The Best Family Finance Software Changes Lives

Real People, Unreal Results. (Really.)

The police officer, school teacher, engineer, firefighter, attorney, doctor, professor, designer, manager and rocket scientist all have one thing in common: they’re killing it financially with YNAB.

Darla, Stuttgart, Germany

We just finished our first month with YNAB and I still have $1000 in my checking account! It has been my goal for over a year to have some money left at the end of each month. I have only managed it one other month and no where near this much money. It is amazing how much difference it makes to keep track of the money. This last week, my kids have been begging me to go to the grocery store but we had ingredients enough in the cupboards and I was enjoying having so much money in the account that I put it off till now. If I keep this up, I will actually have money in my sinking funds when I need it instead of spending every dime every month and relying on tax returns and moving bonuses for things like Christmas and credit cards for things like car repairs. It will also be nice if I can convince my husband to use some of the saved money for vacations. We've been in Europe for six months now and gone nowhere. We only have 2.5 more years and then we'll be back in the States. Gotta act now. Thanks for the help, YNAB. ~Darla

I posted the above in February, 2009 on the YNAB forum. Since then so much has happened. But let me back up.

We have six children ages 19, 17, 14, 10, 8 and 3. I am home schooling the 14, 10 and 8 year old. We live on base where the kids have access to base transportation and they speak German and can navigate the public transportation so I don't have to play Taxi Mom, for which I am very grateful. I keep house, teach the children, take care our dogs (I am supposed to be taking care of my husband's fish while he's gone but so far I've killed 2 of 3), and all the other jobs that are part of being a stay-at-home military spouse living overseas.

My husband and I have been married over 20 years. He’s been in the military even longer than that. When we got to our first assignment in Korea we went to a local shop and bought a ledger book. Every month we would write down our pay, write down everything we wanted to or needed to spend on in the month and brought the balance to zero before the month began. We also had pages for things we were saving up for, one being a pop corn popper that we still have. Within two years we had saved up enough money to buy a $12000 car with cash.

After that, we somehow lost our motivation to be so careful. We stopped writing in our ledger book. My husband was content to live without it as long as we didn’t spend more than we made each month. Mostly we did OK but sometimes we’d get ourselves into trouble and have to rely on tax returns or moving bonuses to bail ourselves out. Eventually I wanted to go back to keeping a written budget and by then we’d entered the computer age at our house (probably a few years behind the rest of the world) and I just knew there was some software out there that would help me do my budget. I can’t remember the name of the first program I used but I spent more time learning how to draw the little icons that went with each category than learning how to effectively use the program. I gave that one up after a while.

I tried several more programs, never really learning how to get them to do what I wanted them to do. Like I said, my husband was no longer interested in keeping track so I was basically on my own. After many years and several children later, I was not much better at keeping track of our money and although we never got into serious debt, we never seemed to acquire any wealth, either. In 2005 my husband went on an unaccompanied tour to Africa while I stayed in the states with my then 5 children. I was determined to get back to making a budget and keep track of our money since we were now maintaining two households. I went back to paper and pen but even though I  knew where all the money was going I was failing at planning ahead or saving. He returned and then the whole family moved to another country in Africa . I went back to my last software program and gave it another try. I had a cousin who’d used that program his entire married life and loved it. He could track exactly how much money he’d spent on diapers in the past 3 years, etc. but I couldn’t make it work for me.

I was complaining to my sister and she told me about YNAB. I bought it and within the first few minutes of setting it up I recognized it as being very similar to our ledger book method only so much better. For one thing I had a computer to do the math for me and keep track of my sinking funds. I’ve been using YNAB for almost 2 years now. It has helped our family in so many ways. We still don’t have a substantial net worth but that is not YNAB’s fault. Becoming wealthy when there are six children in the family, one in college and another headed there next year, and no huge increase in income…it’s just not the season to become super wealthy. But we have growing sinking funds for education in addition to our college savings plans we started 'not soon enough'.

With our finances more under control, it frees up my mental stress level. That's motivated me to take control of my house and my weight. Another benefit of these financial positives is my attitude towards money and how it is affecting my children. Before YNAB, I always whined about being broke. I'd tell the kids 'we're not poor, we're just broke'. Now I tell them 'we're not broke, we are giving every dollar a job at the beginning of the month and filling our sinking funds'. They are seeing the benefits of those sinking funds in things like the nice Christmas we were able to provide--financially stress-free. It's motivating them to save up their own money. About a year ago we made work charts for them and helped them set goals for the things they wanted to buy. They were thrilled when they were able to turn their hard earned money into a much desired toy. My older children have been a bit more resistant to learning about YNAB but they do feel the positive difference in our overall family finances.

I have been able to track our expenditures over the past two years and plan for our future. I even saved all my receipts when we flew military space available to visit family in the states the past two summers and came home and entered them into my YNAB register so the flow could continue. Now that my husband is deployed in Afghanistan it has again become essential that we track our spending. Maintaining two households is a bit tricky. It has been so much easier this time, though, with YNAB. I’ve been able to use the budget aspect to categorize my money rather than the various bank accounts. I've become better at planning each month and, although I’ve never had as much as $1000 left in my account at the end of the month since that first time, our sinking funds are growing and I’ve even been able to travel a bit in Europe. 

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I recognized it as being very similar to our ledger book method only so much better

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