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12 Jan 2018

Direct Import, Direct Schmimport

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by Shannon Marie

It's Time to Give Manual Entry
Some Much-Deserved Love

Every year, in late December, YNAB’s operations come to a near-halt as many of us gather with friends and loved ones to celebrate and relax. It’s one of the many, well-appreciated benefits of working for a company that understands work-life balance.

Now, I say “near-halt” because there’s one aspect of the business that we just can’t close down, entirely—customer support. We simply can’t bear the thought of leaving a YNABer hanging when a budgeting or software question pops up.

And that’s how my introduction to the inner-workings of our customer support team came to be. Here at YNAB, we call it “Support Day” and every member of Team YNAB participates for one day during the winter holiday. It’s how we share the workload so that our highly-deserving support representatives can partake in the break, too. After all, isn’t refreshed support the best kind?

When my day to man the support desk came, I anticipated answering questions and sharing links to YNAB’s many resources. What I wasn’t expecting was that I’d learn something, too. For example:

  1. YNABers are smart. I didn’t ever doubt you, but, man, you ask some tough questions!
  2. Far more college students are using a budget than I would’ve guessed. It was the highlight of my Support Day, granting free, year-long trials. Go you!
  3. Direct Import can make even the most wonderful YNABer a bit, um, fussy if it’s not working.

About Those Direct Import Issues

First of all, let me say that, if you’re frustrated with direct import, I’m so sorry! We’re doing everything we can to improve your experience and resolve your issue. Really. Second of all, and this’ll take an open mind (please stay with me!), YNAB can work gloriously without it!

In fact, I’ve been using YNAB since 2013, and I enter each of my transactions manually via the mobile app.

If you just gagged a little, I understand. Here you are, actually budgeting (which is a huge step for a lot of people), and now I’m suggesting that, not only do you need to give every dollar a job, but you have to physically track its usage?!

Manual Entry, the Better Solution?

It sounds like a lot of work if you’re not used to it, but let me assure you that I still find time to work full-time, exercise daily, feed my cats, make dinner and, yes, even relax with some Netflix. My budget is just part of my flow, and it’s so minimal that I don’t even notice it!

Plus, there are a couple of big-time benefits, and that’s what I want to talk about today. If you’ve never really tried out manual entry, maybe it’s time to reconsider! Here’s why I love it:

100% Accuracy, 100% of the Time

This is my biggest point of resistance to direct import. Allow me to quote our help docs, “Transactions import once they clear your bank (which can take a day or two) … Once your ‘pending’ transactions clear, they’ll be available to import within 12 hours.”

It’s an understandable delay. You make a purchase, then the merchant has to process the payment with your bank, and then your bank has to communicate with YNAB. But that lag? It presents a risk. What if you forget about a purchase (or two) and, in the meantime, see that your category is green? You buy some more things and then, oops! Direct import pulls in the forgotten transactions and you’ve blown your budget. Sad trombone.

If you enter everything as you go (yes, manually), this won’t happen. Your budget will always be up-to-date! I find greater freedom when my data is current, too, because I can move dollars around with confidence.

Merchants & Banks Don’t Always Get It Right

Blame it on technology, bad processes or simple human error, but sometimes an inaccurate charge will make its way to your account. Since I manually input all of my purchases, it’s easy for me to spot mistakes in my bank’s records (and get them fixed)!

The act of entering a transaction is such an easy thing—as simple as starting my car, locking my front door, turning off the oven (or any number of tasks that we repeat throughout the day)—and it comes with a big increase in peace of mind! No overcharges, double charges or missing refunds for me, thanks. Call me crazy, but I’d rather only pay for my new flip-flops, once. Yup, true story.

If, on the other hand, you don’t trust manual entry because you’re worried about your own mistakes, I have three tips:

  1. Practice! You might forget to enter a few transactions while you’re building this habit, but if you pop into YNAB and reconcile a few times a week (we’re talking a five-minute activity), you’ll catch things when you compare your bank records to your YNAB entries. And you’ll get better as you go.
  2. Keep going! I am far from a perfect human (I’m the stereotypically “bad at numbers” creative type!), and I’ve got this nailed. Who would you prefer to trust with your money—you or the bank? Only one of you was there at the time of purchase.
  3. Systematize. Always get a receipt in hand (not in the bag!). Then don’t put that sucker down until you enter it into your phone. Once you do, crumple it into a ball. That way, if you find a stray receipt, you’ll know you recorded it! For digital purchases, make the entry immediately after clicking “Submit your order.”

Awareness Can’t Be Automated

If you’re new to budgeting, have big financial aspirations, or you’re trying to make significant changes to your money habits, I can’t more highly recommend manual entry. Here’s why—if you simply link your bank accounts and let an app automatically record and reconcile your transactions, you’re missing out on a big piece of the budgeting experience.

Entering each transaction gives you a deeper appreciation for how your choices impact your goals. When you’re regularly engaged with your budget—really, just a couple minutes here and there—you raise your awareness. And that’s how you change your behavior!

Think about it. If your ‘Grocery’ category is getting depleted, you’ll see it as soon as you record your purchase. That awareness might be the nudge you need to pack your lunch later that evening (so that you can free up some dollars from your ‘Eating Out’ category to buy groceries for the last week of the month!). Boom! You just saved yourself from putting that food on your credit card.

Make Manual, Um, Automatic

If you’re still not sold, I challenge you to try going manual for a month. I think you’ll appreciate the increased level of control and awareness and be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is, especially after you’ve formed the habit. There’s also something so, uniquely, satisfying about reconciling your budget—you feel completely in control of your destiny. More than anything, I bet you’ll be shocked at how not-a-big-deal manual entry can be. (I’m not kidding, I forgot direct import was even an option until I participated in Support Day!)

Whether you choose to give manual entry a spin, or you’re a die-hard direct importer, the most important thing is that you keep your mind on your money! Know what’s coming and going, and make sure your budget reflects reality.

They say that what gets monitored, gets measured—and what gets measured gets done. If you haven’t perfected your budget, or you struggle to stick with it, keep manual entry in your back pocket. It might be just the tool you need to bump up your game!

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Remember, budgeting is not restrictive. You won’t be spending less, you’ll be spending right. You can do this! Today. Right now. What do you have to lose? Except all that debt and stress. (Ok, so kind of a lot.)

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