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5 Budget Categories You Need Right Now

This month was a weird one for the ol’ budget. Well, I guess last month was weird too. You know, I can’t actually remember the last time we had a normal month.

The truth is that months don’t feel normal because they’re not all the same!

In December, we’re not paying for high electric bills because we’re not running the air conditioning, but we are paying for a lot of gifts, because it’s Christmas. The problem is when these one-offs pummel our budget, because we didn’t see them coming.

Here are five common (yet painful) costs that tend to hit as unexpected expenses. I’ve included matching categories to add in your YNAB budget that will help you see them coming from a mile away. These categories will help even out your monthly budget in the quest for normalcy.

Note: you’ll see I’ve budgeted a dollar amount for each of these, but yours may look completely different (higher or lower).

Pain point: The brakes on your car need to be replaced.

Solution: Well, gotta get those fixed. Have you ever driven a car without brakes? Roll with the punches this time, and then set up a category for auto maintenance.

Category needed: Car maintenance & repair. If the average yearly cost of car maintenance is roughly $817, you can plan on squirreling away $75 or so a month.

Budget categories you need right now: Car maintenance/repair fund

If you have a lease, you might not need to budget for maintenance but you’ll be spending more on lease costs.

Pain point: Thanksgiving dinner always catches your budget by surprise.

Solution: Sure, you might be saving specifically for Christmas (way to go!), but what about those other holidays? Add a category that encompasses the rest of the celebrations that happen the other 11 months of the year. By tucking money away every month for these guaranteed expenses, you’ll be able to buy those favorite buttery rolls from the bakery without feeling an ounce of guilt.

Category needed: Other holidays. $40 each month will give you $75-$100 extra dollars for food-centric celebrations like Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Fourth of July, and Thanksgiving.

"Other holidays" is a helpful budget category. Thanksgiving adds up too!

Pain point: You forget about a bill every year.

Solution: I’ve been budgeting for years and there is still a bill I forget about every year. For me, it’s AAA. It’s snuck up on me more than once. Some people might see this as a “Stuff I Forgot” category, or a “Cushion.” However intentional you want to be, I recommend you add one of these stress savers to your budget.

Category needed: Cushion. Or “Bill I Will Forget” or “Stuff I Forgot About.” As you get better at budgeting this number might get closer to zero, but I like this nice cushion in the meantime.

A budget category screenshot titled "Cushion" with $150 in it

Pain point: Medical bills hit at the worst times.

Solution: Medical bills tend to happen when you least want them to. If you can’t swing the bill right now, most hospitals will offer payment plans to make big bills more digestible. In the future: plan on these coming up and budget for them. Some workplaces offer Health Savings Account plans that will save money straight from your paycheck. Whatever savings route you choose, the important thing is to acknowledge these expenses will happen and budget for them.

Category needed: Health. Your budgeted amount could swing wildly in either direction! This is by no means a recommended amount, you’ll know what makes sense for you.

A budget category for medical expenses, titled Health with $100 in it

Pain point: You love hosting but your budget wasn’t ready.

Solution: When people visit us, we want to feed them (most of the time). This is a different purpose than our other grocery dollars. As we embrace our true expenses for other things, we can do it for food as well.

Category needed: Hosting. Depending on your appetite for hospitality, your number may swing wildly on this one too. Don’t be afraid to keep this one on the higher side and give yourself full permission to order takeout when you don’t feel like cooking for a group.

A budget screenshot of a category titled Hosting with $50 in it

The budget is a way to trick yourself into feeling like every month is the same instead of the regular roller coaster ride of expenses that we’re used to. By treating larger or less-frequent expenses as monthly, you allow yourself to even out the flow of your money.

Add these categories to your budget and watch your stress go plummeting down. You just leveled up your budget!

P.S. Crushin’ on our emoji-filled budget categories? We’ve got you covered.

Want to start spending and saving in a way that will change your relationship with money…and your life? Try YNAB for free for 34 days—no commitment or credit card required.

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5 Budget Categories You Need Right Now