What’s Busting Your Budget?

As our income has gone up we’ve allowed some lifestyle inflation to creep into our budget. It’s fine to indulge a guilty pleasure or to spend more on something you really enjoy, as long as it’s within reason.  Here are some areas I’ve identified as potential budget busters:

Cable

We don’t watch a lot of television but we’re not ready to cut the cord yet either.  Specialty channels like HBO and AMC have some of the best programs on TV.  And as a die-hard NFL fan, I splurge for Sunday Ticket each fall so I can watch all the games.

Related: How I Saved $300 On Cable And Internet

Last year we spent about $90 per month on cable, so this year I took a look at our service and programming with Bell and scaled down to the basic package.  We added HBO for two months in the spring to get our Game of Thrones fix, and I kept the football package.

This year we’ll pay about $65 per month.  I was interested to hear that the feds want to force cable providers to unbundle channels and provide pick and pay services.  Hopefully that change can save us even more.

Groceries

I love to shop at Costco because of the low prices per unit and great quality of products, but we spend $350 to $400 per month at the wholesale club and our grocery bill is going through the roof.  In an uncontrolled experiment last month, we skipped the Costco trip in favour of a few extra trips to Safeway.  The result – we spent $150 less on our grocery bill last month.

We’ve also started buying more organic fruits and vegetables and have considered becoming a member of a community supported agriculture group through a local grower to get fresh vegetables every week.  It’s expensive, though.  A full share, which feeds a family of 4-5 people, costs $700 for approximately 16 weeks of deliveries.

Related: Organic Food Gardening

House cleaning

We like to keep a clean house, but two young kids and three pets can quickly turn our home into a disaster.  Last year we brought in a house cleaner to tackle the bathrooms and do a thorough cleaning of the floors.  The service costs $70 every two weeks, but saves us hours of cleaning.  We value the free time so we’ve justified the cost for now.  It gives us more time to spend together, to relax, and to work on our small business.

Related: Cleaning Your House The Eco-Friendly Way

Kids’ activities

Our oldest child is getting into more activities and the costs are adding up.  So far there’s pre-school, ballet, and piano lessons.

Pre-school costs $140 per month to go for two-and-a-half hours, three days a week.  It’s a private run school, so a lot of the fundraising falls on the parents.  Ballet is relatively inexpensive; 26 weeks of classes cost just $210, but when you add up the cost of clothes, concerts, and DVD’s it can get pricey.  Piano lessons set us back $75 per month, plus the $400 digital piano we bought from Costco so she can practice at home.

Our youngest is only 16-months old but we’d like to start her in gymnastics in the New Year just for something to do.  As our kids get older we’ll be spending even more on these types of activities.

Related: Are Children’s Extracurricular Activities Worth It?

Final thoughts

Even though our finances are in decent shape today, we still keep a close eye on our spending so we can spot a money leak before it turns into a flood.  These expenses have the potential to bust our budget if we’re not careful, but for now we’ve decided to live with them.

What guilty pleasure or indulgence have you allowed into your budget?


22 Responses to What’s Busting Your Budget?

  1. My cable, home phone and internet come to $124 per month tax included. I like to watch tv and I am not interested in giving it up. Tv is a need and not a want and it takes money away from debt slaying but I am still keeping it.

    I would love a cleaning lady but it is not in my budget. If you can swing it without sacrificing savings goals then enjoy.

      • Cogeco. I only have the basic phone service. No call display or anything. I have a $20 answering machine from Wal-Mart that takes care of messages.

        Cable only has one extra package, a time shifting package, so I can view shows from different time zones. There are so many free channels that I have never seen most of them. I have 2 cable boxes and 1 of those is HD.

        Internet is enough for me and my sons although they are away at school now and I never get close to the limit.

        It took a while to get that rate. I was on the phone for over 90 minutes. I had my computer open to different satellite, phone and internet providers sites that service my area and was telling Cogeco different prices and I told them I would leave if I didn’t get a good price.

        I had to try more than once to get this good deal. The first time was a fail as I was speaking with a bored young man who was angry that he was stuck talking to me on a Friday night instead of being out with his friends and he would not deal.

  2. A large credit card bill really throws things off for the next month.
    New car payments are a pain but I love the security of driving a safer, warranted vehicle.
    Paring down to one car was a big savings.

    • @Tom – We tried living with one car for a while but once the kids became more active we found it too difficult to swing. We bought a new car last year, definitely another budget buster!

      • Much easier to do when one is retired. Presently have two again—one with minimal insurance— and it is a nice convenience, when we both are golfing in different locations.

  3. Good idea ditching Costco. Years ago I badgered our employer to get us enrolled at work – back in the days when you couldn’t just walk in off of the street and enroll. We tried it for awhile and although there were some deals, I found that I could still do better by shopping the flyers at 2-3 of the other local grocery chains. Also, those stores are closer to home so I started saving about $20/month in today’s dollars on gas.
    The organic vegetable cost of $700 seems reasonable from our perspective in Quebec. Veggies are expensive here EXCEPT when they are in season, so I try to keep that in mind when I am shopping.
    When the analog over-the-air TV signal from English-language CBC finally ended a year or two ago I found myself missing the news and the occasional hockey game. Then I found out I can watch the national online very evening and I heard recently about seeing sports online in real time too. We got a $7.99 subscription to Netflix which has been well worth it – there is more material available than you can watch in a lifetime. The only catch is you need to make sure your internet has enough capacity to absorb the extra use. I topped up our plan by $5 and have not gone over our usage yet.

    For a year or two, when kids were small we hired neighbour’s kids to some in for an hour or two on the weekend for about $20 a visit to help clean. At a certain point I decided I am capable of cleaning up my own messes and returned to cleaning the house myself(my wife and kids help too!).

    Any kid’s activities are probably well worth it if they enjoy participating. Our insistence that my son persevere in his swimming lessons eventually led him to go to CEGEP to study marine mechanical engineering – he is now employed in a related field and making a great salary. My daughter is following her bronze cross with lessons to be an assistant swimming teacher so she can make money to pay for a school field trip. Just two examples of how extra-curricular activities can open doors to gainful employment……

    The newest adventure has been to pare down to 1 car instead of 2. Although I squeeze as much life as I can out of our vehicles, it costs a lot of money to keep them working and on the road. I don’t want to feel like I am working simply to keep our cars on the road.

    • @Trombonedadio – Thanks for sharing!

      Our monthly Costco trip is a huge pain (Saturday afternoons are a gong show there), and I do like the convenience of the closer grocery stores. We’ve also been eating less meat lately, and we had been buying most of our meat at Costco.

      The organic vegetable delivery service sounds really appealing but my fear is that half the yield will consist of kale and swiss chard.

      Agree on the kids activities and about the cleaner. Once the kids are in school full time we’ll take another look.

      Good luck paring down to one car!

      • I think the org veggie companies will tell you what the “average” contents of a bin are if you ask. I have been thinking about trying it for awhile but I do find a fair amount of local and organic produce where I already shop. Oh, and of course we have our own veggie garden too!

        One of my entertainment activities for several years now has been sourcing wild blueberries, wild cherries, and crabapples right off of the bush or tree from the area around us. I have done this with little kids in tow, but you will spend a lot of time being the entertainment and not so much time picking. It is, however a great way to get outside and to introduce kids to what nature provides.

    • Oh, and we gave Netflix a try last month and really liked it. We don’t have usage based internet billing in Alberta so that’s not an issue. We also live really close to the library and can borrow movies and tv series’ for free.

  4. Budgets regularly get the best of all of us. For myself I am on a renovation budget. All spare monies tackle much needed reno’s in a 1960 bungalow that has not been refreshed since 1981. Started this task last Sept 2012.

    Accomplishments so far: upgraded to 100amp service,windows replaced throughout,complete bathroom gut and reno,three rooms painted,one torn down back porch,installed gas range,replaced drapery,replaced washer and some minor fixes.

    I could not imagine doing this with children or pets in the house. How can others? Next job is tear down walls,install hardwood throughout and replace the kitchen with modifications.

    This is the 2013 – 2014 job jar. What’s cable?

    • Hi Ed, thanks for your comment. Renovations have the potential to become big budget busters. You’ve accomplished a lot in a year!

      Definitely can’t tackle those types of projects with kids and pets in the house.

      We’re getting our basement developed in stages and just the framing alone caused a traumatic experience for the poor furry creatures.

  5. Well, you know about my cable indulgences….so this is great news…just what I was asking for on my recent blogpost:

    http://www.torontosun.com/2013/10/13/federal-govt-to-push-cable-providers-to-unbundle-channels

    Grocery shopping, we are doing much better.

    Lifestyle inflation creeps in for us in terms of clothes shopping and buying better wine to drink. I already avoid cheap beer :) I figure if I’m going to drink a few beers, I might as well enjoy it.

    Mark

  6. Our indulgence has been in getting a two-bedroom hotel room for any prolongued stays away from home so that it actually feels like a vacation and not an endurance test. We could never have justified that before. Luckily for our budget we don’t travel much!

  7. Things are getting pretty bad over here Robb. I’m spending endless amounts of money just so I can have enough time to teach my readers how to save money, which right now pays almost no money! Even with buying all this time, I can still only scrounge up about 1 to 2 hours a night to work on HowToSaveMoney.ca and have no personal alone time whatsoever and very little time with my wife. We do get some time on the weekends but it’s usually spent cooking, grocery shopping, and doing chores around the house.

    Fortunately my TV, internet, cell phone, and entertainment bills are extremely low so I don’t have to worry much about that.
    http://www.howtosavemoney.ca/108-my-cost-for-high-speed-internet-tv-2-cell-phones-home-phone-long-distance-and-movies

    However here are the budget busters I speak of:
    – $1500/mth payment on our new 2013 Sante Fe so it will be paid off in 2 years (purchase price was a good deal for a new SUV, but new SUVs are still expensive).
    – $50 per mow for our massive yard because I don’t have the time.
    – $72 every two weeks for our house cleaner because I don’t have the time.
    – $575/month for daycare for our 3 year old.
    – $xxx/month for eating out because we like to and because meals often don’t have time to be cooked.
    – Get the cars detailed once a year so I don’t have to.
    – Speedboat (enough said).
    – Travel (we do it ultra cheap but also quite a bit to far off places).
    – Groceries. Almost everything organic or local. So expensive it almost makes me cry. I’ve given up trying to save money on groceries and just close my eyes when buying groceries and focus my money saving efforts elsewhere. Happy wife happy life!

    We’ve still got a decent amount in the bank and in investments for our age, so I’m not worried. Right now I’m working hard to increase income and increase my available time. It’s going pretty well so far.

    • Stephen, it sounds like it might be time for you to review “Your Money or Your Life” by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. They spend a certain amount of time discussing the question of “life energy” and how exactly you want to spend your own. It sounds to me like you are seriously struggling with time versus money……..

      • Good suggestion thanks! However, I’m well on my way to getting it figured out. It took a few years but I’ve got a good angle now. It’ll just take a little while to execute the plan.

        If the plan fails after a year or so, I’ll check out the book for more suggestions. I’ve heard of it before but haven’t read it.

    • Wow. Just wow. Sounds awfully like you don’t have time to do things because your working so hard to afford the nonessentials. To each there own I suppose.

      We’ve cut back the nonessentials so far that we live comfortably on less than 60% of our take home and save the rest. When we need to do something not on the normal monthly plan (take a major trip or replace a car) we just stop transfering the weekly savings out and let it pile up. Recently replaced my car with cash after letting the excess pile up for 6-7 weeks… When we’ve decided where to go on vacation next summer we’ll again temporarily stop the savings and let it pile up for a few weeks and then pay cash to book everything. Yes we can certainly afford to hire a cleaner or go to restaurants but in the end those things aren’t as important to us as traveling now and still retiring early. Everytime I spend that money I’d be making a mental note that it had just cost me a day or whatever of retirement. I hope you have clearly defined what it is you are after because it sounds like your on a crazy self imposed treadmill trying to hold it all together.

  8. I’ve cut out drinking, but food is and always will be a killer. I love my steak. I try to cook as often as possible (did so today), but I’m still a sucker for eating out.

  9. Man, what isn’t a budget buster these days! Somehow having a newborn is terrible for our budget; not only because of the extra cost (those piles and piles of diapers), but because dealing with a newborn 24/7 (in addition to a toddler) just seems to sap my will to do anything else, including keeping an eye on finances. Here’s to starting fresh in 2014, lol!

  10. I think Cogeco is the cheapest among the major providers, and my wife and I have been with everyone, Bell and Rogers included. As for that school fundraising? It’s the same everywhere, even in the public system. And it doesn’t get any better once they start elementary school either. I agree with the Costco tip. Even though you’re supposed to be saving money by buying in bulk, we found it far more expensive and also found our grocery bills went down after we cancelled our membership.

Leave a reply