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Showing Your Money Who’s Boss: The YNAB (You Need A Budget) Method

Do you REALLY need a budget?

Well, if you’re wanting to make some significant changes to your money story, then you’ll have to have SOME form of budgeting. I’m sorry to say that your numbers aren’t going to magically fix themselves so that you’re rolling in the dough. That’s the #truth.

It’s becoming harder to feel like we have a lot of control over our money. Part of the reason is because we’re using less and less of it in cash form. It mostly exists in a digital form, being electronically wired from our employer to our bank accounts, then spent just as quickly using credit cards or debited directly from your checking account. No wonder so many people are struggling with how to keep track of their money.

The app YNAB (You Need A Budget) was designed to not only help people keep track of their money, but it also helps people take control over how they spend their money. Money management is a skill that is rarely taught, but it is oh so valuable. This is why this app has been transformative for so many of its users. 

The You Need a Budget book serves as a guide for how to be your own money boss. Here are the key takeaways from the book:

CHANGING YOUR BUDGETING MINDSET

When you think about it, budgeting is really code for understanding your cash flow. Too often, people view a budget as static and unchanging, which is why their carefully made budgets and gorgeous spreadsheets are promptly thrown out the window when they have a “bad month” or they can’t seem to stick to the budget.

The idea of cash flow is a much more accurate picture of what’s going on with your money. You have money coming in (income) and money going out (expenses). Realize that your income and expenses are constantly changing (not static!), and it’s your job to figure out how to avoid a negative cash flow (aka going into debt). 

This involves that you’re actually paying attention to your money. Once you see the numbers, you can start to see ways in which to prioritize your money and use it in the most intentional way possible. Otherwise, if you’re spending in the moment with no planning or accountability in place, it’s very easy to fall into a cycle of spending too much on things that you don’t really care about.

It boils down to living the life that you want, and using your money as a tool to get there. The more you know about your money, the more intentionally you can manage it and live the life that you want NOW and for the future.

In order to drive these points home, YNAB has its 4 Simple Rules for Successful Budgeting.

Rule 1: GIVE EVERY DOLLAR A JOB

This is the “golden rule” of YNAB. Another way to phrase this is:

What do I want my money to do for me? 

Jesse Mecham, “You Need A Budget”

Simple, yet powerful when you really think about it. By giving every dollar a job, you are introducing the idea of giving your money a “to-do list.” Rather than being reactive, you will be proactive by telling your money exactly where it needs to go and what it needs to do for you.

Once you start giving every dollar a job, it becomes very clear that you will need to start prioritizing your money. Of course, you need to cover your regular bills and your financial obligations. But even with these obligations, you can still do a deep dive and evaluate where you can make some changes. 

Take the food category. Food is obviously needed for survival, but there are a myriad of ways that you can cut back on your food expenses. Using coupons, buying in bulk, switching to less expensive grocery stores, eating out less, changing your diet to include less meat and more veggies….the list goes on. 

From your housing to your utility bills to your monthly subscription fees, there are bound to be ways that you can spend less. In many cases, you won’t even notice any difference in your day-to-day life and happiness level.

The other three rules are variations of the golden rule. But they are worth describing in more detail, so make sure you read on!

RULE 2: EMBRACE YOUR TRUE EXPENSES

We’re pretty good about knowing our regular, monthly expenses. But we’re not so great at figuring out our predictable expenses (non-monthly expenses, such as insurance premiums, property tax, tuition bills, holiday shopping, etc), or unpredictable but inevitable expenses (like car repairs, medical and veterinary bills, donations, etc).

When you think long and act now, you’re not just looking at your immediate bills- you’re seeing the bigger picture and you’re hyperaware of all your expenses. Your spending doesn’t surprise you anymore when you have this kind of clarity.

Jesse Mecham, “You Need A Budget”

Back when I first started tracking our household expenses, I had itemized every single monthly expense that went out. I added up the total, subtracted this from our monthly income, and wondered where the heck the rest of the money went. As it turns out, there were a lot more expenses outside of monthly fixed expenses than I had anticipated!

Understanding and embracing all of your expenses means that you’re facing your money reality. It may be painful to come to terms with facing the numbers, but trust me- this is better than actively avoiding reality and pretending that everything will magically work itself out in the end. Because it won’t.

What ends up happening is that if you don’t like what you’re seeing, you’ll find ways to tweak your spending so that it is actually reflecting your priorities and values. Taking a look at your true expenses means that YOU have much more control over your money than you realized.

RULE 3: ROLL WITH THE PUNCHES

A great feature about YNAB is that you’re budgeting in real time, as the app has the ability to link to your online accounts. Why is this important?

When you think about it, your day to day life consists of making constant adjustments. As much as planning in advance sounds nice, there will inevitably be an event (or two!) that throws you off schedule. You have no choice but to accept these changes and adjust accordingly.

The same thing goes for your cash flow. Life is messy and ever-changing, and your cash flow will reflect this fact. You will inevitably spend more in one category than you had anticipated. Just like the need to pivot and readjust to life on a daily basis, you have to understand the need to do this with your money as well. If you have overspent in one category, YNAB gives you the chance to move funds from one category to another. This way, overspending is kept in check and you have a nicely balanced budget. This is also the basis of what’s called zero-based budgeting, where your income and expenses should always equal out to zero each month.

This does NOT mean that you throw any planning out the window. You need to have plans and goals in mind, but remember to stay flexible in order to account for this thing we call life. 

Because your budget is a plan that reflects your life, and like life, plans (and budgets) change.

Jesse Mecham, “You Need A Budget”

By rolling with the punches, you’re mentally preparing yourself for the ups and downs. You are giving yourself space to be flexible, be honest, and make changes when necessary. 

RULE 4: AGE YOUR MONEY

The idea of “aging your money” essentially means that you’re building enough of a cushion to get you out of the paycheck to paycheck cycle. Instead of relying on that next paycheck to pay your bills and feeling that ever-present stress of wondering whether you’ll have enough money to get you through the month,  you are actively “aging your money” and building that gap between what you’re earning and what you’re spending.

When you’re spending money as soon as it comes in, you’re mostly just putting out the fires in front of you. The goal is to slow down the cycle of money in and money out to give yourself breathing room between when you earn your money and when you need to use it.

Jesse Mecham, “You Need A Budget”

The bigger this gap, the less worry you have about whether you can cover future expenses. YNAB suggests shooting for a 1 month cushion so that you’re paying this month’s bill with last month’s income.

Living paycheck to paycheck or going into debt does not allow you to age your money at all. Your money is being used up as quickly as it’s coming in. It doesn’t matter if you’re making $20k or $2 million….the math does not work if you’re spending everything that you’re making. Age that money to give yourself some space and peace of mind.

PAST THE RULES

The rest of the book focuses on topics such as budgeting as a couple, how to deal with debt, and teaching your kids about money (the author, Jesse Mecham, has 6 kids!). 

Being married and/or having children adds layers of complexity to your finances.  Regardless of your life stage, getting in tune with your money NOW is so very important. Sweeping any money issues under the rug and thinking that it will all “work itself out” once you meet that special someone or start having kids is wishful thinking, to say the least!

CONCLUSION

So does everyone need YNAB?

If you’re the type of person that has tried other budgeting methods that have failed, then please give this one a shot and see what you think! As Jesse Mecham states at the beginning of the book, this is less about the actual money and more about your money mindset. Once you shift your mindset to a place where you feel empowered and in control of your money situation, you are MUCH more likely to follow through with your intended actions. 

YNAB is simply a platform where you are building awareness around your spending AND you’re making decisions about your money in real time. For those that have taken the time to learn the system and implement it, there have been many positive reviews about how it has completely changed how they manage their money, and ultimately, how they live their lives.

There is also a bit of a learning curve since it requires that you get pretty hands-on with your money, more so that what you’re probably used to. This is why many YNAB fans recommend that you give yourself at least a few months to get the hang of it. As with any new skill, once you get the basics, it gets easier over time.

(And in case anyone is curious- I did try YNAB for a month. It does require some upfront effort in terms of setting it up and getting used to the platform. The only reason I didn’t stick with it is because I already have my own tracking/spending system that has worked out well for me over the years. I can definitely see how powerful YNAB could be for a novice budgeter, or someone who is looking for a system that WORKS!)

YNAB offers a free trial, so nothing to lose here by giving it a try. An app that actually gets you EXCITED about money management? YES PLEASE!

Life gets messy and complicated, and so does our money. If you’re needing help with keeping on top of your money, this may be the app for you!

Have you used YNAB? For how long? What have you learned throughout the process? Would you recommend it to your friends? Comment below!

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