Seasonal Budgeting

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Sherlock HolmesI’ve talked before about those little emergencies that can absolutely kill your monthly budget, causing you to dip into savings or go into further debt to take care of. Things such as broken appliances, car repairs, water leaks and Christmas seem to come out of nowhere to blow up your budget. My solution to this is to create savings buckets for items that you can reasonably expect to pay for at some point. It’s easy enough, you just put money away each month in a designated bucket, and when that event or “emergency” happens, you’ve already got money in place to take care of it.

What I’ve been running into more and more is what I like to call “budget creep.” Basically, I have a set budget for items such as food, household, etc…but what seems to happen is that we overspend in these areas, even though we’re on a sweet meal plan through  eMeals (<- affiliate link), and haven’t been spending any more than normal on our monthly allocated amount. But I kept finding that we spent $50 or $100 more on food, and our Misc. category was ballooning. I put on my top hat and monocle, busted out the tobacco pipe and started to investigate this seemingly unsolvable mystery.

Enter: Seasonal Budgeting

One of the biggest reasons Michelle and I decided to purchase a home was to entertain and have some epic parties. What I did NOT do was put together a party budget in conjunction with our newfound love for hosting gatherings of human beings. DOH! What I found upon investigating these mysterious budget busting charges was that during the course of the year, our Misc. budget and food budget would increase during certain seasons. Just as the 4 season come and go (well, we have 1 season in the northwest, called rain) our budget ebbed and flowed during each season.

Winter (January – March)

During the winter, we are able to really lock things down and stick to our budget pretty well without any extras. We don’t really go all out for Valentine’s Day, and there are no other major holidays or gatherings in our household during Jan. – Mar. So we don’t need to add much for this season as our expenses were pretty static. Our gas and electric bills go up a bit, though, and we have those written into the budget on our master spreadsheet.

Spring (April – June)

During the spring, our household items budget increases because we’ve got a sweet backyard and a LOT of plants and grass surrounding our house. This means we’re buying fertilizer, plants, Justin Bieber garden gnomes, etc. We also are going to be gardening every year from now on, so we’ll be buying seeds as well for our vegetable garden.

Summer (July – September)

Summertime is really what it’s all about, isn’t it? You get 10 months straight of depressing clouds and then the sun decides to finally show up. People run out of their houses and scream shouts of joy while picking up the neighbor’s cat and kissing him on the face. It’s all about parties, relaxin’ by the sprinkler (we’re too broke for a pool) and Journey. Mostly Journey, blasting through our outdoor speakers 🙂 … what was I saying? Oh yeah, budgeting stuffs.

In the summer, most of the discretionary spending categories increase. Food budget goes up by almost $100 per month, sometimes a little bit more. This is to accommodate for all the parties we throw, as well as buying bulk items for canning and freezing (we buy 1/4 each year). Our household items budgets is increased as well for outdoor landscaping projects. Since we get a TON of rain, we end of doing a bunch of the planting and landscaping in the summer months. Our gas budget increases a bit due to more travel. And though our water budget increases, our gas and electric drop to accommodate it and even saves us over on average utilities budget.

Fall (October – December)

The fall time starts out slowly, but then builds momentum as we hit the holidays. Mostly, our food budget is increased by about $150 per month to accommodate for parties and get-togethers. Plus, we buy a ton of butternut squash and Michelle makes the absolute best meal on the planet; Roasted butternut squash with red onions, goat cheese, and bacon on penne’ pasta. ~DROOLING~ . The other category that increases is our giving budget. ‘Tis the season for extra generosity 🙂

Budgets Are Fluid

I’ve mentioned in the past that I believe all budgets should be living documents. They are not written in stone (though, wouldn’t that be AWESOME? Just nail it above the inside of your front door for best results), and should be adjusted throughout the year. That’s why I recommend having a quick monthly budget sync before the beginning of each month, to discuss any changes that might be necessary. For us, we have all of our expenses for the YEAR on our master page of the budget, so we can easily adjust each month as we see fit. Those then flow over to each month’s tab and we can track our actual spending there. Here’s a quick teaser snapshot of the spreadsheet which will be releasing soon, as it’s been field tested a bit, and I’ve almost got it down. You can see the totals for each category adjust with the months and seasons, and makes planning 1,000,000,000 times easier!

I know, I know, it's a thing of beauty. It's ok, you can cry if you want to.
I know, I know, it’s a thing of beauty. It’s ok, you can cry if you want to. Click HERE to blow it up.

Comments: Do you have a monthly budget? Does it always stay the same, or do you make adjustments each month? How do you make spending decisions? Also, is anyone else still in shock that the Seahawks did not win that game? I mean, C’MON!!! AGGGHHH!! Ok. I feel better now.

Jacob Wade

Jacob Wade

Jacob Wade has been a nationally-recognized personal finance expert for the past decade. He has written professionally for The Balance, The Spruce, LendingTree, Investing Answers, and other widely-followed sites. 
He’s also been a featured expert on CBS News, MSN Money, Forbes, Nasdaq, Yahoo! Finance, Go Banking Rates, and AOL Finance.

In 2018, Jacob quit his job and his family decided to sell everything (including their home) to take off on an adventure. They traveled the country in an RV for nearly 3 years, visiting over 38 states, 20+ national parks and eventually settling in the sunshine state!

46 thoughts on “Seasonal Budgeting”

    • I think most people that budget have some sort of buffer. My issue with this is that it’s arbitrary, and you never really plan where that money goes, it just does. I like to map things out a bit more, and since we can anticipate some of the ebbs and flows of each season, might as well budget for them instead of wondering why you keep going over budget in cetain categories.

  1. There is always going to be something that increases every season, whether it’s food, heat, air conditioning, gas, or vacation spending. You can also just budget at the top end, and roll the un-used portions over to the next month, creating a snowball for when you really need the money. Or just have a seasonal spendings savings account.

    • Yea, it’s more frustrating to see us going over budget than to just plan for the spending in the first plan. I think this helps keep us motivated and not feeling like we’re blowing the budget all the time.

  2. We have a monthly budget and it rarely changes. Instead of going the route of the seasonal approach, I still break the cost down to an annual figure and simply save for it monthly instead of specific times throughout the year. First, it keeps the monthly cost down (assuming it all can fit into your budget) and second, it makes it so I don’t constantly have to change it or remember which season to add things.

    • I use my savings buckets for most things that way, but for increases in food, and monthly items, I like to see the ebbs and flows, as you can see on my spreadsheet. But I have also done what you’re saying and it definitely works.

  3. I adjust my budget just per month instead of seasonally. I think of what might be coming up, for instance in april I have to have extra money for my accountant, and every other month I have to remember that part of my misc. spending is for a haircut. I think jotting down those expenses you know cause “creep” is a good idea!

  4. We have certain categories that we let build up, like home and pets since they tend to have many months with just a trickle of spending, and then something big (a home improvement project or yearly vet visit) that throws things off. Everything else we let the slate wipe clean budget-wise every month.

    • We’ve got those categories too in our savings buckets, but I like the idea of planning for utility increases, food increases, etc. without having to seperate savings account for those.

  5. We also adjust monthly instead of seasonally, but I bet if we tracked it like you did, it would end up very similar. I love that phrase: Budgets ARE fluid. Its important to note that its constantly being updated and manipulated to flow with your life instead of against it. I don’t know how many people (who have out of control spending) say “but then I couldn’t do my CSA in the summer”. And I’m like ITS YOUR BUDGET. Helloooo! You decide if you want to do that and figure out where the money is coming from. Its not called down from the mountain. haha. Rant over.

  6. New reader so I am just wondering I don’t see a bucket for clothes.

    I’ve heard a lot about Emeals would you recommend for someone who is single and what bucket do you put the fee for the program in?


    • Hey Pam,
      We don’t have a clothing budget, and my wife had an awesome write-up on how she has put together a fab. wardrobe for free. Check it oue HERE

      As far as eMeals goes, it’s great for single people as well. In fact, when I was single, I blew like $600 one month on mall food, mostly because I didn’t know what I was doing with food, and definitely didn’t want to meal plan. eMeals saves us a few hours a week and takes all the stress out of planning. We’ve always got meals to choose from, and it comes with a shopping list as well. And they shop the deals at each store, so you don’t have to.

      Here’s Michelle’s write-up of how we use it:

      Michelle’s Frugal Finds: Emeals!

  7. Yeah, Denver sucked it big time as well so I feel your pain. Go Atlanta? We are really doing well with our budget and are still learning the ins and outs, but it’s good to know that we can adjust where needed. At least we are sitting down once a month to evaluate and make changes. Give me a year and I’ll have a better total on things and monthly expenses for certain seasons.

    • Yea, I don’t even know now. Mostly, just want to have a super bowl party 🙂

      I’m super pumped to hear the budget is going well. There’s definitely a learning curve, and forming a new habit takes a while for sure. I always tell people to give it 3 months or so to really get in a groove. In a year, you’ll be ballin’!!! 😉

  8. While I do have a monthly budget, I have to admit that I do an absolutely terrible job of sticking to it. Annually things seem to always work out, but on a month to month basis there are huge swings in my spending!

  9. When it comes to my budget it seems to change at certain times of the year. My family and I typically try to take a vacation once in the year even if it’s just a long weekend deal however in the winter I do go skiing at least once in the season, so I would say overall things do stay pretty close to budget.

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    • Thanks Jeffrey. I like budgeting for the whole year to start, and adjusting as needed per month. But knowing the ups and downs ahead of time helps keep unexpected expenses from sneaking up.

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