How to Handle Unexpected Expenses

Surprises. Fun when they involve your birthday gift. Not so fun when they involve your budget.

When money “surprises” pop up in the middle of the month, they can make you feel anything from overwhelmed to exhausted. A fundraiser here or a last-minute party invitation there, and you’re left using grocery money to pay for a jump-rope-a-thon or a gift for the hostess.

Surprise expenses don’t need to wreck your budget. Just step back, look at the situation, and figure out how to deal with it. The next time something pops up that you didn’t plan on, ask yourself these questions.

Is it an emergency? 

Is it a broken arm or a broken armchair? If an expense really is urgent and important to fix—like a broken arm—then use your emergency fund! Begin replacing what you used next month.

Just a bit of warning: Any surprise can feel like an emergency when it first hits. If it isn’t a true emergency, let the shock wear off so you can make rational decisions.

What can I do to pay for it?

Rather than dipping into your emergency fund or turning to credit cards, check to see if you can divert money from nonessential budget categories like restaurants or entertainment to cover the expense. That’s a good solution when your hair dryer quits working or a toilet doesn’t flush (ick!).

Can it wait until next month?

The answer might be no for a broken window—it needs to be fixed quickly. A broken microwave? That’s something you can hold off on purchasing. Warm your food in the oven and put the money for a new one into next month’s budget.

Can I do a temporary fix?

Cracked cell phone screen? Buy a plastic cover. A tire with a slow leak? That can be pumped up.Those kinds of quick fixes buy you time until you can save enough for a full-scale repair or replacement.

Where can I get this repaired/replaced for the best price?

When something pops up, you may want to take care of it quickly. But don’t do it so quickly that you overpay. Do some comparison shopping and price matching to find the best deal on whatever you’re looking for. Buy what you need to get the job done, but, at the same time, don’t pay more than you have to.

Can I improvise?

If your boss invites the team out to dinner and you have nothing to wear, ask a friend if you can borrow a shirt or coat. Or if you remember a friend’s birthday party at the last minute, raid your pantry and throw together some ingredients for cupcakes.

A budget helps you take charge of your money. Even if an unexpected expense comes up in the middle of the month, you can deal with it. Taking control of the situation will inspire you to keep making a budget and continue to succeed with money.

And that should come as no surprise.

To prepare for everything you know is coming, create a free EveryDollar budget. When you make a plan for your money, you can take care of those little surprises without worry.