Thirty-Four Days with YNAB

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One of my two New Years resolutions for 2019 was to do a better job managing my personal finances. I've been a religious Quicken user for about sixteen years, but I was starting to realize that it was doing a great job at telling me what I'd spent my money on, and ensuring that I never spent more than I had, but I really wanted to start thinking more than a month ahead.

I started by turning to the Software God that is Microsoft Excel. I drafted a few sheets that basically outlined things I wanted to save for (e.g. a vacation next year), and then looked at how much I should put aside each paycheck to be able to pay in cash. I added in all of my normal monthly expenses, and proceeded to pat myself on the back for a job well done. When I started to enter mock transactions, however, I realized it was actually a pretty kluge solution that I probably wouldn't stick with long term.

Enter "You Need a Budget"

... or YNAB for short. After doing a little digging, first for Excel templates and then for software, I found YNAB. It's tough to miss when searching for any personal finance software, the following online is almost cult-like.

What I liked most about the software, and what made me start the free trial, was the push to budget for things that are off in the future and not just what's coming up this week. In fact, when I started to put in some of my long term needs, I realized how many things I do pay for at odd schedules and that I don't keep track of. For instance, an Xbox Live subscription, my AAA Membership, and dues to a local club.

I think what I've found the most useful is the way it's made me really look at the money going out compared to where I'd like it to go. It's easy to overlook the little $2.50/mo subscriptions on their own, but when you see them add up to something you could put in your vacation fund, it makes you rethink your priorities.

My biggest change for January with YNAB has being more aware when purchasing gas. I never paid much attention to the cost of gas, I would just stop when I ran low, or when a storm was coming, and buy from wherever I was. When you really start looking at prices around me, I was finding places vary by $0.60/gallon! I setup Gas Buddy on my phone, and signed up for both the Exxon Mobile Rewards and the Cumberland Farms Smart Pay app, which each offer some decent gas discounts.

In February, I'm planning to tackle home heating oil. After comparing what I'm paying through my current auto-delivery service to what I could pay cash on demand, I think there's some money to be saved there.

What I'm missing with YNAB

As a long time Quicken user, there are two really big features I miss terribly. The first is the calendar. With the calendar drilled down on just my checking account, I could plan out in advance on upcoming bills, and make sure that I had money ready when it came due.

The second is the register. YNAB is just one column short from what would be ideal for me, and that is a running total. I'm really trusting that I have the money I'll need through the budget features alone, and seeing a running total down the right hand side of the ledger would add some additional peace of mind.

Resources I've found helpful

As with all new things, I've done a lot of reading, and I'd like to share a short list of some great resources if you're interested in starting with YNAB.

  • YNAB for Beginners Video. This isn't actually a YNAB sponsored video, it was created by Nick True of MappedOutMoney. At 35 minutes long it's not your typical quick help YouTube video, but this guy really knows his budgeting!
  • The Support Forum. I'm not kidding when I said it's a cult-like following. There is a lot of knowledge in the forum, and there probably isn't a scenario they haven't already come across and solved for.
  • A support response on how to make sure that your accounts are balanced properly. While I'd rather this be built right into the UI, in just a few steps you can verify that you have enough to cover what you've budgeted for.

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