YNAB Quick Tips

8 Quick Tips for Your YNAB Budget


Learn eight quick tips to make your YNAB budgeting life even better.

The world of your YNAB budget is like an onion—the layers just keep peeling back. You finally pick the perfect emoji for your grocery category (🥑), and then you discover there can be such a thing as weekly grocery categories?!

Here at YNAB, we like to keep you on your toes. We’ve got a nice lineup of quick tips laid out to surprise and delight. Some of these tips might be old hat, some might be lightbulb moments, and all are meant to make your budgeting life even easier.

These tips are all part of our “Quick Tips” series on YouTube. We break down handy budgeting tricks in 60-ish seconds or less. 

1. Dial In Your Weekly Grocery Spending 

Is it just me, or is the grocery category a spinach-toothed monster that seems to grow every single month? We’ve got a few tips to wrangle your spending:

Yellow belt: Have a grocery category for each week of the month. This tells you your target amount down to the cent for a weekly grocery trip.

YNAB Quick Tips grocery spending weekly

Black belt: Break out your grocery categories weekly, but label one Grocery Spending and “release” the money as you get deeper into the month. This keeps your reporting tidier than a stress-cleaner’s home during quarantine.

See the video below for a quick explanation of what this looks like in your budget:

Whatever is higher than black belt: be like Chrissy and do all your grocery shopping just once per month.

2. Give Your Savings Account Dollars a Job

There’s a common misconception that if you budget money, you have to spend it. Oh, ho ho! Nope, it can sit in your budget for as long as you want. But, even your savings dollars deserve jobs, even if that job is to sit there and look pretty.

Chances are, if you haven’t officially budgeted your savings account dollars, you’ve probably already earmarked the jobs in your brain: an emergency fund, a future vacation, savings for the sake of savings…

Take your ideas and add them to your budget! This lets you see your full financial picture in just one glance. Plus, if you’re budgeting with a partner, this allows you to make sure you’re looking at the same plan, and that means one less money fight to check off the list. âś…

In our budget, we’ve got a “Living Cushion” category which is really just a three-month emergency fund (and of course loosely translated from Baby Step 3 from that other land of budgeting talk). It’s very tempting to just call savings “savings”—but it’s so much more powerful when you actually spell out what you’re saving for: whether it’s an oasis against the unexpected, a pot of money to fix your roof, a stash for a future vacation, or a combination of all three.

Learn a few name-your-savings tricks from Ashley that will turbocharge your progress toward your goals.

3. Give Your Budget a Quick Refresh

We know the joy of a Fresh Start. It’s like a cold shower for your budget (and a very easy way to wipe off the dirt from 92 days of uncategorized transactions). But what if you don’t need a full cold shower, you just need a little dry shampoo and a swipe of deodorant? 

Let us introduce you to the “Set Available Amounts to Zero” button. It’s a mini budget reset that lets you quickly pivot your plan mid-month. Annnnnnd pivot.

4. Foolproof Your Transactions

When you’re debating using Direct Import or adding transactions yourself, did you know you can have your cake and eat it too? Do both—the transactions will be linked together, not duplicated. 

YNAB Quick Tips linking transactions duplicate transactions

Here’s the benefit of doing both: entering transactions on the fly keeps your budget exactly up to date while you’re doing walk-around spending (groceries, eating out, Target), and Direct Import will catch anything you forget or don’t want to enter manually (mortgage, subscriptions, gym membership). There’s also a nice happy little brain zap that happens when you see your transactions linked. Can’t explain it, just try it.

5. Use Flags to Separate Car Maintenance

I will admit, this is the first time I’ve actually understood the purpose of flags, and I’ve been using YNAB for three years now (and minor detail, I work at YNAB). Per usual, our YNAB teacher Kelly broke the mystery for me.

YNAB Quick Tips how to use flags
Flags: taste the rainbow

Let’s hypothetically say I drive a turbocharged 2005 hunter green Mini Cooper S with white racing stripes (just hypothetically) and my husband drives a 2015 beige Toyota Corolla. 

In our budget, any fixes come out of one blanket “Car Repair” category. With flags, we can note Mini Cooper repair costs in green and Corolla repairs in yellow (it’s the closest to beige, right?). Two years from now, we can search by flag color and we see my little zippy Euro car cost $4,356 in repairs and the Corolla cost $2.

We could also slice and dice the data to see total cost of each car by flagging gas fill-ups, registration, and oil changes with the proper color too. The more you know! Granted, for me this knowledge probably won’t change the fact that I will continue to drive my hypothetical hunter green stripey go-kart because it’s just a blast to drive, but for someone else who doesn’t care much about cars, it might!

6. Pin Your Walkaround Categories on Mobile

If you’re entering transactions yourself and not using pins, get ready for this productivity hack. Instead of scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling through your 126 categories to find the eating out category, you can simply pin it to the top of your budget for quick reference.

YNAB Quick Tips pinning categories on mobile

It’ll still live in its carefully planned category group seven scrolls down your budget, but now you can see it at a glance too. If you share a budget with a partner, they can pin their own favorite categories on their phone and it won’t mess up yours! 🎉

Another admittance: I use the mobile app all the time, and just pinned my categories while writing this blogpost. It’s never too late for me, and it’s never too late for you.

7. You’re Three Taps from Giving Dollars Jobs on Mobile

Become a lightning fast budgeter with the quick budget tool on mobile. In just three taps (lightning bolt > underfunded > checkmark) you could fund your whole month’s budget! Now what will you do with all that extra time?

YNAB Quick Tips using Quick Budget on mobile underfunded

8. Slay Target Any Which Way

You bought a new candle, some windshield wipers, and a stack of cereal from Target. Quick: what category do you budget under? Answer: all of them! Use split transactions to direct those dollars to their proper channels.

YNAB Quick Tips split transactions on mobile


Well there you have it, eight quick tips tips to make your YNAB budget even easier. But it doesn’t end there! We’ve got plenty more quick tips over on YouTube. See all our quick tips in one playlist to continue your budgeting skills mastery.