We were a family of six barely surviving from paycheck to paycheck. It seemed emergencies were always popping up—a car that needed new brakes, a roof that needed repairing. We were in a desperate position of choosing between how to pay for the unexpected expense and still put food on the table.
At the time, I was a stay-at-home mom to our four children and responsible for handling the home and the finances. My husband worked full time but his income was highly variable from month to month. I had tried every budgeting system known to man, including the cash envelope system (which I liked, but found it hard to manage), but nothing ever stuck. We had numerous high-interest credit cards with high balances and credit scores in the 600s.
I Had a Lightbulb Moment
In 2013, I stumbled onto You Need a Budget and decided to give it a shot! After all, I had already tried everything else—what could it hurt? After watching some videos and attending some of their budgeting classes to learn how to use it, I was hooked!
When I say the lightbulbs went off—it was more like a fireworks show! The Four Rules made SO. MUCH. SENSE!!! It was similar to the envelope system, but now the envelopes were virtual. The idea of only budgeting the money you have available was so different from the other budgeting systems I’d ever tried. It was exactly what we needed with our variable income.
We Started Making Progress With Our Finances
As we learned to live on last month’s income, those prior emergencies became fewer and fewer until we no longer had any.
We paid off our credit cards and kept them paid off. Plus, we learned how to plan for those annoying recurring expenses (like insurance, taxes, and vehicle tags). Now when they came due, money was already waiting for them. We finally gained control over our finances and were no longer in a constant fight-or-flight battle with our money. As we saw our debt balances go down, we saw our credit score rise. It was working!
Life after Nine Years of Budgeting
Fast forward to today (it’s been over nine years using YNAB). We:
- Own two homes
- Own two vehicles
- Our credit scores are nearly perfect (825!)
- Have 4-6 months of bills budgeted for at all times
- Have a sizable emergency fund
- We also have a buffer fund (for the unplanned but not emergency expenses).
My husband and I now keep separate finances but still use YNAB religiously which has allowed us even greater control over our finances as well as individual freedoms on how our money is spent. I returned to the work force and now work in Cyber Security on the civilian side and am a Commissioned Officer in the Army National Guard.
In March 2021 I finally paid off the last of my high-interest debt: my student loans! In the net worth chart below, you can see the dramatic change in my personal net worth since 2019. The dip in May 2021 is because I purchased my first ever brand new vehicle and, thanks to YNAB’s principles, I was able to put down $10,000 and secure an interest rate of just 2.99%. I’m on a trajectory to pay the car off early and my husband will be paying off one of the houses in the next couple of years, freeing us up to snowball all that money into our current home.
Now We Help Others Gain Financial Control
My husband and I practically evangelize about YNAB to anyone who will listen. We’ve found it can take a bit to break people of the traditional budgeting mentality. For those that have tried budgeting before and it didn’t work, these are the common things I see tripping them up (like it did me when I started):
- Because conventional budgeting tells us to first fill in what bills and expenses must be paid, most new users try to do this the first time they set YNAB up, resulting in LOTS of scary red numbers! It can take a bit before the new user understands to only budget the money they already have, NOT what they think they will need. This is why conventional budgeting doesn’t work, but YNAB does! When we give every dollar a job as it comes in, we can ensure that ALL our bills and expenses are paid when they need to be!
- The way credit cards are handled by YNAB is unique and can be confusing at first. But once they get it, it’s like magic! This video helps a ton!
- Seeing where money is actually going each month in real time is a huge eye opener! Pretty quickly you’ll begin to understand just how much you might be wasting on certain things, like a daily Starbucks run, and are then able to find opportunities to start saving and getting ahead!
It is always so amazing to have the people we’ve helped come running up to us excitedly to tell us how they have money set aside for all their bills for the next three months and have an emergency fund for the first time ever!
YNAB freed us from crushing debt and living from paycheck to paycheck. We now have a growing investment portfolio, enough money budgeted to live for six months if necessary, a buffer fund, and an emergency fund—all things I never thought possible before I found YNAB.
At this point, I can’t imagine not having it—it truly is the secret to getting ahead!
Angela Stevens is a Cyber Security Analyst and Commissioned Officer in the Army National Guard. She has been using YNAB since 2013.