A Busted Budget: Of Medicine & Masks

I must confess something. How long as I’ve gotten away from blogging (hello again!) is nothing compared to how long I’ve gotten away from budgeting.

Over a year ago, I got pregnant and I got walloped with morning sickness…again. My second pregnancy was not a charm. Everything felt like too much. Layer on a pandemic with a toddler and anything that I could skip, I did. Filling out a spreadsheet was an easy thing to pass on. So I did!

Fast forward to a summer baby (Hi, Squish!) and yet another pandemic school year, and we just kept coasting with our no-budget lifestyle. We still mostly tracked our expenses by hand but we never reconciled them, comparing them to a monthly budget. We were winging it. The good news is when you budget and track religiously for years, it seems you can mostly stay within the budget ballpark. Mostly.

But like most people on the morning of January 1, I woke up delirious with the best of intentions for a new year. I was going to budget again! 

I also woke up with a wicked sickness of some kind. At first, it felt like the sniffles. But it quickly accelerated into what we all assumed was COVID (despite cancelling all of our holidays plans again). Except it wasn’t. At least not according to the rapid tests I was instructed to take every time my symptoms got worse and the two PCRs tests I had done at urgent care visits. 

Blood tests, chest x-rays, IVs, inhalers, steroids, antibiotics. I just kept getting worse for weeks on end. While whatever that was has mostly passed–except for an unbelievable rib pain that only hurts…when I breathe–the copays and deductibles have not.

And our busted budget reflects that.

Of Medicine & Masks

At first, I considered “ignoring” all the medical spending, pulling from savings instead. But I promised that I was going to make a budget, and part of making a budget means looking at where your money actually goes. 

So I looked. It went to medicine…and masks. 

All year, we’ve paid a premium for kids disposable masks to make preschool as safe as possible. (We’ve also done other things like keep him home for weeks at a time and drop him off after snack time and pick him up before lunch.) My husband and I have worn ASTM surgical masks covered with cloth masks for two school years now, but it quickly became clear this winter that we also needed an upgrade. 

And as with all things public education, if you want your students to have something–and you really want it to be accessible to everyone—it falls into the laps of teachers. So in addition to buying all of our masks, I also spend about $50 a month on individually wrapped surgical masks for my students. 

I’m not glad we busted our budget. I’m especially not glad it happened during the first month of the first year we recommitted to budgeting.

But I do think I probably learned more from this than I would have if my spreadsheet was still in pristine condition.

I busted my budget, and here’s what I realized.

It’s time to adjust

Budgets are living, breathing documents. And yet, I’ve been making a copy of the same Google Sheet that I built before we had kids–with the exception of an added line for childcare and another for diapers and a bit of supplemental formula. 

While it wasn’t until recently that inflation became the talking point, it’s always existed. Somehow, though, I’ve never allowed my budget to account for that. I also never really let my budget reflect our new lives. In an attempt to stave off lifestyle creep, I stunted the growth of our budget.

While I added childcare to my budget (there’s no ignoring that expense!), I haven’t adjusted other areas, like groceries or our water bill. My four-year-old out-eats my husband at some meals. And while our baby doesn’t eat much food herself, she–like her brother!–forced me into a dairy-free diet at least for a few more months. Dairy-free cheez and ice cream could be a sad budget line all its own. 

And then there’s the pandemic. That means masks, masks, and more masks. It also means supply chain snags and labor shortages. Both of which can drive up the cost of things. 

It’s only natural that our budget grows with our family, so it’s clearly time for me to go back to the drawing board Google Sheet. 

A reminder to prioritize 

It would be easy to let myself off the hook and say that the reason I didn’t hit my budget was a budget issue–not a me issue. But that’s not totally true, either. 

Spending is about prioritizing. Which is why I had to choose between buying more masks for my classroom and buying more sushi for my belly. In that instance, I chose masks. It sounds noble, but our month was sprinkled with drive-thrus at Dunkin’ and McDonald’s. And there’s always next month. 

So when I go back to mend our busted budget, I’m not only going to add some money in some places and maybe include some new categories. I’m also going to make sure that our budget reflects our priorities. 

And maybe that means getting some sushi after all. 

So Tell Me…How’s your budget looking?

6 Comments

  1. Emmy

    Love this post! I haven’t been great about adjusting my budget for the changes the pandemic and inflation brought. Because of that, I’m ending up with a lot of red in my YNAB budget that requires me to move from another category. I just need to start budgeting for those changes.

  2. Buckeyecub

    Medical expenses can quickly add up. While budgets can be adjusted for them sometime they are unexpected necessary budget busters. I used to feel guilty about increased costs to get health back on track. Funds are set aside in HSA account, which I don’t feel guilty about using. However, if additional costs come up the priority is getting care and then adjusting budget. Thank goodness for emergency fund.

  3. My school only recently started supplying masks to classrooms near the end of last semester (after removing every other covid prevention possibility, that was all they could do). I had also been supplying them to my students before then.

    Looking on donorschoose, there are a lot of teachers asking for help buying masks for their kids. This should really be something that the government steps in to do. But while they’re not thank you for helping your kids stay safe. (I’ve been spending a crazy amount of money at DonorsChoose— basically $25 on books or LGBTQ+ stuff every time I see a story about a new book banning.)

  4. veronica

    Welcome back. I’m sorry to hear about your illness and I hope that all the residual symptoms resolve themselves soon. Sending you a virtual hug and positive vibes. Be kind to yourself.

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