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March Madness: Avoiding the Budget Busters

2014-ncaa-tournament-bracketOur oldest daughter was born during the first weekend of the NCAA basketball tournament. At the hospital, my wife groaned through labor pains as the midwife who assisted in the delivery was tracking a Notre Dame game on the TV in the room. I’m not sure the midwife appreciated Mrs. Luke1428 telling her to turn off her beloved Fighting Irish when there was under four minutes to go in the game. But birth was only about 15 minutes away so I guess that took precedence.

Needless to say, my wife has despised March Madness ever since.

Basketball junkies like myself however, love everything about it. The drama…the intensity…the finality of it…and the upsets that bust up the tournament. Mostly though, this time of year means one thing – the tournament bracket. There’s nothing like putting a plan together and testing your knowledge of the teams in an attempt to pick a winner. If only I had a time-traveling DeLorean to find me a Grays Sports Almanac.

No matter how we think the tournament will progress, there are always upsets and surprises that bust our brackets. These usually come from the underdogs, the little schools that we are not really paying attention to.

Over the years, the same type of thing has happened with our budget. Small things we didn’t anticipate, ignored or simply loved doing would bust our monthly plan. After experiencing the financial drain of these on multiple occasions, we had to make some decisions so they wouldn’t disrupt our life any longer.

The following is a list of five things that used to bust our budget, along with the path we now take to avoid it from happening any longer.


Have you seen the price of a movie ticket lately? Taking our family of six to an evening movie would set us back about $50 just for the tickets. Add in some popcorn and soda and, well…it would take a very compelling movie to get us all to the local theater anymore.

Solution: Instead of going out to the movies, we’ve become big fans of Netflix and more recently Amazon Prime. Subscribing to these services beats spending $50 a week at the movies. And, if we really want the movie theater experience and are willing to wait several months, we can watch the newer movies when they hit the dollar theater in our hometown.

Birthday Parties

Boy, did these used to sting our budget. With four kids in the house at different grade levels, it seemed like we were getting an invitation from someone at church or school every weekend. “Can it please just stop already,” I’d used to say. You sort of feel obligated to attend but purchasing a gift for all those parties sure adds up. Not to mention the time it takes to buy the gift and get your kid to and from the party.

Solution: We started saying “No, we can’t make it.” If attending a party was going to push our money or time budget we chose to decline the invitation. The kids didn’t always like that but at least our budget balanced and we were less stressed from all the running around.


What’s the expensive hobby you won’t give up? Mine was collecting baseball cards…and not just any cards. For the longest time, I was building a set of graded Hall of Fame rookie cards. Needless to say these aren’t cheap. Usually I would get one a month, much to the dismay of my significant other and the budget keeper at the time.

Solution: I made the difficult decision to cut back and put aside the hobby, even though I loved it. It was simply costing too much and was robbing us of significant saving. I still have my cards and may get back to it one day, but I’ll have a vastly different approach. I’ll discipline myself to save the money over time to purchase one card, not allocate money for one in every monthly budget.

Doctor’s Visits

Nobody ever plans to get sick. Consequently, money for healthcare is usually not allocated in the monthly budget. So when one of us would get sick, we were left scrambling to move money around, trying to figure out how to pay for visits and medicine.

Solution: We purchased a high-deductible healthcare plan with a Health Saving Account (HSA) built in. Each month we deposit money into our HSA. That money sits there until we need it for qualified medical expenses. No more fidgeting with the monthly budget when family members get sick because the money is already saved for that expense.

Vehicle Maintenance

The flat tire…the carburetor…the brakes…whatever…all the parts break down on a car at some point. Funny thing is that it usually happens when you aren’t planning for it in the budget.

Solution: Car issues will not bust our budget again now that we have established and built up an emergency fund. If a car breakdown is not an emergency then I don’t know what is. When it needs repair, we simply draw the money out of our emergency savings fund instead of going into credit card debt to pay for it.

Our budget rarely gets crashed by a Cinderella surprise any more. All it took were some tough decisions and a little planning to avoid the budget busting upset.

What’s the big thing that typically crashes your budget? How are you working to keep that from happening? What teams do you think will make it to the Final Four this year? 

Image courtesy of Sportsgrid.com

Next Post: 6 Awesome Lessons For Managing a Financial Crisis

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  1. Our biggest budget-buster involves food. When we forced ourselves to look at the checking account ledger objectively we found we easily would go out to eat 2-5 times per pay period, and of course it was never less than $50.00 once tips were included. We’d delude ourselves in thinking that we can eat off the 2 for $20.00 menu but forget to order water rather than tea or sodas, or at the last minute our 16 year old’s plans would fall through and then we’re back on the regular menu. The last 6 months we’ve really reined this in and now plan nights to eat out rather than go on whims.

    • I’m with you on food killing the budget. The eating out thing sure is a temptation, especially with hectic schedules. With two adults and four kids in our family, we can’t even do fast food anymore for under $40/meal.

  2. Holly Johnson says

    Vehicle maintenance is something that I always fail to plan for. It’s just off my radar for some reason!

    • We only plan for it in that we take the money out of our emergency fund when it happens. Not much goes into our monthly budget for it.

  3. As die-hard UCLA alums, the hubs and I LOVE March Madness. We practically plan our lives around it 🙂
    One thing that we have also fallen victim to is playing fantasy sports – whether that’s the March Madness brackets, or fantasy basketball, and fantasy football. Again, all great things but it can get very expensive. An alternative to this is playing in a bracket with friends or family where there’s no real money being exchanged – just some pride and glory 🙂 (Some will say, that’s worth MORE!) LoL…
    Great post and yay for having the emergency fund!

    • I’ve been addicted to the fantasy football and it can be very time consuming if you let it. We don’t play for money and I’ve learned to cut back the time I spend on it over the years. After all, it is a fantasy game, not reality. 🙂

  4. I would not be a fan of March Madness if I were her, either! Movie tickets are seriously really expensive nowadays. We rarely ever go because of that, but if we do, we try to do it on a day that is half off, or at a cheaper $5 theatre. Otherwise, I wait and rent movies from our library. Having an emergency fund pretty much covers medical + car expenses for me, but I would love to have an HSA one day.

    • The HSA has proven very valuable for us thus far. Who knows what happens to them in the future with the current changes to healthcare. I would encourage them to anyone who is in a position to meet the high deductible should they ever need to.

  5. I can certainly understand why your wife is not a fan of March Madness. 🙂 That said, we avoid much of this by budgeting and saving for those larger ticket items so we can spend the money in confidence. We had to buy four new tires for our Altima yesterday and it feels so good to have the cash to buy them and have no worries – not to mention the points we can get from doing so. 😉 I hear ya on the movies. It has to be something VERY special for us to go to the theatre anymore. We have a “cheap” theatre near us that charges $2.50, which isn’t too bad, but if we take the family and get popcorn and stuff it still adds up.

    • I love being able to purchase “surprise” expenses with the cash I’ve set aside. Makes the whole transaction less stressful and worry free.

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