious new sinking fund. Why wasn’t this car cooperating?!

We know I need the transmission fluid changed in my car. We also knew I had one tire that hadn’t been replaced yet. Both were (and one is) a ticking time bomb waiting to go off. The tire almost did. It warped, resulting in a very bumpy ride home one day and my husband throwing the wheel in the back of our other SUV (with the brand new, unbudgeted battery) for me to haul to Firestone the next in order to have a brand new $208 tire mounted on the rim. Yippee skippee.

The World’s Best Grammar Checker

And wouldn’t you know that both the battery and the tire situations happened right before payday when the money just wasn’t quite in the checking account to comfortably cover the bill? That’s how Murphy works my friend.

Ever heard of Murphy’s Law? “If anything can go wrong, it will.” Isn’t that the truth!

– me, taken from Emergency! Why You Need an Emergency Fund Now

When our Budget Didn’t Work

Buckle up friends, I feel like this is post is going to be a long one! Here’s where that “confession of sorts” comes into play. I was (overly) confident when we bought that battery that I could “find” the money in that new month’s budget to cover it without dipping into our emergency fund so I told my husband to just put it on the card. The one we don’t keep a balance on. Um-hmm. We did that. We charged the card. Strike a match.

And guess what friends, surprise surprise that money was NOT in the budget that month to cover it all. We even charged a much needed, but not planned day trip to the Oklahoma Aquarium on Labor Day because my husband had the day off and we rarely take our kids anywhere to do anything out of the ordinary. Those aquarium tickets were the ONLY item paid off on the credit card that month. Um-hmm. We did that. We carried a balance on our previously paid off card. Strike another match.

Then came the tire and the painfully obvious, but at this point, a not very surprising thing to do seemed to be to charge it. So I did. I didn’t like it, but for some reason, I convinced myself it was the only way; we’ve been budgeting and saving extra to put in the E-fund to pay off our son’s medical bills. Why would I spend it on something else? Match strike, our budget is all up in flames.

Then the next thing you know we’re shopping a clearance section at my hubby’s side hustle and you guessed it – somebody please bring me a fire extinguisher! This budget fire is officially out of control. This month’s budget did have money for clothes, but this wasn’t the right week to buy them. They didn’t fit in with that paycheck’s responsibilities. Just because it’s in the budget doesn’t mean it’s in the bank yet.

What We Did to Correct a Budget When it Didn’t Work (and we didn’t work it)

That was the last straw. We felt good about the “deals” we got on our two items of clothing, but not how we bought them. I lost sleep, I felt like a fraud, I know better dang it! We decided that the money we’d pay in interest making monthly payments was far more costly than any interest our money earns in savings. We can still pay our medical bills, build our fund back up, and learn our lesson. Again.

We are imperfect people working our imperfect budgets and sometimes our best isn’t good enough. Sometimes we can’t make the ends meet like we think they should. And sometimes, we let that fact discourage us from continuing to do our best. If we’d have gotten out our Murphy Repellant from the get-go and cash flowed those necessary auto expenses, actually let our emergency fund do what it is designed to do – I wouldn’t be writing this.

But maybe, just maybe we did what we did and I’m writing about it like I am now so you can sit there wherever you are, read this, and realize you’re not the only one who doesn’t get this whole budget thing right, whose budget doesn’t work.

So What do You do When the Budget Doesn’t Work?

You dust yourself off, forgive yourself for any mistakes you made, learn from them, and… work on your budget some more! Do you see the problem immediately glaring back at you? Is it an income shortage? Do you need more money to make those ends meet every month? Ask for a raise if you’ve earned it at work, get yourself a side hustle, or start brushing up your resume and go get a higher-earning job. Hop on the minimalist movement and sell some stuff you don’t need or use. Do something to get more on the income side of your budget.

Did you experience an emergency? If so, I am truly sorry. I hope you’ve recovered. Learn from this experience and make sure you don’t repeat it (financially at least) again. Build up your Murphy Repellant by funding that emergency fund ASAP. Find more ways to cut the budget. Need some ideas? I have 7 Budget Cut ideas for you. Looking for more ways to save? Here are 30 Frugal Money Saving Tips you can start to implement today.

Do you have large expenses coming your way? Start a sinking fund. Or three. Whatever you need to make sure those expenses are covered. Just don’t give up on your budget the first sign you get that it isn’t working. That is one of the worst things you can do in this situation. We’re all imperfect, so we can’t be too surprised our budgets are as well. Sometimes it isn’t the budget that isn’t working, it’s us. So we just have to get back to work and make the budget work too. Stay frugal my friends!

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