What To Do When You Blow The Budget

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What to do when you blow the budget.

We’ve all been here. We’re cruisin’ along, not a care in the world and we’re sticking to our monthly budget. YES! (it’s only day 2…) We are impenetrable to the temptations of materialism that surround us, we can’t be sold anything. We know that we want to save up for that awesome vacation at the end of the year, so we’ve limited our spending on anything that would keep us from reaching that goal. We are the masters of our………OH! THERE’S A SALE ON SHOES AT NORDSTROM?! I THINK MY FEET JUST STARTED HURTING! I NEEEEED SOME NEW SHOES!

So You Blew The Budget. Now What?

Don’t Panic! (Hitchhiker’s reference……anyone?). So you blew the budget? Good. Now you know what it feels like. It feels like a nice new pair of shoes that you can’t wear on your vacation because you HAD TO HAVE THEM! Well, not really, you do still have a few options:

  1. Return The Item. Yes, they look fabulous with your new dress (yes, you also bought a new dress because you needed something to wear with the shoes!) But you also have a dozen other shoes you can wear with NOT the new dress (that you are also taking back). Luckily, you bought these shoes at Nordstrom, and they’ll take back anything. If you can’t take them back, you should be able to haggle management at least for a gift card to be used later for gifts or something. Remember, if the shoes are not your priority, you can delay gratification for a little while so you can stick to your actual priority, which in this case is a vacation. Don’t worry; I’m sure this wasn’t the last shoe sale ever in history!
  2. Adjust Your Budget. Budgets are living documents. I don’t like the notion that what you set at the beginning of the month is written in stone, and if anyone dares to defy the almighty budget, that it is blasphemy! No, no, no. Budgets are far kinder than that. Budgets say “Hey, looks like we took a detour. That’s ok. We can make some adjustments to our route and still reach our destination on time.”(They’re much nicer than my GPS navigation lady!) Anyway… Maybe you didn’t anticipate your need for shoes, and you need to up your spending cash for the month. Just make sure you reduce another part of the budget the same amount you increased the “spending cash” category. Remember, your money is finite, and if you need to increase one area, you need to equally decrease another.
  3. Adjust Your Goals. Maybe you were too ambitious when planning your upcoming vacation. You had hoped to save up a few thousand dollars in 6 months, but that limits your budget far too much. Assuming you haven’t bought tickets or made any permanent plans, you can always push the vacation out a few months to ensure you are able to save up enough money to enjoy it. As with any goal, you should set your goal with a date and reverse engineer it to figure out how much you need to save each month to hit that goal.
  4. Or You Can Ditch The Goal Altogether. Maybe, after wearing your amazing new shoes (and dress) out a few times, getting into a tabloid photo because paparazzi mistook you for Sofia Vergara, getting a promotion at work because of your fashion sense, then rejecting that promotion because you decided to open your own fashion line and funding that start-up with your winning lottery ticket because of your lucky shoes….maybe you can redirect your goals. Those shoes might take priority over a vacation, and that’s fine. As long as you acknowledge that you would rather have those new shoes than a vacation, then you’re golden (and rich!…[maybe you should keep those shoes after all…hmmm]).

Whatever You Do, Don’t Give Up

Blowing your budget can have a psychological affect that causes you to want to give up on your budget. You may curse the budget, kick it a few times, talk bad about it’s ugly numbers and throw it to the curb. But, the budget is just a mirror. When you hold it up, you see yourself in integer form. There’s no reason to get discouraged about spending too much money, but what you should get is re-motivated.

Sure, you may have made a few poor choices with your money, but there’s no reason to throw the baby out with the bath water (…never really got this saying….if you’re throwing bath water out the window…you have more important issues to address…). You can dust yourself off, get up and keep on chuggin’. Blowing your budget once or twice does not negate the budget as a whole, and also does not mean you can’t reach your goals. Just re-asses your situation, pick one of the four options above and move on. If you don’t, you will just go back to old habits, never know where your money is going and live paycheck to paycheck. Trust me, budgeters have WAY MORE FUN!! 🙂



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!

34 thoughts on “What To Do When You Blow The Budget”

    • Lol. I remember when I was trying to impres my g/f (now wife) at one point and dropped like $200 on 3 pieces of clothing that I didn’t need. I wore it that day, but promplty took it back the next morning because I needed to be able to pay rent!

  1. I think people first have to break the “shopping” habit. Retailers’ main strategy is to induce impulse buying, and they’re very good at it! Displays, store layout, ‘specials’, etc.–retailers spend millions researching the best way to seduce consumers into spending money. Most of us have little chance! So the best strategy is don’t shop.

    • Hah! It’s a tough thing to humble yourself and admit that you need to take something back. At least you can admit it and take it back instead of digging your debt hole further and further.

  2. I find it funny when people return an item that they later decide they don’t need. Those people really need to get in the habit of thinking a little more before actually making the purchases in the first place. Then again maybe I just get uncomfortable when the clerk starts grilling me over why I’m returning it as if I am somehow trying to scam the system.

    The last part about the psychology of blowing your budget. Some people would get very discouraged leading to abandoning the budget completely. It’s often easy enough to correct minor slip ups though. Worst case scenario some of that vacation spending goes on credit 😉 Or if they’re responsible they postpone it 🙂

    • I haven’t bought something and returned it in a while, but I’ve been there. Thinking ahead and having the word “no” trained to be on the tip of your tongue helps a ton.

      Handling money really is a psychological exercise. How much you have, save, spend and give have a major effect on your mood and attitude towards life.

  3. I enjoy having wiggle room in my budget for such purchases. For instance, we needed trash bags and vitamins this time and they weren’t on the list. It wasn’t something I could just shrug off and pretend we don’t need (well maybe the vitamins but I’m okay with buying them) so we bought them–I took away some “free” money that would normally get placed into savings as we really did need them. I try not to buy something I’m going to return because I hate the hassle of returning items. And usually, I never end up returning the things I bought anyways.

    • Returns are getting more and more complicated and stressful. There are a select few places that have great return policies (such as Costco and Nordstrom), but most places suck the life out of you before handing over cash back.

  4. I love the statement about a budget being your reflection just in integer form. That’s funny.

    Fortunately for my wife and I we rarely have this problem. I’d even say that we need to spend MORE money. We have a monthly clothing budget and both of us refuse to ever use it. If we don’t really NEED new clothes then we don’t see a point in buying them. I’m glad we got over the challenge of wanting stuff a lot time ago; our biggest struggle now is simply making more money so we can do a few more things in life (i.e. a vacation).

    • We removed the “clothing” item from our monthly budget a few years ago and haven’t missed it. It’s not that clothes aren’t a need, it just that we don’t need to buy them.

      Having a frugal spouse is awesome, and it’s weird how you sometimes have to force each other to spend money. Once your frugal, I don’t know if any amount of income will change that.

  5. I’m a victim of this, they would send like 25-30% discount in the mail every month to lure you in. It’s easier I think to just not go, if you go, you will spend.

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  7. Great tips. I think too many are stuck on their original budget and don’t adjust it. They may have set unrealistic goals.

    • I think most people starting out definitely set unrealistic goals because they have and ideal budget that they want to achieve, but they underestimate the time it takes to break bad money habits. Rigid budgets are bound to fail.

  8. I blew the budget! 🙁 I received some birthday money, and instead of using it to help pay for some of the many unexpected expenses that were thrown at us this past month, I bought 4 items of clothing. WHY?! Who cares what I wear, right? Like anyone in the world is going to like me more because I have cute shirts… So, I took back 3/4. 🙂 Why not take back all 4? Because it’s my birthday money and….because I already wore that shirt! Guess I don’t have to beat myself up too bad for it.

    • You know, I have a rule about birthday money. You can use it for whatever you want, because it’s not part of your normal budget 🙂

      Sounds like you really wanted to help makeup some of the budget deficit with it, and you made that a priority over your other 3 clothing items. Glad you kept one, though. There’s something to be said for feeling good in your clothing 🙂

  9. This is definitely so true. All of us have done it, PF blog or not, and all you have to do is get back up on the horse and keep going….and don’t throw out the bath water…..:)

  10. I like how the premise of the whole post is around buying shoes at NORDSTROM. I love it! I do like the part about your budget being a mirror. That is very true – if you blow it, you’ve only got yourself to blame!

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