Laura Coursen, 30, of Austin, Texas, hated budgeting. She’d toyed with a spreadsheet budget since she was 18 but said, “I never followed it. Eventually, I gave up completely and even vowed I would never record transactions again!”
But things changed when she was 27. Laura had been living with her infant son at her parents’ home, working part-time, and felt stuck in the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle—it seemed like she’d never be able to save up enough money to move into her own place. At least, that is, until she landed a full-time job as a technical writer that tripled her income.
She said, “I knew I should be able to afford to move out on my new salary, but I had no idea how much I could afford to spend on housing! I started using YNAB because I wanted to use all that new income the right way from the start.”
The Start of Something Beautiful
Flash forward a couple of years to May 2017, and Laura was still diligently YNABing. And, thanks to her efforts, she had enough cash to fund a week’s vacation in Barcelona at the tail-end of a business trip to London. She invited a British friend, Alex, a technical support engineer from work, to join her and, she said, “Long story short, we started a long-distance relationship after that week.”
For the next several months, travel between Austin and York—where Alex lived—became a top priority in the budget. By March 2018, they were married, and it was during this time that Laura’s budgeting skills were really put to the test.
See, while Laura and Alex waited for more than seven months for his immigration status to be finalized, he wasn’t allowed to work! Laura said, “We both work remotely, but Alex couldn’t work from the U.S. without authorization, so he was put on unpaid leave while we waited on it to arrive.”
Looking back, Laura said, “None of this would have been possible without YNAB. I couldn’t have afforded the trip to Barcelona where we met. We couldn’t have afforded all the travel back and forth while we were long distance. I definitely could not have afforded to support both of us and my son while he was on unpaid leave!”
Game-Changer: Getting What You Really Want
Now, Laura’s attitude about budgeting is completely transformed. She sees the budget as a tool for getting more of what she wants, not an exercise in deprivation. She said, “It’s been easy to stick with YNAB … We’re finally able to do all the responsible things we know we should do and the fun things we want to do.”
When it comes to determining what they want their dollars to do, Laura and Alex work together. She said, “If either one of us wants to add something to the budget, we do, because we trust each other to only ask if it’s really a priority.”
She went on, “Alex is a car, technology, and (especially) renewable energy enthusiast, so I was happy to budget for a Tesla. And charitable donations are important to me, so we donate 10 percent of both of our incomes to GiveWell.”
They also prioritize retirement savings, a six-month job loss emergency fund, five-figure annual property taxes, two visits to see Alex’s family in the UK each year, and four vacations. (And did I mention that they paid cash for the Tesla?!)
That’s Right. They Paid Cash for the Tesla.
In August 2017, when their old car went kaput, and not wanting to miss out on a $7,500 federal tax credit for the Tesla, Laura and Alex consulted their budget and decided to order Alex’s dream car. Laura said, “We had some extra room in the budget because we had just made our last preschool payment, I got a raise, and we had finished funding other wish farm items.”
Of course, their Tesla arrived several months earlier than anticipated with payment due on delivery. In a pinch, they leaned on Rule Three, Roll With The Punches, and moved money from their ‘HVAC Replacement’ category into their ‘New Car’ category. Laura said, “We’ll just fund the HVAC category instead of the car category until May 2019.”
She added, “It’s so freeing that I can compensate for overspending in one category by moving money from another. The way I see it, budgeting is an act of predicting your priorities. Sometimes, your prediction will be wrong as circumstances change. This doesn’t mean you failed, it just means you can’t predict the future!”
To celebrate the new car and their budgeting achievement, Laura and Alex sprang for custom license plates (which were, of course, also in the budget):
The Real YNAB WIN
For nine years, Laura tried budgeting—with Quicken, Excel and Mint—and it just didn’t stick. With YNAB, she lovingly refers to budgeting as “my favorite hobby,” and she’s kept at it for more than three years (with remarkable results!).
The magic ingredient for Laura is accessibility. She said, “With YNAB, entering transactions into the mobile app, as they happen, makes budgeting so quick and easy that I barely notice I’m doing it! The app also clearly shows me how much I have left to spend in each category.”
Thinking back on all of their YNAB wins, Laura said, “We can only afford all of these things by putting limits on how much we spend on eating out, entertainment, clothes, etc. This is only possible with YNAB! Otherwise it’s just too easy to spend money on whatever is most immediate, like grabbing fast food on the way home.”
And, in a Moment of Serendipity …
YNAB’s development team just happened to be visiting Austin earlier this month. They’d just left a Formula One event (working here is pretty cool) when they noticed Laura and Alex’s “YNAB WIN” driving down the road ahead of them. While I wasn’t in the car, I understand that some attention-getting behavior ensued—if our May 2018 retreat is any indication, I suspect lassos were involved, though we can’t be sure. Long story, short, it was a pretty cool (cute?) meet. Dinner was had, and photos were taken:
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?