I have finally given up being stubborn. I have given up my childish antics of trying to avoid acting like an adult with my finances.
I have accepted the fact that I need a budget.
But of course I have known that, and I have tried. But it has never worked. I don’t know if I just was not doing it correctly or trying to stick to a spreadsheet is just too much of a hassle to make work. But either way, I wasn’t budgeting properly.
I know that I can do everything cheaply on pen and paper. Find an old check book register and have at it, but there really should be an easier way. I have tried a lot of software in the past. Mint, Quicken, and Crown Financial’s Money Management software, just to name a few. But all of them either don’t work well for budgeting, or are outdated and no longer supported.
And then I found you need a budget. No, I’m not telling you to do the budget for me. That’s the name of the software, You Need A Budget. Or YNAB, for short. And it has addressed many concerns that I have had about finances. Not just with the software, that is just a tool, but with the 4 basic rules they try to teach you to use with YNAB.
(See the bottom of this post to get $6 off YNAB 4.)
With YNAB you are only budgeting with the money you have on hand, right now. You are telling the money you have on hand what its job is. And then focus on saving. When you so this it is easy to adjust for life that happens (roll with the punches) and finally to live off of last months income.
This last one doesn’t fit in to Dave Ramsey’s baby steps, but once you are on budget and have that emergency savings fund in place you can choose to either build your one month buffer, like YNAB teaches, or work on baby step 2. Either way you are on budget, saving money, and living within your means.
And the community is awesome. The people on the forums are extremely helpful, and have gone through the same thing, so they know the pain. It’s full of people who are just starting trying to get a handle on their finances, who have followed the plan for a few years and are making progress, people who have gotten out of debt completely, and even people who used the program but never really followed the budget and ended up worse off than before (from continually living beyond their means) and are trying to get back on track. (Yeah, that last one sounds like me…) I have learned so much in the forums this week. It has been refreshing.
And YNAB offers free online classes almost daily that teach you about the software and some tricks on handling everyday things.
Here are several excuses I have actually used to justify not having a budget, and in most cases this is how YNAB is helping me with those excuses.
You can’t hide from the debt
I used to resist a budget because I knew I couldn’t live within my means.
I know; it’s an absolutely stupid way to live, and I’m paying a stupid tax for it right now. Quite a hefty stupid tax.
Saying that you can’t have a budget because you “can’t live within your means anyway, so why bother?” is like being that guy in Jurassic Park. You know the guy. He tried to hide from a T-Rex, IN A BATHROOM! How effective is that? If you, like me, continue to refuse a budget for this reason then it is just a matter of time before that giant debt dinosaur chomps you in half while you hide on the toilet.
Don’t do it. It’s not very pretty.
It takes too much time
This is another lie that I told myself. Budgeting, and balancing your checkbook, take too much time.
You know what takes up too much time? Having creditors constantly call you to ask when you can catch up on your payment. Having to call the utility company to make sure they will not turn off your electricity before you can catch back up. Staying awake at night stressing over finances because you only have $1,120 in your account and your $1,115 mortgage payment hasn’t come out yet and you just hope that nothing else clears the bank before your mortgage payment finally goes through. Yeah you will take a few hits on overdraft fees but at least it will keep that notice with the giant “F” word (Foreclosure) out of your mail for another month.
Those all take up too much time.
YNAB is a desktop software that comes with a free companion app for the iPhone/Android. The app lets you enter a transaction in just a few seconds. When I get to the car I pull out the receipt and enter it into my phone right there. I tell it what category the money comes from (groceries, for example). Done. It syncs with Dropbox so instantly YNAB on my desktop and on my wife’s phone have all of the new information.
And then once a day while eating breakfast or once a week I check the bank account to make sure everything matches up and to clear any transactions. Done. In just a few minutes.
I will not have any fun money
One reason I have used to avoid a budget in the past is because I viewed it as a strict drill instructor in boot camp. Someone yelling “why are you eating that Twinkie, fat boy? Drop and give me 20!”
I have debt. If I follow a budget then I will be doing nothing but paying on debt for the next 3 years, and with no fun money. I know I will never survive living such a strict life, so why bother?
This is another lie.
A budget is nothing more than you deciding where your money should go, and following it. I spent $16 on LootCrate this week. Could that money have gone somewhere better? Likely, but it was my fun money to blow. I gave myself a set budget for fun money, and as long as I stick to it I can purchase whatever I want. Guilt free.
Because I have a budget I know that I will have plenty of food money left, gas money, all of my bills will be paid, so it’s mine to spend. If you truly can’t live within your means, then you can still have a little fun money but your main focus needs to be on lowering your expenses and increasing your income. A budget will help you realize how much you are paying to everyone and will help you prioritize what needs to go. And while it is no fun, it is the responsible thing to do and the sting is lessened when you can see with real numbers how much this will effect your budget.
Using the cash envelope system is complicated
I’m a big fan of Dave Ramsey. I think he teaches a solid plan, one that works, and one that acknowledges that the only real peace comes from Jesus Christ, not your money. So awesome.
But trying to stick to just cash is time comsuming and complicated. I see the advantages to it, I really do. But when I go to the grocery store and have to leave my cart at the register because I left my food envelope at home and I only have $15 on me and no money in the bank because I pulled it out in cash, it’s a pain. Or when you really need gas at 10:30 at night and the only gas stations nearby accept cards only at night.
Getting to the bank to take out exactly how much cash I need was also hard to work into my schedule.
This is actually the feature I like the most about YNAB. It is a virtual envelope system. Instead of pulling out cash I have a virtual food envelope that has my balance in it. As long as I keep all transactions up to date it will be accurate. So you get most of the benefits of using the cash envelope system, without the hassle.
A budget is just a fancy way of telling your money what its job is, and being knowledgable about your current situation so you can make informed decisions.
I did have to change my mindset a bit when I started using YNAB and talking win the people on the forums.
Planning what you have, not what you will get
The biggest mindset shift was to not plan ahead. Typically with a budget I enter all of my expenses each month, copy and paste to future months, and tweak where needed. In theory, this should work just fine. But my years of trying this have proven barely useful.
The best way to use YNAB is to only budget what you have available to spend right now. Only have $10 in the bank? Then that’s all you budget. That way you know when you look at the budget that you have precisely $10 to spend on food (the category you put the money in). The fact that you get paid $1,500 the next day is irrelevant. If you were using the cash envelope system could you put the money in the envelopes the day before you got the money. Of course not. How could you?
When you do get that $1500 check in the bank you then assign that money a job. This way you know what you have on hand that is available to spend right this minute.
I cannot describe the difference following this budget has made in just one payday. The stress level is almost gone. I know this payday will work out. I pray daily that God will lead me to make smart financial decisions and I just follow the budget.
The guys at work are going out to lunch. I can now look at my categories and decide if I should join them. I know what’s going on with my financial resources. Do I have enough restaurant money left? If not I either don’t go or decide to take the money from elsewhere. An informed and responsible decision.
I don’t have to feel bad about getting there and having my card declined and then either having to cancel the order, or asking a coworker to pay for it. I don’t have to get myself further in debt by using a credit card, if I even have any money available on it. No embarrassment, just peace and decision making based in the facts.
Phase one, habit forming
One last thing. I know that while in debt I should crack down on absolutely all spending and just pay the debt off. Beans and rice, and rice and beans, right? But I decided not to do that, yet.
Right now my goal is to just learn how to stay on budget. Learn where all of my money is going each month and reign it in under my direction. We will save where we can and start that emergency savings fund, but for now we just need to get the train moving before we worry about picking up speed.
Wish me luck. Pray for me. And check out YNAB! It’s free for 34 days. 🙂
And if you use my referral link, http://ynab.refr.cc/X2NW8HR you can save $6!
Have you used YNAB? What do you think about it?