What To Do When Life Gets In The Way Of The Budget
What to do when life gets in the way of the budget? This has been been something that I have been struggling with since we became debt free. Literally the week after we paid off my student loans, things started popping up. It was one thing after another for several weeks straight. I became very discouraged but had to keep reminding myself that at least we had the money for it. I had to remind myself it was a minor set back not the end of the world.
I decided to write about my struggles the past several months with the budget. When we were on Baby Step 2 (paying off debt), I stayed on top of the budget. I checked it at a minimum once a week. I knew where the money was going on payday and knew how much cash to get on Friday. I would send money to our debt every Monday. I very rarely deviated from the budget unless something pressing came up.
Well, once we had all the debt paid off, we only had to pay our mortgage and ourselves. It is weird how off track we became. Once all the emergencies stopped, which was about 10 or so weeks afterward, I became pregnant. This is our third child so you can imagine how busy life was and how exhausted I was. This was also in the middle of winter and my children have been sick for almost 5 months straight. So every time I turn around I have hundreds of dollars in medical bills, thanks to our high deductible plan.
I am now in the second trimester and finally feel better for the most part and actually have some energy. Not sure how long my kids will stay healthy since they both just finished antibiotics last week. That only time will tell but I am determined to get back on track with the budget.
Not only have we had life getting in the way of the budget, we also got in the way by not being as intense with saving as we were with paying off debt. We have bought things we were waiting to buy while we paid off everything. I have been a lot more relaxed with where the money has been going. Since I was so tired and sick, I didn’t meal plan like normal and we ate fast food a lot more than we had been. The budget has not been followed like it was in step 2.
Plan the Budget in Advance
During all this chaos the past several months, the budget has definitely not been a priority. Luckily for me, I have the budget in a spreadsheet planned out for the entire year. This has been a lifesaver during this time that life has gotten in the way of the budget. If I hadn’t already did that, I would be a complete mess right now.
Now, you don’t have to plan it out a year in advance but in way you probably already have. Your budget isn’t going to change drastically from month to month. You should have at least a basic monthly budget. Then you adjust it month to month depending on what the needs are for that month. I adjust for things like vehicle registration, holidays and birthdays, and things like that, that vary from month to month. Some people set a certain month every month for those things. Either way will work and it will just depend on what you can cash flow in a month to cover those expenses.
Make Payments Automatic
One thing that has helped me with budgeting when life gets in the way is having payments automatically come out of the account. I set the majority of this up through my online banking. I only allow my insurance companies to make automatic withdrawals out of my account. I want that paid on time and I don’t trust other companies to take it out themselves. I simply set up ebills and automatic payments every month for bills that don’t change through my account.
One thing that I need to work on is making my savings automatic. I used to have a savings account at the same bank that I use for checking and would have automatic payments. Now my savings account is at another bank so I can’t make it automatic. This has been part of my problem during this busy time. We have got behind in our savings goal because the money is in the checking account and knew we had a buffer to spend some extra. The reality of the situation is it wasn’t really “extra” it needed to go to savings.
Give Yourself Some Grace
This is something that I have struggled with since starting a zero-based budget. I feel like I have some how failed it we don’t do exactly what the budget says. I have to constantly remind myself of how far we have come. It is all about the big picture, not a few setbacks. Even though we have struggled the past couple of months on a week to week basis, we have made big progress when you look long-term. We paid everything but the mortgage off in 17 months! We have 3 months of our emergency fund in savings. We have cashed flowed too many emergencies and medical bills to count. We have also had some fun and spent quality time with family. It’s not all about where every penny went in one week. It’s about where the dollars went month after month. When you start to get frustrated, reflect on where you started and how far you have come. This is a marathon not a sprint. There will be setbacks and emergencies. The important part is not letting those things completely dis-rail your plan and long-term progress.
Reflect on Your Progress
It is important to reflect on your progress. When life gets in the way of the budget it gets frustrating and it may seem like you aren’t making any progress. That maybe true for that period of time but probably not compared to when you started. It is important during this process to make visuals and/or document your journey. I kept all of our monthly budgets and I made a visual for my student loans. When I would get frustrated, I would look at how much we had paid off from the beginning. I also tracked how much interest we were paying daily. I could see the progress being made when I was saving dollars a DAY! The is crucial to do when life gets in the way of the budget.
So, even when life gets in the way of the budget, stay focused, give yourself some grace, and reflect on how far you have come. Life is going to get in the way and there will be setbacks. The important thing is to stay focused and get back to it. This is a journey and won’t happen in a day or even a week. You will be debt free or have a ton of money saved after months of sticking to the plan. No-one becomes a millionaire in a day. It takes time and consistency. In order to be successful in this journey, it’s important to look at the big picture and not get hung up on the minor details.
What have you been struggling with lately? Have you been too busy to meal plan? Did you spend too much on vacation? Or has life been throwing one emergency after another at you?