Wondering how to create a budget in YNAB? We’ll go through all the steps you need right here!
If you’d prefer to watch rather than read, we’ve got a handy-dandy video that’ll show you the way:
One of our mantras here at YNAB is “Only budget money you have.”
And there’s always some pushback. It usually goes like this: “But Kelly, I only have $97.54. If I only budget those dollars, how can I make a plan for the entire month?”
That’s a totally understandable question. When you’re trying to get a handle on your finances, you want a sense of the big picture, right? Then we come along and tell you to stop budgeting after $97.54, and you barely feel prepared to conquer the next few days.
If this sounds familiar, I want to share a little secret with you. There is a way to get the month-ahead view that you’re craving without sacrificing your grip of reality (i.e. how much money you have right now)—the trick is to create a budget template. Here’s how:
1. Create Monthly Goals
There are three types of goals in YNAB: Plan Your Spending, Build Your Savings, and Credit Card goals.
Plan Your Spending Goals
Plan Your Spending goals are broken out into Monthly, and By Date.
Spending goals allow you to set an amount to budget and spend up to that amount for the specified time period. For example, you set a goal to budget $500 for groceries each month. This month you spent $497 (under budget for groceries?! You must’ve shopped at Aldi this month!). The cool thing about this goal type is if you don’t spend all of your budgeted funds in the current month, the remaining amount will contribute to the next month’s goal when the month rolls over. That’s three extra dollars for next month’s groceries. Huzzah! That’s TWO bars of dark chocolate.
Build Your Savings Goals
Build Your Savings goals are broken out into Monthly Contribution and Target Balance.
Monthly contribution goals can help you remember to budget the same amount of money each month to prepare for necessities. For example, if you want to have $100 a month for your internet bill you can create a goal that looks like this:
Do you see the yellow “$0.00” that’s available in your Internet category? This indicates that you haven’t budgeted the money necessary for this goal (yet.)
In fact, this YNAB budget has several goals that haven’t been funded yet (see the yellow bubbles in the “Available” column). In order to fully fund all of the goals in your budget, you’ll need $1,982.50, as indicated by “Underfunded” in the inspector (the right-hand pane). Not to worry, we’ll get to that in a bit.
Credit Card goals are broken out into Pay Off Balance by Date and Pay Specific Amount Each Month.
You’ll have set this goal up when you set up your first YNAB budget if you have a current card balance. If your goal is to pay off the balance by a certain date (heyo! Debt payoff on the horizon!), we’ll do the monthly math for you when you set up this goal type.
2. Tidy Things Up
For monthly bills, in addition to creating a goal, add the due date to the name of the category. This gives you an at-a-glance view of how much, and when, everything is due. And, it makes paying your bills on time that much easier! Just click the name of the category to edit. It looks like this:
Once you’ve added due dates and goals to all of your monthly bill categories, drag them into order, according to their due dates:
Now, delete any categories that you won’t need. CAUTION! You want to be very careful with this. If you delete a category you’ve used before you’ll have to recategorize all the spending and budgeting that was in it. It is much safer to hide a category. A good rule of thumb is if you haven’t used it, and you don’t need it, you can delete it (plus that rhymes!)
With everything in place, your underfunded amount is up to $2,430. We’re getting there! And, now it’s time to look at your non-monthly expenses (a.k.a., true expenses).
3. Create Long-Term Goals
Our goal types are designed to help you Build your Savings or Plan Your Spending. Some of our bills don’t happen monthly or we may not even know when they’re going to happen next. No matter what you’re saving for, we have a goal for you! We go into a lot more detail about goals in this helpful article.
In some cases, you know how much you need to save and exactly when you’ll need that money. For example, let’s say that you need $600 before April for a semi-annual car insurance bill. Click on your car insurance category. Then click “Create a goal” in the inspector, choose a Target Balance Savings goal and you can enter the details, like this:
Now, click “OK,” and the inspector will calculate how much you need to budget each month until June in order to pay the bill.
As you can see, if you budget $100 every month, by April you’ll have saved up the $600 needed to pay for this bill. Woot!
If you were looking to spend from a category while you save (like buying plane tickets a few months before the vacation actually happens), a By Date spending goal would be a better fit!
Now, I’ve set goals on all my categories. Notice the total in the inspector now: “Underfunded – $2,682.50.” That means I can anticipate my month of spending things I need and saving for things in the future amounts to $2,682.50.
4. Bask in Your Beautiful Budget Template
You’ve created goals for your monthly expenses and your true expenses, all without a care in the world. And you know how much money you need each month!
So now we look back at the underfunded $2,682.50. It’s time for the all-important reality check. This is when we ask ourselves: “Is this realistic?”
If your income is $2,500 a month, then this budget is definitely not going to work. And, that’s OK, because knowledge=power. In fact, simply by identifying that you’re (way) out of the ballpark of what you can realistically afford, you’ve saved yourself the stress of coming up short.
Instead, you can proactively adjust your budget template to make sure that you can pay for the things that matter most to you. You can do that by adjusting the dollar amounts tied to your goals. You can push the date on that vacation goal a little further out, too. And cut the grocery budget by a few bucks.
The key here is to keep tweaking things until you’ve got a budget template that fits your income and priorities.
5. Now, We Budget
Let’s say that you’ve only got $1,640 in the bank right now. That’s how much you can budget. Remember the mantra: Only budget money you have.The budget template plans for everything, but you only budget what you’ve got right now—in this case, $1,640. So, let’s look at your immediate, most pressing, obligations:
You can see that you’ve budgeted $400 towards your rent, but the fourth column shows a yellow alert that you still need another $400. Why would you only budget for half of the rent? Great question! Here’s why:
- You know that you’ll get paid, again, before the rent is due. When you get that paycheck, you’ll top off your rent category with the remaining $400.
- You need money for the electric and internet bills—they’re both due very soon—before you get paid again.
- You need money for groceries and transportation, so you partially funded those categories to get through until your next paycheck.
When you’re done, your budget looks like this:
You’ve fully funded some categories (see the green bubbles), and partially funded others (yellow bubbles). Still, your plan is completely intact. Most importantly, the budget reflects reality—since you only budgeted dollars that you have in the bank right now, you can trust your budget to keep you from overspending.
6. It’s Payday!
When your next paycheck arrives, enter it:
Now, it’s time to budget your new dollars! So, using the checkbox at the top, select all of your categories. When they’re selected, it looks like this:
The inspector shows an underfunded amount of $1,042.50. Your paycheck gave you $1,200 to be budgeted, so you’re good to go! Click the “Underfunded” button, and voila! Fully funded categories, as far as the eye can see:
Even better, there’s still $157.50 left to budget (who doesn’t like leftover money?) Now you’ve got choices, but what to do? Will you build up some of your true expenses? Fund a little more towards that vacation category? Start budgeting for next month’s rent?
When you have extra cash left, after you’ve fully funded your budget template, it’s up to you!
Still Have Questions?
Be sure to join one of our free, interactive, budgeting classes. Check out “Set Up Your Budget” if you want to learn more about setting up a budget template.