I Have No Idea How to Budget Right Now

Ok, so you know one of the reasons why I was a little lost for words here last week. I was busy writing elsewhere! But there’s one other reason I’ve been suffering from writer’s block: simply put, I have no idea what my budgets will look like for the next few months, and it’s seriously stressing me out.

I don’t know if I’ve actually mentioned it here yet, but I’m a bridesmaid in a wedding in Victoria at the end of April. The bride is a girl I’ve been friends with since sixth grade (we met in 1997, to be exact), and I’m so excited to stand up for her. But there are still so many unknowns about these nuptials, which means my next three months’ worth of budgets will include some guestimates at best. I’m also planning a few other things (and assuming more will come up) that won’t be cheap. Take a look at why I’m having a hard time writing budgets for the next three months:


Next month, I’m going home to Victoria for 9 days. We’re throwing a bridal shower on the 22nd, for which I’ll need to bring a gift plus some of the food/drinks/decorations. After that, I’ll spend a week visiting with family and friends, which will obviously include a few coffee/dinner dates. And then I’m heading up to Mt. Washington for the last weekend of the month. I don’t plan on snowboarding this year, because I can’t even imagine how much a fall would hurt my back/hips right now, but I’ll still need to pay for food and gas (accommodation is already covered). Oh! And I also booked an appointment with my family dentist, so I can get my teeth cleaned. (I’m sure he’ll also request a few x-rays, which I may actually decline, depending on how much they cost.) So, there’s expensive month #1.


In March, I’ll go home for at least one weekend, if not two. We’re planning for the bachelorette party to be in town, so I don’t think it’ll be crazy expensive, but that’s still something to budget for. And the bridesmaid dresses are also coming in that month, so I may need to go back for a fitting. If you can believe it, March’s budget is actually stressing me out more than February’s. Why? Because I have absolutely no idea how much this dress is going to cost. It was ordered months ago, when I was still in Toronto. I think the dress is $180, but I have no idea how much alterations will cost. I could get lucky and not need any, but what are the chances of that, right? Then I could get extra lucky and our dresses could arrive before I come to town for the bachelorette party. It would be great if I only had to go back home once.


So long as the dress fits, I’ll only go home to Victoria once in April – towards the end of the month, for the actual wedding. That month, however, I’ll need to pay for shoes, hair and makeup, as well as a wedding gift. Again, I have no idea how much hair or makeup will be yet, so I don’t know what my final wedding budget will look like. With travel, I imagine it’ll be $400+ that month alone. After the wedding, I’ll pop over to see my hairdresser for a cheap $30 cut. And that might be it for major expenses that month. Oh, but I’m guessing I’ll also be making a trip out to Toronto for work sometime between now and the end of April. My flight and accommodation are always covered for work trips, but parking, food, etc. can add up fast. So, again, I just don’t know what that month’s budget will look like yet.

None of this is supposed to sound like I’m complaining. I am genuinely looking forward to everything the next few months will hold for my friends and I! I’m just such a planner that it’s hard to see so many “what ifs” in my monthly budgets.

So, where does this leave me? The simple fact is I won’t be able to achieve my financial goals in February, March or April. There’s just no way I’ll be able to save $1,000+ each month, with all of these events and trips. I guess the only question I have to answer now is: how am I going to move the numbers around?

My current monthly savings goals are to put $642 in my Emergency Fund and $417 in my RRSP. So far, I’m on track to achieve these goals this month. For the next few months, however, let’s say I can only save $500-600/month. What should I do with that? My first thought is to still put $417 in my RRSP, and whatever’s leftover in my Emergency Fund. But I could also divide it evenly between the two accounts.

The final “what if” in all of this is how much my tax return will be this year. I have everything ready, with the exception of my T4, so I’ll be able to file in February and should get the cash in March. My original plan was to put 100% of it in my Emergency Fund. So, maybe I’ll maintain my RRSP savings goal for the next few months, but put only a very small amount in my Emergency Fund, and then boost it up with my tax return?

Maybe, maybe, maybe. What if, what if, what if. Ahhhhh, I hate those words!

What would you do, if you were me?

  • Sounds like the next few months are going to be quite busy for you. I was pretty stressed out about my finances last year when I was a maid of honour for my sister’s wedding.

    Instead of dinner dates with your friends and family, maybe change a few to lunch or brunch if possible? For the bridal shower decor, maybe check out the dollar store if you weren’t planning on doing so already. I didn’t need to provide decor for my sister’s shower,but I did for the bachelorette and spent a lot at Party City.

    • Hmm, the dinners I go out for are cheap ($10-15), which would be similar to a lunch, so that’s not exactly the area of my budget I’m worried about. And I’m definitely going to pick a few things up from the dollar store. I’m just sad/stressed about not meeting my savings goals… but no biggie. Just have to suck it up and deal with it!

  • Hey there — you’re so right — being a bridesmaid is not cheap — but it is a lot of fun! I think one thing that you can do on that front now is to start doing some research best places for services and costs to get better estimates to plug into your budget. Keep an eye out for good deals and coupons for gifts, makeup, and the alterations –etc. — also ask around, you may know someone who can do hair, makeup, alterations.

    I like your thought on trying to max out your RRSP and then maybe a little less in the ER fund.

    Lots of decisions and what ifs :)

    • I know the bride is doing some serious shopping around for hair/makeup, and have sent her a few suggestions as well. Thanks!

  • Great post!

    Sounds like you have a lot of fun things to look forward to.

    Do you do your own taxes? I want to do my own this year. The past few years I have gone to H&R block, but now that I’m tracking my spending I can’t justify paying them 60 bucks to do it! Can you recommend any resources or programs that you use?

    • I have always done my own taxes my entire adult life. I use the program Ufile… I’ve always used that one and never had an issue so I keep going back to it because I am familiar with it, and I believe it’s one of the least expensive. If your taxes are straightforward it is extremely easy to do on your own. This progam costs about $20.

    • Ufile is normally $20 or it can be free if your income is below a certain threshold of if you are a student. I find Ufile is great at this time of year as it produces an estimate of my return (without having to pay/file) so I can adjust my RSP contributions/look at a short-term RSP loan.

    • My husband and I used StudioTax and Genutax last year. They are free to download and use, although it’s nice to send them a donation. Both programs worked well for us and we had no trouble filing our returns using NETFILE and getting our refunds.

      You can keep an eye on
      As they approve the software to file returns in 2014 for our 2013 taxes, they will add the programs to the list. The list includes links to each of the programs and often a comment about the cost.

    • Yes, I do my own taxes! Like Dayle, I’ve been using UFile my entire adult life. It’s like $15-20 and is super easy to use!

  • Hey Cait

    If I were you… I would take the amount you are able to save, and split it between your RRSP and your e-fund. And I would put the tax return into your e-fund as well… you can always contribute more of that money to the RRSP later if you decide to. The e-fund is the most capable of keeping you out of debt… if something happens you aren’t going to want to pull it out of your RRSP, so I would put the priority on the e-fund, while still contibuting some to your RRSP. Just my $0.02

    Have a super Monday!

    • Always appreciate your two cents! At first, I kept thinking about contributing more to my RRSP, because it’s way too easy NOT to save for retirement… and I’m behind! But now I’m actually thinking about putting more money in my Emergency Fund because, like you said, if something happens I’ll need CASH not mutual funds lol.

  • You’re a busy lady! the joy of having a budget is that you can be flexible! fyi: dental xrays are super cheap for 2 bitewings (the ones they take during annual/biannual appts) are $20/2 here in NS.

    • Ahhh, I was hoping you would read this and have something to say about that, Catherine! I’m going to call my dentist this week and see if they can tell me how much a cleaning / x-rays will cost, so I can budget for it. (Yes, I’m THAT person, hahaha.)

  • It appears that you save, roughly, 60% to your Emergency Fund and 40% to your RSPs, so why not continue that break down over these next few months?
    That way if something comes out of left field, you have more accessible cash, just in case.

  • Yeah, being in a wedding is quite expensive. I have only stood in one, but by the time it was all said and done I had spent about $1,000. $300 for dress (shoes could be anything black, so I already had them), $200 for hair and make-up the day of, $100 for wedding gift, $40 for shower gift, $100 for bridal shower preparation/food, $100 for bachelorette night-out… And probably a pretty good misc. line. – I think part of this is still hanging around in my consumer debt.

    I think I would personally keep the split the same for the time being, and top up the EF with your tax return. But I don’t have a solid reason for it, I just think it would be the way I go. It only leaves your EF a little lower for two months (if that), and you have a few thousand there already should something happen in the meantime.

    • That’s true… it’s not like it’s sitting at $0 anymore. Bah! I thought I had decided to put more in the E Fund, based on another comment above, and now I’m torn again, haha. Lots to think about. :)

  • If it were me I’d probably keep putting the $417.00 in the RRSP and whatever you have left put into your emergency savings. I’m not sure what your ES goal is but if you are comfortable where you are at with that amount currently then why change anything for a few months? I’m sure you will make the best of it with the spending for the weddings and will make it through. In the end, it’s up to you and what makes you comfortable because you are the only one who knows your finances best. :)

    • My goal is to save $7,700 in my E Fund this year, which is REALLY aggressive… I sometimes wonder if it was too aggressive; like I set myself up to fail. Anyway, not worth worrying about that yet… just need to make a decision, keep track of what I DO save and figure out how to make up what I don’t!

  • I think we all have months like this. I know I have. Savings goals are great, but sometimes the unexpected or the unknown happens. I used to get really upset when I couldn’t control these things and my budget would deviate from the goals I had written on paper and the amounts I wanted allocated to each category.

    Now, as long as I’m not going into debt, I’m ok with the odd month that doesn’t follow the budget to the letter AND I’m a lot less stressed. Do I let this happen every month? No, but for example this month I had to make three car payments because I pay for my car bi-weekly so I had an extra payment this month, plus renew my plates and it was my birthday month so there were dinners out, extra coffee dates with friends and a shopping trip with my mom. So was it a bit of an expensive month? Yes. Did I put as much into savings as I usually do? No. But I didn’t go into debt and I know exactly what next month is going to look like. So I enjoyed January and now I move on.

    Knowing and being prepared is half the battle – will you meet you goals for these unexpected/unknown months? Probably not, but as long as you are paying for everything with cash and not reverting back to plastic, I would cut yourself and your budget a little slack :)

    • Knowing IS half the battle… it’s easy to forget that. Thanks for the reminder, Stephanie. :)

  • Ah, I’m also on maid duty for an April wedding. The budgeting issue is very much on my mind as well. When you manage your own finances closely, it’s hard to have a bride spending your money so freely (in my case, at least). Good for you for remaining laid back about it all.

  • first off..i don’t believe you were whining at all!! You are a planner..and as a fellow planner I APPLAUD you for trying to see enough into the future and worry if its enough!! I TOTALLY GET IT!!
    That being said i think you should go with your first idea of putting $417 in your RRSP, and whatever’s leftover in my Emergency Fund.
    its a set amount your comfortable with and you can always makeup the diff with the tax $$ like you said. I think that is a good plan. a DOABLE plan.

  • Wow, sounds quite expensive. I also hate not knowing how things will turn out and having so many things up in the air. I would do whatever makes you sleep best at night. If that is putting it in your RRSP or your EF, do what feels right. Accept that it is a fluctuating time, but put your money places, to put your mind at ease.

  • Hi Cait – you’ve gotten some great advice here but Stephanie’s is the closest (cough exactly cough) to what I wanted to say. I’m like you and I try to stick to my budget almost to the penny, especially the savings entry. When I see that I’ve got a few months where I’m not going to hit that target I worry.

    When I was in this situation with my budget I concentrated on my emergency fund rather than retirement savings because that eased my comfort level. I still saved to both but the majority went to the EF.

    There are some months where things are going to be expensive or you’re going to have one-offs, you just have four in a row. Barring a winning lotto-scratch ticket your savings are going to be reduced for a couple of months but that’s ok because you aren’t using plastic to make up the short-fall. Don’t worry if there’s a month that you can’t save as much.

  • Girl, I know. Weddings (both as the bride and the bridesmaid) are insanely stressful for the budget. There are so many little things you just do not factor in or forget about. I totally forgot about tips for the hair and makeup artists, parking for my car, pizza and breakfast for the day of, and cost of transportation home!

    • Hmm, interesting! I’ve never had other things to pay for on the day of a wedding before, other than hair and makeup… but I’ll keep that in mind!

  • Weddings are expensive! My best friend is getting married this year and I have the honor of standing beside her; I started saving for her wedding shortly after she got engaged, especially since I knew she wanted an out-of-town bachelorette party.

    It’s great that you’re planning for all the little and big events in the next few months. While savings goals might not be met, you can still anticipate the deviation. If I were you, I’d keep to the same saving ratio, and topping the EF where I can just so I have liquid assets.

    Despite taking a toll on your savings, enjoy the next few months with friends and family! Life is to be lived.

  • Great post! I’ve been in two weddings so far and in the next two years I’ll be in two more, expenses add up fast. Would you be able to take the dress back to Vancouver for the alterations? This might cut down on the number of trips to Victoria in March, just a thought :) You’re doing great with your savings! Just remember not every month is the same, nor is every year. If you don’t meet your goals for February, March and April maybe you could spread out the money your missed saving over the rest of the year to help you still attain your overall goal? Hopefully the stress starts to decrease!!

    • That’s a great idea, L! The other option is that my mom could potentially do any alterations herself, although that would be in Victoria… Anyway, there are definitely options to consider! Thanks. :)

  • I totally get this, and I feel the same way! I want to budget for the next couple months, but my daycare subsidy can’t be determined until late next month, and it could vary by up to $500 as I’ve gotten a new job which pays just enough more I might get no subsidy in place of full subsidy. I have an estimated budget and I think I’ll take the extra from my savings/lower my debt payments. It just would be so nice to know so I can plan! I’d like to have a posted “out of debt date”. :)

    “life is what happens while you’re making other plans”

    Good luck and enjoy!

    • That actually reminded me that I also picked up some contract work on the side, which could put anywhere from $200 to $2,000+ in my pocket… I just have no idea how much work it’ll be! So, I can’t plan for it – but any amount would help boost my savings accounts, I suppose. Thanks, Leigh. :)

  • “What would you do, if you were me?”

    Hi Cait! Well the first thing that I would do if I were you would not to get too worried about not making your regular budget target numbers. Now that you are operating in a debt free mode you aren’t obligated to anyone other than yourself in how you spend your money. Obviously, what with all the activities that you have planned ahead, your monthly budgets for the next 3 (and maybe even 4) months ahead will, realistically have to be somewhat modified. Your regular monthly expenses (food, utilities, etc.) will of course remain fixed and should be covered. This then leaves your variable expenses and your savings targets – the latter to be adjusted as needed to address the former. So, if I were you, I’d first “guestimate” the variable near future expenses (and don’t try to do it all on your own but ask for feedback from others – friends, family members, etc.). After you get your best “guesses” established then add 15-20% on top of each as fudge factor (murphy’s law) contingency. If it turns out that this extra is not needed then – great! – you’re ahead of the game. Then, to pay for these expenses, take a hatchet to your savings targets – evenly across them all – and hopefully you will still have a bit to apply to your RRSP and Emergency funds.

    I’m of the opinion that there are valid times when money is to be enjoyed for worthwhile present needs – like fully enjoying your friend’s wedding – and not always for future needs “every single month of your life”. Long term plans are great and should not be neglected but there are times when life events occur where these plans have to be refined a tad. I’m sure that over time you will reach your savings targets – it just might not occur at the time that you had originally planned. Not to worry as life is too short for such concerns – just so long that you keep disciplined in doing your best to put whatever you can towards savings. That’s really all you or anyone else can reasonably hope for.

    Anyway, that how I see life – for what it’s worth. Enjoy the next few months – you can never live them over again you know.

    • I’m definitely making BIG estimates for these upcoming expenses, as I think going over budget would feel worse than not hitting my savings targets. I’m still not 100% decided on how to split what money I can save, but 50/50 might be where it’s at. I’ll definitely be able to make up for some of my missed goals, later this year… Thanks, Rob. :)

  • Do you think all of the wedding expenses will total more than $1000? If not, then I would just take February’s savings allotment and put it aside for everything wedding related. Then you have what you need and don’t have to stray from your plans in March/April. If you happen to spend less on the wedding, then just put the leftovers back into your savings plan. :)

    I like having the money up front like that.

    • I thought about that too! But I won’t have $1,000 to save next month, with my extended trip to Vic… So I’ll probably just budget like $400/month for wedding stuff for the next 3 months, and save $600 in my other accounts.

  • You could always look around if you need alterations (and not necessarily in Victoria) – the shop I bought my last bridesmaid dress from didn’t do them (only wedding dresses) and had a list of 4 different tailors to choose from. The one I went to (my new tailor for everything, actually) only cost $30 to have the dress taken in around the chest/sides and a flower removed from the waist. A few weddings ago, my seamstress in Timmins charged me $40 for a dress (with crinoline) to be hemmed and for straps to be made out of the extra fabric and attached. So alterations aren’t always expensive! :)

    • “A few weddings ago” – haha! Oh gosh, there have been so many lately, eh? But seriously, good to know that alterations can be cheap! I had no idea what to expect, but I could get on board with those prices.

  • I’m also that girl that asks at the dentist how much something is going to cost before I book the appointment. It’s expensive! It always seems to cost more than they estimate tho :/

    If I were you I would just take a deep breath and just try and keep your expenses as low as possible, spend what ever you need to spend for the wedding and travel etc and then save the rest knowing you did the best you can :)

    • Haha, at least we’re not alone! :P

      But you’re right, Sammie. The next 3 months won’t be what I’d planned for, financially, but they’ll be great. Thanks for the reminder to stay calm.

  • Remember you have a whole year to give the happy couple a gift. Taking that pressure off your budget for the short term, may be helpful.

    Best of luck trying to plan for the unexpected!

  • Your plans for the next 3 months sound really exciting! I’ve never been a bridesmaid (or a bride for that matter ;)) so I have no idea how much these things cost. One thing I know though, you’ll have an amazing time!

  • Hey Cait!

    I’m sure someone above has already suggested this, but I would definitely go with making as big of a contribution as possible to your RRSP now, and then use the bigger tax refund to refill your Emergency Fund! Might as well maximize that refund and minimize the taxes! I am doing exactly that this year, deferring topping up my Emergency fund in order to max out my RRSP and get that refund!

    Regarding your budgeting conundrum, as a serial budgeter/expense tracker myself, I’d just say, don’t sweat it! Some things just aren’t possible to predict with 100% accuracy in advance, just do a best guess and go with it! Who knows, maybe it will even come in a little under!

    Have a good night!

  • Cait, I’m so sorry to hear that you’re stressed. I think others have given you great advice about how to split up your savings when it won’t be as high as you’d planned, and I’m totally crappy at being a bridesmaid so I have nothing to add there.

    I do want to add the following, and please keep in mind that it comes from a place of deep love and caring for you. (I have been MIA lately, but I have been reading your blog religiously still, of course). You have had a really unpredictable time the last year or so, with moving several times, your accident, etc., in addition to being out of debt and having money priorities less clear after such laser beam focus for so long. All of these things add up to a *lot* of things that have probably felt at least a little out of your control. This can be really unsettling, especially for someone like us who like to have a plan and a backup plan and a backup backup plan for everything. :)

    I wonder if, since you’ve been a debt crusader for so long and improving your finances helped lead to so many other positive changes in your life, when things get unpredictable, controlling your money serves an emotional function. (Of course there is also the usual functions of good financial habits, and I am not discounting those)! I know that this has been true for me in times of turmoil, and when I have done some reflecting (meditation, journaling, sitting quietly with a cup of tea staring out the window) I have realized that a lack of control is what is throwing me off, and it’s not like a little bit of the unknown around money is going to be a huge crisis.

    Hey, we’ve been in much worse money crises before! (You maxed out, me in $56k of debt and no job). You are doing all the right things, and I am sure you are going to be able to handle these unknowns just fine. Take a little bit to look back on how far you’ve come — if your bridesmaid expenses are $500 instead of $400 you will be able to cover it! — and that is not something you could have said even a year or two ago. Give yourself some real relaxation and reflection time. Hopefully you can find a little ease. :)

    I hope you do not hear me minimizing your concerns at all, I am just trying to suggest another way of looking at it that might address a possible root discomfort that is not actually based in your finances.

    Tons of hugs. xo

  • For savings, I personally would always focus on the emergency fund before a retirement fund, because you’re more likely to have a financial emergency some time in the future than you are to be somehow surprised by a sneak-retirement ;)
    Plus, you can always move money from the emergency to the retirement (a few months lost retirement interest won’t really make that huge of a difference, it’s not like your budget is going to be unpredictable for years) but can’t do it the other way around without breaking rules and making paperwork harder on you.
    Keeping your same proportions sounds like a good idea, since obviously you came up with them for a reason.

  • I’d say pull out my hair if my months weren’t already as up in the air as yours are…

    Is it possible to get your hair done as you’re getting it styled for the wedding? That way you don’t have to make two trips to the hair dresser, or could possible get a discount? The only wedding I’ve been in the bride brought the hair dresser in and paid for all of us, and her sister did my makeup. Maybe you’ll luck out and those won’t be actual expenses?

    As for everything else… just do the best you can and don’t let it stress you out too much. You’ll have months where there’s less going on, so you’ll be able to save more then. You set yourself some aggressive savings targets this year; while I’m sure you’ll nail all of them one way or another by the end of the year, I wouldn’t worry too much if there’s a couple turbulent months where you can only do 60% or so. For now I’d pump the money into the RRSPs until the end of February, then split it proportional to your goals in March and April while you put your income tax return into the Emergency savings side to make up for February’s lack of savings.

  • I was in my best friend since we were 5’s wedding this year – which I had to travel out of state to, and it definitely put a big kink in my money plans for the few months around it. Overall though, it was worth it. I mean, how am I not going to be your bridesmaid when I’ve been promising I would be for 25 years? The worst expenses were always the ones I had to share with the other girls, so I’d recommend having really, really clear communication with them.

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