What I Wish I Could Tell Every New YNABer


It will get easier

If I could sit down with every new YNABer at my kitchen table with a cup of coffee (and I wish I could!), this is what I’d say:

I struggled at first, too.

When I was just getting started, two things made it feel hard:  Unlearning my old way of managing my money, and the stress of my financial situation at the time.  But I promise, it gets easier.

It was the situation I found myself in that was hard, not YNAB.  YNAB was just saying, “Look, this is what it is – you’re spending more than you’re bringing in.”  It was giving me necessary information on the state of my finances.  It was hard to act on that information, but that wasn’t YNAB’s fault.

I was used to looking at my checking account balance to decide whether or not I could spend money.  Once I let go of that old thinking and decided to really trust my category balances, things started clicking and I started to see progress.  When you’re seeing return for your effort it gets easier and easier to stick with it.

Tracking all your spending is possible.

Tracking every penny was the single most overwhelming thing to me when I started. I remember thinking I would never be able to do this. It felt futile.  You might as well have been telling me, “You need to get a perfect score on every test you take in college”.  There were months with missing transactions, lost cash, and a feeling of hopelessness.  But three things happened that made it much more doable.

I stopped tracking cash to the penny.  Liberating. Now I have a spending money category, so when I take $40 cash out at the ATM, I record an outflow in my checking account and categorize it to spending money.  The budget knows the $40 is gone, and I know I can spend the cash without having to come back to YNAB and record it again. Tracking cash was like trying to hold water in my hands, so this single decision took a huge weight off me. All the other transactions were tied to accounts where there’s a digital record, so I could look anything up.

Importing was added to YNAB.  This happened about a year after I started. I imported once a week to make sure I didn’t miss anything.  I still like manual entry for the awareness it brings, but it’s nice to know I can catch up quickly if I need to.

Finally, the mobile apps make tracking easy while I’m out and about.  No more saving crumpled receipts, just enter at the point of sale.  Done.

The rules really do work.

YNAB has four rules and if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you already know that.  But forget the rules for a second (Gasp!). You can distill all of it down to one basic concept: Only budget with money you have. This is YNAB’s secret sauce.

When you’re only working with money you have, you always have an accurate picture of your current finances.  This is far superior to forecasting because it’s based in truth.  Truth is powerful.  Looking at an accurate picture of your finances is not only helpful, but critical in helping you decide what to do with the money on hand.  You’ll learn to make better decisions by focusing on the dollars you own right now.  And let’s be honest, those are the only dollars that you have immediate control over.

This will eventually take less time than it does when you start.

I long distance hike.  When I first started, packing for a hike took me FOREVER.  I checked everything a dozen times.  Setting up camp took FOREVER.  I had to learn how to find a good tent site. I had to get a supper routine down.  Breaking camp took hours in the morning.  All of these things were new to me, so they took longer.  I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing, so every single task required thought.

Now, I pack quickly checking things off on my list easily as I work.  I have a place for everything in the pack and I’ve set up and broken camp so many times I don’t even have to think about it.

The same was true with YNAB.  Every transaction needed thought in the beginning.  I was checking the budget constantly it seemed.  But it was all so new.  Now I have a much better sense of my spending habits, so it doesn’t require as much energy.  I still check in of course, but the mental lift is not as heavy as it was in the beginning.

Also, now that I’m budgeting, things are going better financially, so that stress and worry is just gone.  Don’t underestimate this point.  It’s likely that a big piece of your struggle is that your finances aren’t in great shape right now and that financial uncertainty is incredibly stressful.  Follow the rules, things will get better.

It does get faster.  You become more aware, more in control.  It’s like a driving a stick shift.  In the beginning, all you’re thinking about is “When do I shift? Now?  What gear?”  Eventually, you’re just driving.

We really care about your success.

The YNAB team is extraordinary.  Folks here aren’t just collecting a paycheck, we’re on a mission. We’ve experienced  how YNAB changed our own lives, and we want that for you too.  We’re empowered by your success stories and they are posted frequently in our office chat room.  Sometimes the feedback we get is so moving, it brings us to tears.  It’s true!

We feel your pain and have spent countless hours thinking about how we can make this easier for you.   How can we improve the software?  What types of classes do people need?  Is this class as clear as it could be?  Where are people getting confused?  In YNAB, you have a team of people rooting for you to succeed.

I want you to know these things because I remember what the beginning felt like. I found YNAB in the summer of 2006 right after I finished a kitchen and bath renovation that left me with a big old pile of credit card debt.  I remember the first month rollover and how confused I was about what would happen to the money left in the categories.  I was so confused I wrote into support for help. (Thanks for responding Jesse!)

It got easier for me.  It worked, things got better.   It will get easier. Stick with it and YNAB will work for you too.