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Why Most Budgets Fail but YNAB Succeeds

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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.

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    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 January 5, 2022

    33 Painless Ways to Save Money Now

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    33 Painless Ways to Save Money Now

    In a difficult economy, most of us are looking for ways to put more money in our pockets, but we don’t want to feel like misers. We don’t want to drastically alter our lifestyles either. We want it fast and we want it easy. Small savings can add up and big savings can feel like winning the lottery, just without all of the taxes.

    Some easy ways to save money:

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    1. Online rebate sites. Many online sites offer cash back rebates and online coupons as well. MrRebates and Ebates are two I like, but there are many others.
    2. Sign up for customer rewards. Many of your favorite stores offer customer rewards on products you already buy. Take advantage.
    3. Switch to compact fluorescent bulbs. The extra cost up front is worth the energy savings later on.
    4. Turn off power strips and electronic devices when not in use.
    5. Buy a programmable thermostat. Set it to lower the heat or raise the AC when you’re not home.
    6. Make coffee at home. Those lattes and caramel macchiatos add up to quite a bit of dough over the year.
    7. Switch banks. Shop around for better interest rates, lower fees and better customer perks. Don’t forget to look for free online banking and ease of depositing and withdrawing money.
    8. Clip coupons: Saving a couple dollars here and there can start to add up. As long as you’re going to buy the products anyway, why not save money?
    9. Pack your lunch. Bring your lunch to work with you a few days a week, rather than buy it.
    10. Eat at home. We’re busier than ever, but cooking meals at home is healthier and much cheaper than take-out or going out. Plus, with all of the freezer and pre-made options, it’s almost as fast as drive-thru.
    11. Have leftovers night. Save your leftovers from a few meals and have a “leftover dinner.” It’s a free meal!
    12. Buy store brands: Many generic or store brands are actually just as good as name brands and considerably cheaper.
    13. Ditch bottled water. Drink tap water if it’s good quality, buy a filter if it’s not. Get 
        a reusable water bottle and refill it.
      • Avoid vending machines: The items are usually over-priced.
      • Take in a matinee. Afternoon movie showings are cheaper than evening times.
      • Re-examine your cable bill. Cancel extra cable or satellite channels you don’t watch. Watch the “on demand” movie purchases too.
      • Use online bill pay. Most banks offer free online bill paying. Save on stamps and checks, and avoid late fees by automating bill payment.
      • Buy frequently used items in bulk. You get a lower per item price and eliminate extra trips to the store later on.
      • Fully utilize the library. Borrowing books is much cheaper than buying them, but in addition to books, most local libraries now lend movies and games.
      • Cancel magazine/newspaper subscriptions: Re-evaluate your subscriptions. Cancel those you don’t read and consider reading some of the other publications online.
      • Get rid of your land-line. Do you really need a land-line anymore if everyone in the family has a cell phone? Alternatively, look into using VOIP or getting a cheaper plan.
      • Better fuel efficiency. Check the air pressure in your tires, keep up with proper auto maintenance, and slow down. Driving even 5MPH slower will result in better fuel mileage.
      • Increase your deductibles. Increasing the insurance deductibles on your homeowners and auto insurance policies lowers premiums significantly. Just make sure you choose a deductible that you can afford should an emergency happen.
      • Choose lunch over dinner. If you do want to dine out occasionally, go at lunchtime rather than dinnertime. Lunch prices are usually cheaper.
      • Buy used:  Whether it’s something small like a vintage dress or a video game or something big like a car or furniture, consider buying it used. You can often get “nearly new” for a fraction of the cost.
      • Stick to the list. Make a list before you go shopping and don’t buy anything that’s not on the list unless it’s a once in a lifetime, killer deal.
      • Tame the impulse. Use a self-enforced waiting period whenever you’re tempted to make an unplanned purchase. Wait for a week and see if you still want the item.
      • Don’t be afraid to ask. Ask to have fees waived, ask for a discount, ask for a lower interest rate on your credit card.
      • Repair rather than replace. You can find directions on how to fix almost anything on the internet. Do your homework, and then bring out your inner handyman.
      • Trade with your neighbors. Borrow tools or equipment that you use infrequently and swap things like babysitting with your neighbors.
      • Swap online. Use sites like PaperBack Swap to trade books, music, and movies with others online. Also, look for local community sites like Freecycle where people give away items they no longer need.
      • Cut back on the meat. Try eating a one or two meatless meals every week or cut back on the meat portions. Meat is usually the most expensive part of the meal.
      • Comparison shop: Get in the habit of checking prices before you buy. See if you can get a better price at another store or look online.

      Remember that saving money is not about being cheap or stingy; it’s about putting money into your bank account rather than giving it to someone else. There are many ways to save money, some you’ve never thought of, and some that won’t appeal or apply to you. Just pick a few of the ideas that sound doable and watch the savings add up. Save big, save small, but save wherever you can.

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      Featured photo credit: Damir Spanic via unsplash.com

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