Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Budget Boot Camp: To Do #5 - Budget for Irregular Expenses

We're now officially getting into "budgeting all-star" territory. If you budget successfully for irregular expenses, you're well on your way to having a budget better than 95 percent* of the American population. Most people budget for regular expenses, but when the opportunity to take a vacation, give Christmas gifts, or pay to get the car fixed comes, there's nowhere in the budget for that money to come from, so they resort to their emergency fund, credit cards, or savings earmarked for other purposes. But not you. Here's how to budget for irregular expenses.

If you're just joining us, don't forget to check out our other Budget Boot Camp posts.

To Do #5: Budget for Irregular Expenses

Step 1: Brainstorm potential expenses and their amounts

Take a moment to brainstorm those irregular expenses that crop up during the year. Personally, when it comes to creating expense categories, I've found that it's actually easier to be specific (within reason) than general for a few reasons. First, it's easier to figure out how much your going to spend if you break it down into sub-categories. For example, you're probably going to come up with a more accurate amount for "gifts" if you've broken it down by holiday. Find out if there's anywhere you can save online as well using a cashback extension For example, just like eye care, you will know when you are due for a check-up. By planning ahead and keeping money aside in case you need new glasses, then you can make sure you can afford some that you really want. To find some fabulous men's glasses, find it here.

Second, it's actually easier to categorize when things are specific. If you have a category for parking at the airport, you're not going to waste time trying to decide if you need to use your monthly parking budget or your irregular travel budget. If you're using our free budget template, we've gone ahead and brainstormed a lot of categories for you (listed below), and left you with spaces to create your own custom categories. Download our free template on our Facebook page. Do any of these apply to you? Do you need to create additional categories?

  • Insurance: Car, renters/homeowners, medical, dental, life, disability
  • Car Related: Registration, safety inspection, oil changes, car washes, excise tax, car repairs, miscellaneous parking
  • Travel: Plane tickets, car rentals, gas and tolls for road trips, parking at airport, transportation to airport, food for travel, checked luggage fees, entertainment on vacation
  • Gifts: Wrapping supplies, birthday, Christmas, wedding, baby shower, Mothers Day, Fathers Day
  • Medical: Copays, parking at the doctor's office, flu shot, prescriptions, contacts/glasses, dental bills, vision bills
  • Memberships/Subscriptions: Costco membership, Amazon Prime membership, newspaper/magazine subscriptions, anti-virus software subscriptions, museum passes
  • Children's classes/activities: Swim class, preschool
  • Hobbies: Race fees, craft supplies
  • Photography: Family pictures, photo books
  • Education/Career Related: Tuition, books, CPA renewal fees
  • Clothing Related: Dry cleaning, clothing purchases (although I use a fund to keep track of this-- we'll talk about this more next month)
  • Miscellaneous: Hair cuts, stamps, credit score requests, will software, cash withdrawal

Now assign an amount to each expense. If you don't know the amount, estimate it. As you live with a budget, it will get more and more accurate over time.

Step 2: Divide the total of that expense for the year by 12 and put it into your monthly budget. If you're using our free Excel file, available on our Facebook page, you enter the amount for the year in the total column at the end, and the monthly amount will automatically populate into each month's budget. As you enter the actual amount each month, you'll see the actual total accrue in the total/actual column. If you are using Mint or Yodlee, I believe there is a "rollover" feature that you can use to rollover the unused amount in each budget to the next month. However, in the month when you do use the accrued funds, it will show you as "over" budget if you go over the monthly amount.

Step 3: Save that money each month so it's there to use when you need it. There are several ways you could do this. We send the amount we budget each month for irregular expenses to a separate savings account, and then transfer the actual amount spent on irregular expenses back into our checking account each month to make sure we don't "accidentally" spend that money on other stuff. I believe Lisa pays large irregular expenses out of that separate bank account directly. Or you could just hold your budget in the other areas and float the amount accrued for irregular expenses in your normal checking account (works better when you're not on a tight budget). We'll talk more about cash flow strategies with irregular expenses later in our budget boot camp.

Step 4: Refine over time. It's not going to be perfect the first time. It's a combination of both trying to live within your budget and improving your ability to forecast your spending as you continue to track it that will give you a workable and effective budget.

*I made up the 95 percent-- but seriously, it's got to be high.

Share- What are the random expenses that you always forget about in your budget?

And for the mom products I'm loving: Since we'll be moving to New York City in a few months, and space will be TIGHT, we put our baby in a pack 'n' play. The combination of this mattress pad (we're using the bassinet attachment, so we didn't want a thick pad that would make it too high) and these oh-so-soft crib sheets actually makes it a really great and comfy space. 


  1. I was wondering how you guys would account for expenses like that. I categorize the monthly cost as "spent" (like, we save $6/month for license renewals since we have two people renewing them once every four years, and say we spent $6 each month so the money accrues and we think it's excess) but your way seems a little better organized than ours.

    Good luck in NYC! Ben slept in the Pack'n'Play in our room until he was 3 months old, and it made life so much easier. Now we use it as a kitchen prison and a travel crib. If you're not totally busy we should get together before you move! :)

    1. Thanks! We're a little nervous about the move, but I think it will be fun (not the move, but living there...) Also, I love that you used the term "kitchen prison." We should definitely get together before we leave. We'll be here for another two months.

  2. So my question is - how many bank accounts do you guys use? Is there another article that talks about which accounts you use for what? I would loooooove that reading!

    1. Great question! I think Lisa is actually planning to do an entire Budget Bootcamp entry on this. We really just have our checking and a separate online savings account. It's really easy to split our online account, so that's what we do for our "fun funds," annualized expenses, etc. So they're technically in separate accounts, but it's still easy to keep track of.


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