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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Circumstances that make us spend more money than we had planned

Certain times of the year and certain circumstances seem to drive us to spend more money than we'd planned. Vacations are one area that I think many folks spend more than planned. Circumstances that make one feel sad for a person, or guilty over something, tend to make us go overboard on our "comfort/remorse" gifting. One other specific time of year when a check on spending seems to get lost in the mail, is the Christmas season. And nowadays, the Christmas season spans so many days on the calendar, there are just too many opportunities to over-spend our budget.

Here we are, in the midst of the holiday shopping, celebrating and entertainment season. It's so easy for me to spend money freely in December. If it's charitable giving, and we have the money in the bank, then maybe that's a good thing. But sometimes I go overboard on gifts, or am too busy to really plan my time and money spent. A quick meal from a restaurant here. Disorganized errand running there. It all adds up to going over our budget.

In years past, we could fudge a little on the budget, because we knew there would be plenty of income to cover any extra expenditures. Things are different this year. Our budget is tight. There is enough money there. But there's no stretch to the budget this year.

Knowing this has made me acutely aware of how I spend, why I spend, and how I can get a handle on extra expenses. It's required being very mindful, some good sense talking-to in my head and focus on the goals that lie before of us.

Our goals -- Keep our daughters at the university for the duration of their education. (They have responsibility in this, as well.) Continue funding our retirement, in large sums. Continue giving generously, whenever it is needed.

On a reduced income, sticking to our goals means that I must be vigilant with spending choices.

For example, typically I'm rather haphazard about trips to the post office in December. I like to run out to the PO whenever I have a parcel or two ready to go. Some years, I make 3 separate trips to the post office.  It's a good 15 minute drive each way, and not at all on my way anywhere. Plus, I must consider my time spent, not just driving there and back, but waiting in line. My time is more valuable than ever this year. The time spent on unnecessary extra errands, is time that I could have been working productively at home, thus saving us more money towards our goals.

This year, I was about to do the same as I usually do, when it really hit me, I had to change this one little thing about my holiday mailings, in order to spare time and gas spent on extra runs to the PO. And I did. It does mean that one of my gifts may just barely reach its destination in time. But this one person will surely understand my situation this year.

Another area of over-spending occurs with gift giving. I see something that I think would be "perfect" for someone on my list, after I've already spent the budgeted amount for that person. In past years, I've gone ahead, and gone over budget, figuring we'd cut the budget in some other area to cover this gift. Well, last Friday, I was in Kohl's when I found a sweater that I really wanted to buy for my son. I've already bought his gifts, but this sweater really caught my eye. I must have carried that sweater around for an hour, while I tried to settle my mind on this. In the end, I remembered our goals, and realized that in a month's time, this "perfect" sweater won't seem sooooo special anymore, and I'll find other sweaters that I think are just as nice.

I've also shown restraint when it comes to treats while I'm out and about. The holiday season means that I'm running more errands than usual. I easily succumb to buying treats for myself while I'm out. But this year, I've managed to curtail that impulse. I do a couple of things which help keep me from buying snacks or quick lunches. One, I plan for my next meal ahead of time, so that I know, after my errands are done, I have something yummy and quick to make at home. Two, I have planned a couple of treat days, for when my family is home. I'll be using gift cards for the bulk of those meals and snacks out. When I'm feeling tempted, I remind myself that these treats are on the calendar. 

And finally, it really struck me, friends, real friends, don't want me to compromise our financial goals, in order to buy them something that they may or may not love. Real friends want the same for me as I want for them. I want my friends to have a restful Christmas. I want my friends to have peace about how much they spend or the time that they put into making a gift. I want my friends to give me the gift of their friendship, and truly nothing more. It's the friendship that I need, not more stuff.

I'm not doing perfectly on my holiday spending, this year. I did go over budget on my husband's gifts. But I am doing a lot better than previous years. And I think this will show when the credit card bills roll in, come January.

My hope for you, is that your budget is not nearly as tight as mine this year. But if it is, I hope you have found ways to keep yourself on track.


  1. After a while, this kind of thinking becomes second nature. I suppose that with an income increase, it might not, but for us, these are all normal considerations.

    (Also, you can send packages parcel post, which is slower, but it is much cheaper. It's not advertised at the post office; you have to ask.)

    My husband can go to work a couple of different ways, so if something needs to be mailed or if we need stamps, that is his errand.

    Time is a huge issue. It's a reason I stay home as much as possible, because I simply have so much to do at home (gift making right now, like you mentioned). When I do have somewhere to go I try to combine errands and I try to make sure I have a couple of reasons to be at a particular place before I go there.

    I could certainly do better with planning for quicker meals, but some of my quickest meals aren't in the budget right now. One thing that does help is to have beans cooked and in the freezer for some meals. That gives me more time to sew. I am out of beans in the freezer right now, so I think I will get a big pot cooking this morning! Takeout isn't an option, so if I don't plan well we just eating really late, which cuts my project time more. Last night was a late night, since the children and I were working on a craft together when I needed to be making dinner.

    1. Hi Brandy,
      Thanks for the encouragement!

      My PO calls parcel post, Standard Mail, I believe. I also use Media Mail, which is very economical, but limited to books, CDs and tapes. It's slower, but if you're not in a hurry (or if you plan very far in advance), it saves some money on shipping. When at the PO, I always ask what's the very cheapest method of shipment for each parcel, and they're very helpful (it's a small PO, and they know me well!)

      That is great that you can work post office stops into regular transportation.

      I have a couple of quick meals in my head that work most of the time, and can be very frugal, like microwaved baked potatoes, scrambled eggs and whatever fruit we have on hand. In a pinch, we've eaten oatmeal for dinner. And when my twins and son were very young, I used to make TVP & Macaroni. It was canned, seasoned tomato sauce, cooked macaroni pasta, and quickly rehydrated TVP. It was quick (about 10 minutes), and filling.

      We've had our share of late dinners. It's more problematic when children are young and need their sleep. But otherwise, sometimes late dinners just happen and there's not much we can do about it.

      Now that my kids are all older, I can work on a project and turn lunch or dinner prep over to them, and that is a real saver for me. I can tackle large projects, like house painting, and know that meals are handled. You've probably already discovered how helpful your children can be with meal prep.

    2. When I ask what is cheapest, they NEVER suggest parcel post at our post office It's not standard mail as far as I know, so I would suggest asking next time because it was 4 times cheaper than what they suggested to us previously. You can ship things that aren't books (like clothing) via parcel post.

      The children can help during meals and it is fantastic, but we were all working on a project last night so no one was available :)

    3. You can look up prices for USPS on their website, including parcel post, standard, and media mail. You have to put in the weight and dimensions of the box.

    4. I meant Standard Post, not S. Mail. Sorry about that. Hmmm, I must have misunderstood. I thought the lady at the PO said that Standard Post was formerly known as Parcel Post. That's good to know that Parcel Post is still there.

      Anyway, you're right about not always offering less expensive services. Their read-out at the register doesn't list the lesser expensive options. At the PO in the larger city near us, I have to ask for specific services. But at our tiny PO in a small town, (lines are short, sometimes there's no one there ahead of me), they're extremely helpful. And when I emphasize that I'm looking for the least expensive method of shipment, they tell me of options I wasn't aware were possible.

      There's another option for shipping books, at least it used to be available. A couple of years back I shipped items via Bound Printed Matter. It was extremely inexpensive, but the PO is very specific about what can and can not be included in this service. I'm not sure if this shipping method is still available. But at the time, it was one of those methods that no one, but the PO seemed to know about (like a "secret menu" :-) ).

  2. Luckily, our budget is not as tight as yours, so I can succumb to some of things you mentioned and not suffer so much. My biggest compromise is between money and time. I will get something even if it costs a little more so I won't have to worry about it later. One thing, I'm doing this year, is not worrying if gifts are even or enough. If I have a good idea, I'm doing it. Otherwise, that person will only get a token. Most people I give things to don't really need anything and don't care about the gift part of the holidays so much. I'm focusing on the ones that really need things.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      It's certainly a tradeoff. Sometimes time is more precious, and spending a little extra can really save time. I do that early in the holiday season. If I see something that I really like for someone, and the value is good enough, then I'll go ahead and buy it, and not bother hunting for the absolute best possible deal (which could take hours of my time, and set me back in other productive work).

      I still try to be "even" in my spending with our kids. But I tend to give more generously to others who are really needing it, and spend less on those on my list that have most everything they could need. To me, that is the essence of giving, seeing need and trying to meet it.

  3. I also have room in our budget for a few impulse buys but I've really been trying to minimize impulse spending overall. Two years ago both my children were in school full time, which meant I could pick up more hours at work and have more income. It would be very easy for me to let our spending slide on impulse purchases, eating out, etc., and I decided at that time not to let myself fall into that trap--which was when I started reading frugal blogs as inspiration. I find it can be a tricky balance to be mindful with my money without being a tightwad. I love how one of your financial priorities is to give generously--and that you find room to do this even though your finances are reduced.

    1. Hi Kris,
      You're right, there's that fine line between being frugal and just being cheap. I think having a budget helps me in that regard. I set out a certain amount for giving at the beginning of each month, so I'm just not tempted to hold back. In my head, if giving is in the budget, then I am free to give.

      Well, I have discovered that I can not possibly out-give God's resources. It doesn't seem to matter if we give 10% or 20%. Our needs are always being met. Provision is not the same as income. And if I have to choose one or the other, I choose being provided for. It took me a long time to reach this point, though.

      Impulse spending, in moderation, is one of the pleasures of money, I think, if a person can afford it. And I wouldn't begrudge anyone a little splurge now and then (it its within a person's means, of course). Sometimes the splurges have to be teeny tiny, and sometimes they can be a bit bigger.

    2. Ooh, I like that--"provision is not the same as income"--thanks.

  4. This year my income took a bump up so I had extra money. I had saved plenty on gift which left me with a surplus in my budgeted Christmas spending. That surplus led me to buy an extra gift, although not expensive I should have restrained myself. I always gift books as gifts to the children, for the youngest I had two books I wanted and couldn't choose between them so I simply bought both. Bad on my part, but only doing this once is pretty good for me. Next year I hope to be able to say I didn't do this at all.

    It's hard to want to give our children something we see and know they would enjoy but have to leave it behind. You did a good job on the sweater.

    1. Hi Lois,
      books are such great gifts. I am so sure that your grandkids are going to love them. And it's okay for Grandma to, one time, give a little more. I think they are old enough to understand that this year, you had a bit more money to spend on gifts.

      I had something kind of similar happen just this week. A little bit of money came my way, unexpectedly. I didn't know what I would do with it. Then I realized that there is someone that I was wanting to give a gift to, that hadn't been planned in our budget, and I used that little bit for this person's gift. That was the most fun small sum of money that I have ever spent! Giving always feels so good!

      I think I did the right thing on that sweater. In the moment, it felt like I just had to buy it. But I also know that I have some very nice gifts for my son already. Now if he didn't have any sort of sweater already, then I'd feel differently. But most of us have way more than we really need.


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