Effective Budgeting is Gloriously Boring

“When I first started YNAB I had $4 to my name,” says YNAB user ‘HolyMythos’ in a January 30th forum post. Check out the rest of the story:

“After five months I’ve finally reached my buffer! I put all the numbers into YNAB which will take effect on the 1st [of February]. All I have to do is wait until then to hit the transfer button on my bank account and it’ll all be in place. I’m looking over my budget now and… it’s boring. There are no moves left. Back when I first started YNAB I had $4 to my name. Every paycheck I had to create categories, split money, find places to take money from, look at the zero’s and try to find out how I was going to fill them with the next paycheck. Now I look at it and see all the money everywhere, covering every category with ease, and any financial moves I need to make I already have planned out. It’s somewhat like a game of chess. All of my opponent’s pieces are my bills. At the beginning I had a bunch of moves to make. Over the months I defeated all of their pieces and now I’m left with their king while I’m already three moves ahead of him.”

‘HolyMythos’ has climbed off the paycheck-to-paycheck roller coaster. It’s a good thing, too, because roller coasters – exciting as they are – go in circles.

But therein lies the problem: roller coasters are exciting, and so is living paycheck to paycheck.

Hear me out – I’m not saying living paycheck to paycheck is fun. I said exciting, as in turbulent. There’s always a bill to pay, a reason to scramble, a need for creative problem solving.

Climbing off the check to check roller coaster is great for your ability to sleep at night, but leaves you wondering what’s next.

That’s exactly what happened to HolyMythos. Two weeks after his buffer celebration, he was back in the forum asking, “I’m buffered – now what?

I was glad to see him asking the question; it means he’s not using his buffer as an excuse to get complacent, to stagnate.

If you’ve always been check to check and in and out of debt (as I was), becoming buffered in the YNAB way feels like a major victory. The problem is it’s only a major victory, not the major victory. Getting buffered only qualifies you to tackle the real goal: financial independence.

Having extracted myself from the check to check mess, I’m in a position to stop wondering whether I can make it and start thinking hard about how to make it better.

Instead of fighting my way toward stability, I can focus my energy on acceleration.

That’s my advice to anyone who’s achieved Rule 4 status with YNAB: replace the stressful turbulence of breaking the check to check cycle with the positive, intense focus of achieving your real financial goals. Reaching “buffer land” took determination; don’t discard it just because you’ve left that particular problem behind.