Accountability: Trimming the Fat

Hey there! It’s Christy.

My husband’s adorable grandmother retired last week from her job at a well-known weight loss center. She was a loyal devotee to the program even before she took a job with them, finding great success in their methods for a healthier lifestyle. A few years ago she shared with me what she believed was the reason she had been able to not only lose weight, but keep it off for the better part of twenty years.

“It’s because I keep track of everything I eat.”

“Really?”  I asked, suddenly aware of the giant plate of food that I had compiled at our family party. “You keep track of everything? Even when you go out to eat or grab a handful of something to snack on?”

“Yup! Everything. I write it all down in a little notebook and give each food a point value. This helps me stay on track and avoid over eating. I know exactly how many points I have per day. I choose healthy foods that will keep me inside the allotted amount of points. If I want to splurge on a treat, I plan for that at the beginning of the day and save up food points. It’s been great for me!”

I pushed my overflowing plate a little further away and leaned in, amazed at Grandma’s dedication.

“But—doesn’t that take the joy out of eating? I think it would be such a chore that I would start to resent it. Don’t you ever get the urge to rebel and eat an entire bag of Doritos without telling anyone?”

She laughed.

“It’s actually just the opposite! Keeping track of everything holds me accountable to my choices. It takes the guilt away because I’ve prepared for cheat days and splurges. It hasn’t failed me yet!”

I admit that in that moment I still wasn’t convinced. Sure, Grandma had kept her lean figure for quite a long time, but was it worth all the hassle?

These very thoughts returned as I continued my journey with the YNAB program this week. When we first read about the Four Rules it seemed relatively simple, but the budget rebel in me started to get a bit antsy when I realized I’d be taking the “Grandma approach” with our money: Give every dollar a job and log EVERYTHING.

We dutifully categorized our income into the YNAB app. (Which, for the record, was overwhelming! There are dozens upon dozens of ways you do/may need to/ may want to spend your money. It made my brain cry.) Once that was finished, we felt a surprising satisfaction in having it all laid out and assigned. It didn’t take long to realize that, just like a waistline can quickly expand when you are mindlessly grabbing empty calories, our budget had become bloated from too many little purchases that weren’t properly thought out. We noticed immediately that YNAB took the guesswork out of our expenses. It’s become a “financial diet” of sorts.

Full disclosure: It’s challenging for me to remember to log every random purchase. (I grumbled a little bit today when I had to dig out my receipt for a bottle of soy sauce and a birthday card.) However, I’m starting to understand the wisdom of YNAB. Just like Grandma’s points, there is a comfort in knowing that every dollar is accounted for ahead of time—even the splurges.  Knowing that you are preparing for future purchases by keeping track of your current ones, holds you accountable to your financial choices and keeps the buyer’s remorse at bay.

While we are still in the infant stages of discovering all that YNAB has to offer, we’ve already found peace in having a structured, workable plan. YNAB is helping us to avoid “ripping into a bag of Doritos” without any thought.  (Financially speaking, that is. A girl’s got to have some vices!)

I think Grandma would be proud.

I’d love to hear from some veteran YNABers! Have you continued to record every transaction—even the random grocery runs? Has that helped you cut down on blind spending? Any helpful hints for a newbie who is structurally challenged?