5 Reasons Why a Budget Can Be Good for Your Relationship


Putting our money where our mouth is

by Maddie Eisenhart, Chief Revenue Officer

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One of the big milestones of most relationships is the almighty merging of the finances. If you’re married, it’s all but unavoidable (legally speaking, your assets are combined unless you have a serious prenup). Still, so many of the married couples I know avoid the work of merging finances. (If you’re one of them, go read Meg’s thoughts on marriage and money here. It totally changed how I think about money in a partnership, and it includes a few cases for keeping things separate.) Because you know what no one tells you? If you have any kid of hangups around money, merging finances can be a beast. It’s not just about switching from two bank accounts to one. It’s also the emotional work of figuring out what it takes to make your household run and how you want to prioritize your cash as a couple. Which is probably why it took Michael and me over ten years to finally work out our household budget. Because that kind of emotional work around money sounds like no fun, amiright?

For more than a decade, Michael and I operated on a fly by night budget. We knew (roughly) how much our monthly expenses cost, and we knew what we wanted to be spending each month, but we had zero ways of reconciling things after the fact—other than looking at our bank account statements and going, “Crap, that wasn’t what I thought it was going to be.” We got into debt. And we fought a lot. And then last year, in a last-ditch effort to pay down our $30,000 debt, we signed up for a free 34-day trial of the app You Need a Budget (which you can get right here). For the first time since joining our accounts, we had an actual working household budget. And it turns out, having a budget has been one of the most game-changing things we’ve ever done for our relationship. So today, in partnership with YNAB, here are are five reasons why a budget can be awesome for your relationship:

fewer surprises equals fewer fights: Do you know why Michael and I used to fight about money so much? Because of oil changes. And haircuts. And all those other expenses that are semi-regular, but not monthly, and therefore easy to forget when you’re doing the mental math of “What can we afford next month?” But once we set up YNAB, we had to take all those expenses into account (it’s rule two of the YNAB method. The first rule is you don’t talk about YNAB. Wait, no, that’s wrong). So instead of freaking out every four months over my $100 oil change bill, we now put $25 into our car maintenance budget each month so that it’s covered when the time comes. Which doesn’t mean there are no surprises (thanks for the back-to-back vet visits this month, puppy). It just means that there aren’t “surprises” we could totally anticipate popping up every other week. And fewer surprises means fewer fights.

It’s like a prenup for your money: Prenups are great, because they are about making decisions while you’re in your rational brain, before everything gets emotionally tangled. And a budget is kind of like that too. With a budget, you and your partner have to sit down and decide how to spend your money before your bills are due. Which means that if you need to have a big, relationship-defining conversation about your financial priorities (do we want to save for a house, or travel, or is our debt getting out of control?), you can pick a time and a place when you’ll both be level-headed and approach the conversation as partners, rather than adversaries. And the conversation is actionable. For example, before our budget, money talks went something like this:

Me: I really want to make sure we get to travel before we have kids. We need to go on vacation this year.

Partner: Yeah, but we have to pay down our debt before we do anything fun.

Both: Repeat ad nauseum.

With YNAB, they now go like this:

Me: I really want to make sure we go on vacation this year. What’s the budget look like?

Partner: Well, if we put X amount toward our credit cards to pay down our debt, well have Y amount left over by the end of the year, which we could use toward a vacation.

Me: Okay, but if we do that, we don’t have a ton of wiggle room to go home for the holidays, right? Are we cool with that?

Partner: I am if you are.

In short, a budget lets our conversations actually go somewhere, and we get to look at the whole picture and decide in advance what matters most to us.

Having a budget is like having another person in the room: When Michael and I got a puppy this year, one of the best things we did was hire a trainer when it became obvious we were out of our depth. And while we got our money’s worth from this investment on things like… our dog no longer jumps on every person she meets, the real reward was simply having a third person in the room to break ties when we couldn’t agree. And a budget is kind of like having that third person. So if you’re having a disagreement about, say, whether or not you should go out for dinner tonight, you can go back to the budget and let it make the decision for you. And with YNAB, specifically, having their method on hand was was kind of like having a personal trainer for our finances. It helped us figure out why we were having so much trouble managing our money (turns out we weren’t embracing our true expenses), and then told us how to fix it. And for what it’s worth, YNAB’s $5 a month fee is way cheaper than our dog trainer.

It’s much more egalitarian: Before we got married, Michael and I did what many couples do: we kept our finances separate, and each contributed an amount to our monthly bills that was congruent with how much money we made. The only problem? My partner made twice as much as I did. So I was always broke. And it created an unfair power balance in our relationship. But since merging our finances and creating our household budget, our respective income is irrelevant. What matters is how much we make as a unit, how much our collective expenditures add up to each month (including savings), and what our financial goals are together. Then we split up whatever is left over, even Steven.

We still get to do what we want: One of my biggest fears about merging finances and setting up a household budget is that I wouldn’t have any flexibility to do the things I want. I was afraid my budget would control me, and suddenly my marriage would just be one big restriction wherein I never get to go to Target or do anything fun. Except, setting up a household budget means we get to do exactly what we want, just within the confines of what we actually make. Michael and I each have discretionary accounts in YNAB that we call our “fun” money, and we can use it however we please. If Michael wants to spend $75 on another set of tiny troll figurines to go with his super nerdy boardgames? Ain’t no stopping him. If I want to spend $50 on a Bedazzler I may or may not ever use? Can’t tell me no. We actually have fewer restrictions now that we have a budget, because those accounts are built in. There’s no more panic at the register that I really shouldn’t be spending $30 on glitter flats this month, as long as YNAB tells me I still have money in the “glitter and sequins” (aka “fun”) account.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from these past seven years being married, it’s that if you’re finding yourself having the same argument or frustrations over and over again, or if something simply isn’t working for you, it’s unfair to expect your relationship to magically mend itself. Having the same fight over and over again? Get thee to therapy. Can’t figure out your finances? Find a tool or system that works for you. And for us, that tool has been YNAB.

I genuinely can’t remember the last time we fought about money. And that in itself is the best thing I could ask for my relationship.

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This post was sponsored by You Need a Budget. YNAB is a powerful yet flexible tool for managing your finances. It has radically changed the way we approach our money, helped us get out of debt, and allowed us to prioritize our finances in a way we never could before. With the YNAB method, all of our regular and recurring expenses are budgeted in advance, so we’re able to see at a glance what kind of money we have for incidentals and make plans for a safety net. YNAB lets you manage your finances from your computer or your phone, plus sync up your bank accounts and credit cards for real-time updates to your budget. Click here to learn more about YNAB and access your free 34-day trial.

Maddie Eisenhart

Maddie is APW’s Chief Revenue Officer. She’s been writing stories about boys, crushes, and relationships since she was old enough to form shapes into words, but received her formal training (and a BS) from NYU in Entertainment and Mass Media in 2008. She now spends a significant amount of time thinking about trends on the internet and whether flower crowns will be out next year. A Maine native, Maddie currently lives on a pony farm in the Bay Area with her husband, Michael and their mastiff puppy. Current hair color: Purple(ish).

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  • Lisa

    So much love for YNAB. We’ve been using it a bit over a year and had a budget meeting just yesterday afternoon. Since nYNAB doesn’t have reports yet, I downloaded a Chrome extension and learned that we have tripled our net worth in the past year. We’re on track to pay husband’s student loans after he graduates and fully fund my Roth this year.

    The biggest revolution for us was to stop saving for nebulous future events. We save with purpose and know what we want that money to do for us. Part of the budgeting conversation yesterday was to start thinking about how we want to prioritize the money that we’ll have leftover each month once the student loan allocations are gone. Are we going to travel? Buy a house? Get a new car? We’re not sure yet, but we know exactly how much money we’ll be able to give towards that goal, which makes it feel more attainable than it ever did before. Having a plan to realize our dreams is the greatest gift of budgeting.

  • scw

    one of the items on my to-do list for today was to look into YNAB! I’ve never used it but I know that some people here prefer an earlier version to the current one. anyone want to weigh in on that? (I hope it’s ok to ask this on a sponsored post!)

    • Lisa

      The main difference is that nYNAB (new YNAB) offers the option to directly connect to your bank and import transactions and works through an internet browser. YNAB4 (or Classic YNAB) is done through Dropbox and has software you download onto your computer. nYNAB has a subscription fee of $5/month, and YNAB4 costs about $60 to own forever IIRC.

      We use the free student version since my husband is in graduate school. We had YNAB4 for the first year and were converted to nYNAB this fall. In that first year, we became religious about reconciling our accounts and inputting transactions on the app. Also, we don’t have our credit cards in YNAB since we use them as cash and never put anything on them that can’t be paid off immediately. For these reasons, we chose not to use direct import, which is the main selling point of nYNAB. YNAB4 also has more robust reporting, which I like for tracking our spending habits and calculating our net worth. Marketing at YNAB has been saying that reports are “weeks away” for the past several months so I’m unsure when this feature will eventually roll out.

      Given our personal usage, we’re thinking that we might purchase YNAB4 before the end of the year. However, if direct import of transactions is something you would find useful, then nYNAB might be the product for you!

      • scw

        thanks! especially for mentioning the free student version, because I’m in grad school. looks like I’ll be setting this up today.

        • Lisa

          You’re welcome! I will say for anyone wanting to start YNAB that I wish we had started on the first of the month because it gives you more accurate data about your spending habits. However, if you’re doing the student version and not needing to worry about the trial period, you could treat the rest of this month as taking the opportunity to get familiar with the program and learning how you want to use it.

        • GotMarried!

          I second the free student version. I’m on my second year with it.

  • tencentblues

    YNAB literally changed my relationship to money. Overnight, I went from someone who was scared to check bank account balances and used the “cross your fingers and hope it all works out” method of budgeting to someone who pays bills on time (or early, even!) and can plan for future expenses rather than just shrugging and making it future me’s problem. It still surprises me to realize how my anxiety over money really went away overnight, once I had a system that could help me keep track and deal with it.

    Not to say that I don’t still struggle with spending on things I probably shouldn’t – it’s a bit eyeopening to be able to see just how much money we spend on Starbucks every month – but at least now I know where the money’s going, and can see plainly how I’m prioritizing right now, and what I could do if those priorities were adjusted. I’m in my fifth month as a YNABber and would never, ever go back to the way things were before. I hope everyone who thinks this might possibly help – especially people who have avoided budgeting in the past because it provokes too much anxiety – gives it a shot. It really will change your life.

    • tencentblues

      By the way, there is a very active Facebook community called “YNAB (You Need a Budget) Fans!” It’s full of enthusiastic converts who will be more than happy to help you with any questions that come up while you’re getting started.

  • Sara

    I use Mint.com and really like that. I tried YNAB before it became automated and I just couldn’t bring myself to enter the charges in. Mint was always linked to my accounts, so I was able to see where the money was going right after I spent it. I am getting a lot better with saving up for things before buying them though! I like on Mint that you can set ‘goals’ that takes the money out of my total that I could budget (like for vacation or paying off debt) , and lets me also add budgets for ‘hair’ which come up every other month or insurance that comes up every 6 months and tells me how much I should be saving monthly to be covered. (and again, I have no real idea how YNAB works so YNAB probably has that too)

    • Lisa

      YNAB does allow you to tailor the categories, and nYNAB has the “goals” feature that helps show how much you need to budget to stay on track. I’m used to doing the math to figure out what we need from YNAB4, but I have used the feature to tally up how much we should be putting away for student loans or retirement contributions each month, which was helpful.

  • SarahRose472

    So…this might be a shot in the dark. But has anyone managed multi-country finances with YNAB? I used it for a few months and I really like the principles, but it was a hassle to recalculate everything into one currency. I’ve been playing around with setting up my own spreadsheet as an alternative, but that’s also a bunch of work.

    • Lisa

      I remember a discussion about this before, but I can’t find it now. A quick search is turning up Moneydance Personal Finance and Expense IQ. Hopefully someone else will have a better answer than me!

      • SarahRose472

        Thanks, I’ll check those out!

  • I am a big fan of YNAB too. One other benefit it has that I didn’t realize until I’d been using it for a few months is that it creates these nice graphs and tables that show you how your spending and saving has changed over time. You can drill down to specific categories (How much have we spent at our favorite restaurant this year?) or look at big picture stuff (How much am I saving vs. spending per month?) If you like looking at graphs and analyzing trends, it’s fantastic.

  • Jessica

    I just entered our last two weeks of expenses last night while my husband crashed from weekend overload. We had a budget for our week-long vacation and were only a tiny bit over it (like, one lunch with beers over). A key to making sure you’re on track is having a plan for when you go over–where does that money come from?

    For instance:
    We each have our own “spending money” category. This is for clothing, fun stuff, and any food we don’t buy together (so, if I go get a latte, it comes out of that category; if we both go get lattes it comes out of our restaurant category since we spent it together). When our refrigerator broke last month, it lead to a lot of the spending money being taken up by food purchases, and eating out that much ain’t cheap. I had been saving up my spending money for a couple months so I could buy some new clothes during the back-to-school sales, and ended up sacrificing some shoes in the name of food, and did not go over my budget. My husband ended up going over his budget, so now he gets a little less this month in his spending money.

    Any suggestions for how to make sure he doesn’t go over again?

    • Lisa

      It sounds like you manage your joint finances similarly to ours, down to the spending money! However, I don’t think we’ve ever sacrificed our personal spending to service the family yet. Usually if there’s something unexpected, we find a way to make it work within our family budget. We’ve also put essential clothing in the family budget, but we have to purchase our own if it’s not necessary. (Example: my daily, black work shoes wear out vs. he wants a new pair of sunglasses. I need shoes to go to work, but his current sunglasses are still fine.)

      Does he understand the issue with going over his allotted spending money? Did he bring it up to you himself, or did you discover it in the reconciliation? If it’s the former, I think docking the spending money for this month will probably be enough to make sure it doesn’t happen again. My husband has asked for an advance on his money before to make bigger purchases that coincide with sales and offered up a pay schedule to pay the family back. That showed me that he really understood how his spending affected our financial goals and made me more willing to allow for some leeway.

      If it’s the latter case, can he make sure he’s reconciling his transactions either as they’re happening or on a daily/bi-weekly/whatever works for you basis to make sure he’s more aware of the money he has left? If transactions are getting reconciled only once every week or two, he might not realize he’s approaching his limit and about to go over.

      • Jessica

        I think a convincing argument for us to switch to new YNAB is the auto-entry. Unfortunately there is a bit of mental self-shaming involved for both of us when we know we’ve spent too much, so we avoid entering our expenses, so we say “We need to do that!” then don’t…I didn’t really have that problem in Mint, because it all synced for me and I had to face the music automatically.

        He’s been going through a lot of stress, and I think he knows he needs to make a change, but change is another stress, and it’s been built up in his head as this big thing.

        • Lisa

          One thing I do like about nYNAB’s app is I can budget on the fly. We might be out with some friends and decide to get another round of drinks, which puts us over the restaurants category. I can see right then that we’re over the category, and I might move money from a category like clothing to get rid of the red overspending.

        • GotMarried!

          I love the new auto entry, but do beware there is at least a few days lag time on it. Credit card or bank processing time and all that. For someone who tends to spend relatively all her money on the weekend and next to none during the week, this is annoying. For real time info, I’d HAVE to manually enter my data.

          Also – that lag time is usually a few days …. I recently had an international charge show up a week and a half late. Not a YNAB issue, just a CC processing issue.

    • Amy March

      He has to want to make sure he doesn’t go over his budget. If he doesn’t want to track his expenses, doesn’t care that he’s taking money you had allocated other places for himself without asking, and doesn’t feel like making a change, he won’t. I do find it interesting though that food still came out of your personal budgets? If this is a one off issue where he just had more trouble sourcing food within his budget without a fridge, then that to me is a different issue than him routinely overspending.

      If he does want to stop, cash can be great. If you can only spend fun money in cash, and there is no cash left in your fun money wallet, and then you’re done, that’s a pretty solid consequence. Or, if he’s consistently over by roughly the same amount, maybe the answer is that you need to increase spending money and decrease somewhere else.

      • Jessica

        He eats out more than I do in general. I can go home for lunch and eat out make once or twice a week. I think he would have gone over his budget anyway.

        It was only a week we had to make it without a fridge, and we didn’t really discuss how to handle it budget-wise, so things kind of followed the same pattern as they normally would if we didn’t have a fridge breakdown.

        I think he and I are in for a hard conversation about willpower and taking meals to work, as well as a “you can’t set a date for us to discuss the budget and then just ignore it.” This plays into some larger issues he’s been dealing with this summer/fall.

        • Amy March

          Personally, I think meals at work are frequently seen as an easy target to cut spending, but its really not always an easy thing to do, and I think the fact that he isn’t doing it should be respected. Willpower is a word that reads judgmentally, when it might be more lack of skills, different priorities, different preferences. At the end of the day, if he just wants to spend more eating out, maybe it’s time to stop focusing on ending that behavior, and accept it. And take a long hard look at the budget assuming that, at this point in time, eating out isn’t a thing he’s up for changing. Sure, ideally he’d be proactively saying all this, and working with the budget to figure out a solution, but he didn’t ask for advice.

          • Jessica

            If it was just his money I’d say he can do whatever he likes. But when he is overspending and bumping his way into our ‘Our Money,’ I’d like to think it’s a different story.

            I have changed my habits to make sure I don’t just go buy whatever I want whenever I want in order to respect our family budget (otherwise I would have a lot more shoes), and I would like to think he will do the same. Unfortunately we don’t have infinite amounts of money, so just allocating more is not really an answer. There comes a point where a grown man has to realize that perhaps his spending needs to be curbed, and to take the initiative to do so.

          • Amy March

            Make him pay back “our money” at an exorbitant level of interest? Like, you go over $10 this month, and we can float that from savings, but you then owe the family budget $20 next month. Or there’s always “why are you comfortable stealing from our future, lying to me about your spending, and disrespecting our communications about our budget just because you’d quite like a $15 salad twice a week?!?” Maybe more hostile than you’re looking for, but on the other hand if that’s where you are on this, feelings wise, he should probably know that.

          • G.

            It might be worth pointing this out explicitly. I think it can be hard for someone to see how another person is making comparable calculations when the end result is not buying something. It’s hard to remember that the *absence* of, say, a pair of wanted shoes is a symbol of someone thinking through a budget and priorities and making a conscious decision not to spend money on something desired (like lunch out). So walking through that and perhaps finding ways to recognize when each person has committed to the family budget over personal desire could be worth it.

          • Amanda L

            This is tough and sounds like the struggle H and I had before YNAB. He didn’t see overspending as a problem as long as there was still money in the account, but that didn’t take into account if we had a meal planned with friends in two days, or if I had planned on buying shoes with my part of the money. YNAB has taken away the guess work of ‘do I have the funds for this’ but it only works if both members of the partnership agree to take it seriously.

            I like Amy March’s suggestion that if either of you go over your budgeted amount, it gets deducted x2 from the next month’s budget. Lighthearted but a definite ding, whether it’s done on purpose or on accident.

          • Lisa

            Maybe you could discuss together whether there’s something you both could do that would help with some of his spending? My husband is also a lunchtime spender and usually refuses to pack a lunch. However, we’ve started to meal plan for the whole week and make sure that we have enough leftovers to cover both of our lunches. That way he has some options for eating at home prior to heading to school.

            It was absolutely amazing to me to hear my husband say over the weekend, “I think I’d like to start saving my spending money for something big like you do.” It’s something he never would have considered before, but a year after YNAB, he’s started to see that I have a lot more flexibility by putting my spending money away instead of running it to $0 each month.

          • AP

            It’s funny, my husband had a similar realization after several months of seeing my spending money pile up. I like to save for plane tickets to visit friends or for one or two big shops for clothes during sale times. He spent his every month on little wants, and then he’d mention wanting an Apple watch or something and I’d remind him that he could buy whatever he wants with his spending money. Now he has more saved up than I do, even though he doesn’t seem to want a watch anymore:) I think it brought out his competitive side!

          • Lisa

            How funny that you mention the Apple watch! When I asked him what he was planning to save for, he mentioned the same thing. (Or a pair of new Ray Bans.) Kudos on being the example of getting what you want through saving. :)

          • La’Marisa-Andrea

            My husband will not eat leftovers. I finally figured this out after 8 years! Me? I’m always looking for ways not to spend on lunch but he will buy lunch even if he’s home for the day. The only way mine would eat a packed lunch is if I pack it and I just refuse to do that.

          • Lisa

            Oh, yeah, I definitely don’t pack my husband a lunch on the regular. (I’ve been known to make him a sandwich once in a while if I was already making myself one, and he’s packed my lunch bag up for me a couple of times when I was running late.) My husband’s aversion to packed lunches has to do with the fact that he doesn’t have easy access to a fridge or microwave at school so he’s limited in what he can bring. If he’s at home all day, he’s pretty happy to eat what he’s cooked the night before!

            It’s good that you guys have figured out that issue and can plan accordingly for it. I don’t know if you’re like me, but I’d look at it as a bonus and say, “More delicious food for me then!” He’s missing out!

          • La’Marisa-Andrea

            I feel you on this so much. This was a problem for us and I stopped fighting it and basically said the consequence would be less money elsewhere. This was painful short term but worked long term. We take a big trip to see his family every year. It’s a very big deal to him but saving up for it was hard bc when he went over his money or whatever, it would throw everything else off. As a result end of year one year we didn’t have the money for the trip. So we didn’t go. He was really upset. He’s gotten much better about the going over now bc he saw that there was a real consequence to something that was important to him.

    • Amanda L

      Did he go over because he hadn’t entered his expenses or because he didn’t care about going over? And I mean that non-judgmentally, since my husband is a spender at heart.

      We use ours very similarly to yours. I am in charge of entering all the charges and deposits (since I do that with our regular checkbook as well). I tend to do it once a week, so if he went over in the interim, I’d feel like that was on me. But if he looked and saw he had $35, and then spent $50, then it is probably something you’ll need to talk about. Does he realize you’ve been holding back on buying new clothes to feed both of you? Is that something you really need to do or could that come out of both of your amounts, so it’s less you have to sacrifice for the joint good, and become something you’re both working towards?

  • Janet Hélène

    Love Maddie’s articles! I’ve missed her writing recently.

    • Maddie Eisenhart

      <3

  • Alyssa Andrews

    I just looked into this yesterday, great timing! My fiancee and I are getting ready to combine finances, and you address many of the concerns that popped up in our conversation about it. Thank you!

  • Amanda L

    I started YNAB about 35 days ago (wink) and have been SO happy with it. My H and I have really struggled to find the right balance between budgeting (my need) and feeling like he doesn’t have to limit himself too much (his need). YNAB has been great. We each have buckets for our money, and if he wants to drop $200 on a backpack (again, this is something he actually did), he doesn’t have to think twice if his bucket has more than that in it.

    I love it I love it I love it and I just spent $50 of my hard-earned money to keep using it for the next year.

    If it helps any, here’s how we use it. Every two weeks, money gets put in that account. There are four buckets: My bucket (25%), his bucket (25%), dining out (35%), and ‘stuff I forgot’ (10%). With a ‘dining out’ bucket, we don’t have to divvy up a Friday night dinner based on who had more wine (ahem, me) or dessert (oh shoot, me again), it just gets taken from ‘dining out.’ If that one ends up with lots of excess, we can move it to savings, or take ourselves out for a REALLY nice meal.

    ‘Stuff I forgot’ could be anything from a one-time birthday present for someone, a bottle of wine for a hostess gift, or the YNAB annual cost. It’s the overflow that has come in handy a couple times.

    ETA: I had tried Mint before, and it did not work for us. Not sure why this one did, but it’s great!

    • ShhI’mAsleep

      Where does the extra 5% go?

      • Amanda L

        Oops, H has 30% ….

  • AGCourtney

    We use YNAB and it works really well for us. We’re currently in the middle of our free trial of nYNAB…and I don’t care for it. The direct import saves a bit of time, and being able to access it from anywhere, like work, is nice, and there’s a couple of new features I like. But there are aspects of it I’m finding really frustrating, like what a pain it is to put in split transactions compared to YNAB4. So we’ll see which one we end up going with at the end of this trial.

    • Lisa

      I also don’t like that there’s an extra click in the app to see the individual transactions in a budget category and that I can’t view all of the transactions from that budget category from previous months. This became an issue when I recently did a return of some items and purchased others at a store. Normally, I go back and adjust the original transaction and then purchase the new item (especially since new item was in a different category), but I couldn’t do that with nYNAB. This has left me all kinds of confused, especially since I returned another item from that exchange but can’t go back and edit it like I normally would.

      We don’t use the direct import so the main reasons to stick with nYNAB are (1) it’s free for now and (2) it can be accessed from any computer. I’m not sure those will end up being compelling enough.

      • Ashlah

        I meant to reply to this two days ago, and I forgot. (Disclaimer: I haven’t used nYNAB yet, so YMMV). When I do a return, I often leave the original transaction as-is, then input the return transaction as a direct inflow into the same category (so that it doesn’t appear as income for the month). Is there a reason that wouldn’t work in nYNAB/that specific situation you outlined? Or a reason you dislike doing it that way?

        • Lisa

          It kind of depends, I guess. I used to do it the way you mention, but I was experimenting with consolidating the transactions into one to reflect the final amount instead of having multiples to get me to that same number. I’ve also been deleting transactions that I’ve returned in full so this fit in with that system.

          I guess I could have entered the return half of the exchange as a credit in the clothing category and done a debit in the new one, but I made the purchase at my retail job while the store was closing and with my manager trying to get me out the door so I got confused and just ended up putting a debit in the gifts for significantly less than the present was worth.

          So perhaps it’s a failed experiment. I was trying to keep as few transactions on the record for simplification, but maybe I’ve overcomplicated the process of getting there.

          • Ashlah

            Totally understand! I’ve had to experiment with some things to find what works best for me, and sometimes a specific situation just stuffs everything up!

    • Cellistec

      Interesting…we haven’t switched to nYNAB yet because the direct import part was exactly what I disliked about Mint. (I spent so much time correcting the directly-imported transactions that it seemed better just to add them by hand.) I’ll be curious to hear more differences between YNAB4 and nYNAB to see if switching is in the cards.

      • Lisa

        You don’t have to set up direct import if you don’t want to in nYNAB. We didn’t! It’s obviously their main selling point, but I feel like adding it in would mess up all of the work we’re already doing.

  • MC

    Three cheers for budgets! Just to mention that budgeting won’t always make everything better right away – if there are emotional issues wrapped up in financial issues (which, there usually are?) those need to be addressed, too! We started budgeting in February or March of this year and September was the first month that I would say was really successful, AKA the first month that I wasn’t stressed about our money! When we started to budget we also started to have a lot of conversations about our values, spending priorities, ways we had been raised to think of money, class issues, etc. which took a number of months to work through. But it’s so worth it now that money feels easy to me for the first time in my adult life!

  • Brooke

    YNAB has seriously changed our lives. Fiance’ and I started using it a few months back, not because we were in huge financial trouble, but because we realized that we had no idea where our money was going. I was obsessed with money, our incomes, and it consumed my every thought (I’m an accountant, I guess it’s just second nature?). It’s not an overnight fix, but I can honestly say that I don’t see us stopping using it just because we feel like we are doing much better. It helped us pay for a fabulous vacation, is helping us pay for our wedding after we decided to have a 5 month engagement, and will surely help us save for a house in the future. I have been a huge budget skeptic in the past, but this completely flipped my way of thinking about money on its head. Absolutely 100% worth the $5/month, 10/10 would recommend.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      My husband has an MBA, and one of our hang-ups is he doesn’t like any finances-tracking system that is too simplified, after learning GAAP and GAAS. So this is helpful.

  • JC

    I used to think that budgeting was only for people who were worried about money, and since I was extremely privileged growing up (and in denial when things got tough later on), that wasn’t me. Boy was I wrong. I’m still within my first year of budgeting, and while the strategy may change over time, the purpose is clear to me now. Budgeting is about number crunching, yeah, but more importantly, it’s about identifying and (when possible) celebrating priorities. And those priorities have given me a completely new perspective on my job, which is refreshing. I like my job just fine; I work with great people, with a lot of free time to pursue my own reading, but my 22-year-old fresh-out-of-college self wouldn’t have been very happy to hear that this is my primary source of income. Too bad for her. My job pays for my apartment with the beautiful beams on the ceiling and the yellow bedrooms that I actually love, despite my hatred for the color yellow. It pays for my gym membership, where twice a week I pretend to be a ballerina. It pays for my cable bill, through which we subscribe to HBO because I can no longer live without Game of Thrones. And it pays for muffins, so many muffins. My job, simple as it is, does all that, and I have the numbers to prove it.

  • AmandaBee

    As the family budgeter*, I’m thinking of switching us from Mint to YNAB. I try to use Mint to make us look at our spending and discuss it, but then we consistently overspend and don’t discover it until the end of the month, and then it’s like “whoops, new month”. I think YNAB would force us to be more proactive about balancing the accidental overspending.

    Question: both my husband and I use our credit cards as our individual buckets (what I call “fluff money”), and we use them more like cash than credit. How does that work in YNAB?

    That is, if I have $200 to spend on clothes, I’ll put the expenses on my credit cards and then pay them off before they’re due. If he wants to buy lunches with his $200, he puts it on his cards and pays it off. So this is more like cash spending, but in YNAB it looks like we’d have to put it all in one big credit card bucket. Is there a way to treat credit card transactions more like cash transactions, so I can take the money from different buckets (e.g., his spending money, my spending money)? Or do we just leave our credit cards off and manually enter that spending?**

    *We both contribute to the budget, I’m just more proactive in determining how we do it.
    **Husband’s not great at manually tracking anything, so I’m a bit concerned that this won’t work. But one of the benefits of our current method is that we can’t see what the other person spends their fluff money on, which we personally like because then there’s no temptation to nag each other over those choices. But the downside has been that sometimes we overshoot our fluff money fund and end up with a balance, and then have to decide how to reconcile that.

    • Natalie

      I actually really like how YNAB show’s all of your accounts, including credit cards. We do the same – pay w/ credit because miles, and then pay off the balance every month with no revolving credit. YNAB on the left side of their page totals up your accounts, savings, debits, and credit balance, to tell you how much cash you have available. meaning it’s money in your bank – your credit card balance. I liked it a lot because with Mint I had to do the math myself and whenever we paid off our credit card we lost some of our ‘cash’ that wasn’t really ‘cash’ because we spent it on our credit card. I told my husband that it makes it suuuuper easy for me to be like “and let’s transfer this money from checking to credit” because it doesn’t change the bottom line of what YNAB says is available.

      • AmandaBee

        See, I like that with Mint it shows my CC balances (and total cash – debt) but then the actual transactions get categorized into different buckets, like eating out or haircuts. With YNAB it seems like it all goes into the big credit card bucket? I may be misunderstanding this.

        • Natalie

          no… each of our credit card expenses are categorized. Unless you don’t link your credit card to your account? We both manually import transactions on our phone, but if you forget YNAB updates in a day or two and you have to categorize each expense, otherwise it sits in an “uncategorized expense” until you put it somewhere.

          • AmandaBee

            That makes sense, thanks for clarifying! I think we’re gonna give it a shot.

    • JC

      Others might have a better way, but I don’t have my credit card plugged into YNAB at all. When I pay it off from either Checking or Savings, I split that one transaction into each of the respective categories for the money spent, basically like a cash withdrawal. I do have a bucket for “Credit Card Charges” where I put money like reimbursements from work (usually they arrive on a paycheck before my credit card is due) or money that I’ve transferred from savings for that purpose, like paying for airline tickets.

      • AmandaBee

        This is kind of what I want to do, I guess. Because on any given month my credit card will have a handful of shared expenses (like my cell phone bill, larger things for the house I put on credit) and then the rest will be my individual fluff money, so I want to be able to split them up and see how much I spent on each, rather than just seeing it as “credit card spending”.

        Similarly – for travel, we like to put expenses on our cards and then pay them off using money from our travel savings. Ditto large-ish house purchases. Maybe leaving the credit category off would be the easiest way to go.

        • Lisa

          You can definitely choose not to link any accounts you don’t want to YNAB. We treat our credit cards like cash so we mark that the money is coming from our joint checking account. We have separate spending money categories built into the budget, and any transaction defined as “spending money” comes from those.

          • AmandaBee

            If you don’t mind me asking, does YNAB automatically important your CC transactions and then you categorize them, or do you input them manually? I’m still a bit confused about the mechanics (I may just need to get in there and try it).

          • Lisa

            Someone who knows better than me might be able to give you more detail, but what I think happens is:

            1. You manually enter transactions. When YNAB imports, it automatically syncs the bank transactions with the ones you’ve entered, and you approve the sync.

            or

            2. You don’t enter transactions, and YNAB automatically imports the ones from your CCs and bank. When you sign into the budget, you assign each unclassified transaction a category.

            This is entirely theoretical to me though since we manually reconcile everything. I’ve found it makes us much more aware of our money and where it’s going.

          • Amy March

            Automatically imports CC transactions, and then you categorize and approve them.

      • Cellistec

        Same here. I know adding our credit cards is an option, but we use them for buying gifts when we don’t want the other person to see the transaction and spoil the surprise. So until we can think of a better way to do that, credit cards remain off the books. (Except for the line item “credit card payments,” of course!)

    • tencentblues

      Credit card transactions are treated very similarly to cash purchases, for the most part. Let’s look at your $200 clothes budget as an example. Let’s say you make one purchase on your credit card for $75, and you make another debit card/cash equivalent purchase for $50. So you’ve made a total of $125 of budgeted-for purchases. Both transactions are recorded in YNAB in the “Clothing” category, which now shows $125 of purchases made and $75 budgeted funds remaining.

      The money for the $50 purchase you made on your debit card has been removed from your account, so that’s accounted for. With a credit card, you haven’t actually given up any of your money yet – that comes when you pay the bill. YNAB takes the $75 for the budgeted purchase and applies it to the Credit Card Payment line in your budget. This means that you have that $75 available to pay your bill when it comes due. When it’s time, you pay the $75 bill and categorize it as a transfer to your credit card account. The amount available in the Credit Card Payments line is decreased by the amount you paid, since that money has now left your account.

      It sounds a bit convoluted to explain, but it works really really well in practice. Any purchases you make on your credit card will be recorded under the proper spending categories, just the same as any cash-equivalent purchases.

      • AmandaBee

        So when I track credit card transactions, I can assign them to buckets (e.g., clothing, eating out, bills?). Because that’s my big hang up, I thought from reading the YNAB site that credit card spending was its own bucket, and that doesn’t work for our system.

        I tend to think of credit card transactions as coming out of my budget when I actually make the purchase, not when I pay the bill. So when I spend $75 on clothes and put it on my credit card, I want it to deduct that money from my clothing budget immediately, so I don’t think I still have the money to spend.

        • Lisa

          What it does is it automatically takes the amount budgeted in, say, the clothing category and moves it to the credit card bill payment category. That way when you pay your CC at the end of the month, you have enough money in the CC payment category to cover your purchases.

          If you’re treating your cards like cash, it feels like an unnecessary extra step to me. I couldn’t get my husband on board with it, hence why we opted not to use the direct import feature.

        • Amy March

          That’s exactly what it does! I’m trying it out and loving it. Nearly 100% of my spending is on my credit card, which I pay off monthly, but it deducts from my budget as soon as I import and categorize the expense.

        • tencentblues

          Yep, exactly! You’re thinking like a YNABber already. :D All credit card spending draws from the budget categories (groceries, clothing, household expenses, gifts, dining out, etc etc etc) and the actual payment is just a transfer between your cash and credit accounts. Sounds like it’ll work exactly the way you want it to.

          • AmandaBee

            Awesome, thanks for sharing everyone! I think ya’ll have convinced me to make the switch. Just gotta convince my husband :)

          • Eenie

            Just to add, if you don’t want each other to know what you spent your fluff money on, you can put something non descript in for the transaction when you manually record it. We personally enjoy seeing what the other person spends their money on, and it reaffirms the fact that these do not fall on the shared expenses bucket ;)

        • Bsquillo

          Yeah, I actually find the credit card feature (and direct import) on the new YNAB to be SUPER user-friendly. I know a lot of folks who converted from YNAB4 find it confusing, but it seems super straight-forward to me, especially as someone who puts most of our expenses on our credit card and pays it off every month (basically treated like cash). You immediately categorize all the expenses, and then the money from those category “buckets” is moved to the “credit card payment” bucket, so you know it’s essentially already spent.

          • AmandaBee

            Ah! I must’ve read about it when YNAB4 was still the most recent version, because what I thought you had to do seems to align more with that model. New version might work best for us then!

  • macrain

    We are finally, after 2 years of marriage, beginning to budget! I already feel like this will be so good for us. We have had actual conversations about what we value in terms of money, and what was previously this nebulous, unspeakable thing is now being talked about. It was tough because my husband freelances and I also make more money than he does, so it was bringing up a lot of emotions for him. Also, his family is very generous with us, so he has never felt the need for an “emergency fund.” And while we are very fortunate to have that, financial independence is important to me, and also having that help does not negate the need to save. We are still working on that, but the fact we are talking about it is such a good step in the right direction.
    We just started using LearnVest, which has budgeting tools but also helps you with financial planning (long and short term financial goals, which for us means college planning, retirement, saving for a house, etc etc). It’s like- hiring a financial planner, but for normals.

  • Kara E

    So….anyone hae a recommendation for a non-YNAB and non-mint option? We can’t do crazy things like designate salary vs commission in either YNAB or mint. Stinks. And we can’t easily share google docs (firewall issues).