5 YNAB Budgeting Habits

5 Budgeting Habits to Win in YNAB

Written by Rachel Ellen  |  on


In the world of YNAB, we have a few things that are the budgeting equivalents of “drink water, sleep more, eat kale” and we wanted to pass along these bits of advice to help you get moving in the right direction and fast-track your success: 

1. Budget Together

For couples, it comes as no surprise that fights about money are longer and more intense than other kinds of arguments—and the stakes are high. The secret to walking through these money fights unscathed is by acting like a team rather than opposing parties. If you’re in a committed relationship, the more you can make financial decisions together and both have an idea of what’s going on in your household financially, the less those arguments will build up and sting. 

Ryan, the digital marketing director here at YNAB, talks about how he started budgeting as a team with his wife, Meghan. They both valued traveling, and after they completely turned around their budget, they were able to take an extended trip to Spain and Portugal with their two kids. This was all thanks to a shared commitment to a shared budget that represented shared priorities. Bam!

When you start setting goals together, you’ll walk in step like you never have before. 

Ok, but I’m rockin’ my budget solo. How does this apply to me? 

Game on! No money fights to be had with you except between the angel and devil sitting on your proverbial shoulder. We will say that it’s so valuable to get plugged into a budgeting community where you can ask questions and be encouraged. Check out the YNAB Facebook Fans Group (not affiliated or run by us, just avid users, who host the most welcoming corner of all the Interwebs). 

2. Update Often

The more frequently you update your budget, check your transactions, and move money around, the more “on the pulse” and in control of your money you’ll be. It doesn’t have to be daily—but at least a couple of times a week makes a huge difference. Especially when you are just starting, quantity over quality—a couple minutes, every day—can make all the difference.

One Customer Support Specialist, Chrissy, says it best: “Short sprints every day totally beat head-scratching and guessing every two weeks.” 

“A lot of us include a budget check in our morning routines but people can get really creative about this,” says Kelly, one of YNAB’s full-time teachers. “I know one of our developers has an ongoing contest to enter the transaction before the credit card machine finishes processing the transaction.” 

There’s all sorts of cadences for budgeting updates, we just recommend at a minimum you check a few times a week, especially as you begin. The more you know, right? 

3. Be Flexible

“Rigid budgets break” says Erin, YNAB’s OG teacher.

Wait, you guys are just repackaging Rule 3. Roll with the Punches. 

Yes, yes we are. It’s just that good! The importance of flexibility is the difference between your budget adjusting to your life and your budget snapping (and you quitting altogether). The single most important quality of a good budgeter is that you just keep budgeting. Flexibility makes it possible. 

Dave, another one of our wonderful teachers, talks about the time he ate his motorcycle for dinner. Ok, so he didn’t really eat an exhaust pipe or anything like that, but he did blow his “dining out” budget on garlic and balsamic mussels (and that was just the first course!). He had to flex his budget and move money over from the Yamaha bike he was saving for. 

This leads to another great subset piece of advice: find the money first! Before you spend, double check your budget, and decide where the money will come from. This keeps you honest in spending your money on the things you actually value, because it forces you to prioritize.

4. Plan Ahead

Wait wait wait, you’re doing it again! This is Rule 2: Embrace Your True Expenses!

Oh fine—you are no fun. But you know what is the most fun? Having money ready when you need it! For the uninitiated, YNAB’s Rule 2: Embrace Your True Expenses is all about treating larger, less frequent expenses like monthly bills. For instance, if you put aside $100 every month for Christmas, when December rolls around you’ll have $1,200 sitting there, just waiting to spend on gifts and general merriment. No credit card required! 

You would be shocked at how few “emergencies” you have when you are putting money aside every month for things that you know are coming, one way or another. 

First, you need to embrace your true expenses. Plan ahead for the less-frequent bills and expenses by setting up goals for them each month. Think through all the expenses that are or could be coming down the pike (holidays, insurance premiums, car repairs, vacations,…) and treat them in your budget like monthly expenses. 

Once you’ve already nailed down all the triannual water bills and biannual insurance payments in your budget, think about the things that actually spark joy. It’s not all drudgery, you see! How can you plan ahead for those crisp perfect Egyptian cotton sheets so you can splurge guilt-free? Little by little, every month—and you’ll be snuggling up before you know it. Dream big about what you want and how you could get there. (If you want to really embrace your true inner budgeting nerd, take it one step further and plant a wish farm.)

5. Take the Time

People sometimes complain they don’t have time to budget, but the reality is you can either stress about money incessantly, on and off throughout the day and night, seven days a week, or you could take 5-10 minutes a day and go on the offensive. 

“We all spend time on our money each week—we’re either spending time worrying and stressing about money or feeling aware and in control of what it’s doing for us,” Kelly says. 

The cool thing about getting proactive is slowly but surely it gets easier, and decisions come more easily. Soon, your budget will run like a well-oiled machine, so it might just take less and less time—efficiency at its finest.

We’re either spending time worrying and stressing about money or feeling aware and in control of what it’s doing for us.

-Kelly, YNAB teacher

No matter where you are in your journey, this good basic advice remains that tall drink of water on a hot summer’s day—ushering you on to further budgeting glory. By following these budgeting top tips, you’ll be riding off into the sunset in no time. And what that really means: you’ll gain control of money, and thus gain control of your life’s choices.

Sounds pretty great, huh? Pass the kale!


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Your Next Step

Budgeting is not restrictive. You won’t be spending less, you’ll be spending right. So what do you have to lose? Except all that debt and stress?