When you are trying to be responsible with your money, live by a budget and move closer toward your goals, it will feel like there is always something just around the corner that will try to derail you. This happens all the time! If you don’t know how to plan for unexpected expenses, they could take you off track completely.
You might be thinking…”These are unexpected expenses. Meaning you can’t plan for them, so how the heck do you plan for unexpected expenses??”
When you think about planning for these unknown expenses, yes, you are right, there will be some things you just can’t prepare for. But, the point is to prepare for as much as you possibly can to minimize the damage when something totally comes out of left field.
We plan for the plannable and prepare for the preparable.
6 Quick Tips to Plan for Unexpected Expenses
1. Review the previous year.
This one can be difficult if you are just starting out, but it will still be doable. What you will do is
- sit down with all your budgets (12 months worth) from the previous year. You will have designated your spending each month toward a certain category. Then when you were tracking your spending and filling in how much you spent every month, you will have taken note of what was not part of your budget (meaning surprise expense!).
Pro-tip: If you have not been budgeting that long, you will have to print your transactions/bank statements for the past year and go through them month by month to see which transactions are not recurring and may only happen once a year or on a random basis.
- The best way to do this is to grab a piece of paper and write, “Unexpected Expenses” at the top.
- Then write down each expense that was extra, the date it happened and how much it was.
This list will show you patterns like,
- your husband will need a new pair of tennis shoes every 6 months because of how much he is walking at work.
- Or, based on your average driving, you need an oil change every 6 months.
- Those darn school pictures came up in September and you totally forgot about them.
- You had a Christmas gift budget set, but you totally forgot about the Secret Santa at work!
This year of review is your time to find all the things you forgot to budget for and those random things that weren’t planned for. Once you have a list of unplanned expenses, you can determine if you need to keep them in your budget the same time of year for the next year, or maybe you need to stash a little cash away in savings in case this happens again.
Reviewing the previous year has been the single most important way we have reduced our unexpected expenses.
2. Start meal planning
Yes, I am recommending this, AGAIN. I would bet 1 million dollars, you go over budget on food on a regular basis. Food is the number one budget killer! The reason this classifies as an unexpected expense is because it typically is not in your plan to go over budget.
I’m sure there are good intentions of eating at home all month, but you will have a moment of weakness born of exhaustion, laziness and/or cravings (ask me how many orders of garlic cheesy bread from Dominoes I had when I was pregnant with my second child….I can’t tell you because it’s such an embarrassing number).
Meal planning has been a total game changer for my family and I know it can do the same for you. If you are completely new to this concept, it is basically
- setting up a menu for the coming month,
- buying the supplies for it,
- then executing the plan.
People tend to overthink this and try to get too fancy with it, and that makes them not want to do it. Seriously, you just need to know yourself. Do not put a fancy meal on the menu mid-week when you know that is when you are most tired and are just going to want to go get a freaking Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger from Wendy’s.
Brand new to Meal Planning? Start here.
If you want the world’s cheapest ($100 for dinners for a family of 4 for 1 month) meal plan, check this out.
If you dream about having your meal planning on auto-pilot (put together a plan for a month in 30 seconds) you need to read this!
Meal planning cut my grocery budget in half and allowed us to completely stop eating out. The amount of money we have saved (at least $3,000-$4,000 per year) from this one thing alone has been ridiculous.
Once you have been meal planning for a little bit, you can totally put it on auto-pilot and save tons of money with minimal effort (that’s my favorite way to save!)
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3. Communicate with friends and family.
As much as your close friends and family love you, they are going to be a big player in throwing unexpected expenses your way.
- Impromptu girls’ night out!
- Tyler and Jen got engaged! You are a bridesmaid (dress, helping with a bachelorette party, helping with a bridal shower, PLUS getting them a gift)!
- Your cousin is expecting her first baby! You have to help with the shower and get her a gift.
The list goes on and on.
Be sure to communicate with those close family and friends if you are trying to make a radical change in your spending. Just be honest and let them know what your goals are and what that will mean as far as your ability to participate in certain things.
Most people are very understanding and will be fine with you declining certain things, or keeping gifts to a minimum. You won’t know until you communicate. Often times, those people can turn into your biggest cheerleaders if you ask them to support you on this journey of yours.
4. Set up a pet emergency fund.
I see this happen every day at my job. The classic pet owner has no money set aside for an emergency, Fluffy eats something and gets sick, the owner has to either borrow money, decline treatment because they can’t afford it or put it on a credit card.
If you have an emergency fund for yourself, why wouldn’t you have one for your pet too? I am telling you, as a veterinarian, your pet is going to do something that is going to cost you money. Prepare for that. Start saving today.
It is recommended to have $1,000 emergency fund for yourself, and I recommend you have the same for your pet. You may not be able to keep them from getting into the trash, but you will at least be able to deal with the consequences of that without too much stress in your life once you have an emergency fund in place.
New to pet ownership?
5. Set alarms for subscription/membership contracts.
This may seem like a weird one, but doing this has saved me so much money over the past few years. When you sign up for a new contract with a company, there is typically an introductory period with this awesome deal. Or sometimes there is even a free trial for a specific amount of time.
Eventually, those sweet deals are ending and then suddenly, that card you used to set up the account is being charged this insane price automatically.
If you sign up for a free trial of something, put an alarm in your phone one week before it is over so you can either cancel it or prepare for what the payment will be to keep it. You can even set an alarm in your phone for a year from now if you have a year-long deal (ie. a lot of internet and cable providers will give you one price for the first year).
The nice thing about those alarms is,
- it will keep you from joining auto-pay on something you may not want to keep,
- if you do want to keep it you will become aware of the payment prior to being shocked by your bank statement and
- sometimes if you call prior to a price increase, they will adjust it back down to keep you as a customer (you just have to ask!).
There is no membership too small! Just set an alarm to stay on top of it. You will thank yourself for this when you prevent a sign up 6 months ago from sabotaging your budget today.
6. Get an accountability partner.
At the end of the day, the biggest driving force behind a lot of your “unexpected” expenses is going to be you. Your ability to not act on impulse and blow your budget because you feel like you have to have or do this certain thing will have a huge impact on your budget.
You are the one who gets to decide if something is worth spending your money on. I know you are smart, which means you will be able to rationalize, justify and talk yourself into spending money on anything and saying it was unexpected, but a necessary expense. “It just couldn’t be avoided.”
Having an accountability partner you have to check-in with and explain your progress to will go a long way in making you think twice about your impulse decisions. Will there be times there truly was an unforeseen expense? Absolutely! But, is ordering 2 boxes of stuff from on Amazon Prime Day (because it was such a good deal) really an unexpected expense that was necessary. No way!!
Find someone you trust: friend, family member, husband, etc. Get them set up as your accountability partner and start answering to someone besides yourself. It will be a great motivator to keep your spending in check.
All of these simple tips will help you plan for unexpected expenses. You are not going to be able to predict everything, but the more you begin to plan for, the fewer the unexpected things become. Remember to review your year, set alarms on memberships, meal plan, practice good communication with family and friends and get an accountability partner for you!
No more being ambushed by unexpected expenses! Start planning today!
Do you have any awesome tips for combatting those unforeseen expenses?
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