The Five Minute Fix

Why and how routine can transform your budgeting

Written by Jen Chendea  |  on


I always think that I won’t like routine.

Don’t hold me back, Routine! Stop trying to tie me down, Routine! I’m sorry, Routine, I just want to keep my options open, OK?

But it never takes too long before I come crawling back…. Routine, I’m sorry—I’ll never stray again! You complete me! I need you in my life! Take me back!

We need routine. It frees us up from having to make decisions. When we automate areas of our life by building routines that work, we’re more productive, more organized, and more centered. Routine creates the space and freedom, we craved all along.

I’ve been using YNAB for nine years through three different versions. But it wasn’t until about two years ago, that I set about building a consistent routine for my budgeting. And it’s gone something like this:

No Routine: Late nights catching up on old transactions and printing out my bank statement to do the dreaded reconciliation = BAD.

Routine: Less than five minutes a day, no need to dread a ginormous catch-up = GOOD.

Here’s the system I’ve developed that works best for me:

Daily (Less Than Five Minutes)

  • Every morning (okay, almost every morning) I login to my bank and YNAB, to import and reconcile my accounts.
  • Check the budget for red or orange and move money and make adjustments if necessary.
  • Enter purchases on my phone as I make them.

Once A Week (About Ten Minutes)

  • When I look ahead at my calendar to plan my week, I enter in any upcoming bills or purchases as scheduled transactions.
  • I also use this quick method for making sure I’m still budgeting this month’s income to next month.
  • I glance quickly at the Credit Card Payment categories—do the Available amounts match the account balances? I pay in full each month, so if they don’t match, I know I have to get to the bottom of it.
  • To be sure I haven’t missed anything, I look at All Accounts and sort by cleared—any uncleared transactions that are older than a few days must be investigated. Are they checks that haven’t yet been deposited? Are they duplicates that need to be deleted?

Once A Month (About 20 Minutes)

  • After my last inflow for the month has come in, I double check that To be Budgeted matches Total Inflows.
  • Then I budget all of next month using the Quick Budget buttons and some combination of the Average Spent and Underfunded numbers (to fund my Goals).
  • Reconcile investment accounts to the current balance.
  • Then just lather, rinse, and repeat!

It’s worth mentioning, that part of the reason I’m able to budget so quickly is that, over the years using YNAB, I’ve simplified my accounts and aged my money.

I only have three accounts to update and I can budget once per month because I’m living off the money I earned last month. (It took me awhile to get there—but, boy was it ever worth it!)

The biggest hurdle is just accepting that if you want your circumstances and/or your stress level to change, you will have to change the way you think about money. Once you do, it’s easy to make budgeting a part of your everyday routine.


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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?