The Ultimate Financial Advisor: You and Your Budget

whatshouldwedoI’m writing this on behalf of your friendly YNAB education team (Malisa, Lee, Sherri, Todd, Ronna and Dave).

  • We love teaching you about YNAB.
  • We love hearing where you’re from and reaching folks across the globe.
  • We love when you join us for one class and then feel inspired to hang around for other classes that same day.
  • We love when you ask us questions.
  • We love answering them.


Sometimes we get questions in class that we shouldn’t answer.  When it comes down to it, some decisions are really yours to make and what we think doesn’t matter as much as what you think.  The answers depend on your financial situation and your priorities. Here are some examples of what I mean:

“Should I zero out category X at the end of the month, or let those dollars roll into the same category next month?”

That’s totally up to you, it depends. Maybe you’ll decide those dollars are really needed somewhere else.  Or maybe you’ll decide to let it roll in that category and then you won’t need to budget as much in that category next month.

“How much should I budget for car repairs?”

I don’t know, it depends. How old is the car? Does it have a lot of miles on it?  Is it under warranty?  Are you planning to keep driving it for a while?  What kind of work does it need to keep it going? Do you have alternative transportation if it breaks down?

“How much should I be spending on groceries?”

I have no idea, it depends.  How many people in your household?  Do you have any teenagers?  Where do you live?  Are you in an expensive city?  Do you live where you can garden?   Are you or is anyone in your household on a special diet? How much do you love food?

We’re happy to bat ideas and scenarios around (though sometimes that can be tough in a big class), but really in the end, this is up to you.

Here’s the thing we want you to really know: Together with your budget, you are your own best financial advisor.  We can teach you the principles behind YNAB and how to use the software, but as far as what you spend your money on, that’s up to you.

And that’s a good thing!  Budgeting is about aligning your spending to your priorities. Read that again: YOUR priorities.  You know your financial situation better than anyone else.  We have no idea what’s most important in your life.  Who are we to tell you what should or shouldn’t be important to you?

“Should I zero out category X at the end of the month, or let those dollars roll into the same category next month?”

“Wow, we came in under in the grocery category by $42.50.  If we reassign those dollars to debt, we’ll knock that credit card off even sooner.”

That’s a perfectly valid choice.  Maybe the inspiration you get from paying that off will motivate you.

“Hey we’re under in gas.  Let’s leave it there.  We’re driving to see your mom next month so we’ll have higher gas costs.”

That works pretty well, doesn’t it? Now you’ve got a headstart going into next month in your gas category.

How much should I budget for car repairs?

“Well, we just bought this car and it’s under warranty.  So we probably just need to budget for routine maintenance.  Instead of keeping $1000 in that category, let’s keep it at $500 and revisit in a year”

Yeah, that makes sense. Sounds good!

“Hmmm, the car has 142,067 miles on it. If we’re going to keep it we should probably replace the timing belt.  Last year we spent $656.99 on repairs.  Let’s shoot for an $1000 in this category, fix that timing belt and see if we can get it to 200,000 miles.”

How much should I be spending on groceries?

Oh don’t even get me started, I’m not even going to try to play out a scenario on this one. Grocery budgets can vary wildly because they are dependent on so many factors; diet, prices, stores in your area, etc.  Track it.  Look at it.  What do YOU think?  Does it feel high?  Are you comfortable with it?  This is one area where I think the task of comparing to other households doesn’t have as much as value as we’d like it to.

I (Erin) have spent $61.83 on fruit for just me this month.  You may think that’s high.  Too bad, no one is touching my fruit!   Or maybe that’s low from your perspective.  It just depends, doesn’t it?

If you want help understanding the rules and how they work, or how the software works, we’ve got your back.  Ask us anything.  And you know, we’re certainly happy to toss ideas around and discuss different scenarios. The forum is a great place to bat ideas around since sometime we don’t have the time in class.  But we really believe that once you’ve got the information in front of you, you’ll make the right decision.

Trust the budget, trust yourself. Together you’re an unbeatable financial team.

4 Responses to “The Ultimate Financial Advisor: You and Your Budget”

  1. Michelle

    Erin. I loved this article! So absolutely true, but somehow we are afraid of the responsibility… the accountability, that goes with making decisions. Guess that is why I was afraid to start a budget in the first place. It seems easier to let someone else take the fall for a “bad” decision rather taking ownness of those decisions. If you advised me to pay down my credit card with the extra grocery money, but then I had to use my card a few weeks later because I under budgeted in that category, I can put the “blame” on you.
    You are so right. It is our own personal decisions that determine what we do with every dollar. Now. It’s time to put on my big girl panties and decide if I want to put that extra $50 toward our buffer or the credit card. Thanks, Erin!

  2. mark

    Great post, Erin. It reminded me of a question I got when teaching a budgeting class at a church a few weeks back:

    “What’s the right percentage of my income to spend on a mortgage or a car payment?”

    My answer was that I don’t personally believe in trying to section your budget off by percentages or arbitrary “right” amounts. Your budget lets you see how every need and want competes with every other need and want for your limited dollars.

    Don’t ask “what’s the right amount?” Ask, “If I didn’t spend this here, where would I spend it? Would I be better or worse off?”

    Anyway, I enjoyed your thoughts. A budget is the ultimate personal financial advisor.

  3. Randall Huleva

    This was an excellent post Erin. It’s sad, but I think our society is becoming conditioned to let others be responsible for their lives. As much as some may say they want their freedom and independence, their lifestyle choices would suggest otherwise. It’s unfortunate but necessary to remind people that they have the ability to make their own decisions and that they and their family will reap the benefit or live with the consequences of those decisions. It’s simply called personal responsibility and it’s something that we are in VERY short supply of today!

    • erin

      In my experience in classes, I think people generally ask us for recommendations because they think they are supposed to hit certain benchmarks for certain categories. Sometimes they think there is a wrong way and a right way to budget, it’s not so much that they are shirking responsbilities. :) In fact, usually people come to class because they’ve decided to take control of things. That’s what we see anyway. My point here is just to let people know that if they are using the budget, they’ll be able to figure things out themselves, and it really doesn’t matter what others are doing. :)

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