Epic Budget Failure When Everything Goes Wrong - picture of piggy bank upside down floating in water
Budgeting

Epic Budget Failure: When Everything Goes Wrong

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I try to be an open book about our budgeting process.  For example, I post our monthly zero-sum budget each month and do my best to share the ups and downs as the month goes on.

And most of the time, there is honestly nothing exciting to report.

Sure, we occasionally dip into our miscellaneous category for excess grocery spending here and there.  And yes, we are sometimes stuck eating boxed food and can goods for a few days towards the end of the month.  And everyone once in a while I forget to budget for some random expense and end up transferring an additional $50 over into my account to pay for it. 

But then there are other times we fail completely, and that’s exactly what happened in November.  Let me explain.

Budgeting: When Everything Goes Wrong

The month of November started off without much fanfare.  I was pretty excited about the fact that I put $3,000 into my Vanguard SEP IRA and Roth IRA, but didn’t expect anything unusual to happen.

Then I got a surprise flat tire and ended up having to get new tires and order a new aluminum alloy wheel to replace one that was cracked.  And even though I saved $780 by ordering my wheel off the internet instead of from the dealership, the entire ordeal cost me a total of $441.  Ouch.

But that’s not all.  I got a $52.50 bill for our final lawn treatment that I had completely forgotten about.  Then my printer ran out of ink and we had to spend around $40 replacing it.

All of those events combined meant that went a total of $683.50 for the month of November.  Gulp.

How We’re Recovering from Our Epic Budget Failure

First of all, I’m pretty disgusted with the fact that we went more than $680 over budget, especially since at least part of it was avoidable.  However, I always try not to wallow in our mistakes since it basically accomplishes nothing and gets us nowhere.  I’m also keenly aware that these types of situations are exactly why we keep a health emergency fund.  And although I would prefer not to ever touch it, it’s always nice knowing those funds are there.  Regardless, here’s how we’re recovering:

  • We’re double-checking records to make sure we don’t leave anything out for December- The lawn care bill is something I am generally happy to pay, but I hate surprises.  I went through our records before creating our December budget to make sure I wasn’t leaving anything out.
  • We’re going to check in with our grocery spending at least once per week in December- I’m usually really good about this but I was extremely busy last month.  For December, I am going to tally up our grocery spending at least once per week to make sure we are on track.
  • We’re renewing our pledge to save as much as possible- We all know how easy it is to get off track when you don’t pay attention.  Since I plan on having a lighter work load this month, I hope to set aside some time to create some new spending and savings goals and reassess some of the spending decisions we made in 2014.  I think we did pretty well, but it never hurts to take a look back on each year and looks for ways to improve.

But then we got back from vacation and I quickly realized that we spent around $150 more than we had budgeted for.  And the worst part is that I actually thought we were on budget while we were there.  Since there was no use stressing out about it, I sucked it up and moved on.

Going over budget sucks.  It stresses me out.  And even worse, it makes me feel like a failure.  But that’s not a good attitude to have.  Here’s why:

There was a time in our lives when we wouldn’t even have known we were over budget in the first place.  During those early years of our marriage, we simply spent without thinking of the long-term consequences or formulating any long-term goals.  We failed this month, and it honestly sucks azz, but at least we know.  And isn’t that an accomplishment in itself?

Now we’re in a much better place and, even more importantly, we’re tracking our spending so closely that we’re aware of how and when we get off track.  I definitely plan to do better in December, but I also know that life happens sometimes.

Epic budget failure is probably inevitable from time to time, and all we can do is prepare for it and go out of our way to make the best financial decisions we can.

And in my opinion, it’s only a failure if you do nothing about it.

Have you ever experienced epic budget failure?  What did you do to improve the situation?

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80 Comments

  1. Experienced it on my first paycheck on my first job! I splurged on dinner, a pair of new shoes, a few dresses right after I got it. I ran out of money 2 days before the next paycheck. I felt really bad but it turned out well because I really learned my lesson.

  2. Maybe we take different approaches to budgeting, but I hardly think of this as an epic failure. Give yourself more credit! After all, how many months have you come in under budget that help offset this in the grand scheme of things? =)

    1. Never, lol. We rarely come in under budget. I wish!

  3. Ouch! But at least you know. Better to know that you went over budget than to be blissfully ignorant and have no idea. I also hate surprise expenses, but unfortunately they are unavoidable sometimes. It rocks that you saved so much on that wheel though!

    1. Yeah, I agree that it’s better than being blissfully ignorant. I would rather just know the truth and deal with it.

  4. Seems like an aberrational blip on your otherwise stellar budget record. I think you’re right–knowing about it and having a plan of action for next month is all key. And, it’s a great reflection of how carefully you do manage your finances.

  5. I’m not sure how to count the tire thing. On the one hand it was an unexpected emergency, and that is what savings are for. On the other hand, in our spending it seems like we average an “emergency” (quotes because many of our emergencies are regular annual bills, and not actually emergencies, just things we pay out once a year instead of monthly) a month, so after some point I had to take that as given in my planning. But we don’t do zero sum budgeting, so we don’t have to think so much about what to do with emergencies.

    1. I actually needed new tires and knew it but put it off. The metal wheel was a surprise-not sure I could have done anything about that.
      I am mostly just annoyed about my $150 vacation budget fail. The printer ink isn’t something I should be blamed for BUT I just get mad whenever I have to buy printer ink. How does ink for a $50 printer cost $40?

      1. “How does ink for a $50 printer cost $40?”

        Pretty sure that’s their business model…

        1. I’m starting to think so. What annoys me is that I *have* to buy magenta and yellow for my printer to print…even though I just want to print something in black and white. It’s extortion!

  6. “It’s only a failure if you do nothing about it”. LOVE that, Holly. $683 is a lot of cash, but I know you’ll kick it on recovery mode, and that’s the important part. 🙂

  7. Like Mrs. FW said, it’s just a blip. Though, we’ve been there too and it does suck – especially when some of it might have been able to be avoided. That said, I could not agree more on it only a failure if you do nothing about it. It’s the noticing it and making adjustments as needed that matters.

    1. Yes, totally. There was a time in our lives (years ago) when we wouldn’t have even noticed.

  8. Like you said, this is exactly why you have an emergency fund. Things happen! It would not make sense to take vacations if you weren’t financially prepared to deal with life’s uncertainties / rainy days (because they always happen)! I am going to have a car repair soon I think – womp womp.

  9. “Going over budget sucks. It stresses me out. And even worse, it makes me feel like a failure.”

    This is def how I feel time to time, but then I just have to remind myself to chill, crank up the Jack Johnson, and do a menial chore to get my mind of my perceived failures.

    1. Menial chore, lol. Funny- cleaning my house always relaxes me!

  10. Awww I think you still did great, Holly!! Life does happen and there are things we just can’t control. Like you said, that’s what the emergency fund is for! We had car issues in October, plus we bought a dining table and Christmas decorations. My problem is I always way over budget for certain things (like $500 for Christmas decorations…lol), and then when I spend way less (spent $190 including our new fake Christmas tree), I justify spending more at Target. THAT’S not good haha!!

    Hope you have a wonderful day today!

    1. Target is a problem for people! I don’t live all that close to one so I don’t have that problem =)

  11. I have (more times than I’d like to admit) paid the same bill twice. So, yeah we get a credit on the next month’s bill, but in the month I did it I’m beyond annoyed with myself.

  12. I’ve had those moments. I’m about to be in one of those budget failures. Our water heater is starting to go out in our new house. It’s not new by any means, so replacing that will be fun. I also need to get some insulation blown in as our electricity bill is through the roof due to the lack of insulation in the garage and basement. That’s going to be expensive!

    1. I have purchased a few too many water heaters in this lifetime- I think 3!

  13. Don’t beat yourself up. You had the emergency fund for the tire. And you’ll take care of the other things. As the saying goes, life happens while you’re making other plans. You’ll get back on track in no time.

  14. Try not to beat yourself up, you’re on track what seems like 99% of the time. I’ve been way over budget every month since July because of my income, and last month was no exception. I was over budget about the same as you, but I projected my income to be really low, which it was, only lower. The good thing is you recognize it and are taking steps to make changes or be more aware. And sometime in life things just come up.

  15. I think if you just gave up and started flushing your money down the toilet that would be an epic fail. Don’t beat yourself up too much, you can’t help it when life throws you a curve ball. Let’s see how you do next month.

    1. I agree! =) This month should be boring *knock on wood. I already have Christmas taken care of.

  16. It seems that life just caught up with you guys. Besides overspending a bit on vacay, the other stuff is pretty out of your control:-) I like that you’re so transparent. Good for you for your aggressive savings habits!

  17. Sounds like you have an action plan in place, so that’s great. The flat tire/new tire is what emergency funds are all about, so less of a snafu in my book.

  18. Oh no! We’re in the same boat for November. While we made some awesome progress & paid off our personal loan, I spent $400 in clothes since I haven’t bought any for a year, and The Big Guy found a good deal on tools and bought those too. It was awful! The key, like you pointed out, is an action plan. I’m still working on ours……

  19. I completely agree with you that this is only a failure if you do nothing about it. This is why it’s important to check in with your goals monthly that way when big hits like this happen, you can adjust accordingly the following month to correct for it. When you don’t check on these things, you run the risk of getting seriously sideways with your money.

  20. Yup, December is starting off with a bang… right of the bat, meaning Dec. 1 the budget imploded. New wheel bearings on the passenger side.. I can hear the drivers side going so that needs to be done this month too… that is $1200 this month that I was not prepared to spend 🙁 time to refill the emergency account.

    1. Yikes! This must be the month of car repairs for people =/

  21. I would call it an epic failure if you had a truckload of credit card debt you were trying to pay off. This I call life and enjoying a vacation, which is why you work so hard in the first place. As long as you don’t let it become lifestyle inflation, I wouldn’t feel bad at all.

  22. You can’t learn without failure. You would never take risk without some form of failure. Not sure how you can totally budget for life. It’s like trying to budget for an emergency health situation. You just can’t so it’s not a failure but a fact of life. As long as you don’t consistently do it then you haven’t failed…if you like over spending…then there’s a problem. Good to feel bad, if you didn’t I would have some concerns as well…it needs to hurt but if failure defines the rest of our life we have lost.

    1. It’s impossible to budget for everything in life…but I have found that trying makes a huge difference!

  23. Is it cliché to say it happens to a personal finance blogger? We hear stories like these all the time and it just goes to show that nobody is perfect. I remember reading that you saved a lot last month or the previous month. So you can take the good with the bad, and not feel like a failure. I recently bought 4 tires with install for around 440, what a coincidence.

  24. Biggest thing you can do is course correct, if you don’t that’s where the big problem lies. The flat tire is one of those unexpected things that you can predict, those other items can be cleaned up rather easy.

  25. We just had a major epic budget failure. I totally forgot about our annual personal property tax bill. It’s over $1,000!

  26. I actually don’t think $683.50 is an epic budget failure at all. That’s not that bad considering you are talking about going over-budget on vacation expenses (barely, which is impressive for most Americans), a tire replacement that was more an emergency than anything, plus a relatively inexpensive lawn treatment. On a side note, since when am I the glass-half-full type of person? haha.

  27. If $680 over budget is an epic failure, I don’t even want to think about what that makes me some months.

  28. Ugh, been there, done that, didn’t buy the t-shirt (because: frugal). As a household of two people with health problems, things go wrong all the time. We’re not well so we end up buying (more) convenience food. We end up going to specialists more than expected. Or the two times we ended up having to buy a car in the past 5 years. (We have bad luck, I guess.) Or right before FinCon when the new-to-use-car had a tire catch on something and rip.

    Or a million other little things with home repairs, lawn service, etc. I am trying to start saving now for more stuff that I know is coming around yearly: car insurance, termite protection, etc. But it still blows me away how things snowball.

    As you said, it’s only a failure if you don’t take any action to prevent it in the future.

    1. Healthcare is expensive! Hopefully you have good insurance that can take the sting out of at least some of those visits.

  29. My Epic Budget Failure is when I bought this sale thermostat and heater. My bill seems it has increased compared with those of last year and I have read reviews on the products. Thus, I have lower the degree by one and planning to buy new ones. 🙁

  30. I often think that events like this serve as a PF wake-up call to help us take an even closer look at our finances and see where the little leaks may still be. I think you guys do really well and months like November can happen from time to time. I hope you do relax a bit in December, as you work really hard Holly!

  31. We don’t do our budget that way, but I can see how it helps to have set categories. We may need to revisit actually not going over spending limits!

    1. We keep our spending limits pretty tight- I think that’s why we’re always teetering on the edge.

  32. Don’t feel too bad about it, it happens to the best. Luckily there are months where you bring it a lot more that you anticipated and it helps to level out those rare ‘budget fails’. November must’ve been a bad month for a lot of people, I had a ‘budget fail’ month too because of unexpected things that cropped up.

  33. Those months happen. We have had so many car repairs lately. So many….

    For us, we keep a healthy cash buffer, so we’re not too affected cash wise, but we might be switching up our budget for 2015.

  34. Kathy@winenchocolate says:

    This time of year is always bad for the unexpected to come up, even though we plan.

  35. Well, when Jay’s foot came through the floor of the attic this morning and left a gaping hole in the second floor ceiling, he took the day off to repair it all. He didn’t have any more vacation time, so that’s a day’s pay down the tubes. Fortunately, we had everything needed for the repairs, but he wouldn’t have taken the day off if we weren’t waiting for a house showing any day now. Sooooooooo, I’m not sure how epic the fail was, but it sure wasn’t expected or welcome. However, looking at the bright side, no one was hurt, so I’m grateful, EXTREMELY grateful. 🙂

  36. I wouldn’t even call it a failure as I think a budget has to have some room for flexibility – life happens, and it usually costs money. Budgets should reflect this and have a little cushion for something that comes up (and it’s always something)

  37. When it rains it pours.

    Thanks for sharing that because this is something I went through one month and I’m sure others are to. Budgeting was getting annoying and stressful for me so after a few months of being consistently under budget, I decided to stop it and just focus on finding new ways to save and spend less. It’s worked great so far and much less stress. If the budget was off even by a few cents, I would go hunting on all my credit card statements to find the transaction. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

    And God bless emergency funds.

  38. I know it’s just moving numbers around…..but the flat tire expense (which is the majority of your overage) would come out of my emergency fund – and not really count towards being “over budget.” You didn’t have any control over that one.

  39. “We failed this month, and it honestly sucks azz, but at least we know. And isn’t that an accomplishment in itself?” Yes, it is a HUGE accomplishment. I hate when I’m over budget too, especially on things that were due to me not paying attention. But as you said – the fact we realize and don’t just shrug our shoulders says a lot about us too!

  40. Love the title. I find after a couple of months we are bound to have a bad one now and again, granted yours was rough … I know for me when we have bad months it helps remind me to reorient the budget and start looking at these things again. Life gets hectic…

  41. I have experienced an epic fail on one or more occasions. I hate it when stuff pops up that isn’t in the budget, such as dental and car work. I laid out my budget all the way until February only to find out I needed a root canal! But errrr, I guess this is why we have emergency funds?

  42. Things like this happen all the time to me, but luckily I have a bit of room in my budget anticipating costs that I forgot about. That sort of made it seem like we spend a ton of money over and above our monthly budget but that’s not it, it’s just that we don’t spend a ton of time every month thinking about all of the one-offs that we will have to pay for.

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