I’m going to tell you about an embarrassing situation I find myself in every once in a while. Ninja budget killers attack me. Seriously. They creep out of the darkness and stab my beautiful budget in the back! I’ll bet this same thing happens to you, you just didn’t know it was ninjas until today! I try to defend myself from them, but it still happens occasionally. The ninjas I’m talking about are, of course, random expenses like Christmas shopping! It’s also birthdays, vacations, and many other things that come up that require chunks of money. My weakness is that I blow my budget because I didn’t save for things I knew were going to happen. Let’s talk about ninja budget killers and how to defend against them!
I’m proud that I’ve become good at budgeting. My wife and I don’t fight about money anymore (well, very rarely at least) and we know our goals and how to get there. I keep track of my regular expenses well and can predict how much money will go toward paying off debt and saving each month, but I still get caught off guard when a big expense comes up that I totally could have planned for! As Dave Ramsey says “Christmas comes every year on December 25th, it never changes! So why do we get caught off guard and blow our budgets year after year?!” He’s right! Let’s fix this for good by setting up defenses for our budget castle that will make it ninja attack proof!
So the problem here is that once we get our money on a leash with a good budget and plan, one of the quickest ways to fall off track is to forget to plan for expenses that we KNOW are going to happen. This is frequently when we dip into the emergency fund or reach for the credit card we swore not to use anymore. I’d be a liar if I told you I never make this mistake. I regret it every time. The plan to fix this is simple, but it will take some homework and planning to properly avoid it in the future. Let’s dig in and look at a few techniques we can use to plan for these expenses the right way.
The absolute first thing we need to make is a concise list of the things we know we will need money for, and how much we plan to spend on them. Mine includes the following (you can copy and paste this list and adjust the dates to fit your situation):
- $150 – Dec 31st – Anniversary
- $100 – February – Valentine’s Day
- $600 (estimate) – February and July – Car insurance renewal
- $200 each – Kid Birthdays (June, July, August, and soon to be April)
- $150 – August – Wife’s birthday
- $600 – December – Christmas
- $200 – Other people’s birthdays (If every one of your kids has a batch of friends who invite you to their kids’ parties, it adds up quickly!)
- There are more, but you get the idea. List anything you can think of that is more than $50.
Don’t move onto the next step until you have that list. Bigger expenses like my daughter’s wedding and kids’ college accounts are built into our main budget and savings plan. So for this exercise, we’re just sticking to things that happen each year. Also, the amount you have listed next to each event is a ballpark number.
Before you do anything else, stop and take a minute to make that list now!
Good? OK, let’s move onto putting that list to use for the next year. It takes some effort to set it up, but once you are done, you will be very happy with yourself. You will also be amazed at how much more peaceful these events are when you look at the money you’ve got set aside for them!
Step 1 – Put those events on your calendar and decide when to start saving for each of them. Write down what you decided on the same calendar. Let’s take Christmas as an example since we can all relate to that. Suppose you decided to set aside $500 to cover presents, eating out, increased grocery bills, new Christmas decorations, etc. Take a look at your budget and figure out how much you can spare each month to set aside to save for Christmas. If you can spare $100 per month then it’s an easy calculation to say that you need five months to save for Christmas. If you can spare $50 per month, then you need 10 months to save for Christmas… make sense? Move on to step two once you have that figured out.
Step 2 – Now you’ve got the number of months it will take you… in this case we’ll say five. So starting five months before Christmas (July), write down on the calendar to put away $100 towards Christmas so that you don’t forget. For every month leading up to Christmas, do the same thing.
Step 3 – Repeat the same exercise for all the items you listed above. This is the time consuming part, but doing the work now will literally save you money that you would have spent on interest on that lame credit card you’ve been using to cover these expenses. Note: if you’ve got several items that all fall in the same time, like all my kids’ birthdays are in the middle of summer, spread out the savings to time with less events.
Step 4 – Actually do it! You can set up a new savings account in your bank and transfer money to it manually or set up automatic transfers. Or, you can save the money in cash in envelopes if you have problems staying accountable with that debit card when you see the new Keurig 2.0 that you absolutely HAVE to have and you’ll die if you don’t buy it RIGHT NOW because they might run out! (Pssst…they won’t run out, and no, you don’t need it).
So that’s about it! You’ve done the homework and now it’s a matter of staying consistent and referencing that calendar when you make your monthly budget. Here’s a ninja tip: set a reminder on your phone that will go off each month so that you remember to actually do a budget. Then you can put the monthly savings numbers from your list into the note for each month and set it to recur every year. Boom!
Let’s start using math when dealing with money, it seems like people don’t do that anymore. Let’s end average finances. Let’s End Average together.
Join the conversation on Facebook! I would love for you to join the conversation. I read everything! If you join my newsletter list I’ll deliver new posts directly to you every time I publish. You can also like my page on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, and Instagram. Also, the best compliment you can give me is to refer my page to a friend either online or in person.
Bonus tip! – Keep your calendar at the end of the year and transfer all the information to the next calendar so you don’t have to re-do all the work! Over time, your ability to predict and plan for these events will get better.
Added bonus, email me at Ryan@EndAverage.com with “I need my ninja repellant spreadsheet” in the subject line and I’ll send you a free spreadsheet so that you can fill it out and keep it with your budget. It’s delightfully nerdy. Your parents will be proud 😉