The Secret to a Budget That You Won’t Quit

Goals help you stay on track with your budget, and a budget helps you reach your goals—a match made in heaven!

Written by Shannon Marie  |  on


When you start your very first budget in YNAB, we prompt you to “Give Every Dollar a Job,” and it’s Rule One of our method for good reason: If you’re looking to heal your broken finances and/or achieve some big money goals, it’s a tried and true formula for success—no matter how broken or big.

But the magic of budgeting? The glue that makes it stick? The magnet that attracts your desired outcome? I’m talking about something that’s far more powerful than a budgeting method or software (even if it’s a top-notch method/software) …

The Magic Is in Your Goals!

Your goals are your guide—they help you establish your budget and stay on track. And, the flip is true, too. Your budget helps you achieve your goals. It’s a win-win-win (your goals, your budget and you). Insert a pop of confetti, here.

Do you want to be debt-free? Or buy a house? Start an alpaca farm? Eat only raw, free-range, gold-dusted takeout? Your call! The most important thing about goals is that you have them.

Think of a goal or two. Now, imagine accomplishing them. Mmmm. Exhale. That’s a good vision, right?

Make Your Goals Work for You

So, back to Rule One. When we ask you to Give Every Dollar A Job, you might get the teensiest bit overwhelmed, especially if you’ve never tried it before. But, pull back the curtain, and you can see that the “job” is to help you reach your goals!

Surely, you have a goal to pay your bills and eat. (Just guessing.) You probably also have goals to enjoy life. Or, you might want to pay off your credit card. How do you know which jobs should get your dollars, first?

Enter Priorities

I know, I know. I just told you that every dollar needs a job (a.k.a., goal), and now you have to give every goal a priority? Will the madness never end? Yes, and this up-front effort is worth your time—when you prioritize your goals, your confusion around money evaporates. The age-old question, “Where did all of my money go?” is banned from your awareness … because, well, awareness.

Once you’ve identified the things that matter most to you, and put goals in place to make them come true, your money has nowhere to hide.

Without goals, it’s incredibly easy to blow through all of your cash and have zilch to show for it. But with a goal-centered budget? You always know exactly what you’ve accomplished with your dollars—progress towards your goals! And, I can tell you from firsthand experience, it feels amazing.

Flexibility Is Key

Now, if you’ve ever not-quite-reached a goal, you might be feeling skeptical and frustrated. That’s human. See, we humans like to set rigid goals with a clear delineation between success and failure, but I’m going to serve up a little wisdom on the topic which was passed down to me from my very wise grandmother. In her words, “Lighten up.”

Life is unpredictable, so we have to make our goals future-proof with flexible, torque-resistant foundations that are capable of withstanding winds in excess of 185 mph. When the storms of life whip past, your goals are your shelter. Things may not look quite the same after you’ve survived the storm, but you’re safe! The landscape may have shifted—perhaps you’ll need to recalibrate your credit card payoff by a few months, or maybe you’ll decide that the gold-dusted takeout isn’t worth it (and you’ll opt, instead, to save up a deposit for your dream home?) …

The point is, goals help you focus on the long-term picture, but they are completely adjustable to the changes that life inevitably brings your way.

Automate Your Success

So, remember those goals you identified, above? Say, for example, you’d like to pay for your wedding in cash? Well, break that down—what exactly do you need to throw your dream ceremony? Let’s say $750 for the rehearsal dinner, $400 for the officiant, another $3,000 for the honeymoon … and so on.

Well, set up a category for each, and give them goals (the kind of goals that are programmed in YNAB, not the kind that strike your heartstrings). This way, you can see if you’re on track at a glance! Orange highlighting means that you need to put more dollars into those categories. Get paid, see orange-colored goals and budget, accordingly! This relieves decision fatigue (and it’s the antidote to forgetfulness).

You can even fund your goals with a single-click—just click “Underfunded” underneath “Quick Budget” in the right-hand pane …

That allocates your available dollars to your underfunded goals, voila! Green means you’ve allocated the necessary amount to stay on track to meet your goal (which, in this case, has a predetermined due date):

Set Your Goals & Win

You’ll be amazed at how effective goal-setting can be. It may not make every spending decision easy—we’re all tempted to splurge—but when you anchor your budget to the things you truly desire for your life, staying on track becomes very (very) simple.

So, set a goal! Adjust if you need to. And make your money work for you.


Related Articles

Your Next Step

Budgeting is not restrictive. You won’t be spending less, you’ll be spending right. So what do you have to lose? Except all that debt and stress?