Hunker Down Budget

How to Create a Bare-Bones Budget in YNAB

See How Far Your Current Cash Will Last

If you’re feeling a little squidgy about what the future holds, you’re certainly in good company. If you’re wondering what the word “squidgy” means: it’s unpleasantly damp, think—wet socks. Maybe you or your partner has been furloughed, lost a job, or seen a cut in their normal paycheck and yes, your insides do feel a bit…squidgy. Well, let your budget be a warming sunny ray. Here’s how to take the budget you have and turn it into a slim and trim plan for the future.

Prefer to watch? You know the calming presence of watching Bob Ross paint? Well, those are Ashley’s vibes for future-proofing your budget. Watch now:

1. Create a Sandbox Budget

To make a copy of your budget, create a Fresh Start (don’t worry, this doesn’t delete your budget, it just creates a duplicate). I’m calling mine “Hunker Down Budget” because it sounds cozy and not covid-y.

Duplicate your current budget by making a Fresh Start

The duplicate will keep all your categories and goals intact, and if you have your accounts connected it’ll just scoop up all the money you have and stick it in “To Be Budgeted” as one lump sum to reallocate. If you don’t use connected accounts, you’ll have to manually add your accounts with your current cash totals.

2. Separate Your Categories into Needs and Wants

Create two new Category Groups, one called “Needs” and one called “Wants.” Put needs at the top. Then drag all your current categories into the proper bucket.

3. What Does a Normal Month Cost?

Ok, ok, so there’s definitely no such thing as a normal month, and definitely not lately. But we’re just trying to get a baseline for what was normal. You might already know this number, if you don’t—it’s a good one to store away in the brain. The total will show up as “underfunded” on the right-hand side on the web app if you’ve given each category a goal (you can see this number by tapping the lightning bolt on mobile). 

The “Underfunded” button in your budget will show the total of every category that has a goal attached to it.

Don’t have goals yet? See how to create a budget template here.

4. Find How Far You Can Go on a Bare-Bones Budget

If you had to really clamp down on spending, find out how far your money would go on essentials. Select the box next to “Needs” and your monthly needed total will show up as “underfunded” (again, as long as each of your categories has a goal attached). 

Calculate the cost of your monthly needs.

Divide the money you have to be budgeted with this amount to see how many months you can go with the money you currently have.

5. Find How Far You Can Go On a Lean Budget

Run another scenario: what if you just want to tighten the belt a bit? For this one, the cost of your needs stay the same, but you’ll add in some of your wants too. Go through your Wants categories and adjust your goals to fit your lean lifestyle. Then, click the checkbox next to the “Needs” and “Wants” category groups. Your new total will show up in “Underfunded” (in the lightning bolt on mobile).

Divide that number with your current “to be budgeted” to see how many months you could go on a lean budget.

6. Ah, Clarity

Now you know some crucial information and good, concrete numbers. Depending on your situation, you may not need to cut back on all your wants, but now you have clarity.

Next, make yourself a gameplan based on your newfound knowledge. What do you want to cut back on? Eliminate? Reallocate?

7. Apply Your Game Plan to the Current Budget

Switch back to your current budget and turn that game plan into reality. Maybe you had money in clothing you don’t need, or a vacation that got cancelled and you have no plans for a trip in the near future. Move those extra dollars to “To Be Budgeted.”

Make changes to your normal budget.

Now you can reallocate that money where it’s needed more urgently. If you have kids and now they’re home all day, maybe you need to move more money from your dining out category into your grocery category. 

Delete whatever goals you don’t need anymore. Put a pause on those wants you don’t feel necessary right now. Now you’ve freed up some money and given yourself some breathing room and flexibility. 

Maybe you see cash is tighter than you’d like and you start making phone calls to providers to see if you can get better rates on your essentials. Or, maybe you budget money into next month, or the month after that to give yourself more security. Maybe you add a “Cushion” category to set aside money for the unknown. You make the plan! You’re in control!

If you have any specific questions, we have free open Q&A sessions with our knowledgeable teachers. Join one! 

8. Look for Ways to Be Kind

We here at YNAB want to help you build strong financial footings, and many of you already have (especially if you’ve been budgeting for awhile).

During all of this, I’m trying to remind myself to worry less about the things I can’t control and spend more time looking for ways to be kind—whether that’s checking in with my Grandma on FaceTime, being open-handed with organizations that are meeting needs, or buying a gift card to a favorite local business that I can use in the future.

Between adding clarity and bringing in a sparkle of kindness, those squidgy-feeling insides should start feeling a little sunnier.