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!)