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2 Sep 2011

Raising Money Awareness, Budget Mobility, and Direct Connect to Banks

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by Jesse Mecham

We launched the Android app yesterday afternoon.

YNAB doesn’t really have a mission statement, but I do feel like we’re on a mission. Mission statements are supposed to be succinct, so I think I want to go with:

“Raise money awareness.”

That’s not very catchy.

I’ve talked about awareness a lot in the past, how I tracked my spending on a piece of paper when I was a teenager, different activities you can do to raise money awareness, and the six levels of awareness.

Raising Money Awareness

Let’s pick teams. The first captain is Awareness, and the second captain is Head In the Sand. Members of each team want you to be like their captain. When all the pieces fall where they may, the teams will look something like this:

Awareness

Head in the Sand

The more you’re aware of your money, and the demands placed on your money NOW (Rule One), and in the future (Rule Two), the better chance you’ll have of reaching your goals. Join the awareness team, and do those things that team does. Have a monthly budget meeting, THINK before you buy, set goals, enter transactions as they happen, and require some manual effort of yourself.

Budget Mobility = Increased Awareness

With the launch of the Android app, this has popped to the front of my mind. Android users out there, you will notice a difference in your finances.

When we launched the iPhone app a while back, I had been using the beta version for quite some time. It literally revolutionized my money habits (which I thought were already pretty good). The key is what happens during the evaluation, and then purchase process.

During the evaluation, I’m sitting there holding some book at Borders…turning it over and over…reading the inside jacket…jumping to the middle of the book and reading a few pages… “Should I buy this?” Pull out phone…

Tap…

Tap…

Dang. $4.32 left in “Books”

The book can wait. Strangely enough, if I can wait a week or three to buy a book, I usually don’t buy it. Having the “Books” category balance in hand is critical. It’s the relevant information that is needed at that very moment. I don’t need to know what I spent in Books last October, what my trendline is for Books since I’ve graduated from high school, or what my average book purchases are since I bought a Kindle (it’s higher, and Amazon knows it, and loves it). I just need to know if I can buy that book, right now. Problem solved.

Let’s say I experience something a bit different:

Tap…

Tap…

Woot! $19.58 left in “Books” and this book costs $10.85. I head to the cashier and make the purchase, entering a transaction in “Books” for Self-Working Card Tricks: 72 Foolproof Card Miracles for the Amateur Magician at $10.85. My “Books” balance is now $8.73. My brain makes a note of it.

And the magic happens: I feel content with my purchase. And it’s not the shopper’s rush that quickly morphs into depression/anxiety. It’s contentment. I planned to purchase some books. This one looks interesting. I’m buying it, and I feel fine. Even good, because I have a new book!

Having the app on either your iPhone or Android will change your spending habits, align you better with your budget, and help you make purchases that you’ll enjoy 🙂

The allure of direct connect with banks

As many of you know, we have tabled work on direct connect so we could focus on an over-the-air, cloudsync framework that would end the requirement to sync your device over your own wi-fi network. One trucker in our forums was lamenting the wi-fi requirement, and I could feel his pain. His situation (and many others similar to it) will be greatly improved when we release it. I have no ETA. Taylor is devoting 100% of his time to it. You should send him some Time, if you have any to spare.

Why are we focusing on the mobility piece in lieu of direct connect?

I want YNABers to be in the habit of recording their spending as it happens. It’s a stronger psychological win, and will promote more behavior change. We’re pushing mobility first so you’ll learn and love the idea of entering transactions in real time and then using a transaction import process merely as a “true-up” of your situation—catching automated transactions and maybe a few you missed (never as the primary means of data entry).

We may revisit the idea of direct connect in the future. I have no doubt we’ll sell more software if we add that feature. But I don’t know if selling more software with the feature hook being direct connect really aligns us with our goal of raising money awareness. When it’s “taken care of for you,” you won’t check your budget as often. You’ll allow longer periods of inactivity because you’ll be certain you can catch up in one big click. You’ll begin to dread the massive amount of work required to categorize 157 transactions from the past two months.

And when you’re finished categorizing 157 transactions that have already happened, you’ll feel good that you can check off “manage money” on your To Do list, but it won’t have added any value. You ever heard a weather report for the past two months? Me either. Set up a budget. Look ahead. Record what’s happening. Re-evaluate. Look ahead…

Wrap Up

You can’t change your spending patterns unless you’re aware of your spending. You can’t reach your financial goals unless you’re aware of your goals. You can’t discuss finances with your spouse if you’re both not aware of your spending, and your goals 🙂

Automation is valuable as it removes valueless tasks. When there’s a task that adds value (checking a balance on your phone, entering the amount in real time), it’d be a shame to see automation take that away.

Our goal is to raise money awareness by having users be able to check—in the right context—and enter their spending in any number of ways, so they have real-time data and can proactively make correct decisions in the moment. We’re not there yet, but at least now you know where we’re headed.

Your Next Step

Remember, budgeting is not restrictive. You won’t be spending less, you’ll be spending right. You can do this! Today. Right now. What do you have to lose? Except all that debt and stress. (Ok, so kind of a lot.)

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