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Why Most Budgets Fail but YNAB Succeeds

Why Most Budgets Fail but YNAB Succeeds

You have no money

    Chances are at least one of your New Year’s resolutions had to do with money. So how are you doing on your budget?

    I can’t count the number the times I’ve created budgets only to throw in the towel and decide that they just don’t work. Usually my frustration is due to any of the following:

    1. The amount assigned to a category just isn’t realistic. After figuring the numbers and seeing I had a little distribution problem, I determined I could eliminate entire categories or set them unrealistically low. I let my excitement and determination to save money and get out of debt cloud reality. Amidst visions of picking up second-hand clothing at Goodwill and planning to cook all meals from scratch using basic pantry staples and spending $100 a month on groceries, I just knew I could make this strict budget work! A month later I was discouraged and feeling like a budgeting failure.
    2. Projected income for the upcoming month never manages to be close to actual income. If you’re salaried, this becomes easier. If, however, you’re an hourly employee or an entrepreneur, it’s much more difficult to predict what you’ll make next month. Without fail, a project will fall through, you’ll have to take days off work, or whatever. I’m sure Murphy has a law about this. Just know it will happen.
    3. Projected expenses are never accurate. If you do manage to come near budgeted amounts in many of your categories, there will be some unexpected expense that hits you and throws the whole budget off. Your car needed a new radiator. Your child had to be taken to the urgent care center.

    Once any of these things happen, it can lead to questioning your entire budgeting philosophy. If you suddenly need to pay toward your insurance deductible this month, do you then take that money from another category? Eventually budgeting can seem like a science that is only for those who have some special know-how, a surplus of income, or are likely living in straw bale houses and making cheese from their goats. All-or-nothing syndrome sets in, and you determine you’re just a free spirit, incapable of being fettered by the tedious nature of budgeting. It occurs to you that since you have some debt already, what’s a little more debt going to matter?

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    How I stumbled on the software You Need a Budget (YNAB), I cannot recall. I imagine it was likely in my search to find answers to these basic questions above. Spreadsheets, budgets on paper, Quicken, Microsoft Money–all of these just weren’t addressing my budgeting issues. After perusing the web site, I decided had nothing to lose by downloading a trial copy. After only a few days, I was so impressed that I purchased the software.

    While you’ll find that YNAB has the same features of charts, graphs, downloading statements directly into the software, etc., that software like Microsoft Money does, you’ll immediately note that YNAB has one major difference: It actually gives you a plan with education and support to help ensure your success.

    The YNAB Plan

    1. Stop living paycheck to paycheck. That’s what all budgeting advice says, but YNAB takes a different approach that I think is the key to making a budget work. With YNAB your expenditures in the current month are based on your last month’s income. So there’s no guesswork about what you think you’ll make or spend next month. You’re working with what you have.
    2. Give every dollar a job. Since you’re working with last month’s income, you will be portioning that money to categories. Every single dollar will be planned for a particular category (or job).
    3. Prepare for rain. It only makes sense to set aside money so those unexpected expenses don’t crash your budget.
    4. Roll with the punches. I like this one. It promises you will fail! Failing is part of the program. Microsoft isn’t going to tell you that. How many times do we quit because of an all-or-nothing tendency? YNAB makes small adjustments if you overspend in a category. And since failing occasionally is part of the program, you can pick yourself back up and resume your budgeting, knowing you’re still on track.

    The company further supports you by offering a free PDF book (upon purchase of the software) and free videos and information on topics of budgeting.

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    One of the keys to the YNAB philosophy is that you must get a month ahead on your income in order to have last month’s income at your disposal for this month’s expenses. This is the hardest part, but if you look at it as a challenge and take joy in watching your savings grow, it becomes easier. Accumulating a month’s savings is expected to take several months.

    A Chat with Jesse Mecham, CEO and founder of You Need a Budget

    I have my own ideas on why budgets fail, but I was curious to see how Jesse Mecham, CEO and founder of YNAB, would answer some questions related to YNAB and the challenges of budgeting in general:

    Q: Jesse, what gave you the idea to create YNAB with a budget based on last month’s income? I am unaware of any other software that does this.
    I was using spreadsheets before marriage, and then after becoming married, I had this idea. I knew I wanted to assign money to categories, but I wondered how I could possibly know how much to assign without overdrafting or getting ahead of myself. When asking someone to create a budget they often don’t even know what they’re spending in the first place. If you go over budget, just keep moving.

    Q: So what would you say is the reason that most budgets fail?
    The biggest reason is people don’t see a reward that matches their work and their input. So there’s a lot of work and thought up front, and for most people the budgeting process is fairly unnatural. What happens is people don’t see the results they’d expect from the work they put in. It’d be like eating really well for three months and not seeing a change.

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    Q: How, in this economy, can people get a month ahead in income? Is that advice still feasible? This seems like the hardest step.
    It’s definitely is the hardest part, and with the hardest part comes the most rewarding part as well. Consider sales of belongings. The goal is not so much having a month saved. What you’re really trying to do is just last an entire month without touching that month’s paychecks. Look to your current employer first; do some overtime. Most of the time it’s people ridding themselves of clutter that makes the fastest progress.

    Q: I was using your software before being surprised with a diagnosis of cancer in my 30s in 2007 (I’m cancer-free now, thanks). For individuals and families facing major financial crises, what advice would you give them for making budgeting work when there simply isn’t enough money available for expenses? Can YNAB still somehow work for them?
    That is tough. First, make sure every dollar has a job. There are parts of the budget that can be done even if you’re in the red for long periods of time. No matter what you do, still record everything you spend. Maintain some awareness as much as possible. When people get in emergency mode, they lose control and awareness. The best way to fight back is to simply record what you’re spending. It’ll rein you in much quicker than not doing it at all.

    Q: Your web site states that YNAB makes small adjustments to your overspending. How does it do this?
    YNAB is like a virtual envelope system. The software wants you to maintain your savings but still have money for Christmas or your vacation you just borrowed for, so when you bring in money for the next month, you take that wad of money and drop that back into other envelopes that need replenishing. Every overage is automatically deducted from next month’s income.

    Q: I do see you have a 60-day money back guarantee. Do you also have a free trial?
    There are both. The trial is not advertised. People were getting the software and not understanding the why behind it. Weekly webinars are available with a live teacher to see. However, if readers want the free trial, they can go to http://www.youneedabudget.com/test-drive .

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    Q: It doesn’t appear that YNAB automatically downloads transactions from financial institutions on a regular basis. Is this feature coming?
    Technically it’s not very difficult, but it is very expensive. That expense would either have to be passed on to the customer or we would have to find another revenue source to support it. Banks and credit cards want to keep us separate from what we’re actually spending, which is contrary to YNAB philosophy because it reduces awareness. The feature is planned, but we also want the customer to look at the methodology. As far as time lines, the new Mac/PC version is first priority. After that, we would look at implementing automatic downloads of transactions.

    Q: I see that you have the guide in the form of a PDF file. I really like the idea of a paper book. How long before this is available?
    I’m currently trying to see where the book is fitting the overall system. We are considering a paper book.

    Q: Are there any new features in the works that you’d like to share?
    Our next software version will be using Adobe Flex AIR technology. The methodology will be the same, but the design will be different. The interface will be easier to use. Reporting will be much more dynamic and flexible. We hope to have that in beta in May/June.

    Q: Is there anything else that we haven’t covered that you would like to add?
    If people don’t want to worry about the 60-day money-back guarantee or purchasing the software yet, I’d recommend they just sign up for the free budgeting course at http://www.youneedabudget.com/course. It’s not a sales pitch. In 10 days people walk through the methodology and get down to the nitty-gritty of budgeting, money in relationships, why cash flow is sometimes so stressful, how it can be made easier, talk about rule number four, and discuss why people don’t talk about budgeting.

    The Downsides?

    I haven’t found many, but they are:

    • No integration with a handheld device. If you like to enter purchases on the fly on your smartphone, it can’t currently be done with YNAB. According to Jesse Mecham, YNAB wants to store the data online so people can get to their transactions and category balances through possibly an SMS approach, mobile web interface, and/or an iPhone application perhaps the middle of this year or later.
    • Since the company has never taken any funding or loans, some major features like integration with a handheld device tend to take a bit longer to roll out.
    • YNAB Pro is not Mac-compatible (the basic version is). However, a new Mac and PC version is expected to be available in the summer of 2009.

    The Bottom Line

    YNAB’s philosophy and software features combat many of the reasons bugets fail. It’s inexpensive, bug-free, and worth checking out. YNAB ($24.95) and YNAB Pro ($49.95) can both be downloaded from http://www.youneedabudget.com. The software comes with a 60-day money-back guarantee. If you want to try it out first, a trial version is available at http://www.youneedabudget.com/test-drive. Both YNAB and YNAB Pro include a free copy of the PDF ebook “The YNAB Way.” The Pro version comes with bonus features, such as a car maintenance schedule, income tax forecaster, and more. The developers are very responsive to customer feedback and will support you with visual and written materials that help you understand the psychology of successful budgeting.

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    Published on November 20, 2018

    The Best Ways to Save Money Even Impulsive Spenders Can Get Behind

    The Best Ways to Save Money Even Impulsive Spenders Can Get Behind

    The truth is, there are many “money saving guides” online, but most don’t cover the root issue for not saving.

    Once I’d discovered a few key factors that allowed me to save 10k in one year, I realized why most articles couldn’t help me. The problem is that even with the right strategies you can still fail to save money. You need to have the right systems in place and the right mindset.

    In this guide, I’ll cover the best ways to save money — practical yet powerful steps you can take to start saving more. It won’t be easy but with hard work, I’m confident you’ll be able to save more money–even if you’re an impulsive spender.

    Why Your Past Prevents You from Saving Money

    Are you constantly thinking about your financial mistakes?

    If so, these thoughts are holding you back from saving.

    I get it, you wish you could go back in time to avoid your financial downfalls. But dwelling over your past will only rob you from your future. Instead, reflect on your mistakes and ask yourself what lessons you can learn from them.

    It wasn’t easy for me to accept that I had accumulated thousands of dollars in credit card debt. Once I did, I started heading in the right direction. Embrace your past failures and use them as an opportunity to set new financial goals.

    For example, after accepting that you’re thousands of dollars in debt create a plan to be debt free in a year or two. This way when you’ll be at peace even when you get negative thoughts about your finances. Now you can focus more time on saving and less on your past financial mistakes.

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    How to Effortlessly Track Your Spending

    Stop manually tracking your spending.

    Leverage powerful analytic tools such as Personal Capital and these money management apps to do the work for you. This tool has worked for me and has kept me motivated to why I’m saving in the first place. Once you login to your Personal Capital dashboard, you’re able to view your net worth.

    When I’d first signed up with Personal Capital, I had a negative net worth, but this motivated me to save more. With this tool, you can also view your spending patterns, expenses, and how much money you’re saving.

    Use your net worth as your north star to saving more. Whenever you experience financial setbacks, view how far you’ve come along. Saving money is only half the battle, being consistent is the other half.

    The Truth on Why You Keep Failing

    Saving money isn’t sexy. If it was, wouldn’t everyone be doing it?

    Some people are natural savers, but most are impulsive spenders. Instead of denying that you’re an impulsive spender, embrace it.

    Don’t try to save 60 to 70% of your income if this means you’ll live a miserable life. Saving money isn’t a race but a marathon. You’re saving for retirement and for large purchases.

    If you’re currently having a hard time saving, start spending more money on nice things. This may sound counterintuitive but hear me out. Wouldn’t it be better to save $200 each month for 12 months instead of $500 for 3 months?

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    Most people run into trouble because they create budgets that set them up for failure. This system won’t work for those who are frugal, but chances are they don’t need help saving. This system is for those who can’t save money and need to be rewarded for their hard work.

    Only because you’re buying nice things doesn’t mean that you’ll save less. Here are some rules you should have in place:

    1. Save more than 50% of your available money (after expenses)
    2. Only buy nice things after saving
    3. Automate your savings with automatic bank transfers

    These are the same rules that helped me save thousands each year while buying the latest iPhone. Focus only on items that are important to you. Remember, you can afford anything but not everything.

    How to Foolproof Yourself out of Debt

    Personal finance is a game. On one end, you’re earning money; and on the to other, you’re saving. But what ends up counting in the end isn’t how much you earn but how much you save. Research shows that about 60% of Americans spend more than they save.[1]

    So how can you separate yourself from the 60%?

    By not accumulating more debt. This way you’ll have more money to save and avoid having more financial obligations. A great way to stop accumulating debt is using cash to pay for all your transactions.

    This will be challenging, depending on how reliant you are with your credit card, but it’s worth the effort. Not only will you stop accruing debt, but you’ll also be more conscious with what you buy.

    For example, you’ll think twice about purchasing a new $200 headphone despite having the cash to buy them. According to a poll conducted by The CreditCards.com, 5 out of 6 Americans are impulsive spenders.[2]

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    Telling yourself that you’ll have the discipline to not buy things won’t cut it. This is equal to having junk food in your fridge while trying to eat healthy–it’s only a matter of time before you slip. By using cash to make your purchases, you’ll spend less and save more.

    A Proven Formula to Skyrocket Your Savings

    Having proven systems in place to help you save more is important, but they’re not the best way to save money.

    You can search for dozens of ways to save money, but there’ll always be a limit. Instead of spending the majority of your effort saving, look for ways to increase your income. The truth is that once you have the right systems in place, saving is easy.

    What’s challenging is earning more money. There are many routes you can take to achieve this. For example, you can work long and hard at your current job to earn a raise. But there’s one problem–you’re depending on someone else to give you a raise.

    Your company will have to have the budget, and you’ll have to know how to toot your own horn to get this raise. This isn’t to say that earning a raise is impossible, but things are better when you’re in control right? That’s why building a side-hustle is the best way to increase your income.

    Think of your side-hustle as a part-time job doing something you enjoy. You can sell items on eBay for a profit, or design websites for small businesses. Building a side-hustle will be on the hardest things you’ll do, be too stubborn to quit.

    During the early stages, you won’t be making money and that’s okay. Since you already have a source of income, you won’t be dependent on your side-hustle to pay for your expenses. Depending on how much time you invest in your side-hustle, it can one day replace your current income.

    Whatever route you take, focus more on earning and save as much as possible. You have more control than you give yourself credit for.

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    Transform Yourself into a Saving Money Machine

    Saving money isn’t complicated but it’s one of the hardest things you’ll do.

    By learning from your mistakes and rewarding yourself after saving you’ll save more. What would you do with an extra $200 or $500 each month? To some, this is life-changing money that can improve the quality of their lives.

    The truth is saving money is an art. Save too much and you’ll quit, but save too little and you’ll pay for the consequences in the future. Saving money takes effort and having the right systems in place.

    Imagine if you’d started saving an extra $100 this next month? Or, saved $20K in one year? Although it’s hard to imagine, this can be your reality if you follow the principles covered in this guide.

    Take a moment to brainstorm which goals you’d be able to reach if you had extra money each month. Use these goals as motivation to help you stay on track on your journey to saving more. If I was able to save thousands of dollars with little guidance, imagine what you’ll be able to do.

    What are you waiting for? Go and start saving money, the sky is your limit.

    Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

    Reference

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