Jessiebird here today, with a budgeting aphorism I use in the YNAB forums all the time: “You can only do the best you can do.”
Granted, it’s trite. And clunky. And it’s possible I didn’t even make it up. (I feel like I did, though. It doesn’t seem like something Socrates* would have said.) But it has become my budgeting go-to phrase.
Before I was budgeting, I was not doing the best I could do. Whether because of my avoidance tendencies, poor organizational skills or laziness, I often paid bills late and incurred fees. I failed to deposit checks in a timely manner and didn’t balance the checkbook for months at a time.
Because I never know how many transactions we had outstanding, I never really knew what we had in the bank, so I would avoid paying any bills just in case there wasn’t enough. I could have done better, but I didn’t, and the guilt nagged at me constantly.
Finding YNAB was a huge help. The budget made things clearer and encouraged me to get — and stay — on top of the finances. All of our problems were over!
Just kidding about that last part.
We still had a lot of debt and a few past messes to clean up. For instance, when I first started using YNAB, I had a couple of seriously overdue bills. I had been making payments — never in full and never on time — always with the unsettling knowledge that I should have been doing more.
YNAB, by showing me exactly where all our money was and where it needed to go, gave me clarity on those late bills. I saw that I would not be able to get caught up on them in one month. But I could do it in two.
Steeling my courage, I called creditors and made payment arrangements (a much more civil and less humiliating process than I had anticipated). I felt an unfamiliar surge of relief and I knew why: because I was finally doing the best I could do. I still had overdue bills, but I was taking care of them to the best of my ability at that moment.
If you are new to YNAB, you might be feeling frustrated that, as much as you love the software, your gung-ho budgeting efforts aren’t instantly solving all of your financial woes.
If you are being proactive about your budget and working consciously toward your financial goals, you are succeeding — even if you’re still behind on a bill or two, even if the car keeps breaking down and your Car Maintenance category is at zero, even if your net worth isn’t positive and won’t be for a long time.
Don’t be so hard on yourself. You can only do the best you can do.
*Yeah, I’m 99 percent sure Socrates didn’t say it. But I bet he would have if he’d had YNAB.