How Tiny Habits, New Device Settings & Your Thumb Can Make You a Better Budgeter


Often, when I write a blog post, I like to muse about budgeting philosophy, or even to dig deep into research that might impact your budgeting.

Not today.

Today, I’m going micro. Today, I want to talk about how you arrange the home screen on your phone and change the settings in your web browser to be a better budgeter.

Triggers, Habits, and your Budget

To be a successful budgeter in the long-term, you’ve got to build a few new habits, or at least change some old ones. We can wish for that to happen, will it into existence. We can promise ourselves or our significant other it will be different this time. Or we can be intentional about developing some new habits. Otherwise, we know what will happen—nothing.

Go Ahead, Take Out Your Phone

Quick, what’s the first thing you usually do when you turn your phone on? (Bonus points to any of you who actually make a phone call.) Facebook? Instagram? Weather app? Email? Maybe fire up a web browser and click through the news?

Here’s what I want you to do: Create a new habit.

Whenever you pull out your phone from your pocket or your purse, open your YNAB app. Checking your phone is a new reminder to check your budget.

And here’s what’s going to help: Put your YNAB app in the bottom-right corner of your home screen (That’s for right-handers out there – you lefties should go bottom-left.)

Here’s my home screen:

When I swipe my phone on, my right, opposable thumb ends up hovering right above that YNAB app. There’s my budget–my plan for our family’s future–right there. It’s a much better use of my time than most of what the internets are serving up. Every time I look at my phone, I’m triggered to click it and actively engage with my budget, which keeps me aware, proactive, and moving closer to my goals.

What’s the First Thing You See When …

Don’t use the mobile app much, but prefer the web version of YNAB? Not to worry, I’ve got a trigger for you, too!

Let’s imagine you use Chrome. (We’re going to imagine it that way because most of you do, and this post would be waaaaayy too long if I addressed multiple browsers. I’m going micro, but not that micro.)

Now do this:

Open a new window in Chrome.

Type chrome://settings/ in a new browser tab, and you’ll see this gem:

You’ll want to click that third radio dot, for Open a set of specific pages.

Click Set Pages, and you’ll see something like this:

You can enter any set of pages here, and they will open every time you open a new window in Chrome. Or, if you have a set of tabs open already that you’d love to start with (make sure one is YNAB!), click that “Use current pages” button, and you’re done!

Now every time you open a new browser window, YNAB is right there. Is it in your face? Maybe. You could think of it that way. Or you could think of it as the gateway to a new habit that is the express route to your next financial goal, realized. (We vote for the latter.)

Tiny Habits Make Way For Big Changes

I don’t think much about brushing my teeth. I just do it (thanks, Mom!). Same goes for making my first cup of coffee. The trigger for making that coffee, though, doesn’t have anything to do with coffee. It’s the sound of my alarm.

If you have to actively think about budgeting, actively remember to check your budget each time you spend, it’s difficult. But remembering to pull out your phone nine times a day? No problem. You’re going to do it anyway. Build your budget into your everyday life. When you are triggered to check your budget, remember how important it is to achieving your long-term goals, and you will be well on your way.

Todd Curtis is YNAB’s Chief Customer Officer. When he’s not budgeting or obsessing about how to teach people how to budget better, he’s either running, obsessing about running, drinking coffee or obsessing about coffee, his only real vice in a crazy grain-free diet.*

*Todd Curtis did not write this bio.