Could You Scrounge up $6k in Less Than 18 Months?

How a crafty college professor (plus, a free trial of YNAB) forever changed Nick’s life.

In his own words, Nick Bratcher, a 25-year-old from St. Louis, describes how he got hooked on YNAB …

I took a personal finance class my junior year of college. Admittedly, getting a free [year-long] trial of YNAB was part of the course requirements, but the reason I continued using YNAB after the course is a much better story.

One class, my professor singled out the men in the room (about half of the 75 people total in the class) and asked, “How many of you, presuming you could find the right girl, would like to be in a relationship?”

I put my hand up, as did many of the guys in the class.

“Anybody wanna get married in the next five years?”

A good portion of the guys put their hands down. (Millennials, am I right?)

He then looked at a couple of girls and asked, “How long would you date a guy before expecting him to propose?”

“Five years,” one said.

“Wow, that’s patient of you,” my professor replied. “Anyone else?”

“Two years,” another piped up.

“Three years.”

“One year.”

“Six months.”

“Hm,” my professor mused, a glint in his eye. “Sounds like you guys might not have a choice if you want your dream girl!”

“But let’s give the guys some wiggle room, and assume they’d, at least, like the girls to know that they’re not just playing around with their emotions. Can we agree that two years is long enough to know if you love someone?”

The girls assented. I remember the one who answered “Six months.” sighing a bit at the reality of the male species’ proclivity to passivity, kind of a “humph” of resignation.

“So guys,” my professor continued, “let’s say you’ve hit a home run and found the girl of your dreams. And let’s give you the benefit of the doubt and assume it only took you six months to realize it. That gives you one and a half years to save up for a ring before it appears you’ll be expected to propose.”

“Now, fellas, how much do you think you should spend on an engagement ring?”

I’ll save you some details, but we arrived at a couple thousand dollars.

“Now ladies,” my professor said smiling. “I’m going to ask you a similar question. How big does the diamond need to be? Don’t think of the price! Just ask yourself what seems right.”

“Two carats!” rang out from the same girl who had said the bit about six months. (God help this dream guy of hers.)

After some debate, one carat seemed like a reasonable size.

My professor smiled and pulled up on the overhead projector. “This,” he chortled, “is what a one-carat, round diamond solitaire ring costs. About $6,000. Alright men, who can find $6,000 in a year and a half?”

I’ve been using YNAB ever since.

A Ring Fund Is Born

For the past four-ish years, since that fortuitous finance class, Nick has socked away $100 a month, just in case he crosses paths with his future beloved. What a guy, right?

But, what’s even cooler, is how that realization expanded his whole outlook about life and the power of money. Nick didn’t stop at a ring fund, he applied his professor’s advice to other areas of his life—like saving for retirement and emergency funds—too. He said, “If all I was after was saving for an engagement ring, I could’ve just stuffed a hundred dollars per month into an envelope and spent everything else.”

Instead, he realized the very thing that YNAB teaches with Rule One. He said, “ … what I wanted out of life and what I was spending my money on rarely lined up.”

See, Nick cares deeply about being of service …

Bank Knowledge vs. Budget Wisdom

With YNAB, he finally solved the age-old mystery, answering the question ‘Where does all the money go?’

The answer was, predictably, Starbucks (which is aptly named, don’t you think?). It became clear that looking at his bank account balance wasn’t doing him any favors. Instead, it masked his coffee runs, impulse music purchases and entertainment expenditures—money that he’d prefer to spend on something bigger.

He said, “I’d look at [my balance], do some simple deductions for upcoming expenses in my head, and I almost always concluded that I didn’t have the money to help my friends and other causes. I never seemed to have enough … But bank statements don’t tell the whole story.”

Nick agrees that none of these purchases were bad, in and of themselves. Fun money is important! But when he started budgeting, suddenly, he could see how to control it.

He said, “For instance, Christmas comes every year but, if I’m not intentional, I will SAY that I want to get my sister a nice present, but when November rolls around and I have unexpected car trouble, guess what corner I have to cut? … if I had said ‘no’ to ONE dinner out, per month, for the twelve previous months, I could’ve afforded both!”

Budgeting made it easy to see that he had a lot more to give, if he wanted to (and he does—sorry sis!).

The True Value of a Budget

Nick doesn’t have a rags to riches story—he lives within his means, and he’s never dealt with the weight of a giant debt, but he’s no stranger to frugal living: “For the first two years out of college, I made about $18,000 per year (rounding up before taxes) working as a college ministry intern, this meant I rarely ate in restaurants, went to bars, attended concerts or took vacation.”

What’s interesting is, even though he was already thrifty, Nick found enormous value in using a budget. Even he was surprised. Nick said, “Frankly, without a budget, I will wander through life totally unaware of what I truly value … A budget forced me to think about that.”

With his new awareness, Nick has accomplished some life goals, including a deeper connection to his belief system. He says, “[Budgeting] changed my whole life. It has allowed me to live spiritually, as someone who is supposed to love others more than myself, and has given me a sense of financial control.”

About That Ring Fund …

It’s a good thing that Nick saved up because, lo and behold, a very special lady entered into his life—and, when the time came, she said “Yes!”

It just goes to show, you should always plan for the best-case scenario (and vote for it with your dollars)! Meet the happily engaged couple, Nick and Maddy!

Life. Better with a Budget.

If you’re still belly-aching about the thought of budgeting, Nick’s perspective may be useful. He said, “You’re already spending money … You can do that intentionally, or unintentionally. [With a budget] you can stop living like something is going to catch you by surprise. Even on the most modest of incomes, it’s possible to spend your money wisely and begin to take control.”

Sounds less stressful than not budgeting, huh? (It is, and you can try it for yourself, free, for 34 days.)