Do Your Budgeting in Your Budget

Erin (YNAB education lead) tells me she’s often asked about how to manage various accounts with specific jobs, and how those accounts factor into the budget.

Let’s get some clarity:

  • Budget accounts (checking, savings) are not budget categories (‘Electricity’, ‘Groceries’).
  • Budget categories are not budget accounts.

Your budget accounts have three jobs:

1. Store dollars. Accounts hold your dollars until you need them.

2. Log transactions. Because your dollars enter and leave your accounts (through income and expenses), they log your transactions.

3. Earn interest (maybe). Those dollars you won’t use in the near future (mid- and long-term savings) can multiply themselves.

Accounts hold the money, categories do the work.

To maximize your YNAB simplicity you’d have, say, one checking account and one credit card account (your primary transaction centers), one savings account (something to pay a little interest on those dollars assigned to mid-term goals), and an investment account where you store your retirement dollars.

Don’t misunderstand – you’re not “broken” if you have multiple checking accounts or savings accounts, but you may be adding unnecessary mental overhead – or worse.

Your desire to maintain multiple accounts, each with this or that assigned task, may mean you haven’t achieved full trust in your budget.

Have you found yourself saying you keep those dollars in that account because you’re afraid to spend them? It’s great that you’re protecting those dollars – now take it to the next level. When a budget category carries the same weight as your dedicated savings account, you’ll know you’re fully engaged in the YNAB way.