You know those months where it feels like you’re just hemorrhaging money? Suddenly something breaks, every bill is due, and you don’t even want to know what your credit card balance is.
We’ve all been there. And while a month of terrible spending is bad, what’s worse is letting the downward spiral continue.
But don’t worry, there are ways to recover from a bad month of spending — and it doesn’t require berating yourself or creating a super-restrictive budget that you know you’re probably not going to stick to.
Here are four steps to get you started:
1. Stop the spiral of shame
I know, I know — you spent too much and that feels terrible. Maybe you had a bunch of unexpected bills pop up, you accidentally spent too much on vacation, or you just had a month where a lot of small purchases suddenly added up to a lot more than you expected.
A shameful mindset isn’t going to help anything. You’ll either end up avoiding the issue (which only makes things worse), or you’ll go down a spending spiral because it’s already out of control, so what difference does it make anyway?
The only way you’re going to get out of this is by accepting that it happened and reminding yourself that you’re a smart, capable woman who can take care of any financial missteps. This is within your control.
2. Assess the damage
You probably know when you’ve gone overboard. You can feel it without even looking at your bank account or credit card statement. And, let’s be honest, adding up how much you overspent isn’t exactly your idea of a fun time.
But it’s time to get into the details and figure out how much you overspent. Open up a spreadsheet or get out a piece of paper and go through it all. Write down the extra charges that you put on your credit card, any extra payments that came out of your checking account, and anything that you needed to take from your savings account.
Add it all up — again, no shame here — and now you know exactly how much you overspent. You have a real number that you can work with to hatch a plan.
3. Create a short-term plan
It’s time to create a plan to swiftly dig you out of this hole without having it feel too terrible. Depending on how much you overspent, your plan will look different.
Here’s where I like to get a little creative and attempt to make this feel kind of fun. Ok, fun may be stretching it but I look at it this way: what can I challenge myself to do for a month to help get me back on a good financial path?
After a vacation that ended over-budget, my husband and I challenged ourselves to stop eating out for an entire month — it included packing lunches for work, which was definitely a challenge for me. When we had a bad month with small purchases adding up to take us off track with our spending, we challenged ourselves to sell our used baby things online to make up some of the difference.
If you have an even bigger gap to make up, you might consider an entire no-spend month, where you don’t spend money on anything other than true necessities.
Get creative, but set yourself up for success. Find fun, free activities that you can do to keep your kids busy on the weekend. Plan ahead and stock your fridge full of food so you remove any temptation to eat out.
And with whatever you choose to do, look at it as a short-term challenge rather than a punishment. This simple reframe makes all the difference in feeling less miserable about your situation.
4. Figure out where things went wrong
Once you’ve made a plan to get out of the situation, it’s time to think about how you can avoid this in the future. Your spending is never going to be perfect — there will always be something that comes up. But if there’s something that is consistently taking you off track with your money, it’s time to stop treating it like an occasional, one-time event.
Did you have an off-month because you spent more than you expected to on vacation? Maybe your vacation budget wasn’t realistic to begin with because you didn’t factor in that the kid’s meals can be pretty expensive. You can plan for that better next time.
Did a number of bills come due at the same time that wiped out your checking account? It could be time to save for those irregular bills (like car insurance and property taxes) monthly.
Did a bunch of little purchases add up to be way too much for the month? You could be struggling with spending triggers, like walking into Target without a list or shopping late at night on your phone. If you can identify these triggers, it’s much easier to make a plan to avoid them.
And sometimes things just go wrong, no matter how well you plan. (Like when our furnace broke on the coldest day of the year — that was expensive).
If you can figure out where there’s a common theme you’re one step closer to putting a stop to those months of overspending.