On Saturday I went grocery shopping, and as I posted about earlier, I found an amazing deal on energy bars that my spouse eats (they were being clearanced) and bought all the store had of them. All told, I spent about $50 on them, and have certainly busted the grocery budget for this month. However, since each bar cost approximately 50% less than their normal price, all in all I will save about $50 over the next several months not having to buy more of the bars. So should I be concerned about breaking my budget? A budget is meant to be followed, after all…
I contend that a good budget is not set in stone. When the artificial constraint of a budget is keeping you from making smart choices for the future, that budget needs to be re-examined and reconsidered. Even the tightest of budgets should have some flexibility built into them. The beauty of a budget is helping you understand where you spend your money, and making sure you understand the choices you are making – not making you spend more money in the long run to save money in the short run.
I started using a budget out of necessity. I knew what bills I was paying, how much they were, and where that was going. But I honestly had little idea where the rest of our money went, and our “fixed” expenses (bills) were very close to our income, so to avoid going into more debt, I had to know exactly where everything else went. Now, through a combination of my increasing our family’s income, and successfully so far paying down a portion of our debt, the gap between income and fixed expenses is larger, so we have more inherent room to play with. But without a budget, I know that our miscellaneous expenses would creep up to meet and exceed the increase of income, and we would be right back where we started.
The best aspects of a budget are the dual abilities to chart a course for the future and give perspective on where you have been. There is a huge emphasis among many people when the word budget is used on the idea that it is constrictive and keeps you from living life. But a life lived within the boundaries of spending less than you earned is a life well lived, and that is what a budget allows you to do.
As for managing unexpected finds such as a stock-up sale in my budget? I currently have a number of “irregular” expenses categories that I save monthly for, but only spend at certain times throughout the year. This gives me some flexibility I would not otherwise have. One of those is the “annual expenses” category, which sits currently at a little over $300. This month I will spend $73 of it on a car registration, but the rest is not slated to be spent for several months. If needed, I can borrow from this category and pay it back over the next month or two, well before my next annual expense is due. This is just an example, I have several irregular expense categories with various amounts of money left in them right now. And to me, that is one of the biggest advantages to a well-made budget – the ability to plan.
Don’t believe the hype – a budget does not have to be constrictive and controlling. A budget truly can enhance your life instead of limit it.