Learning to avoid avoidance

Screen Shot 2014-01-28 at 12.56.31 PMYesterday, I got a scary-looking letter from the IRS.

I could have tossed it, along with all of the other mail, onto my desk, making sure to hide it under a catalog or something so I wouldn’t have to look at it for a few weeks. That’s how I handled paperwork before YNAB.

Instead, I opened it.

I used to be so disorganized that I was always getting government letters or second notices from billers. I automatically assumed anything I didn’t recognize had to be bad news. And the only way to avoid bad news, as everyone knows, is not to open the mail.

Eventually, when the letters came by registered mail or the notices started showing up on pink paper or with return addresses from collection agencies (I’m ashamed to say that happened once or twice), I would reluctantly deal with them — and, often, the associated late fees — in a desperate and sometimes tearful fashion.

The amazing thing, which I only figured out a couple of years ago, was that this finely honed craft of avoidance never actually saved me any time, trouble or money. How could I have known?

In fact, I wasted a lot of energy avoiding the envelopes under the catalogs on my desk and lying awake in bed wondering just how bad things really were. I felt guilty knowing that I should be opening the mail. I lived under a constant cloud of low-level financial anxiety.

After I found YNAB, however, I determined that I couldn’t really move forward with a budget until I knew what my bills were. (Yes, this was a revelation for me. And yes, I swear I am in many other ways an intelligent person.)

It took several evenings, and several glasses of wine to brace me, but little by little I got through every piece of paper on my desk. I paid what I could pay, called or wrote to creditors and government agencies, and filed or recycled the rest. It was the first time I had seen my whole desktop in years and, more important, the first time in my entire adult life I didn’t have a single unopened envelope haunting me.

So, yesterday’s IRS letter? It was a notice for my husband’s business saying that, while I had paid all the payroll taxes for the first quarter of 2013, I had failed to file the associated report. I made a copy of the report (which I swear I had filed, but let’s face it, I’m still not perfect) and mailed it out, saving myself weeks of needless worry and guilt.

The late filing may carry a small fine. If so, that notice will come later.

And I will open it the day it arrives.

Tomorrow is New Year’s Day, But Budgeting Has Me in a Thanksgiving State of Mind

calendar_blankAfter YNAB’s two week holiday break, I woke this morning covered in Chik-fil-a wrappers and styrofoam take-out containers from the local Thai joint. And empty Coke Zero cans. And apple pie crust.

Bleary-eyed, I stumbled to my computer and fired up YNAB.

“I haven’t looked at my budget in over two weeks,” I told my brother (who also YNABs) over instant messenger.

“I reconciled this morning,” he replied. “It was a bloodbath.”

I imagined I’d be in for the same, given the lack of attention I’d paid my budget during the time off work. We’d had family in town; we’d eaten out a ton; we’d gone to the movies with the kids. We’d generally lost our minds.

I imported transactions from my bank and credit card (something I normally don’t do), and assessed the damage quickly:

  • Groceries: -$60
  • Restaurants: -$192 (bam!)
  • Other Medical: -$73
  • Entertainment: -$55

Total December Overage: -$380

Hm, that’s not so bad. Exceeding budget by close to 8% isn’t pretty, but could have been much, much worse.

But wait! Discretionary surpluses!

A quick scan through my budget revealed some nice under-spending (numbers shown are the remaining category balance).

  • Household Needs: $153.98
  • Fuel: $5.20
  • Kate’s Fun Money: $39.74
  • Mark’s Fun Money: $28.74
  • Clothing: $54.07
  • School Supplies: $9.17
  • Christmas: $51.14

Total December Surplus: $342.04

Actual December Overage: $37.96

And  that’s why I love budgeting, especially budgeting the YNAB way. In a month where we shut our eyes to the budget and basically went (what felt like) hog-wild, our consumption binge put a $38 dent in our finances. And thanks to YNAB Rule 3, that $38 comes out of next month’s ‘Available to Budget’ money. No big deal.

How Budgeting Saved Me from Myself

I’m wondering how this happened. While I was ignoring my budget, I knew the day of reckoning was coming. I assumed it would be awful. Bad enough that I’d have to dip substantially into my emergency fund to cover the binge.

The only thing I can figure is ten months of budgeting has rewired me – changed my internal definition of normal.

This is exciting. It means YNABing has made me better at money in spite of myself.

I still got that nice little consumption buzz during my budgeting break. It felt like a walk on the wild side. I wanted to turn to the stranger next to me at the movies and ask “Hey, did you check your Entertainment category balance before you bought these tickets? NEITHER DID I. So, you think Kristen Bell did her own singing?”

But, thanks to the budgeting habit, the buzz wasn’t followed by a nasty hangover, ie credit card debt.

And that’s why I’m grateful for budgeting as we kick off a new year, and I hope you are, too.

If you don’t have a budget, start one today. If you’ve had one, but you’ve ignored it a little too long, make a Fresh Start (live class). In either case, giving every dollar a job is the key to making it a great year for your finances.

How to go from stressed out to certain with your finances in 2014.

bag of moneyAn effective budget will take you from stress to certainty with your finances. Check out this budgeting success story from “petra09″ in the You Need A Budget forum to see how she transitioned from constant money worries to peace of mind – in spite of losing her job. 

“In Feb, I hit a wall with controlling my finances. The year prior, due to a generous gift, I had become debt-free and yet within a few months I was again on the way to credit card debt hell. Despite all my efforts, I was still confused each month as to how my expenses were miraculously covered by my income and the credit card [debt] was growing again.

On top of this, I knew my job was going to be cut in a matter of months and despite shoving money into an account each month, I had no idea if it was enough or why I didn’t seem to be getting anywhere with savings. Then there was a car to buy, a cat surgery required, and my own surgery to pay off. Going to the grocery story was an exercise in guilty “I think I have enough” purchases, going out with friends was a drink away from a panic attack, and no matter what I did, I never felt confident all the bills would be covered.

I would neurotically check my balances, but never know whether it was enough despite spreadsheets, post-it notes, and a very patient boyfriend who couldn’t understand my feeling of helplessness due to his own innate budgeting ability. Worst of it: I knew I wasn’t in true danger. I had friends in far worse situations, not to mention folks who were relying on friends and family to keep them from losing their homes. Why couldn’t I just get this right? What would happen if I didn’t do something?

I googled budget software and threw myself at the mercy of YNAB hoping I wasn’t a completely lost cause. I gave myself completely to the Four-Rule methodology, gave every dollar a job, and told myself that even though I didn’t know where that $60 was going to come from to pay for it, at least it was better than doing nothing.

Ten months later, I was happily reviewing my end-of-year numbers and came across a note I’d made that day in my “Rainy Day Funds” line item:

My 2013 Financial Goals:
1) Pay off debt ($1103.20)
2) Save $6000 in emergency money ($600/mon)
3) Put $1000 down on car payment in Nov ($111/mon)

I sat back in my chair and was overwhelmed in gratitude and pride. Thanks to YNAB, I had not only completed each and every one of those goals with money to spare, I had done a complete 180 on how I felt about finances.

I no longer worry about if I can pay off the credit card balance – now it’s always paid off in full each month. I can go out to drinks with friends and not sit there in a state of panic of whether that cocktail means I can’t make rent at the end of the month (I don’t even understand how that could happen now). When I got the layoff date, I was quickly able to finance my car (with a generous down payment) without worrying about how I was going to make the monthly payment while unemployed. Why? Because I had not only met my emergency savings goal, but I had modeled out what life unemployed would look and had budgeted appropriately. Now that I’m job hunting, I’m armed with data to know whether or not a salary will work for my life rather than hoping everything will be covered “somehow.” I’m confident in my spending and saving decisions rather than paranoid and stressed.

YNAB gave me the control I needed over my finances to take back my life and make my money work for me rather than hold me hostage each month. Every time I open my app and add a transaction or budget for Feb in Dec, I feel good. I know I’m taking care of myself and with the habits YNAB has helped me form, I’m just kinda a better human being. This year, my 2014 financial goals won’t be a “hope this works…” dream – they’ll be solid numbers I know I can make happen.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, to the YNAB team and this forum. You’ve changed my life and I couldn’t be more grateful. I think my friends are a little sick about how much I love this software, but seriously, I couldn’t be where I am without it.

Have an awesome successful 2014 and happy budgeting to all!”

Reason #297 I Love Budgeting: When Someone Finally Cashes a Check I Wrote, It Doesn’t Wreck My Day

stethescopeAbout six weeks ago I wrote a $400 check to a doctor. He must have stuffed it in the glove box of his BMW*, because weeks past and the check didn’t post to my account. I actually started hoping he’d lost the check (don’t judge me), but a few days ago the check finally cleared and the $400 left my bank account.

So, who cares? Well, in my pre-budgeting days, this is how it would have gone:

1. I write the check.

2. I forget about it.

3. Doc stuffs check in glove box.

4. Weeks pass as I go on living my paycheck-to-paycheck, close to redline life.

5. Doc’s auto detailing guy finds check in glove box, gives it to Doc, who finally deposits it.

6. Check overdraws my checking account; I say bad words (hopefully under my breath if the kids are around).

Thanks to budgeting (with YNAB), it goes like this instead:

1. I write the check and record it in my checking account register (in YNAB).

2. I forget about it.

3. Doc stuffs check in glove box.

4. Weeks pass as I go on living the budgeted life.

5. Doc’s auto detailing guy finds check in glove box, gives it to Doc, who finally deposits it.

6. I notice the check has posted, mark the transaction as “Cleared” in my budget (which updates my cleared checking account balance, but not my working balance**), and go on about my day.

That’s budgeting bliss. Fewer surprises, fewer bad words, and less stress.

*He actually did drive a BMW, but I made up the part about the auto detailing guy. Is it really that big a stretch?

**If you’d like to learn the difference between “cleared balance” and “working balance”, take a 34-day free trial of YouNeedABudget. You’ll be glad you did.

Five YNAB Success Stories to Inspire Your Inner Budget Nerd

ynab4_icon1. Wife Converts Husband to Budgeting with the Help of the YNAB Mobile App

“financial_mom” is the natural bookkeeper and budgeter in her happy marriage. Her husband isn’t a details guy, so he didn’t take take much interest in the budget. That put financial_mom in the position of “budget cop” – a job she didn’t want. See how she used YNAB’s budgeting rules – and the mobile app – to get her husband on board.

2. Elliot used YNAB to Discover and Correct a Mistaken Charge – and Covered the Cost of YNAB in the Process. 

During his 34-day free trial, YNAB showed Elliot an incorrect $60 charge to his debit card – something he’d have missed in his non-budgeting days. The correction “paid” for YNAB – not a bad reward for his new budgeting habit. But that’s not his biggest budgeting win. Read his story to hear how budgeting has impacted his relationship with his fiancee.

3. Family of four uses YNAB’s 4 Rules to Stop Overdrawing Accounts without Cutting Life’s Little Luxuries

Before YNAB, “Bidimus”, his wife, and their two kids were the typical check-to-check family who relied on their overdraft line of credit to plug the holes in their finances. Seven months into their life as budgeters, they’re off the line of credit and pursuing a five-year path to total debt freedom – all without having to cut life’s little luxuries.

4. YNAB Helps a Budgeting Beginner Tackle His Debt and Finally Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Kennef had his head buried in the sand. He was behind on bills and debt payments, and on the verge of eviction. After some serious introspection he resolved to deal with his problems head on. Thanks to his new resolve – and YNAB’s 4 Rules – he’s slowly but surely turning things around.

5. YNAB Gives Pizza Lover the Confidence to File Amended Tax Return and Score an Extra $1,000 Refund

I had to include this one because the sheer joy of it gave me a great laugh. A quote from the story:

“Because of YNAB I now know EXACTLY how I will use this money! Well…let me restate that. I WILL know…tomorrow. As stated earlier, I’m a bit drunk, and my money allocation skills might be a bit impaired. I spent approximately 1.5% of my refund on pizza and drinks tonight, combined with a very generous tip to the waitress. I needed a Buddy’s Pizza fix badly, and Buddy’s make the best Cosmos on the planet!”

Here’s to budgeting and Buddy’s. Have a great weekend!

Confessions of a YNAB Teacher

Erin

Mark’s recent blog post about the buffer reminded me of how I saved mine, so I thought I’d share my buffer journey.

I remember the day I found YNAB.

It was 2006, and I had just added up my credit card debt (almost $9,000) and knew I needed to do something.  YNAB popped up in a google search.  I spent two days pouring over the material on the site before purchasing.  When you finally come to the realization that you don’t have any money, spending money to solve the problem feels counter intuitive, you know?

But I couldn’t poke any holes in the method.  Give Every Dollar a Job. Save for Rainy Days.  Roll with the Punches.  Live on Last Month’s Income*.  This felt like common sense stuff, except for one thing I could not get past:

“I will never be able to save up one month’s expenses. Who does this Jesse** guy think he is? Does he really think people can do this?”

I was finally facing my debt and it felt like THAT should be my top priority.  One month’s expenses felt like a lot of money.  I needed to rid myself of debt!

So here’s my confession:  When I bought YNAB, I had no intention of implementing Rule Four.  It felt insurmountable when weighed against my debt.  But I figured the other rules would still help address some of my issues.

And you know what, they did.  I immediately felt more control over my finances.  I knew what my money was doing thanks to Rule One. Rule Two really helped me even things out so I wasn’t blindsided by less frequent expenses.  When things went wrong, I adapted and adjusted per Rule Three.  Things were going…okay.

I became a forum rat and read the blog whenever Jesse posted something new. But I still wasn’t feeling this “magical thing” that people on the forum were talking about. Things were better, but months later, my life didn’t feel radically changed.

Then I started reading posts on the forum by people who’d been successful with YNAB. They were living on last month’s income and their lives really did seem changed.

That’s when I realized that unless I tried, I would never get a buffer.  By not trying, I had removed all chances for success.

So I made a deal with myself.  I decided that I would put something toward my buffer that month.  I would try.  In my mind, I imagined that it would be about $10.  But hey, $10 is a step in the right direction! I resolved to work on it even if it took a long time.   I wanted to grow a surplus in some categories (car repairs) but in others I didn’t care about a surplus (eating out).  So I shuffled things around and I threw any extra money I could at the buffer.  At the end of the first month, I’d saved $100.

Here’s the kicker:  It wasn’t that hard.  That $100 was surprisingly easy to find.  Hey, if I can do it one month, I can do it every month!  I decided to send a set amount of money toward my credit card debt and put everything else to the buffer.  (I had moved my credit card debt to a zero percent card, so the debt wasn’t costing me anything, at least in that sense.)

Then I had a month with an extra paycheck, so I threw a bunch of that at the buffer.  The positive momentum fed on itself.  I went through my house and looked for all the things I hadn’t used or touched in years and sold some stuff on craigslist.  That went to the buffer.  Within a few months, things started to feel really different.  Cash flow was no longer a concern.  I wasn’t worried about the bank balance.

My buffer was growing and more importantly, it started to feel possible.  I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Now, full disclosure: I had two setbacks while I was saving my buffer.  I had a car die and a computer die.  If those things had not happened, I would have saved my buffer much sooner.  In the end it took me about a year from when I started trying.  I believe it was June 2008 when I finally got my buffer.  A few months before that,  I was thinking ahead a bit. I realized that with an extra paycheck and a little cutting back, I could squeeze through June on the money I’d saved.  That meant my June paychecks could take care of July and I’d be there.

It wasn’t until I finally arrived that I understood the magical part of having a buffer.  The peace of mind can not be overstated.  I set all my bills on auto pay. I knew I could because the money would be there. If a month was going to be tight I could see it coming before it arrived, giving me time to adjust and adapt.

But the biggest change was the impact on my cash flow.  Here’s a few charts to illustrate my point.

This is what my cash flow situation looked like before YNAB.  I was paid twice a month.  The dollars represent my paychecks.

I’d get paid and immediately spend down the paycheck.  Sometimes I’d run out of money before the next check arrived and have to use a credit card.  It was a state of constant stress.

Then I started saving money for rainy day funds and that helped a little.  I had more cash in the bank cushioning me from the financial edge and the spending and earning was sitting on top of those funds.

But take a look what things looked like once I had saved my buffer:

My earning and spending was happening on top of a huge cash reserve.  My buffer and rainy day funds grew my bank balance.  I was living on less than I earned.

It was totally worth it.  I would never go back.  Never having to worry you have money to handle things is magical.  Not having to time paychecks to bills is life changing.  With this in place, I now spend far less time managing my money because things just hum along.

It reminds me of something that happened every year when I taught public school. Before working for YNAB, I used to teach high school music. Fall was audition season when kids would try out for regional and state honors festivals.   Every year kids would come up to me and ask, “Miss Lowell, do you think I have a chance of making it into the District chorus?”  My answer was always the same.  “If you try out, you have a chance. If you don’t try out, you have no chance at all.”

Do you want a buffer? Increase your odds immediately by deciding to try.  $10.  $50.  Put something towards the buffer each month.

The positive momentum will feed on itself.  Things will start to feel easier.  You’ll worry less.  You’ll feel more confident.  It doesn’t matter how long it takes you.  Just work on it and consider each dollar saved progress.

Join the cool kids in Bufferland.  Because I can assure you, once you are there, you will never want to leave.

*When I found YNAB, Rule Four was Rule One. Mark was wondering in his buffer blog post about why we changed the order.  We did it because when Live on Last Month’s Income was first, it gave new users the impression that they couldn’t use YNAB if they didn’t have a buffer when they started, which is of course not true. It’s the only rule most people need to work towards over time.  But the other three rules help you get there, so Rule Four is really the ultimate goal.

**Jesse is one of the smartest guys I know.  He knows money.  Listen to him.

It’s Probably Not the Best Idea to Make a Costco Run on Foot

groceries

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

My wife is no big spender, but during her regular visits to Costco she’s been known to throw this and that into the cart along with items from her list. Problem is, “this and that” at Costco can easily add $50 to your bill.

So when she told me she needed a few things from our favorite bulk food outlet, I offered to go instead. “Just text me your list,” I innocently said.

Driving to work that day left me missing my morning walk to the office. To ensure I hit my mileage for the day, I decided to walk to Costco, pick up the food, walk back to the office, and then drive home.

You Decided to Walk to Costco?

You’re probably asking:

  • How far from your office is Costco?
  • How did you plan to get the groceries back to your office?
  • But, seriously, how were you going to get the groceries back to the office?

My answers:

  • Google Maps (which is a lying liar) pegged the distance at 1.4 miles (for a 2.8 mile round trip). As I flashed my membership card to the nice lady at the Costo entrance, my iPhone gps app registered 1.9 miles. Uh oh.
  • I had no plan for transporting the groceries back to the office. Actually that’s not true. My brilliant plan was: carry them.

As I headed out of the office, Chance (YNAB COO), said (with some confusion in his voice) “Do you think you maybe want to take your backpack?”

My backpack! No wonder Chance gets the fancy title.

After grabbing my backpack, I confidently strolled out of the office and marched myself to Costco.

I quickly made my rounds through the store, picking up the items on Kate’s list:

  • Four loaves of bread.
  • A six-pack of Orange juice concentrate.
  • A large bag of spinach.
  • A big plastic container of grapes.
  • A block of Tillamook sharp cheddar.
  • And…four dozen eggs.

As I headed to the checkout, my confidence in the mission wavered. The pile of food in my cart seemed like a bad combination of big and heavy.

I checked out, loaded everything into a pretty good-sized fruit box (you know how they do it at Costco) and headed for the door.

Once I cleared the door, I ditched my cart, loaded the spinach and the cheese into the backpack (thanks Chance), which left the juice concentrate, grapes, and the eggs in the box.

Welp, I thought to myself, we’ll see how this goes.

You’ll be shocked to hear the box made for an awkward carry.

I hefted it onto my shoulder, busboy style, and walked about 10 steps. My shoulder tired quickly, and I switched to a more traditional forklift approach.

Ten or twenty more steps, and I was ready to set the box down on the nearest mini-van and call my wife to bail me out.

No! That’s the coward’s way out. Finish the mission.

I made it to a stoplight and rested my load on the crosswalk button. One of my neighbors happened to drive by, giving me a confused look and a wave.

Only then did I realize how ridiculous I must look. Grown man, walking out of the Costco parking lot wearing a stuffed backpack and carrying a large box of groceries on his shoulder.

The light changed; I marched on. After a couple hundred yards I realized the box just wasn’t going to work out – it was too blasted awkward.

Luckily, I was right next to one of the two grocery stores I’d passed on my way to Costco. Did I forget to mention those?

I walked up to the store, set my box down on the ground in front of the big sliding doors, went in and grabbed five or six grocery bags.

Am I shoplifting? I remember wondering.

Back outside, I transferred the eggs, orange juice, and grapes into the bags, and took off, hoping there wasn’t a teen-aged grocery bagger behind me dialing up the cops.

Ahh, yes. The bags made for easier carrying.

Although I do have to hold them out from my sides to keep from banging them into my legs…

And, man, these bags are heavier than I thought. My arms are going numb…

And, hm, I don’t think I got the weight distributed quite evenly between the two bags, and the fingers on my left hand are dangerously close to giving out.

With dead arms and purple fingers, I picked up the pace. Fast enough to cut my time down, but not fast enough to risk blowing out the bottoms of the bags. So, instead of Strange Guy with Backpack and Big Box of Food, I’m now Weirdo Gently Speed-walking with Two Grocery Bags in Each Hand.

Finally I turned a corner and my office came into view.

I shouldered the door open, plodded up the stairs, and unloaded the food in the office’s kitchen area, cursing my own stupidity.

Chance walked by just then, and cheerfully asked “How’d it go?”

Panting and sweating, all I could think to say was,

“I hope the eggs survived.”

YNAB Success Story Winners Announced!

Whew!

After days of working through all of the awesome success story submissions, we finally, finally have the winners!

We’ll building out a lot of these success stories to feature over the coming weeks (years — there are a ton and they will blow your mind, and make you cry.) Without further ado, here are the winners with a quick photo, and a highlight from their success story:

Amazon Kindle (2)

Diane Simmler & Family (Maine)
Here I am having used YNAB for four years (48 months) and I’m so excited!! In 2007 we paid off our vehicle loans. Then by September of this year we paid off the last of our $32,000 in credit card debt! We have $1000 emergency fund, and $3000 saved toward renovating our kitchen. After getting out of debt, our first goal was to save for matching furniture for the living room; it was going to be a while. On a drop-off visit to Salvation Army, however, I saw a couch and loveseat that almost exactly matched what I was planning to buy! I snatched them up for $250 and started saving for the kitchen.

I’m excited about what this next year is going to bring….financially and otherwise!

Brian Cassin (Massachusetts)
Feelings…. At first I was in shock. Once I got how it worked and was following the principles I realized how serious my overspending was. I wanted to stick my head back in the sand. But I kept going. I started to see areas were I wasn’t being disciplined enough in my spending. I also felt mad at first because I had to put limits on my spending habits. It felt constraining, then as I got more into it, I started to feel relief, because I knew EXACTLY where my money was going. I felt more relaxed because I am now in control of what my money does.

Apple iPad (3)

Jeremy and Diana Ashley (Minnesota)
When we first heard about YNAB we were in desperate need of some financial organization. We had about $33,000 in debt not including our mortgage. We were in the middle of the adoption process for our daughter, which would be adding upwards of $20,000 to debt. Jeremy was in school, completing his Master’s Degree, struggling to pay tuition without accruing any new debt…

…After nearly 2 years of using YNAB, we have been able to pay our adoption expenses without accruing any debt, as well as reduce our debt by over $20,000. We were able to completely pay Jeremy’s tuition and he earned his Master’s Degree without taking out any student loans.

Ruben and Wanda Romero (Pennsylvania)
Once we had a plan in place, we knew what we had to do and we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. We sat down several times a month and talked about how much money was coming in and how it was being spent. We decided together how every dollar would be spent. We stopped pointing the finger at the other person and talked about real and perceived problems. We started managing our money instead of it managing our relationship. We started to trust each other and rekindle those feelings we had for each other when we fell in love 44 years ago. We started using envelopes to manage our cash. We stopped using charge cards.

To help get us out of the financial hole we were in and to allow Ruben to contribute more to his retirement plan, we started delivering two early morning newspapers routes. Our youngest son earned his spending money helping us to deliver papers. Once he went off to college, the paper route money helped to pay his college tuition. We knew it wouldn’t be forever, but YNAB allowed us to see clearly what we needed to do.

Charlie Butter and Family (Minnesota)
Before YNAB I lived in the “paycheck to paycheck” world… always worried about the next payment due and wondering if I had enough to avoid another overdraft. I wasn’t sure what my balance was and worried that I might get caught in the “overdraft snowball” that swallows you up and buries you deeper and deeper in debt and frustration…

Almost one year to the day since starting YNAB, I’m happy to say that we were able to stop the foreclosure and get back on top of our mortgage. We also started paying down some pesky debt (totaling between $10-12,000) which will be completely gone by June, 2011. We are one month from having our full buffer in place at which time we feel we’ll have come full circle and be in complete control of our finances.

Apple Macbook Air

And now, for the grand prize…

the winner of the brand new Macbook Air…

Angela DeMoura (California)
Without the clear picture that YNAB has provided, this period of unemployment could have been devastating. What is it? 70% of all marriages that fail cite finances as the number one cause of stress? Or maybe the percentage is even higher – but honestly, thanks to YNAB, we have been able to weather this storm. We know what we have, we are not surprised by our bills, we know when we can say yes and when we need to say no. We have had more real living in the past year than we ever have with trips to South Dakota, Magic Mountain, even Disneyland, because we know what the decisions to spend will mean to our overall financial picture. YNAB has truly given us freedom.

Now for some housekeeping…

Contest winners, congratulations! Please contact anne [at] youneedabudget [dot] com so she can coordinate getting your prize to you!

To everyone: Thank you so much for submitting all of your amazing success stories. They were an absolute pleasure to read — some of them simply unbelievable.

Heading into 2011 CONFIDENT About Money

We received this email from Elizabeth and it was too great not to share!

YNAB has totally changed my life! Budgeting and money management used to reduce me to tears and cause me and my husband to argue. Not any more! We’ve been able to build up a healthy buffer and pay down some debts as well as start to plan for larger expenditures like a new mattress and new computers. Going into the new year I feel confident about money in a way I never have before in my LIFE. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Best wishes for 2011, and keep doing what you all do so very well.

Help Us Tell the Real YNAB Story

I know you guys have ‘em: Success stories!

Many of you have already written to me and posted on the forums, excitedly telling us how YNAB has helped you. And now I’d like to ask you to help us by sharing your story with us in an even bigger way!

For sharing your story with us, I’d like to give away a Macbook Air…

And three iPads.

And two $100 Amazon gift cards.

We’ll talk about the Prizes, then work backward

Our favorite success story will win a Macbook Air. The three runners-up will receive iPads. That’s right, runners-up get iPads.

(Your success story will be voted on internally by the YNAB Team–Ian, Erin, Steve, Anne, Andrea, Sebastian, Taylor and Jesse).

And just for submitting a success story, you’ll be randomly entered to win one of two $100 Amazon gift cards.

What We Need from You

(1) A great success story telling us how YNAB helped you pay off debt, save a lot of money, or otherwise improved your life! We won’t be judging them solely on the numbers. You get points for style, tenacity, turnarounds, persistence, dogged determination, creativity…etc.

Our questionnaire will provide you with some questions to get the juices flowing, but this is your success story so we want to hear from you.

(2) Some nice, high-resolution pictures (three or four) of you, with friends, or with family, etc. We’ll want to put these pictures on the website (see an example here) so others can be inspired by you and your success. (People are hugely motivated to see that real people have done what they’re trying to do!)

(3) This probably goes without saying, but by submitting your success story and pictures, you’re giving us permission to use the story and pictures in marketing material, which may or may not include your picture plastered across a blimp as it hovers over the Super Bowl.

Rules and Guidelines

1. The story needs to be true.

Deadline

Success Story submissions will be due by midnight, December 31st, 2010 Friday, January 7th, 2011. Click the button just below to get started:

Submit Your Story

(January 14, 2011): The competition is now closed for new submissions. We’re working through the 20 finalists.

We welcome (and love) your comments below, but remember: To enter the contest, you need to click the big red “Submit your story” button above!