How great would it be if you could predict the future with your money? What if you could know up to a year in advance what your expenses will be and how much extra money you will have in your budget? It would certainly take most of the surprises out of budgeting!
Surprises can be good! But when you are dealing with money, surprises tend to be negative. They tend to cost us money. And probably money that you don’t have.
So in the scenario of keeping a budget, the fewer surprises there are, the more able you are to stay on your given budget.
In this article, I am going to share with you how I have planned my entire year’s expenses in a way that helps me each pay cycle to know where I need to tighten the belt in preparation for one of those upcoming ‘surprises.’
No system is perfect, but the more you know the better able you are to avoid debt and other money stresses. Read on to predict your future!
Why You Should Plan Ahead
I’ll let you in on a secret: I’m a super analytical and organized person! I am constantly looking for a ‘system’ that will save me time, money, or energy. ‘Work smarter, not harder’ is a mantra I say regularly.
I’m also a natural spender. My husband and I decided about 18 months ago to finally get rid of our massive credit card debt.
The biggest part of that journey has been for me to keep a strict budget on our discretionary expenses. After a year of paying myself to stay on a budget, I came up with a system to help even more.
This system involved writing down (on a Google Sheet… it’s kinda my thing) every expense I could possibly think of that may come up in the next year.
Humans are creatures of habit, so predicting expenses is a lot easier than it sounds. For example, soccer season happens the same time each year. I may not remember the exact date when registration fees are due, but I can get pretty close.
Of course you can’t plan for everything. It is a fact of life that surprises will happen. You are likely to forget about something, or have a field trip fee come up that you hadn’t planned for. Or maybe a car repair will be needed that must come out of your budget of discretionary money.
But if you just go along throughout the year flying by the seat of your pants, then nearly everything is going to be a surprise. Whereas if you write all your expenses out ahead of time, you will be more likely to have only one or two surprises per month.
And you’ll notice after doing this one year that your expenses for the following year will already be written down. Usually, very little will change from one year to the next.
Let’s get started!
How to Gather an Expense List
The best way to begin is to look over the last year’s expenses. You can gather this information from any of the following five places:
A previous budget
If you’ve kept any sort of budget for the past year, or even part of the year, then this is a great place to start. It should show you what and when you have spent in the past.
Printed or online checking account and credit card statements can reveal a lot. Checkbook registers can also help if you don’t have access to your past statements for some reason.
If you tend to spend cash, then your next option is to look at receipts.
Any of your frequently used online shopping sites like Amazon, Walmart, eBay, etc. store order information for several years. You can look at your order history and gain additional insight.
After you’ve looked at all of the above places, next you’ll want to look at an actual calendar. This will help you see things like birthdays and holidays. I would recommend the past year’s calendar since it is likely to have lots of things written in it. It may also include things like vacations, field trips, tee ball games, etc.
Where to Put it
I keep all of my expenses on a Google Sheet called Annual Expenses. This is something I have added to my Budget Worksheet so that I have everything in one place, and I can easily transfer information from one tab to another.
Here’s how you can do that too: (Note: if you don’t want to use the Budget Worksheet for now, just do Steps 2 and 3 and skip the others.)
Step 1: If you don’t already have it, get my Budget Worksheet here.
Clicking on this link will open the worksheet in a new tab. If you are not already signed in to Google, you will need to do so. (If you don’t have a Google account, you’ll need to set up one.)
Skip to Step 3 and then circle back to Step 2.
Step 2: Then get my Annual Expenses worksheet here.
Clicking on this link will open the worksheet in a new tab.
Continue with Step 3.
Step 3: Make it your own.
Click on ‘File,’ then ‘Make a Copy.’ You may change the name of the new document or its location within your Google Drive, and then click ‘OK.’
Go back to Step 2.
Step 4: Copy the Annual Expenses page to the Budget Worksheet.
At the bottom of the Annual Expenses page, you’ll see a tab labeled ‘Yearly.’ Click on the little arrow next to this label and choose ‘Copy to.’
Next, select your copy of the Budget Worksheet and click ‘Select.’ Now you can go back to the Budget Worksheet and you’ll see two tabs at the bottom. One called ‘My Budget’ and another called ‘Copy of Yearly.’
To change the name of this new tab, click on the arrow next to its label and choose ‘Rename.’
Step 5: Use them together.
Now when you are setting up a new pay cycle on the Budget Worksheet, you can copy and paste ‘spoken-for’ expenses straight from the Annual Expenses worksheet.
What to Include
This list is pretty long, but that’s because I want you to be thorough. Remember, the less surprises there are, the easier it will be to stay on your budget.
Holiday expenses can include gifts, potlucks, special dinners and entertaining, baking, decorations, wrapping, cards, and photo sessions. Here are the most common holidays when you may make any of those types of expenditures:
- Valentine’s Day
- St. Pat’s Day
- Mother’s Day
- Memorial Day / Decoration Day
- Father’s Day
- Independence Day
- Labor Day
- Grandparents’ Day
- New Year’s Eve / New Year’s Day
Birthday spending in my house tends to get out-of-hand. We may plan a specific amount for gifts, but then we invite the family over for a dinner and it ends up costing us another $100. However, if we plan for that splurge (or set a restriction on spending), we are better off. Birthday expenses include gifts, parties, special dinners, wrapping, cards, and activities.
Your list may be different than mine, but I do suggest drawing a firm line on who you buy gifts for and who you don’t. It will save arguments throughout the year with your spouse. Here is my list:
- Me (yes, I plan this into the budget)
- Mine and my husband’s parents and grandparents
- Mine and my husband’s siblings (and their spouses and kids)
Things like weddings, baby showers, and your kids’ friends’ birthday parties can all creep up on you. Think about how many of these things have occurred for you in the last five years, and how much you tend to spend on them. Then take an average. We have set prices for these things: $15 for a child’s birthday gift, $30 for a baby shower, and $50 for a wedding.
While not technically a holiday, many people shop on this day, and if you do, you know that it is very easy to overspend. I just suggest setting a budget and sticking to it. No ‘deal’ is worth going into debt. You have to remember that if you carry the balance on your credit card, you’ll be spending interest, and then it is no longer a ‘deal.’
Back to school
Sending kids back to school in the fall can feel like it’s costing you a small fortune. Clothes, school supplies, backpacks, course fees, and technology can set you back hundreds of dollars. If you can cut these expenses, great. But the main idea here is to plan ahead for them. Instead of saving it all for August 1st, maybe start buying stuff in late June and spread it out a bit.
Other school expenses
The start of the school year is just the beginning. During the school year, you’ll be hit up for all kinds of other fees: field trip fees and meal expenses, school pictures, yearbooks, fundraisers, club memberships and T-shirts, and sports. Decide now what you will pay for and what you won’t, and set an estimated budget for each.
Sports and the Arts
This one deserves its own bullet point. From registration fees to specialized equipment to uniforms and shoes, sports seasons can get quite costly. The arts (dance, music, theater) are in the same boat with leotards, costumes, musical instruments and lessons. If you’re not prepared, it could really blow your budget. If your kid is on a traveling team, you may have additional costs as well, like gas, food, admissions, and maybe even hotels while traveling to those tournaments. And don’t forget about summer camps!
I live in a small town in the Midwest, so hunting is a big deal here. If it is for you as well, you know that there are always expenses that go along with it: hunting license and tags, weapons and ammunition, camouflage clothing and gear, meat processing, and taxidermy.
Outings and trips
Whatever your family is into – theme parks, camping, sporting events, museums, canoeing – there are going to be costs involved. Maybe things like gas, food, admission, parking, hotels, special gear and clothing.
This will certainly vary from family to family. If you’re trying to cut down on your expenses, you probably want to avoid eating out as much as you can. However, if you end up succumbing to temptation about once a week, just go ahead and write that sucker into your budget! Giving yourself permission to splurge on certain things will take the stress off your budgeting in general.
Also, you may be able to look at a calendar and determine times when you will most likely need to eat out. A car trip, a doctor’s appointment in another city, a meeting during your lunch hour, etc.
Special food and snacks
We have our rituals with this too. I take my kids to the local ice cream parlor when they get all A’s on a report card. When we go to our local high school basketball games, we like to be able to get something at the concession stand. When we visit our country club’s pool, the kids like to get a soda or an ice cream bar. We are going to do it, so we just put it in the budget. It makes you feel freer when you’ve given yourself permission to spend the money.
Annual club memberships
At my workplace, we have a ‘Courtesy Fund’ that pays for many things during the year: special snacks each month, surprise gifts for the employees, gifts of congratulations or bereavement for anyone who has a major life event during the year. We also pay a set fee to wear jeans on Fridays.
You may have a country club membership or other social membership that you can plan for.
You may pay an annual premium for life insurance, Lifelock, home security, antivirus software, Amazon Prime, website hosting, a post office box or other things.
Anything else you can think of? If you don’t have a separate fund for medical expenses and vehicle maintenance, those will need to be estimated as well.
Go Get ‘Em!
Another function of my Annual Expenses spreadsheet is that it will total all the expenses for the whole year and divide it by pay cycle so that you can see an average. It’s possible you are far underestimating your expected expenses.
When I first used this sheet, I had been spending $500 per two-week pay cycle, and determined that I needed to increase my budget to $550. If increasing your budget is not an option, then you can look through your expected expenses and determine where you are willing to make cuts.
Congratulations! You deserve a piece of cake for all that hard work!
You’re now on your way to having a much less surprising (but never boring) financial year!
Remember, any future expenses you can plan for help to take much of the guesswork out of keeping a budget. You can’t plan it all, but the closer you get to accounting for every expense, the easier keeping your budget will become.
What other items would you add to this list? Leave a comment below!