Category Archives: Expenses

Budget Item: Miscellaneous

Psych. We don’t have a miscellaneous category in our budget. But we used to.

Back in those heady days when the money was rolling in (read: at least seven or eight hundred a month), I did have a miscellaneous category in the budget. I usually set it at $20/month, maybe $50 when I was carefree and single. The purpose of it is probably self-explanatory: to cover any expenditure that does not fit neatly into my preconceived categories. In practice, though, it just created a little psychological space to not agonize over every purchase.

When I was creating the budget for these lean years, I debated whether to include a miscellaneous category. On the one hand, me agonizing less is a good thing. But on the other hand, the more we can tighten our belts now, the greater freedom we will have in the future. In the end, I omitted that category from the budget both on paper and in practice. What that means is that when I incur a cost that I haven’t planned for, I have to find a way to reduce my usual spending so that I can absorb the extra expense.

September was a good example.  I knew right at the beginning of the month that I had triggered a $35 late fee (35 FREAKING dollars — don’t even get me started!). So I had to economize, which mostly means dining out sparingly. I feared that the month was going to feel devoid of joy and that little adrenaline rush I get from eating good food (which I am largely in capable of making myself — not because of chronic illness, mind you, but rather incompetence and apathy), but actually, it was kind of fun. I was motivated to find other little pleasures, and I savored a $2 treat here and there. And then right at the end of the month, when I thought I just had to eat something delicious to get me through the day with my sassy little toddler, Macaroni Grill threw out a free lunch good for September 28 only. Carmela’s chicken, pasta, and mushrooms, Caprese, and fresh-baked herb bread? For FREE?! Yes, please! I hated paying that $35 late fee, but still I feel quite accomplished for being disciplined enough to carve it out of my regular budget.

Do you have a miscellaneous category? How do you handle unexpected expenses or careless spending mistakes? And perhaps most importantly, am I being too extreme over here? (I always need these checks to keep me from crossing the line into budgeting insanity!)


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Budget Item: Medical, $150/month

If you scrutinized our budget the way I would excitedly scrutinize someone else’s budget, you probably noticed that we have $50 per month, per person set aside for medical expenses (not including health insurance). We are immeasurably blessed to have a very healthy toddler. (Frankly, it shocks me how healthy she is both because I had mysterious ailments starting in infancy — bleeding eye sockets, anyone? — and she didn’t have the easiest route getting here.) In fact, we have only had two occasions to take her to the doctor, aside from wellness checks, in her entire 2.5 years of life, which means we have spent only a tiny fraction of that $50 monthly budget on her health care.

Neal also doesn’t cost much in the medical category. He doesn’t get sick often, but when he does, he goes big. The common cold? Nah. Let’s try blood poisoning or lyme disease instead. Thankfully, early detection has prevented him from having too many serious consequences, though I seem to remember that I had to convince him to see the doctor for the blood poisoning situation — a blue line going from the tip of his finger toward his heart seemed like a bad sign. But even though he’s had some pricey medical adventures in the past, he’s probably cost us no more than $50 a year for the last couple of years.

So our medical budget item turns out to be one of my favorites because (God willing) we will usually bank at least $100 instead of spending it.

Of course, I’m the chronically ill wild card. On the one hand, having chronic illness since childhood, I’ve done my fair share of doctor and specialist visits. If I had to take a wild guess, I would say that my medical expenses (including pricey equipment like a wheelchair and wheelchair lift) over the course of my life have probably been in the $400,000 range. (Hallelujah that I benefited from my parents’ excellent insurance through my early 20s! And had uninsured motorists auto coverage to save me from the accident fall-out!)

On the other hand, I HATE going to the doctor. For me, being chronically ill means that I will do just about anything to avoid going to the doctor because after years of frustration, I assume I will just have to learn to live with the problem anyway. I either have to be in extreme pain or have a crazy amount of blood pouring out of me to be persuaded to see a doctor. (Actually, if I’m being honest, there was one instance in which I was losing a lot of blood and instead of going to the ER as I was instructed to by my on-call doctor, I asked my grandma to just check on me periodically to make sure I didn’t lose consciousness. In hindsight, that was dumb. And I’m about 70% sure I wouldn’t make that choice again.)

Being unwilling to see the doctor also means that I don’t take any maintenance medications anymore (anymore being the key word because part of what turned me off was how many I used to take and how I ended up taking some merely to counteract the side effects of others. Oy.). Aside from periodic over-the-counter drugs, I pretty much avoid meds like the plague. So, all that means that despite my numerous health issues, most months we have also banked my $50 for medical care.

But the reason I bring all this up is that I recently had a new neck issue arise (unrelated to my spinal arthritis as far as I can tell). What started out as a minor tweak rapidly turned into horrible pain and hugely restricted range of motion. In less than a day, I was practically on my knees begging for some medical attention. Two weeks, a few tests, and two deep tissue massages later, my neck is much improved (I can look to the right without crying — huzzah!) If you read my  ridiculously long neck story, you know that x-rays and some more aggressive treatment was also recommended. But after discussing with Neal, mulling over the costs,  consulting Relief at Last, my go-to book for weighing treatment options, and contacting an anesthesiologist friend, I decided to stick with my gentler (read: cheaper) methods for trying to manage the pain (walking, warm showers, ice, TENS unit).

Still, I’m torn about one thing: massages. Oh holy goodness, I LOVE a deep tissue massage! (In fact, I probably shouldn’t admit this but my old Stadium Terrace roommates used to call me a “massage hooch” because I was always trying to get some.) And obviously, I think they are also very good for me since, in this instance, they restored my range of motion almost completely within a week. I am contemplating adding a monthly therapeutic massage into my health maintenance routine, but there goes that $50 surplus from my medical budget item.

I’m having this ongoing argument in my head:

  • That’s WHY we budget so that we spend money on needful things.
  • But $35 (the price for a half-hour therapeutic massage) is a lot of money!
  • But if your neck STOPS WORKING AGAIN, it’s gonna cost a lot more in treatment and lost income and lost opportunity and, um, freaking horrible pain.

My italicized voice makes a very strong point, no? Perhaps it would be easier if I didn’t enjoy the massages so darn much — it makes it feel like a luxury item!

Does anyone else have this problem? Any strategies for psyching yourself up to make these kinds of needful purchases?


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