How to Budget for Non-Monthly Expenses

I have a confession to make: I’m not going to save half of my income this month. Or any month until…. October.

OK, I still have hope for July, but that’s a big maybe.

How can I be so sure, months ahead of time, that I’m not going to hit my savings goals for most of the next few months?

The Dread Pirate Non-Monthly Expenses.

Call them planned spending, irregular expenses, whatever you want to call them, at the end of the day they’re big purchases that don’t happen every month. We’re talking everything from a big vacation to an annual insurance payment to Christmas gifts (because egad, the holiday spending struggle is real.)

I know my next few months are going to be super-spendy, because I’ve planned to knock out some major non-monthly expenses over the summer, from my annual hosting costs to a big vacation to out west for fun, meetups with other amazing bloggers and a family wedding. I’ve also got a certain dog’s annual insurance payment coming up in September, which brings us to October before the non-monthly expenses really die down.

Until Christmas, that is.

The nice thing, though, is that I’ve had a plan in place to cover these expenses all year – and there are some simple steps you can take to make sure these big one-time expenses are stress-free for you, too.


Map out your big expenses

I didn’t go high-tech on this part: I literally wrote out the months of the year and put notes about big upcoming expenses beside each month. These are the things you know – roughly – are going to happen, and when.

As you go through the list, think about

  • Annual subscriptions
  • Annual or quarterly payments (insurance, etc.)
  • Vacations
  • Healthcare purchases (glasses, etc.)
  • Seasonal expenses (sports, team memberships, etc.)
  • Holidays (gifts, travel)
  • Dependent’s expenses (sure, I mean my expensive dog, but kids count too I guess)
  • Business expenses

For me, I came up with 10 big expenses, tied to 6 months in the year (there was a bit of overlap making for some spendy months, clearly.) If you want an easy way to map yours out, make sure to grab the worksheet and outline your year of expenses!

Estimate the costs

Once you have that list, you can estimate how much each thing is going to cost you. If you’ve bought this thing before, it’ll be an easy estimate – plan for what you spent last time, and you should be within the right ballpark.

If it’s something you haven’t done before, like a vacation or a new pet’s routine vet bill, you can still make an educated guess! Google how much other people have spent on similar things, and if it’s something that involves multiple expenses (I’m looking at you, vacation) spend a bit of time planning how much you’ll spend on each part of it.

Plan your monthly savings

Now that you have a ballpark number for each of your monthly expenses, you can work on a savings plan to tackle them, without totally destroying your monthly budget. I remember saving up for running gear when I was a new grad, because a $200 pair of running shoes would have absolutely sunk my monthly budget.

We’re all about not sinking budgets here, right? Right.

But first things first: take a look at your planned expenses. Are some of them expenses you could handle within your regular monthly budget, if you just adjusted a few things? Maybe it’s a wedding gift, but the wedding is in town, so your expenses are minimal and you can totally swing it, no extra savings required. Those ones, you have full permission to not worry about.

Let’s talk about the bigger ones though – the ones that would 100% sink your budget and have you on a steady diet of ramen noodles if you had to also feed yourself that month. (Yo, you need to feed yourself, and as delicious as ramen noodles can be, don’t do it!)

For those expenses, you need a plan. Take the estimated cost, and divide it by the number of months between right now and when that expense is going to show up in your spending. That’s your new monthly savings goal, to make sure that expense is 100% covered by the time it happens.

Once you’ve done that for every expense, you’ll have a ballpark idea of how much you need to put away each month between now and those expenses happening.

Pick a way to keep track of your savings for these expenses

I know some people have serious reservations about setting up multiple savings accounts, which I totally get (and will talk more about in another post, trust me.) On the other hand, just leaving these savings in your chequing account is a recipe for spending them on something else. So here are three options you can consider to help make sure you actually save the savings you’re earmarking for non-monthly expenses.

Create a separate savings account for each expense.

Putting aside any reservations about opening a zillion accounts, if you have a few big expenses on your list (like, less than 5) this could be a great strategy. You could name each account, too, to help you remember why you’re saving – it’s way more motivating than an account number, I swear.

I did this for my new-bed fund, since my god mattresses are pricey. I’ve been putting away a set amount every month into it, and when I’m ready to buy a bed, the money will be there waiting for me.

Create an account specifically for non-monthly expenses, and group them together.

If you have way too many expenses for them to each get their own accounts, consider separating your savings for these purposes into a dedicated account. That way they’re safe from any “Oops!” moments of overspending in your chequing account, and don’t get confused with your other goals (like your emergency fund goal!)

Also, if you’re on Team Don’t Want a Lot Of Accounts, you’re only adding one more savings account to your list. One is a totally manageable number, right?

Bump up your contributions to an existing account (that you don’t touch!)

Maybe it’s your emergency fund, or maybe it’s an existing vacation fund that you throw your gift-specific saving into as well, but either way, you bump up your contributions to this account to add in the savings for your planned expenses. 

While this isn’t necessarily my preferred approach, when I stopped to think about it I realized I do this too. I throw my dog’s annual insurance payment savings into his emergency fund account, because it makes sense to me to keep them together! So there you have it. Combining approaches is 100% allowed and might make perfect sense for you.

That’s really all there is to it – map out your non-monthly expenses for the year, build a savings plan to tackle them, and make sure you don’t spend the savings on something else!

I’d love to hear what other strategies you guys use to handle big, irregular expenses! Let me know in the comments, especially if you’ve figured out another amazing system to tackle them.