Import Shmimport

I’ve spent a little time in the YNAB support queue the last couple of days, trying to get a feel for users’ challenges.

Yesterday I saw three cases dealing with importing transactions:

  • One user was trying to import six months of data from his checking account. YNAB’s inability to let him rename small batches of payees frustrated him.
  • Another person’s bank didn’t offer any of YNAB’s recommended file formats for download, so he was fighting with a csv file, trying to get it formatted properly for YNAB.
  • Another particularly upset user berated YNAB for its lack of “direct connect” functionality, explaining how we’re “pretending” it’s programmatically difficult in order to avoid dealing with data security laws.

Here’s the deal: YNAB prefers manual transaction entry. Why? Because it keeps you close to your budget – allowing you to own every purchase as you record it.

I understand the desire for automation, but in YNAB’s case it could hurt more than help. Besides, how much does manual transaction entry really cost?

In the month of May I recorded 94 transactions* in my budget: 31 in my checking account and 64 on my credit card. Let’s say my transaction count is unusually low, so we’ll assume double my number. 188 transactions, or about 6 per day.

*YNAB’s Scheduled Transactions feature handles 16 of the 94. I like using scheduled transactions for fixed, recurring expenses like my mortgage, car insurance, etc.

With the relevant account and YNAB open on my desktop (or on my phone), it takes me about 20 seconds to enter a transaction, including a descriptive memo. Entering six transactions manually would cost about two minutes, or approximately one hour per month.

Manual transaction entry doesn’t waste that hour – it becomes an opportunity for reflection and correction.

Fixating on historical data and fighting with the import process caused at least one of my failed attempts at YNABing. As soon as I wrapped my brain around the idea of only budgeting money I currently had, and entering my transactions manually, budgeting became easy and fun.

The smart people who run this operation may someday build direct connect functionality into YNAB. But if they don’t – it won’t make a bit of difference to my budgeting happiness.