A Story About Paying Off Debt and the Obstacles Along the Way

Three-Seasons Budgeting: Season 1, 2020

When I started The $76K Project, one of my good intentions was to write a budgeting post once a month. I don't think I ever succeeded in doing this with any regularity, in part because I'm allergic to forced blogging schedules and in part because I felt like I was sharing the same numbers over and over again, which makes for boring reading.

However, this is a normal-person-does-personal-finance blog, read by (I assume) fellow average people who are also trying to get their money situations in order. I do think budgeting posts are important given the scope of what I write about. When we started our financial overhaul, it was immensely helpful to see how others manage their finances. I used to devour other people's budget breakdowns. I assume at least some of you guys might feel the same way, and anyway, I want that kind of transparency to be part of what I'm doing here.

But how do I write about our budget without being totally repetitive?

Budgeting By Season, Not By Month

The other day I realized three things:

1. Our budget changes throughout the year, even when our income doesn't.

2. That change happens in a somewhat predictable way.

3. We can loosely break our budgeting into three "seasons":

The Boring Season (January - April): During this season, we're just holding steady. We're not making much extra money through bonuses or side hustles, but we're also not spending it on vacations, kid activities, or anything major. In general, income = expenses.

Bonus Season (May - August): During this season, our accounts are usually bolstered by Fortysomething's annual pay raise and bonuses; he occasionally takes on some freelance work, too. Extra money! Wheeeeee! We always save some of it, but we also use a chunk of the extra cash to go on a frugal-ish vacation. Income > expenses.

Celebration Season (September - December): With two birthdays, an anniversary, and Christmas/New Years, we always end up splurging in the fall and early winter. I've stopped trying to fight this trend. It's a fun time of year, and we like to enjoy ourselves. If we have to dip into savings to top things off, that's okay. Income < expenses (though not to an extreme degree).

NEW PLAN: instead of writing a budgeting post each month (which won't happen anyway, who am I kidding), I'll write one at the start of each season. That will allow me to keep a record of our budgets and share them here without being tedious.

Boring Season Budget 2020

Currently, we're in the Boring Season of our budget, which is shown below.

For Boring Season 2020, our expenses and income will be approximately equal. As always, rent and food are the two biggest line items (I've stopped trying to chip away at the grocery budget - it's too stressful, and we eat all the food we buy). We've reserved $200 for miscellaneous things like school supplies for the Kiddo and going out to eat once or twice. I've probably overestimated our electric bill, but temperatures are notoriously unpredictable at this time of year, so I want to leave some wiggle room in that category.

You'll notice that we're not planning to put any money into savings this month beyond what's auto-deducted from Fortysomething's paychecks and the pet sitting money that I'll put into my IRA. That's okay. Our emergency fund is in good shape for now. We'll add to it later in the year.

I definitely feel some pressure to make more money (especially because I worry about health insurance and the limitations of my current plan), but I also feel like I need to devote my energy to other things right now: running, being a parent, household stuff, etc. I can re-evaluate income in a few months and/or if/when a good opportunity finally comes along.

Stay tuned for the second (and probably more exciting) budgeting installment at the beginning of May.

What about you? How do you organize your budget? Does it change throughout the year or hold fairly steady?


  1. I think I'm resistant to categorized budgets, because they've never worked for me. When I used to budget (something I have been fortunate enough to not have to do in a few years), I used to figure out my monthly fixed expenses and subtract them from my net earnings. I'd then take what was left and allocate some to debt repayment/savings and divide the rest up into a daily or weekly allowance for myself. It generally worked pretty well.

    There was also the time I was in undergraduate/graduate school, when I basically tried to spend nothing because I was completely broke. That was fun. (Not fun.)

    1. I don't know that I ever fully got out of "spend nothing" mindset. I'm lousy with budgets that actually make sense. My budgets always seem to be "but could I spend less?" until I drive myself crazy.

  2. I like the idea of budgeting by season instead of by month....
    We currently budget bi-weekly and rely heavily on sinking funds/ short term savings

  3. That's a solid budget, friend: good balance of handling the necessities, but not going overboard on being frugal with things like groceries, and room for some miscellaneous expenses and giving, too.

    I always *think* our budget will be the same month to month, but then there's a medical bill, or a vet bill, or a broken something or other that throws it out of whack. Some day, I'll approach the mythical median month. :)

  4. When I read your 3-season budget - it made sense for how our family spends also, at least for the "Boring Season" and the "Celebration Season." We definitely have those seasons, too! Man are we ever in the boring season now. Super boring.

    I also agree that the median month is a myth. If this animal exists, I've never seen it. Like an ivory-billed woodpecker: People look and look and look, but they never see it.