How to Keep Gift-Giving a Secret When Sharing a Budget


You finally found the perfect gift for your partner. You’ve snuck it through the door under your jacket and tucked it away safely in a suitcase in the closet. They’ll never find it. Yet, after all that tiptoeing around, it’s your budget that gives you away! We’ve got a few tricks to protect your sneaking and to prevent YNAB from spoiling the surprise when you’re giving gifts and sharing a budget. 

Here’s how to preserve the gift-giving mystique for people who share a budget. These ideas fall into two groups: illusionist tricks and creative accounting. 

Illusionist Tricks

These creative ideas pull out the invisibility cloak at the point of purchase. You erase the trail of breadcrumbs before they even form.

  • Use cash. Visit an ATM or make use of cash back on a debit card to hide the paper trail from your significant other. This is more practical than creative, granted, but the only way a cash transaction gets into YNAB is if you add it manually, so there’s no risk your partner will see the transaction before it’s gifted.
  • Use a prepaid debit card. Cash isn’t going to cut it for online purchases, but a prepaid debit card will serve the same purpose when you’re buying from a website.
  • Use a gift card. If you want to be mysterious and elusive, using a gift card to a big retailer that sells a wide variety of products and services still leaves plenty to your partner’s imagination.
  • Buy from a merchant of many things. Even without a gift card to obscure the paper trail, we wish many a partner luck figuring out just what a particular Amazon transaction is for (and we often need luck ourselves for that one).
  • Enlist the help of a friend. Now we’re getting a bit more creative! Payment sharing apps like Venmo make it easy to transfer money to a partner in crime, er, sneaky holiday gifting. 

Creative Accounting

Is it just me or is this starting to sound like the early stages of money laundering? We’re talking about holidays, people. Birthdays and holidays. Maybe throw anniversaries in there too.

  • Add gift transactions manually as soon as they happen. Add a placeholder payee that obscures the source of the gift. When the transaction actually imports, it will match and default to the manually entered payee. Some or our favorites examples of placeholder payees include “[Name]’s Gift,” “None of your Business,” and encrypting the payee’s name with a Caesar cipher.
    Your partner could go digging for more information on the payee, it’s true, so you might want to pinky promise you both won’t peek. Also, consider flagging these transactions to update the payee after the fact if you want your data to be pristine.
  • Divvy up reconciliation duties. YNAB can be used with just one account, but most of us have a handful: a savings account, checking account, and maybe a few credit cards. That can be handy here! Maybe you reconcile checking and they reconcile the credit card. This adds a nice veil to the surprise: out of sight, out of mind! 
  • Add separate categories for each partner’s gifts. In your budget, you can have a separate category for each person’s gifts with the same amount budgeted for each. You’re responsible for spending your partner’s category balance when and how you see fit. You’ll each see when the other’s spent money, but you can use a placeholder payee to keep the gift itself a surprise.
  • Use separate budgets. Some partners maintain individual personal budgets as well as a shared budget. If this is your situation, you could roll funding for gifts into personal budgets. If you have a separate credit or debit card associated with your personal budget, you could use that card to buy gifts for your partner without fear the transaction will import into your shared budget and ruin the surprise for you and your partner.

There you have it! Cherry pick the ideas that could fit your situation and give it a whirl. We realized not all of these solutions will work with all budgets. Still, we hope this gives you some ideas for how you and your partner can keep the delightful element of surprise alive even if you’ve reached budgeting-together nirvana.

Learn more about tips and tricks for holiday gifting!

Have tricks of your own? Comment below!