The Ghost of Your Budget Past, Present, Future

Use YNAB Reports to Take Stock of Your Year


At the end of the year, some people look back at photos, their calendar, or their Spotify wrapped. If you’ve got an appetite for reflection and nostalgia, well—what about looking at your budget? Nothing could be a truer history of what you did last year.

Let’s take stock by using the visit of three ghosts (er…reports) of your budget: past, present, and future. 

The Ghost of Budget Past: Income v Expense Report 

This friendly little ghostie can be summoned up with a few swift clicks in the YNAB desktop app. There’s a treasure trove of data just waiting for you in the Income v Expense section of Reports. 

In the drop down options at the top, choose the categories or accounts you’d like to see. For a look back at the last 12 months, use This Year for the timeframe. 

Shazam! There’s your year! At the bottom, you’ll see green numbers (which means you’re spending less than you earned—way to go!) or red numbers (you saved up and purchased a big item or more money left the budget than was brought in—whoopsie doopsie). 

Some months might be green, and some might be red, and your whole year might look a little bit like an alternating string of Christmas lights. Pay careful attention to that Total on the far right for the truest glimpse at your big-picture progress this year.

While you’re visiting the ghost of budget past, take a scroll through the Average column next to the Total. Finally, you see the real story of your monthly inflow, your grocery spending, and your vacation costs, all averaged over a year into an accurate monthly cost. These are great numbers to chew slowly, digest, and think about. 

When I looked at my report, I learned my husband and I actually spend a very equal amount of fun money (within $3 of each other) when it’s averaged out over a year. He saves up to buy big things (like mountain bikes) every once and awhile, while I do a concert here and a coffee there. And here I thought I was the saver and he was the spender. Well, if he’s reading this, it’s official: I eat my words, thanks to the Ghost of the Budget Past.

Ghost of Budget Present: Net Worth Report

The Ghost of Budget Past leaves us, and in whooshes the Ghost of Budget Present. What does this ghost have to show you? Let’s dive into the next report: Net Worth.

One quick aside: this ghost definitely isn’t putting your worth as a person against this report. No, no, no. This isn’t like every sport out there (aside from golf and cross-country): higher numbers don’t mean you win, and lower numbers don’t mean you lose. It’s what you do with your money within those numbers that actually matters. I digress. Ghost of Budget Present, take it away!

In the web app, you’ll find your Net Worth in the Reports tab. Use the timeline at the top to select This Year and you’ll see the total of what you have in your accounts, and how it has changed over time. It’s what you own, less what you owe. 

As you spend less than you earn, and pay down debt, your net worth will increase. This chart also might show you that this was the year you finally became debt-free as your blue bars surpassed the orange ones (which felt like a thousand dazzling butterflies took off at once. Oooh! Ahhh!). 

Ghost of Budget Future: Spending Totals and The Wish Farm

G’bye Ghost of Budget Present. Hello Ghost of Budget Future! How you doin’?

This Ghost takes you through our last report: Spending. 

But wait! Spending seems like a Ghost of Budget Past thing. 

Well, this one is a team effort…because your spending will inform your future.

In the web app, choose Spending from the Reports section and select This Year as the timeframe. It may default to Totals, but we want to see the Trends.

On the right-hand side, you’ll see an “Average Spending” per month number: this tells you a very accurate picture of how much money you spend on a monthly basis. You now know what numbers to use for goals in each of your categories next year.  Are you spending $388.97 a month on groceries? Create a goal for $400 and you’ll be in great shape. 

In more sparkling Ghost of Budget Future lessons, you see what will be purchased in the future with Wish List and Wish Farm categories. These are things you want to buy or need to purchase, but you haven’t done so yet.

In the Wish List below, you see a list split out by small (S), medium (M), and large (L) wishes.

You’ll eventually fund these wishes and move them to your Wish Farm to grow and eventually buy. Listing them out lets you be super intentional with your money and your wants. Can’t wait for that new dutch oven like Erin’s!

And with that, the Ghosts of Your Budget Past, Present, and Future leave you. But, if you want to keep them around it is possible to export your YNAB data and reports. Just set the report to look exactly how you want it exported (categories, dates and accounts) and then click export in the upper right corner. This is a handy tip for sending to your accountant or using for tax prep.

Well, there you have it. You’ve taken stock of your year, your current state, and your future. What do you think? How did you do?