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Here’s Why You Struggle To Stay On Budget

6 minute read

Devon Taylor

By Devon Taylor

Budgeting is both an art and a science. A good budget can help keep people on track financially, enable them to save consistently for retirement, and ensure that they aren’t short of funds ahead of payday. However, while having a budget is a great idea in theory, the reality is that most people don’t manage to stick with it.

An old Gallup poll found that less than one-third of Americans use a detailed monthly budget. Of those, only a quarter (25%) said they manage to stay on track financially each month. Here are eight common reasons why it is so difficult to stay within a budget and keep control of your finances.

Not Budgeting Properly

For a budget to work, it must be accurate. This means that it has to include all your monthly expenses. Any expenses, large and small, recurring or one-off, must be included in the budget. It’s no good to have your $1,500 mortgage payment on the budget if you leave off your $13.99 Netflix subscription.

You also need to include small one-time items on the budget, such as the birthday gift you need to buy for the party your daughter is attending on the weekend or the annual Costco membership that you need to renew. Wracking your brain and including every single expense you’re likely to incur is critically important if you hope to stick to your budget.

Do you spend $4 a day on a morning coffee? Don’t forget interest charges on outstanding debt. It all counts! If you only include the “big things” in your budget, you’ll continue to nickel and dime yourself on the small things. Then you’ll wonder where all your money went at the end of the month.

Changes of Season

What costs are incurred with the changing of fall into winter and the arrival of spring, you ask? How about the cost to put on winter tires, for one. Then there’s new boots for the kids? That snowplow service you rely on to get out of your driveway each morning. What do you do when you realize your kids have outgrown all their summer clothes from last year? There’s summer camp to consider. Plus the cost of turning up the heat in the winter or cranking the AC in the sweltering summer.

The reality is that with each change of season come additional costs. Yet people seem to only focus on the expenses they have consistently each month, such as their car payment or utilities. They neglect to budget for the costs they get hit with each year when the snow flies or school lets out. Again, you need to take account of all your expenses each month, even the seasonal ones.

Kids Sports

Organized sports are great ways for your kids to learn about teamwork, communication, and the thrills of victory and the agony of defeat. They are also bloody expensive. Even the local house league programs can be pricey, but if your child wants to play competitively, you need start budgeting accordingly.

Tryout fee? $50. Registration fee? $1,200. Top of the line equipment? $300 (at least). Don’t forget the frequent out-of-town tournaments. You’ll need a hotel for the weekend, plus money to grab meals. Gas up the family SUV before you go. And don’t forget to book Friday off work so you can hit the road early enough for your little MVP to play in that 7:00 PM opening game. Lucky for you, most teams only do this three or four times a season. Yikes!

Kids sports are a true budget killer. Every time you turn around, there is another expense you must pay. It can be hard to keep track of them all. Sure, you budgeted to pay the team fees, but you forgot to budget $80 for new cleats, $50 for a new glove, or those annoying team fundraisers. It piles up and can leave you cash poor before your next pay day. Just when you think you’ve gotten through the summer session, it’s time to register for the winter sports and start paying all over again.

Memberships and Subscriptions

Certain bills are always on your mind. Like your cell phone or cable bills. Others, not so much. One of the biggest recurring bills that people tend to neglect, but which can add up in a hurry, involve memberships and subscriptions. There’s the Costco membership and the membership to Sam’s Club. There’s also your gym membership. Plus that online subscription you have to the New York Times and The Athletic.

Then there’s those subscriptions to the streaming services that you and your family love. Have you signed up for Disney+ yet? What about Netflix, Hulu, HBOgo, or ESPN+? Oh, and don’t forget about the Apple Music or Spotify subscription.

People today have so many subscriptions that the fees pile up quickly and crush their budget. Even worse, most of them are paid automatically via a credit card or direct bank withdrawal. That can make them even more difficult to track, as they are easy to ignore.

If you can’t limit the number of memberships and subscriptions you have, then at least be sure to keep track of them all – whether they are paid monthly, quarterly or annually. You’d be surprised how $15 here and $10 there can really overwhelm a budget.

Work Expenses

You can expense the $60 it cost to take a taxi to the airport for work, but you have to pay upfront and then submit a receipt. Ditto for the client lunch you had last week. People tend to not budget for work expenses because they know they will get that money back – eventually.

However, it can take even the most efficient accounting departments days, weeks, and even months to issue reimbursement checks. In the meantime, you’re out of pocket. If you have to expense things to do your job, plan ahead and keep careful track of all your outlays. Better yet, see if you can get petty cash from work. Or better still, try and get a company credit card. Trust us when we say it is far better than using your own money for expenses.


Cars are a real sink hole when it comes to money. While you can budget for some expenses related to vehicles, like monthly payments, gas and insurance, you can’t budget for an unexpected blown tire, dangling muffler, or leaky fuel line. You certainly can’t budget for accidents and parking tickets.

The expenses incurred by driving are sure to destroy even the most carefully constructed budget. Just pulling into a garage for a repair, and it will cost you $1,000 minimum. Tickets can be another big headache, since the cost of them keeps on rising. A normal parking ticket these days will set you back $75 a pop. Sure, you can try and be careful with your vehicle. But you can’t account for everything. Life happens. When it happens to your vehicle, it’s extra costly.

Kids in General

Children are expensive at the best of times. They always need something. Whether it’s $10 for a pancake breakfast at school, $45 for a Halloween costume, or $150 for a new snowsuit. Every time you turn around, your kids tell you about some new expense you have to cover immediately. It can be especially hard to budget around kids, since their needs arise suddenly and unexpectedly.

How many times have you looked at a pair of sneakers with holes in them and thought to yourself: “I just bought these?” It is a constant battle. Children are a primary reason why so many people struggle to stay on budget. Our recommendation is to have a monthly “Kids” line item on your budget that consists of $250 to $400. Use it for those last-minute needs that arrive out of nowhere and leave your kids pulling on your sleeve saying “Pleeease.” If there’s anything left, put it in their college fund.

Breakdowns and Repairs

The number one thing that will throw off a budget is household breakdowns and repairs. Whether your house is five years old or 50 years old, there is always something that needs to be fixed. From massively expensive replacements like a new furnace ($7,500) or roof ($12,000), to smaller items such as a new water heater ($500) and refrigerator ($750).

When you own a house, there is always a reason to buy something and call a professional for help. You will eventually need a plumber, electrician, contractor, or painter. While you can put off some repairs, there’s no delaying when water from the upstairs bathroom is leaking through the kitchen ceiling or the air conditioner conks out in the middle of an August heatwave.

It’s always difficult to budget for emergencies. Sure, financial experts say we should all have an emergency fund saved for these unexpected eventualities. But who can save that much cash when we can barely stick to the monthly budget?

Man Showing Empty PocketsShutterstock
Devon Taylor

Managing Editor

Devon is an experienced writer and a father of three young children. He's simultaneously trying to build college funds and plan for an eventual retirement. He's been in online publishing since 2013 and has a degree from the University of Guelph. In his free time, he loves fanatically following the Blue Jays and Toronto FC, camping with his family, and playing video games.


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