How budgeting helped me find my generosity

I came to YNAB hoping the budget would improve our finances, and it did. But now and then I’m reminded that the effects of the budget reach far beyond the numbers.

Take gift giving, for example.

I am lucky to have many friends and relatives. Yet I spent years gasping in shock every time one of them got married, had a baby or got another year older. I never saw it coming.

Life events often mean celebrations, and celebrations often mean gifts. The thought used to give me a stomach ache. I wanted to honor people’s milestones. I wanted to feel generous. Instead, I felt panicked.

Given that we were always scrambling for money (regardless of our income at that moment), we had no wiggle room for gifts. I’m ashamed to admit it, but there were times when instead of feeling joy for those I cared about, my thoughts ran closer to “Why do people always decide to get married right when we’re flat broke?”

(This was a trick question, of course. Thanks to poor money management, we were ALWAYS flat broke.)

Then I found YNAB.

YNAB gave me the tools to fund a gift category. That took care of the financial stress  surrounding gift giving. That, in turn, did something even more important: It freed me up to celebrate other people’s happiness — without stress.

Not too long ago I needed to buy a birthday present, a shower gift and a housewarming gift in the span of a couple of weeks. My gift category couldn’t cover all of the purchases and instantly I started to feel that same old anxiety with the same sense of resentment.

But I knew what to do.

I followed Rule 3, rolling with the punches (known in the YNAB forums as “playing whack-a-mole”), to free up some money so I could pay for all three gifts. And then, with a bit of category adjusting, I increased my monthly budget in the gift category so I wouldn’t fall short again. Problem solved.

It still amazes me. On the budget screen, the gift category is just a cell with a modest dollar amount in it. Not a big deal. But in real life, the simple act of budgeting for gifts has, finally, allowed me to become the generous giver I had always wanted to be.

That is a very big deal.