complete budgeting failure

January 1st, 2008

Complete Budgeting Failure

As I said in my earlier posts referencing our holiday trip, the whole experience was a complete budgeting failure. I did one of the cardinal sins of budgeting – I basically just decided on a random number because it sounded good without really digging into what the trip has cost in the past, and without considering carefully all the expenses we were likely to run into.

I budgeted $500 for all Christmas-related spending, including gifts and travel costs. This was not such a bad idea, except that when I thought about travel costs, all I considered was the cost of gasoline and arbitrarily set the “travel” portion of the budget at $100. I neglected to consider that we would be in a car for 12-14 hours each way, and would need to stop for food. Yes, we could bring some with us, but there would be some costs incurred in stopping as well. And I also neglected to factor in tolls. This might seem like a small expense, but the area we drive through has no less than 4 toll roads we traverse for a total of ~600 miles each way. The expense of tolls each direction is between $25 and $30. So, if we pay $50 in tolls for the trip, then that only leaves $50 for gasoline and food for a 1600 round trip drive…

I think you might begin to see why I am calling this a complete budgeting failure.

There was one thing saving me and the budget. I did really well on spending for gifts and only spent $300 instead of the $400 I anticipated. This helped keep us much closer to the original $500 budget than we would have been. I also didn’t factor in (because I had no way of knowing) that gas was fully $0.40-$0.50 per gallon more in every state we drove through than it is at home, and our gasoline spending was also much higher than I had anticipated (and I had under-estimated anyway based on my typical gas mileage and the length of our trip by ~$25 or so to begin with).

The total damage was $570. That broke down into $300 on gifts, $50 on tolls, $180 on gas, and $40 on food. The food number could have been lower but we didn’t plan as well as we could have. We had a multitude of snacks but not a lot of meal-type stuff with us. Overall, we only ended up ~$70 over our original $500 Christmas budget. Thank goodness I spent less than I planned on gifts.

But then, there are the incidental expenses that may or may not be considered part of the Christmas spending budget. First, I lost my wedding ring on the trip. It was missing for 6 days, and I was very distraught about it the whole time. My spouse found it while unpacking once we got home in one of our bags, so that ended up not costing us anything. It had been loose for a few weeks now (my hands must be slimming down, hopefully my abs follow suit soon) and I should have gotten it resized before I lost it. It must have come off when I was packing up presents and luckily it resurfaced. Whew.

The other two “incidental” expenses were not resolved so easily or cheaply. The first is our cat fountain. Yes, our cats have a fountain. Well, had a fountain. We have a cat who does not drink enough water and she gives herself pyschosomatic bladder infections and then pees all over everything we own. Anyway, my spouse left the fountain plugged in while we were gone and the motor burned out when the water got too low. (The cats had several other sources of water to drink, we did not parch them, but the fountain did get close to emptied.) When we got the fountain several years ago, it was $50. I am going to try and find a better deal online for it but it still will cost something to replace. We’ll see.

The final related expense is still not completely resolved. When we were almost home, we got pulled over by the state police because neither of our taillights or rear bumper brake lights were working, and only one bulb of the five in our rear windshield brake light was working. We obviously had no idea. We only got a warning, not a ticket thank goodness, and we were allowed to drive the rest of the way home with our hazard lights on. Yesterday morning, my spouse took the car to the dealer to get it fixed, and they said the bulbs had both burned out, along with the bulbs in our top brake light (on the rear windshield). They replaced all the bulbs, and $82 later (I got an oil change too), my spouse drove home. But when he got home, the top brake light worked fine, but only one of the two taillights were still working and neither of the rear bumper brake lights. So obviously, there is something more going on. Hopefully we can get that resolved on Wednesday, but I don’t know what the final damage will be financially yet. Not that our trip caused the problem but it happened on our trip, so maybe I should add it to the running total.

Ah. The complete budgeting failure. We actually did okay with spending, we could have done better but we could have done a lot worse than $20/day for four people eating on the road, but the budget behind the trip was completely off the wall. Luckily we did have $260 backup from the extra paycheck for any budget overages on the trip, so we’ll be okay overall. Once the dust settles and I calculate out all the December activity, we might have enough left over to completely knock out the credit card debt. If not, by the time my spouse gets paid in January we will.

Happy New Year Everyone!

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19 Responses to “Complete Budgeting Failure”

  1. At least you had a budget. I am glad you found your ring. Have you considered insuring it with your home insurance? I would’ve had a heart attack if I were in your situation.

  2. Thank you for your blog…..It’s been an eye-opener for me and has helped enormously…..

    Was your budget a flat $20 a day for 4 people – or $80 a day? And was that to cover all – food, gas, tolls?

    And the cat fountain-I shopped around for a long time – in October I found what was the best deal at the time on eBay from the seller “rivercountry101″. My first time trading w/her and it was a positive experience.

    Good luck and I think you still did great -Happy 2008!

  3. @Pinyo – my engagement ring is insured but my wedding ring is not. My wedding ring is a simple gold band so i can wear it at taekwondo, so it isn’t worth insuring. I don’t wear my engagement ring day to day, so I didn’t lose that.

    @Patti – my budget for the trip was a flat $100 to cover everything (we don’t pay for food once we get there, our parents cook for us). But my overall christmas budget was $500 and since I came in at $300 for gifts instead of $400, I actually had $200 left for the trip. I spent $20/day on food total for 4 people for the two days we bought food – traveling out and traveling back. Hope that explains better. I will look into ebay for the cat fountain!

  4. I agree with Pinyo. Thank Goodness you had a budget.

  5. I’m not sure I’d call this a “complete budget failure” just because you went a bit over. Maybe it’s a learning lesson to pad the totals a bit next time you do something unusual (such as take a trip etc).


  6. Something I’ve been wondering for quite a long time now: Why do you always call him your spouse? Why not husband? Or even just by his name?


  7. @Mike – it wasn’t a spending failure – but it was a budgeting failure. My method of budgeting for this trip was rather moronic when I reflect upon it. We did okay spending wise but I did very poorly on how to actually budget for it :)
    @Jake – I like the word spouse so that’s what I call him :). I don’t generally use names at all on this blog so I don’t refer to him by name, just as I don’t refer to my actual name or the names of my kids. the curious can click over to hugtwice and find out some of that though ;)

  8. Wait! It’s easy to change out the motor in most fountains, and they’re cheap.

    Go to an aquarium store — not a big chain pet store — and ask for a small pump that will run a fountain. They know what to recommend.

    If that doesn’t work, nothing could be easier than making a little fountain for the cat. Get a bowl big enough to hold a quart or so of water but low enough that the cat can drink out of it. Collect some smooth rocks and wash well (consider soaking in Clorox briefly), or spring for a bag of river rocks at a craft store. Place an aquarium pump in the bottom of it with the tube where the water bubbles up cut off at about the water line. Weight this down and disguise it with the rocks. Fill with water, plug it in, and voila! Cat joy.

  9. At least you’re learning how to budget a big trip. I mean, I’d have very little idea how to do it…I could use our honeymoon a bit as an example, but we didn’t do as much budgeting or expense-tracking on it as we should have.

  10. I’d say you definitely learned something about budgeting for a road trip, though. Next time you’ll probably go under budget because you allowed too much for gas.

    The cost of gas was what tripped us up on our Thanksgiving trip. We did pretty good with the to/from gas predictions, but failed to account for the fact that we’d be driving around at our destination as well.

  11. I don’t think you did too bad. One thing that I have to tell you is that changing light bulbs in the car is fairly straightforward. I realize the problem is more serious than the bulbs, but next time one goes out, grab your owner’s manual and give it a try. Pep Boys or Advanced Auto parts will have the bulbs, and the labor is way cheaper if you do it yourself. Besides, if you break it, you can always go to the dealer to put it back instead of paying for them to take it apart and put it back together.

    I’m glad you had a nice cop. Lucky you.

  12. I wouldn’t call it a budgeting failure as much a budgeting lack of experience. You’ll find over time that you’ll get better at forcasting your expenses. I’m to the point that I can forcast a trip almost to the dollar. Also having a budget allows you to make trade offs when your on trips.

    I’m slowly working on a classic budget mistakes on my blog.

    BTW I responded to your comments over at MMND, give it a day or so to be posted

  13. Thanks so much for participating in this week’s Carnival of Family Life hosted at Pajama Mommy Community! Be sure to drop by and check out some of the other wonderful entries this week!

  14. I know this might not be any consolation, but I think you did AMAZING to only spend $40 on food. Seriously. One family can easily spend that in 1 trip to a sit-down restaurant, or 2 trips to a fast-food restaurant.


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