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8 Sneaky Budget Busters and How to Avoid Them

Ah, that fresh new budget smell. You know the one – it’s laced with the good intentions of making a commitment to spend better. You might print it out and stick it to your fridge, or simply vow that you’ll live by it faithfully from now on.

Of course, after the honeymoon period, there’s a slip-up. Not a big one, but something that makes the importance of your budget diminish just a little. Over time, it slips your mind more and more, until soon, that well-intentioned budget is completely forgotten because it was just too hard to stick to.

If that sounds familiar, join the club. Many people can devote themselves to a strict budget for a short amount of time, but sticking to it takes commitment and resolve. Most importantly, keep in mind that a budget doesn’t automatically mean restriction – it means having control over your money and spending it wisely, and realizing that little expenses can quickly add up.

Sneaky Budget Busters

By avoiding some pesky spoilers, your budget should be more accurate, which means feeling less restricted and more dedicated to your spending and saving plans. Here are expenses that can cause major financial damage:

1. App Purchases

Chances are, you’ve got a smartphone. If it keeps you company when waiting in the doctor’s office or acts as entertainment for the kids in the car, you’ve probably purchased more than your fair share of music and apps. But have you ever planned for app purchases in your budget? While it’s true that $1.99 here and $3.99 there doesn’t seem like a big deal, it all adds up.

Solution: Download free versions of apps, and turn off the “In-App Purchases” option on your phone, which can protect you from being charged when you upgrade to a new version of an app you’ve already bought. Or, if you’re really dying to make a purchase, add up your iTunes or Google Checkout emails for the month and include it in your budget to keep you on track.

2. School Fees

Between tuition, book orders, and supplies, school can continue to be a drain on your finances, even after back-to-school shopping is over. Since no one wants their kids to be left out of fun events and activities, chances are you’ll end up writing checks and sending cash more often than not.

Solution: Add a line in your budget for school fees. Of course, it’s a floating cost, since some months you’ll pay out more than others. Just assess the fees you pay in one month and use that as a gauge for future budgeting. If you don’t have the money, learn to say no to the PTA, or offer your services instead of your money.

3. Charitable Donations

Many people have already budgeted for annual donations made to their church, community, or favorite charity. But what about the charities you donate to at the cash register in the grocery store, or the money you flip into a charity bucket as you leave the mall? Those expenditures can add up. While you may feel guilty when a cashier asks, “Would you like to donate $5 to charity?” it’s okay to say no.

Solution: Decide how much you can afford to give to charities and stick to it. If you set your monthly budget at $10, you can say “yes” to a dollar here or a dollar there without spending over your limit.

Make Charitable Donations

4. Flash Sales

If you’re one of the millions of people who get flash sale notifications from daily deal websites, you know the adrenaline rush that follows. A deep discount and limited quantities? It’s practically a recipe for whipping out your wallet and overspending on stuff you probably don’t need. Sure, flash sales and daily deals offer great discounts – but can you afford them?

Solution: Unsubscribe from your daily deal emails and only surf their flash sale sites when you’ve got fun money in the budget. Having emails sent to you daily is way too tempting.

5. Bank Fees

When was the last time you added a line for bank fees in your budget? Unfortunately, there’s a good chance you’ve never noticed them, since maintenance fees, overdraft fees, and annual fees are automatically deducted from your bank account without your consent. The result is checking your account balance and wondering where your perfectly budgeted money has gone.

Solution: Swap your current account for no-monthly-fee bank accounts, offered through banks and credit unions across the country.

6. Expired Perks

Whether it’s your cable company offering six months of “free” movie channels or your favorite magazine offering a trial subscription, failing to cancel these accounts after the promotion ends can cost big bucks. Many companies put your account on auto-pay, which means once your trial period is over, your account is instantly charged for the remainder of the contract or year.

Solution: It’s okay to take the perks – just be certain you know when they expire. Set a notification on your phone for the day the perks expire so you’ll remember to call and cancel. Or, if you don’t want the channels, see if you can negotiate for a credit on your account for a few months instead.

7. Movie Rentals and Streaming

Renting a movie is usually touted as a low-cost entertainment option. Although it saves you from paying for expensive movie theater tickets and concessions, failing to return a movie can totally derail your budget. A $1-per-day rental is only a good deal if you return it after one or two days – keeping it for a couple of weeks can really add up. The same goes for streaming services such as Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, and Netflix which require you to pay a small fee for new releases. A couple bucks each weekend shouldn’t go unaccounted for, even though it may seem small.

Solution: Always return your videos on time. You can set a reminder on your phone if you typically forget. Even better, go for cheaper – or free – streaming options.

Low Cost Movie Rental

8. Coffee Breaks

Can’t live without your cup of Joe? The occasional treat of a boutique coffee may be costing you more than you think. A $2 cup of coffee every weekday can cost you up to $520 per year. Plus, once you head into the café, you’re often hit with the smell of pastries and other money-sapping goodies. Before you know it, you’re buying a danish and splurging for an extra shot of caramel in your drink – not great for your wallet or your waistline.

Solution: While budgeting for your coffee breaks can help you control them better, so can staying out of the coffee shop altogether. Bring your own coffee from home, or head to a fast food place for the same type of coffee on the cheap.

Final Word

You can’t predict every little thing that happens throughout the month, but you can prep yourself and your budget for the contingencies. Knowing where you tend to slip up and spend extra money means you can give your budget a little extra padding or plan ahead to avoid those busters that throw you off course.

What budget busters do you struggle with? How do you avoid them?

Jacqueline Curtis writes about edtech, finance, marketing, and small business strategy. With over 14 years of copywriting experience, she's created content and scripting for organizations such as GE, Walgreens, Overstock, and MasterCard. She lives in Utah with her husband, three kids, and an overzealous springer spaniel named Penelope.