Discovering YNAB: Part 1

Meet Alex, one of YNAB’s new blog contributors. 🙂 A note of caution: in this post, you will encounter:

  • shockingly poor decision making
  • a desperate need to keep up with the Joneses
  • financial hemorrhaging, and
  • a catastrophic lack of communication.

You ready for it? Okay. Here’s how I first came to YNAB.

In 2007, my then husband and I purchased a four-bedroom house in a nice middle-class neighborhood. Hey, all our friends were doing it. We didn’t want to be left behind.

We bought the house for $521,000 during that six-month period of shameless real estate hussydom where Canadian banks actually let dummies like us buy property with no money down on a 40-year mortgage. (Shocker alert: we’d actually been approved for $640,000.) The city was Victoria. The market was at its peak.

We were already carrying a fair bit of debt: student loans, a line of credit and a Visa balance that still hadn’t recovered from a trip overseas four years prior, nor our more recent Hawaii vacation. (Are you shaking your head yet?)

Due to the fiscal hemorrhaging generally associated with home ownership, it occurred to me that maybe I could use a budget. I had read about YNAB in a Canadian magazine called MoneySense. Realizing we were headed for a big bad brick wall if I didn’t do something quick, I downloaded the YNAB trial, and got to work.

I fell in love with it. I bought the program, pulled our spending into a state of restraint, and got us hacking away at our debt. We had a tenant to pay part of our mortgage, and we both had good jobs: I was teaching full-time and writing on the side; my husband worked at the university in a technical support job.

Solid incomes, but stretched to the limit. One little leak would have sunk our ship.

I think back to those first few months of working with YNAB. It was such a reality check. It was so frustrating to realize we couldn’t afford to eat out, even at Denny’s, or that we couldn’t dump $200 on a new duvet at Linens & Things. I wanted a new 4Runner like my friend. I wanted the things my colleagues all seemed to have. Vacations. A new sunroom. Great shoes.

But YNAB showed me how that kind of thinking was incompatible with getting a grip on our finances. I remember feeling such resentment each time I slapped a few hundred dollars into a debt repayment. I wanted to be saving toward our next holiday, or that cedar sunroom. Or better yet: the buffer. But I was sobered by the amount we owed, and I was determined to clear off our debt as quickly as I could. I loved the power of YNAB’s tools to help me visualize where the money was going. Still do.

I untangled our rigging and sailed the good ship YNAB for our family for a year. Gathering wind. But I was juggling a lot in those days, including a baby and a preschooler and a burgeoning freelance writing career, and I needed to hand something off.

So, after careful deliberation, I handed off the budget.

And I got busier.

And I didn’t push hard enough for the monthly budget meetings.

And I got busier.

And I maybe hid my head a little, and just tried to keep the money rolling in faster than it was going out, although it never really ends up that way, does it?

And at a certain point (around 2011), I gave up. On all of it. Not just the budget.

Fast-forward to 2014, where I live a very different life – a much simpler, and very debt-free life. A true YNAB existence. That old brand of wanty-want thinking doesn’t even come around any more. I can’t remember the last time I dropped $100 on a meal out; I’m still rocking boots from four seasons back; and the duvet is going on its tenth year now.

How did I get here…from there? Ah. There’s a story there.

Stick around. (And until next time, make sure your monthly budget meetings are a priority!)