How Our Budget Helped Us Budget For Something We Didn't Budget For

At the beginning of our live class on getting started with YNAB, we play a little word association game. We ask what word comes to mind when you hear the word “budget”.

(Go ahead, play along, I’ll give you a second…)

The most common responses are synonyms of restriction or deprivation and reflect a pretty typical view about budgets. Budgeting, for too many people, means indefinitely postponing anything you might want in favor of being “responsible.”

For our family, it’s going to mean a month in France.

Making Dreams Come True

Okay, full disclosure, we got a little bit lucky here. Without going into detail, we got an out of the blue request from friends-of-friends looking for someone to housesit for them. In France, with about six weeks’ notice. That kind of opportunity doesn’t come along every day, and we quickly said oui (this being one of the seven French words I know, thank goodness for my nearly fluent wife).

But here’s the important point: In our pre-budgeting life, the answer would have been an even quicker no.

Being Responsible Pays Off

Responsible is another word that makes for an interesting word association game. For us, with our first budget, it definitely meant things like paying off a credit card. It meant actually setting money aside for car repairs, rather than waiting for the inevitable and then scrambling for cash. It meant reducing spending in some areas to afford the house we really wanted and still be able to save.

It still means those things. Now, it also means more.

Being responsible has also meant setting money aside for a vacation, even when we hadn’t planned one—because it’s an important priority to our family.

Being responsible has also meant changing plans. Even with housesitting making our trip more affordable, five cross-Atlantic plane tickets ate up everything we had set aside for vacation to this point. But not for train tickets to travel in France, not for renting bikes, or all the French restaurants we’ll indulge in while we’re there. It certainly didn’t cover the fact that only one of us has a valid passport, and that meant getting four of them expedited (holy cow).

Flexibility For The Win!

So we needed to change some of the plans in our budget. Vacation isn’t the only thing we’ve been saving for, but it was suddenly the most important—the most dear to us. We set to work moving some money to our vacation category. Some new flooring for my office wasn’t nearly as important in my mind as it was three weeks ago.

We also immediately set to work on our July budget with a different frame of mind. Every dollar that didn’t need to go into an obligation went—just for this one month—to beef up vacation, went toward being able to take this vacation with cash on hand. We’ll do the same thing (from France) with our August budget.

You see, budgeting isn’t keeping us from pursuing this opportunity that came out of nowhere. Budgeting, instead, made it possible for us to say YES in all caps. Budgeting, with each decision we make right now, continues to align our money with this sudden, exciting priority.

Todd Curtis is YNAB’s Chief Customer Officer. He’s planning on breaking his no-grain diet for a daily croissant while he works from France.