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story.lead_photo.caption Dreamstime.com January is a good time to budget for future unknown but required home repairs

As my Scottish mother used to say when the holidays were over: Back tae auld claes and porridge. Translated that's back to old clothes and porridge, or the fun is over and it's time to tighten our belts.

Indeed, in households across America, two words are currently echoing throughout the freshly undecked halls: "Stop spending."

That's the refrain at my house, anyway.

After the gluttonous grab of gifts and goodies, after the stuffing of stockings and the emptying of wallets, come the raised eyebrows: "You spent how much on (fill in the blank -- that party dress, your mother's present, Christmas cards)?"

Then, adding to your sobriety, come the credit card bills. Once again, you vow to clamp down on excess spending, and never again buy anything, to use my husband DC's word of choice, "frivolous." (Frivolity is in the eye of the frivoler.)

This year, DC has found a new approach to curb household spending. It's working like a charm, or more accurately, a hex, a consumption hex.

It's the BFUBRE method. And you can use it, too. Here's how it works. You look around your house for a Big Fat Unknown But Required Expense. At your house, the BFUBRE (pronounced bafuber) might be a new baby, brakes, braces or bail. It could be a roof repair, rogue relatives, a root canal or radiculitis. At our house, the BFUBRE was The Beam.

A few months ago, when DC and I were looking into a minor update of our back covered patio, we noticed that the beam running across the outdoor ceiling had a few stucco cracks. Three contractors looked at it and all said the same thing: "We won't know what's going on, or what it will cost to fix, until we get in there."

Dollar signs rolled up in DC's eyes as if on a slot machine: two in a row, three, four, five? Who knew how much?

Why is it surgeons can know what's going on in your body before they cut, but builders have to tear the structure up first, then deliver the news? The impending unknown cost of The Beam repair hung over our heads -- literally and figuratively.

As a BFUBRE, The Beam worked like this:

"Honey, I'd like to get plantation shutters for the master bedroom."

"Not until we know about The Beam."

"I found this great fabric that would be perfect for kitchen chair cushions."

"After we know about The Beam."

And so on.

So you see, a BFUBRE is to spending what a boot is to a parked car or a house-arrest ankle bracelet is to a prisoner. It puts a clamp on things. And a spending clamp is what most of us need right now.

Not to be a New Year's killjoy, but if you've been on a spender bender and need to recover, here are some tips you can use to get your household budget back on track:

Make a budget. January is a good time to create a household budget if you don't have one, or to review and revise the one you have. DC keeps an exacting household budget. While his fiscal conservativism can be a little frustrating, it's one of the reasons I married him. I appreciate the benefits and security of having a financial check and balance, even if that means sitting on hard kitchen chairs for another year.

Prioritize your spending. List your fixed expenses: house or rent payment, utilities, transportation, food, retirement and savings. Then thoughtfully add discretionary spending, weighing each category for non-essentials you can trim (the daily latte, dog grooming, the Movie Channel). In other words, separate needs from wants.

Pay credit cards and build savings. If you have credit card debt, make eliminating it a New Year's priority along with building an emergency cash fund, so you don't have to use credit cards. Then resolve to never carry a credit card balance at all.

Put structural integrity first. Around the house, fix what is leaking, broken, or dangerous ahead of cosmetic improvements. If a situation is unsafe, or, if left unattended will lead to greater damage, like a leak or mold, fix it first and fast. Although a new beam is not nearly as satisfying as more conspicuous improvements, such as plantation shutters and kitchen chair cushions, ("Oh I love your beam," said no one ever.) it comes first.

Borrow from yourself, and pay yourself back. If you take money from savings to put in new cabinets, pay your savings back before getting that next "want."

Find your BFUBRE. Look for that looming Big Fat Unknown But Required Expense in your life, and let the thought of that keep your credit card in your pocket next time something "frivolous" calls to you.

Practice gratitude. Focus on what you have, not what you want. I count among my blessings a wonderful home, husband, family, job and health. The shutters and cushions will wait. Wishing you a happy and prosperous New Year.

Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of three home and lifestyle books, including Downsizing the Family Home -- What to Save, What to Let Go (Sterling Publishing).

HomeStyle on 01/05/2019

Print Headline: Preparing for big fat unknown but required expense

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