Four Rules for Winning Financially

You can break these rules, but you probably won't want to ...

Written by Shannon Marie  |  on


The best part of my job, hands down, is writing YNAB success stories. YNABers are lovely people, for starters, and there’s nothing quite as heartwarming as hearing about their budgeting accomplishments. Here’s just a taste:

“We paid off nearly 7,000 of debt in three months. We officially broke the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle (aging our money 30 days within four months). Plus, we amassed $17,000 within a year.” Steve

“I went from living paycheck-to-paycheck to having six figures in my savings account within two years of using YNAB.” Laura

“I’d only ever tried Mint, which I hated. It made me feel more out of control because it only told me what I’d spent after the fact. I kept setting up goals and never met them because it did not teach how to wisely use my money.” Abigail

Steve, Laura and Abigail are in good company—there are hundreds of thousands of YNABers working away at their own financial goals. And, after personally connecting with dozens of them, I want to share a secret with you:

Our Software Is Superb, but There’s More …

If you’re truly committed to finally paying off all of your debt, retiring early, buying the house—or realizing whatever your idea of financial success may be—then you need more than an app (even if it is award-winning).

See, as proud as we are of our software, the real show-stealer, here, is how YNABers transform once they begin budgeting:

  • They report feeling in control of their money for the first time, ever.
  • They finally feel like they have enough, and the impossible starts to feel possible.
  • They sleep better.
  • They even get along better with their spouses!

Apps, alone, can’t help you achieve all that. No, these successes are fueled by the determination and ambition of YNABers coupled with YNAB’s Four Rules …

When you follow The Four Rules, you stop spending money on things that don’t contribute to your long-term happiness. Instead, you send your dollars out into the world to serve and protect the things you hold dear. And, the results speak for themselves (see those success stories!).

Try them, and see. These four, simple rules can change your life, too:

Rule 1: Give Every Dollar A Job

If you’re not following a budget, chances are, you’ve hit a few financial snags. Have you ever had your debit card declined? Or paid the rent a few days late? Resorted to Ramen noodle dinners until the next payday? Or maybe you just feel hopelessly adrift from the life you’d prefer to live, if only you had more money?

If any of these examples sound familiar, don’t feel guilty. When you have money, you’ll inevitably spend it. The difference between financial stability and success is how you choose to do so, and that’s where Rule One can help.

With Rule One, you give every dollar a job as soon as it lands in your bank account. It’s a simple shift with powerful results. When each of your dollars is reserved for a specific purpose, they’re no longer up for grabs. And, because you assign your dollars to your highest priorities, you develop an immunity to impulse purchases that would otherwise derail your big plans.

The best part is, when you follow Rule One, you’ll never need to feel guilty about spending. Every purchase you make will be aligned with your true priorities, by default, to the things that matter most to your overall quality of life and satisfaction.

Rule 2: Embrace Your True Expenses

There’s nothing worse than getting hit with a sudden expense, like a car repair, back-to-school clothing, a bill from the locksmith or plumber, or an annual payment that completely slipped your mind. It’s these less frequent and surprise expenses can really make you feel powerless over your money, like you’ll never get ahead.

Rule Two is the cure. It’s like a crystal ball, giving you a detailed peek into what’s ahead. When you can see things coming, you can start saving ahead of time to ease the burden in the moment. Want to spend $1,000 on Christmas? If you anticipate the holiday in January, you’ll only need to set aside $84 each month to pull it off. Much easier, right?

Of course, you’ll still get those bills, and emergencies will still happen, but you won’t have to feel powerless and financially stressed. You’ll be ready, and you won’t believe how amazing that feels until you try it for yourself!

Rule 3: Roll With The Punches

Rule Three is the elastic in your budget that gives you the flexibility necessary to stick with your plan, even when life throws you curveballs (which it will). With Rule Three, you’re allowed to change your mind—to give your previously budgeted dollars totally new jobs!

If that sounds like budget blasphemy or, worse, failure, then consider this: When you give your dollars jobs, but then you get new information (information that will help you make even better choices), don’t you think it’d be wise to regroup and maybe reassign those dollars? The answer is a resounding “Yes!”

And, there will be plenty of occasions when moving money to a new job in your budget is necessary. Consider it a “do-over” … and congratulate yourself for being thoughtful enough to move some money around when it makes sense and aligns with your true priorities.

Rule 4: Age Your Money

How’d you like to have so much money in your checking account that you could pay all of your bills for next month (or even the next several months), right now? Do you think your stress levels might drop through the floorboards? Well, that’s exactly what Rule Four is all about—having the money that you need before you need it.

With Rule Four, getting paid won’t feel like a last-minute miracle. It’ll still be pretty cool, make no mistake, but the urgency will be lifted. You won’t need the money right away, so you’ll be able to budget those dollars into the future. By steadily applying the first three rules, you’ll make progress, one paycheck at a time, towards aging your money.

If you’re ever faced with job loss or a major catastrophe, Rule Four will be your hero. (Well, actually, you will be your own hero … but Rule Four can help you get there!)

Try The Rules & See for Yourself

Whether you’re paid a little or a lot …

If you live alone or budget with a spouse

If you’re paid weekly, monthly, quarterly or even variably …

And, even if you hate budgeting

The Rules work! They’ll help you get crystal-clear about what you truly want—what’s most important to you for a life well-lived—and help you establish healthy spending and saving habits to get you there.

… and, when you finally pay off all of your debt or buy the Tesla in cash (or whatever), I can’t wait to hear all about it! If you’ve got a YNAB win to share, please drop me a line at [email protected]


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Your Next Step

Budgeting is not restrictive. You won’t be spending less, you’ll be spending right. So what do you have to lose? Except all that debt and stress?