YNAB victories: They never get old

Five years ago, my daughter started going to sleepaway camp for a week each summer. We’d send in the minimum $50 deposit in March and then, in mid-July, we’d drive two hours into the woods to a classic summer camp compound. We’d make our way through crowds of excited campers and their parents to a central log structure in the midst of a cluster of wooden cabins, where we’d check in and pay the balance due.

Five years ago, we didn’t have a budget. So for the first two years, the final payment of several hundred dollars came as a surprise. Sure, I knew when I paid the deposit that I’d need to come up with the rest of the money by July, but July always arrived sooner than I expected. And since I had no method for setting aside camp tuition, the money was never there.

Those first two years, I handed off a fat check to a camp administrator and smiled with what I hoped was an air of confidence. “Of course this check is good,” my smile would say. (No one ever questioned me, so I guess I was pretty convincing.)

Then I’d feel shame and doubt nagging at me as we lugged sleeping bag, pillow and duffel bag off to my daughter’s cabin. Oh, the check would be good. But whether it was, at that moment, worth the paper it was printed on, I could not say. As soon as I got home I’d check the bank balance online. At best, the balance would cover it. At worst, I’d transfer a few hundred in from somewhere, anywhere, to make sure the check would clear.

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but this was pretty much my normal, stressful, pre-YNAB way of life. Once we found YNAB three years ago, however, I started setting aside 1/12 of camp tuition in a Summer Camp category each month. What a difference it has made.

My daughter leaves for camp again soon, this time as a counselor-in-training. Today while tidying up the budget I noticed that there was more money in the Summer Camp category than we’ll need. In fact, unless the camp springs some new charges on us, we should have $177 left over. (Insert fist pump here.)

I’d like to say, after three years with YNAB, I get less giddy about the occasional budget victory, but nope, I’m still amazed that I have reached the point where I am not only prepared for irregular expenses but sometimes even over-prepared.

Next week, as I write a check for camp tuition, I won’t have to fake my confidence. My very genuine smile will say, “Here’s your hefty camp tuition, and I can’t wait to get home today to figure out how to maximize the extra $177 in my budget. I am ridiculously happy about this surplus.”

Of course, this smile no doubt looks the same as “I’m just another goofy camper mom.”

But I’ll know the difference.