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In early 2018, Katrina Dixon wrote into our support desk to express her appreciation: “My husband and I have been using the YNAB method for over a year … “
This pleased us.
Then, she continued: “ … on a whiteboard.”
That’s right, Katrina and her husband, Robert Dixon—a 20-something couple that lives in Strathmore, Alberta, Canada—had been happily applying our method, for more than a year, without actually buying our software (yet).
Ernie, a YNAB customer support rep, replied: “This might be the best thing I’ve heard, lately. Any chance you have a picture you’d be willing to share? I know the team is going to love this, when I tell them about it!”
And he was right. Talk about making your budget your own, eh? But what inspired them, and how did it work?
Thinking back, Katrina recalls having an understanding of “needing to save for things” from a very young age. She said, “Never in my life would I have expected to be the ‘spender’ in a relationship and, yet, here I am.”
Robert admits that he’s always enjoyed saving and mentioned that budgeting helped him get through college. He said, “My education was paid for by a trust fund. My parents recommended I [use a budget] during university so that I knew how much money I had left.”
With the tendency to be savers, Katrina and Robert managed to get by, but their method, Robert admits, wasn’t exactly budgeting: “I would characterize what I did more as expense tracking.”
It was during Katrina’s final year at school that the couple really started to look at budgeting more seriously. Katrina said, “The need for a more concrete plan came as we prepared for, and entered, marriage. It started with our wedding budget, and then became crucial as we lived on one income while I finished school.”
During that time, they tried more formal methods of budgeting—including cash budgeting and budgeting with jars. Yes, actual jars. Katrina said, “We’d put all of our change in a jar, rounding every transaction up to the nearest $5 for tracking purposes. In less than a year, we saved several hundred dollars in change.”
But there was a downside to jars. Katrina said, “We switched away from this because we wanted to run more through the credit card to [earn] cash back. We sort of free-wheeled after that. We didn’t spend extravagantly, but there was always a certain amount of checking the account balance, mental math and counting the days until our next payday to make sure we’d make it.”
The mental burden of juggling income and expenses with the timing of their paychecks had reached a tipping point. Katrina said, “We bought a whiteboard so we could keep closer track of our spending.”
Next, came YNAB. Katrina said, “I found a blog post from YNAB through something that a friend ‘liked’ on Facebook and started reading the blog. I thought [YNAB’s] method made sense, especially Rule Four, so we started working towards that.”
Katrina and Robert diligently used their whiteboard budget for the next twelve-ish months. Katrina said, “The Four Rules, and many hours of perusing the blog, kept us in excellent financial stead—proof that you really are an education organization that sells software.”
In that time they aged their money 30 days (a.k.a., built a buffer), paid for new computers (his and hers), took a few skiing trips and saved up to take an entire summer off of work to roadtrip across Canada!
Still, there was something alluring about YNAB, the software.
In her email to YNAB, Katrina also shared an exciting budgeting update: “We recently gifted a subscription to my cousin and his fiancee. Shortly after that, I finally convinced the hubby to try out the software.”
This made us ecstatic.
She also said, “We’re very excited to continue our financial journey with YNAB. And, if nowhere else, the subscription will come out of my discretionary spending this year because I am having so much fun!”
We agree, Katrina, budgeting is fun! And here’s why Katrina and Robert—savers to the core—finally fell for YNAB, the whole shebang (method and software):
Due to limited real estate on the whiteboard, sometimes Katrina and Robert would run out of space. This lead to consolidating categories, which made it difficult to get a true sense of what their dollars needed to do.
For example, all of their monthly household bills had to be lumped into a single category. Katrina said, “It was very clarifying to be able to set up a category [in the software] for each bill that used to be lumped together in our old ‘Fixed’ category on the whiteboard.”
They also conserved space on the whiteboard by rounding every transaction up to the nearest dollar and erasing old information every month. That meant no historical budgeting data (unless you count the residue on their dry eraser).
And there was also the problem of accessibility. As you can imagine, they didn’t take the whiteboard with them when they left the house. Katrina said, “The biggest inconvenience of the whiteboard was remembering to record transactions if we were out [of the house] for an extended period of time.”
Now that they can see exact dollar amounts and detailed categories, Katrina and Robert are having more meaninful conversations about money, too. Katrina said, “I don’t think we were ever on remarkably different financial pages, I just take a more active role now that the tracking is concrete.”
Perhaps the biggest change that Katrina and Robert have experienced with YNAB’s software is that they feel freer to spend money and dream big. They used to skimp on unnecessary purchases because it wasn’t clear whether or not they had enough cash.
A complete list of categories, plus the ability to set goals, has helped Katrina and Robert see that all of their essentials are budgeted for—including their growing emergency fund—and there’s money left to allocate towards those ‘extras’, like new computers, clothing and vacations.
Katrina said, “It’s really exciting to see categories for a future down-payment [for a house] and our next vehicle. We didn’t have room on the whiteboard to get that specific. It has definitely been helpful to put aside money for categories that, previously, I would have considered luxuries.”
Robert feels the same way: “[Now, I] see money as something that can be spent, and feel good about spending it.”
Katrina and Robert experimented with their budget over a matter of years, refining their approach every step of the way, until it fit their lifestyle just right. If you’re just getting started, Katrina’s advice is, “Money really isn’t that hard. Don’t spend more than you make … it’s more possible than you think.”
Remember, budgeting is not restrictive. You won’t be spending less, you’ll be spending right. You can do this! Today. Right now. What do you have to lose? Except all that debt and stress. (Ok, so kind of a lot.)
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