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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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    Last Updated on July 10, 2020

    The Definitive Guide to Get out of Debt Fast (and Forever)

    The Definitive Guide to Get out of Debt Fast (and Forever)

    Debt can feel crushing, like a weight that is always weighing you down. Looking at those numbers, it can feel as if you’ll never get out from under it. However, if you really want to learn how to get out of debt, it is possible with a great deal of focus and self-control.

    Getting out of debt isn’t impossible. Like any big goal, all that it takes is an action plan to identify where you are and creating a plan to zero out your debt.

    Identifying All of Your Debts

    The first part of paying off your debt is getting a complete picture of what you owe. When you have everything written out in front of you, it makes it much easier to create an action plan. Depending on how much you owe, it might also help you realize it’s not as bad you might have originally thought.

    Here’s how you can get started identifying your debts:

    1. Own Your Debt

    Before you start identifying all of your debts, take a moment to process that you have debt but want to get out of it.

    Forgive yourself for any past mistakes, missed payments, or overspending. It might be painful to accept how much debt you have at first, but you must own it.

    2. Make a Debt Tracker

    It’s astonishing how few people ever created a tracker to understand their total debts. Most likely, it comes from not wanting to accept the guilt of having debt, but, if avoided, it can make it nearly impossible to get out of debt.

    Open up a new Google or Microsoft Excel sheet and list out all of your debts. Start with the name of the creditor, interest rates, total balance, loan term length (if any), and the minimum amount due each payment. This will include student loans, credit cards, and any other type of debt owed.

    3. Get Your Debt Number

    Once you’ve made your debt tracker and taken the other steps, identify your total payoff number. This is crucial, as you will have a starting point and a clear goal that you are trying to achieve.

    Prioritizing Your Debts

    All debt is not created equal. It’s imperative to understand that there are different types of debt.

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    1. Understand Bad and Good Debts

    Bad debts are usually paying for things you want instead of always need. While there might be some emergencies that max out your credit cards, often times it’s excessive spending[1].

    There are three main types of bad debt:

    • Credit Card Debt: The average American household owes over $16,000 in credit card debt!
    • Auto Loan Debt: According to CNBC , the average auto loan in the US is $30,032!
    • Consumer Loan Debt: Consumer loan debt isn’t as common as credit card and auto loan debt, but it’s still considered bad as interest rates are usually between 10-28%.

    Good debt is identified as investments in your future. Here are three common types of good debt:

    • Student Loan Debt
    • Mortgage Loan
    • Business Loans

    2. Decide Which Debt to Pay off First

    Once you know each type of debt and their interest rates, you can begin to pay off debt quickly.

    Focus on paying off bad debt first, regardless of if it is a credit card or auto loan. Start by paying off the loan with the highest interest rate first.

    If you have several credit cards with different interest rates, you want to focus on the one with a higher APR. You will actually save more money by eliminating the card with the highest interest rate.

    3. Don’t Pay the Minimum Amount

    Paying the minimum amount digs you into a hole as interest rates will offset your payment. Even a small amount more than the minimum can help you pay off debt much faster.

    Removing Obstacles to Pay off Debt Quickly

    Creating a debt tracker and prioritizing a plan is simple, but avoiding temptation can be difficult.

    1. Set a Reminder to Track Your Debt

    “If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it.” -Peter Drucker

    It’s so important to track your debt to ensure that you get it paid off quickly. Similar to working out and measuring your results, you need to track your debt constantly. Start with a weekly reminder, where you sign on and log your updated number. Did you increase, decrease, or stay the same?

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    Regularly tracking your student loan balance can be incredibly motivating, as well. You will get a huge confidence boost each time you see your total debt amount decreases.

    Set weekly and monthly goals so you can have short term wins and keep the momentum going.

    2. Hide Your Credit Cards

    If your biggest debt is credit cards, you need to eliminate temptation and remove them from your wallet.

    Some people have gone to extreme measures by freezing their credit cards. Why? This would create an ice block around your card, which would require you to chip away at it slowly. This will give you time to think if it’s the best idea to buy that thing you’re about to buy.

    3. Automate Everything

    Willpower can be a huge downfall to paying off your debt. By automating your bills each month, you will ensure that willpower isn’t involved.

    4. Plan Ahead

    Getting out of debt will require some sacrifices, but with enough planning, you can make it work.

    For example, if you know that you have a friend’s birthday or family dinner coming up, plan ahead for the costs. Whether you need to cut back on spending the week before, pick up a side job, or meet them after dinner, do what is needed.

    5. Live Cheaply

    The only way to get out of debt is to make some sacrifices on your spending habits. Find ways to save money each month so you can apply that amount to your outstanding debts. Here are some ways to save money each month:

    • Live with roommates
    • Cook dinners and prepare lunches for work instead of eating out
    • Cut cable and choose Netflix or Amazon Prime
    • Take public transit or bike to work

    Finding the Lowest Interest Rates

    The higher your interest rates, the harder (and longer) it will take you to pay off any debt.

    If possible, you want to find ways to lower your interest rates to help get out of debt quickly. Here’s how you can get started:

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    1. Maintain a High Credit Score

    Your credit score will have a large impact on your ability to refinance your loans and receive a lower interest rate. If you have a low credit score, it’s unlikely you will be able to refinance your loans. Use these credit tips to increase and maintain an excellent score:

    • Never miss a payment
    • Don’t exceed 30% of your credit limit
    • Don’t sign up for more than one card at once
    • Limit hard inquires, like auto-loans and new credit cards
    • Monitor frequently with free credit-tracking software

    2. Find Balance Transfer Offers

    Start by opening a free account on credit.com. Credit.com offers you the chance to open a free account and see what type of balance transfer offers you can receive. Some of your existing credit cards might already have 0% or lower APR balance transfer offers available.

    Contact each of your credit card providers to ask about lowering your rate for a one-time balance transfer offer[2].

    If you do take advantage of this option, make sure that you use a balance transfer and not a cash advance. Cash advances have a ton of high interest fees (15-25%, depending on your credit card) and will only compound your debt problem.

    How to Get Rid of Debt Forever

    Setting up a plan, removing temptations, and getting the lowest interest rates is the first step to get out of debt.

    1. Keep Monitoring and Adjusting

    Once you have a plan, don’t get comfortable. Track your debt payoff plan and make the necessary adjustments when needed.

    Monitor your credit scores with a free site like CreditKarma. The higher your credit score climbs, the more likely you will be to secure a new, lower-interest loan.

    2. Earn More Money

    There are only so many ways to save money. Instead of clipping another coupon or making sacrifices for your morning coffee, find ways to earn more money!

    Think about it…it is much easier to find ways to earn an extra $1,000 per month than find $1,000 to cut from your budget.

    Here are some examples of ways to earn more money:

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    Talk to Your Boss

    Have a conversation with your boss about current salary and/or commission rates. If you’re not satisfied or want a change, don’t be afraid to look around at other positions. Some of them might even have a student loan debt reimbursement plan!

    Start a Side Hustle

    This could be coaching students on the weekends, driving for Uber, or taking paid online surveys. There are tons of ways to make money outside your 9-5. Now that you have a clear plan to pay off your debts, you’ll be more motivated than ever to figure out creative new ways to earn money.

    Build an Online Business

    There are so many websites and blogs that earn money from ads, affiliates, and other online products. Find your niche and get started.

    3. Celebrate Your Wins

    As you progress in your debt payoff journey, don’t forget to celebrate your wins. You need to always reward yourself for the hard work and discipline that is required to get out of debt.

    While you shouldn’t celebrate so big that it increases debt, make sure to factor in little rewards to keep you motivated.

    4. Set New Financial Goals

    Eventually, with a plan and these steps, you can rid yourself of your debt. Once you do, make sure to celebrate your monumental achievement, but don’t stop there.

    Now, you can focus on acquiring wealth and increasing your net worth. Set new financial goals so you have a new target to aim toward. Here’s how to set financial goals and actually meet them.

    These could be anything now that you are debt free! Think about where you want to travel, buying your first home, or saving for your future retirement. Just like before, make sure that your goals are specific, measurable, and achievable.

    Conclusion

    Congrats, you can now set a plan in motion to finally pay off your debt quickly (and hopefully forever)!

    Remember, if you want to get out of debt quickly, it’s not always easy. Just like any big goal, there will be sacrifices, challenges, and problems to overcome.

    More Tips on Getting out of Debt

    Featured photo credit: Pepi Stojanovski via unsplash.com

    Reference

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