Budget Busters:  Four Times You Could Easily Lose Control

Budget Busters: Four Times You Could Easily Lose Control

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Audio Budget Busters

You’re on a budget.  You finally got serious and put some numbers down that allow you to close out the month with no problem.

You’ve been on it for a couple of months and the lack of stress feels really good.

Then comes one of those dangerous moments that can cause even a die-hard, long-term budgeter to lose her resolve.  Here are four of them:

Entertaining at Home

Nothing seems to bring out the need to impress as much as having someone to our home who has never been there before.  It doesn’t matter if we’ve invited them for a barbecue or for a formal, sit-down dinner (although those are pretty rare these days).

All of a sudden, the tablecloths all look shabby and washed out.  The china looks old.  Pulled threads on the throw pillows on the couch are testimony to the cat doing its favorite “paw-paw” action.  The paint on the front hall walls looks awfully dingy.

Solution:  Unless you’ve invited Martha Stewart over, stop and take a deep breath.  You don’t want someone as a friend if they’re coming to do an inspection.  Look at your budget and decide what you can spend on food and drinks.  Then invest your own elbow grease in de-cluttering, scrubbing and putting a shine on the place you lovingly call “home.”  And welcome them into it.

Meeting New People

You’re going to a networking event.  Or a high school reunion.  Or some other function where you’re going to meet new people.  (Maybe even a future love interest?)  Of course nothing in your closet could possibly put out the image you think is needed.  And your shoes are so “last year.”

The temptation is to splurge on a new outfit, new makeup, new hairstyle, new everything.  (The more insecure you feel, the more you’ll want to spend.)  After all, they say first impressions are everything.

Solution:  What’s the last time you had fun in a pair of new shoes that hurt?  Or in an unfamiliar outfit you couldn’t sit in easily?  You’re the only one who knows how many times you’ve worn something, as long as it’s in great shape and looks good on you.  If there’s money in the budget to splurge on an accessory or hairdresser visit, go for it.  Then remind yourself that a good impression rides to a great extent on how you feel about yourself, not on what you’re wearing.

Going On Vacation

You finally bought the ticket for your dream vacation.  Because it’s so special, everything has to be perfect.  You’ve sunk a lot of money in the travel and lodgings, but that’s just the start.  From your old luggage to last year’s summer clothes to your scratched sunglasses, everything is crying to be replaced.

SolutionHopefully you’ve budgeted for some critical purchases, ideally some that will have use again once you come home.  Pick the things that will really make a difference to your trip’s success.  And remember that you’re going to need money to spend when you’re on the trip itself, and you don’t want to find your credit cards are maxed out.

Working Too Hard

Whether you run your own business or work for someone else, nothing rings the “I deserve a treat” bell like slogging through really long work hours.  And you probably know exactly where your weak spot is when it comes to feel-good purchases.

Nothing is wrong with splurging.  In fact, as long as you’ve budgeted for it, it can be a really effective way to get you to your goal, through occasional stressful times.  (But if it’s constant, you probably need to look at whether you’re flirting with being a workaholic.)

Solution:  This kind of overspending often comes from chemical triggers in your brain that override any good judgment you normally have when it comes to buying.  The best thing you can do is put off the purchase: bookmark the website URL of what you want and promise yourself you’ll buy it in 48 hours.  If you still want it after that time, it’s probably your “normal self” that’s making the buying decision and you have a greater chance of staying within your budget.

Other Budget Busters

You might have other triggers that can easily tear down your resolve.  Maybe when you’re home sick and are letting a shopping channel entertain you.  Or when someone makes you angry or puts you down.  Or when your son feels left out because his friends can afford to do something he can’t.

Let us know in the Comments section below what situation might become a budget buster for you, and how you might get past it.


Bio: Sharon O’Day fixes financial lives. She is a tell-it-like-it-is money expert with a successful career in global finance, plus an MBA from the Wharton School. Today she specializes in getting entrepreneurial women over 50 back on their game so they can have more money, less stress and more joy. With her “Over Fifty and Financially Free” strategies, they take actions that lead to their ultimate goal: financial peace of mind.

  • Got Clicks

    Budget Buster Dilemma: Impromptu birthday party invitation and no $. Answer: Pick apples at a friends’ house, throw the apples in the crockpot and dress up old jars as gifts of homemade applesauce with pictures of birthday party friend printed as labels w/ apple motif. It’s not the cost, it’s the thougthfulness that counts sometimes.

    • I’m convinced that gifts that come from our hands and our hearts are always welcome … unless you’re a 5-year-old expecting the latest Lego set! 😉

  • robindavidman

    Those are some good suggestions, Sharon, albeit I think it is nice to reward yourself sometimes particularly for special events. With the ease of online shopping today you can use comparison shopping, or look for coupons or savings codes to help you save money. Your wait 48 hours is good advice. It gives you a chance to see if prices reduce or to find something that you maybe want more, or to decide if you really want it after all. I enjoy your articles!

    • Robin, we absolutely should reward ourselves! The only proviso is if there is money in the budget to do so and, if so, how much? Truth is, unless we’re “back to the wall,” there should be some wiggle room in the budget and we can find something we could reward ourselves with at virtually any price point. My concern was more specifically cases where the budget is totally ignored … until the credit card comes in.

  • Hi, Sharon, I should have had you at my side about 20 years ago, guilty in all 4 budget busters you named and probably a few more I dare not to think about right now. Even splurging on food and wine has matured into well thought of menus and dreaming up recipes for leftovers. Can you imagine I once bought a barrel of Chateauneuf du pape together with a friend and we ended up with 300 bottles each, even in those days a rather expensive wine, I enjoyed every bottle of it! Ah, these days I am living on memories and single bottles of wine!

    • Barbara, 20 years ago I would have been that friend buying the barrel of CdP! In fact, I’ve probably lost track of more fine wines and cognacs I put in friends’ “caves” than most people buy in a lifetime. But no regrets; the memories are fabulous and the single bottles of wine today go perfectly with the peace of mind I’ve established. (BTW, I think you’ll enjoy this article I wrote before I met you: http://sharonoday.com/financial-freedom-choices/)

  • Susan Schiller

    I can never seem to make a trip without spending more than I intended! I finally figured out to plan for the extra expense, reducing trips as much as I can!

    You’ve really hit the nail on the head with these budget busters… you know how we all think! I like how you identified insecurity as one of the main reasons for over-spending. Very true and thought-provoking!

    • Sue, the reason it’s so difficult to stick to a plan on a trip is that we’re typically going somewhere where we don’t control all the circumstances. It’s not like planning a week’s groceries. 😉 So your solution is most likely the best for you … because you’ve thought it through.

  • Carmen

    So true…funny how it is all good enough until someone is coming over. I tend to bust the budget on the food I decide to serve.

    • I bought my crystal and silver years ago because I loved it. After I hit the wall financially, I started using all “the good stuff” that was left … everyday … and still do. So if anything gets replaced, it’s because it’s too shabby for me and I don’t have to buy it in a rush. Makes entertaining much easier! As for the food (and especially the wine), Carmen, that’s a lot trickier. That just calls for us to budget more honestly! 😉

  • Wingate Wyndham Sulphur

    I am pretty good about staying in budget unless there is a birthday or holiday. I tend to overspend on my family and god children. However, I have recently cut back on the amount that I give for Birthdays. It was hard, but had to be done. It seems like all of sudden, everyone’s’ birthdays are so close to each other it becomes unaffordable to give what I used to.

    • Where we mess up is when we allow “gifts” to be transformed into “obligations.” That gift should reflect YOUR ability to afford it, and not the recipient’s expectations. If the pressure is coming from other adults, some gentle honesty about “What I give someone is not a reflection of how much I love them; it reflects my circumstances at the moment” should go a long way …

  • When I have no money – it’s easy for me to stay on a budget. The stress of money being scarce is enough for me to stay on the straight and narrow. BUT when I’ve got a little cushion – that’s when it’s harder for me… it’s easier for me to say I can spend – I’ve got a little money in the bank.

    • Knikkolette, are you able to focus on how good it feels to have money in the bank? And to know that if you have a slow spell (as many entrepreneurs do) you won’t have to face money being scarce because you’re prepared? It means you’re taking better care of yourself. It doesn’t mean we can’t treat ourselves, but maybe a little mindshift so we budget our reward and then shut off the spigot? I know that’s what I had to do as I was pulling out of my financial mess …

  • Great post as always n sorry 1 handed at the moment for reply

    • Thanks, Carly, for writing anything at all! Looking forward to when you get back to two-handed from one-handed. Thanks for stopping by … and heal quickly!

  • Alexandra McAllister

    Having had money and then losing it, of course I am more careful now BUT I’ve also learned that life is short. When I really want something….doesn’t have to be a huge expensive purchase, just something that makes me feel good, I buy it. Most of the time it is something that helps me improve my health…so it is well worth it. Love your post. Thank you, Sharon.

  • Boy, I found a couple of trouble areas in my budget, Sharon. I need to count to 3 before purchasing another online marketing tool for my business, hire another coach or any travel clothes. I have a plethora of tools that are as of yet not used, waiting in the “inbox” for my click. Then I have programs and systems waiting for me to complete tasks before moving on and a coach teaching me how to handle my thoughts. Then I realized I have too many clothes already so those new travel outfits are not necessary. Great…another area of personal growth to work through…when does it end? lol By the way, great post and thanks for making us face our demons.

  • Luisa

    I love this post…so many would benefit from it…the truths of life for sure. I started to count to 3 & sometimes 10 when the need to purchase is trying to take over. Then I remind myself that a good impression rides to a great extent on how you feel about yourself, not on what you’re wearing. Bingo!

  • Kung Phoo

    I think going on vacation is the hardest to stay on budget.. who wants what and where at what time? it can get very expensive..

  • Terri Lind Davis

    My biggest budget buster is those unexpected surprises like car repairs!

    • Car repairs are a tough one, Terri,
      because they’re not in your control in terms of when they happen or how
      you respond. The only option if you see they’re going to continue
      until you replace the car is to actually budget some money for them. I
      know, it’s tough if the budget’s already tight, but they’re not very

  • Jackie de Boer

    My husband and I recently relocated from the suburbs of Chicago to the Boston Area. Even though we donated, recycled and disposed of many items, after packing and unpacking everything, we came to the conclusion that we had way too much stuff. We’re now trying to lead a more simplified lifestyle, only buying what we truly need. Prior to that my biggest budget buster was probably impulse buys, particularly when an item was “on sale.”
    Great tips Sharon, particularly like the “wait 48 hours” suggestion.

    • Jackie, when the “declugger bug” bites, it tends to hang on longer than we originally expect! What it also does is take a bunch of pressure off the regular budget because adding “stuff” back becomes so unappealing. And, yes, it’s great as protection against falling for those “on sale” items you absolutely have to have … but that are just like the ones you threw away in your recent declutter phase. BTW, congratulations!

  • Ernestine

    I know about those budget busters! Thanks for the article!

    • Hope it was helpful, Ernestine. Sometimes just reading about something we do makes us more aware.

  • Robin Pedrero

    I grew up in a very thrifty family, who always used those saving to vacation and enjoy life. These are great budget buster tips.

    • I’m glad you found them useful, Robin. As you used the phrase “very thrifty family,” it sounds as if it was a family that handled its money well.

  • Roz

    I used to think I needed new clothes for vacations & trips until I realized I wanted to wear the ones I really enjoyed while away & get more use out of them. I live within my means which was not always the case. Love your tips.

    • Rox, I love it when comments begin with “I used to think …” That’s always the precursor to success stories! (BTW, can’t wait to see the launch of your new site design on November 1!)

  • Susan Schiller

    Dear Sharon, I’m popping in again to share a story a gentleman shared with me today. I think he may have tried to post on your site, but his computer crashed, so he shared it on a mutual friend’s site instead.

    I think you’ll really like how he budgeted his vacation, involving his kids:

    I tried to respnd to something you wrote on another blog about
    financing, but it kept crashing, so I’ll put it here. I don’t think
    Esther will mind. This is a section of one of my travel stories about
    when I took my girls to Florida on Spring break.

    girls made what amounted to a hand written spread sheet in their
    notebook, so we knew each day what we had budgeted for each category,
    and we kept track of how we were doing. I kept asking questions like
    how does our total money budgeted so far match up with our total spent,
    and then ask them to look in my wallet to see if I had the right amount
    of money left. I’d ask them to figure out if it made sense to go five
    miles out of the way to buy gas if it were three cents a gallon cheaper.
    Id’ ask which days we were better at meeting the budget, the travel
    days or the camping days. It not only took up most of the time we were
    riding in the car, it got them very conscious of how we spent our money.
    We would stop for gas and instead of asking me if they could have ice c
    ream, they would look at the budget to decide if we could get it. We
    put ice cream under entertainment, like my coffee. Then they got the
    idea of going to Disneyworld!! We looked up the price. I said:
    – Sure, if we can stay within our budget.
    realized ways that they could save money, like eating beans and rice at
    the campground, and peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. They realized
    that buying drinks at a restaurant was a total rip off. I had to
    insist on some things like a carriage ride through old Savannah. I
    really wanted to do that, and it was a nice ride. I made coffee at the
    campground instead of going out for it, and even though pumping up the
    stove always woke them up, they thought it a good decision. In the end,
    they did it. We went to Disneyworld. I really don’t remember much of
    the day. I had grown up in Southern California and had been to
    Disneyland countless times, but it was a big deal for them and they made
    sure they enjoyed it to t
    he fullest.

    • Thanks, Sue, for sharing this with me. As you know, I’ve asked you to get permission from the author of this comment so I can include it in next week’s article!

  • Gertraud Walters

    Brilliant post Sharon, I like to listen to it. It’s the Truth and nothing but the Truth, every word of it. You left me in a dilemma, because I was hoping to take my daughter to Milano for her Birthday in a few weeks time, as I was not home for her day the last 2 years. Birthdays are very special in my family, young and Old. I’m going to check it out if this is really the right thing to do.

    • I’m glad the article could give you an opportunity to think that decision through one more time, Gertraud. As you know, I believe we have every right to spend our money, if it makes sense in our existing financial situation. I know you’ll make the right decision for you and your daughter! 😉