Usually I give stuff away on this site because someone sends it to me or asks me to review it. Today I’m reviewing a product because I love it LOVE IT and I’m giving it away because I asked the creator if I could have a copy to give away. So here goes the longest review ever with a little embarrassing personal history thrown in.
Dan and I have never been great at budgeting. I was taught to budget and balance a checkbook when I was really young. My dad’s an accountant for the love of chicken and I vividly remember him sitting at the kitchen table paying bills and balancing the checkbook. He and my mom were always careful with money and they taught me to be as well.
Then college hit and I got a bit lax. I learned to only start thinking about money when it ran out and I was always confused. “Like, how come my check totally bounced?” Now, I’m a smart girl but I guess I just decided that I was too smart to waste time tracking every penny. I always did okay, made my rent and tuition payments on time and graduated college with very little debt. I think I only called my parents for a massive bailout package once or twice.
Then after graduation, Dan and I got married. I was supporting him through school, working full time while he held down a part-time job. Suddenly the expenses were shared and the income was more than I’d had before. We weren’t rich by any stretch of the imagination but for college students we were doing fine. We had a TWO bedroom apartment with no holes in the walls and a non-shag carpet. I didn’t think we needed to be strict with money.
I planned on staying home once we had kids but I was nervous about how it would feel to be financially dependent on another person. Somehow I got Dan to agree to let me plan and budget our money. I thought that being “in charge” would help me feel like I had a stake in our finances even though I wasn’t the one bringing home the bacon once I became a mom.
But I never really got a handle on the situation. I tried budgeting software, Excel spreadsheets, using a cash-only budget, where when I ran out of cash I ran out of spending power. I bounced from plan to plan but never found a good fit.
Dan and I have grown to equate money with fear. We don’t know how much we have and we don’t always know how much is coming. To me, unexpected income is “free money” and although we (especially Dan) feel a sense of duty to put it towards upcoming major expenses, we want to spend some for fun too and then end up feeling guilty about it. We don’t really have any debt and we have a good amount of savings but we’re not progressing and it seems like we dip more and more into our emergency reserves because our paycheck didn’t quite cover what we spent the previous month.
We make a good living but feel guilty when we spend money on wants because we don’t know if we should and we’re always worried that we’re not managing things right. Financial lame-ish-ness is one of the major causes of stress in our marriage. I’m in charge so whenever we want to buy something, Dan will ask, “Do we have it in the budget?” and I’ll look down at my shoes and say, “We have it in the bank, I think.” And he’ll decide we probably can’t afford it. But then sometimes I’ll buy it anyway and then we’ll be happy for a minute with a vague feeling of guilt. It’s not okay.
So a couple of months ago my sister called me ranting and raving about the new budgeting software she’s using. It’s called YNAB, which stands for You Need a Budget. I winced at the B-word but decided to hear her out. By the end of our conversation I was convinced that I’d at least give it a try, knowing that they offer a money-back guarantee.
Well, it’s $50 I won’t be getting back because I cannot say enough positive things about this software. It’s easy to use. It lets me feel like I’m controlling my money, not the other way around. It’s intuitive. It’s fast and simple to set up. It’s complex enough to do everything I need it to do without being so confusing I want to beat my head against the keyboard, a problem I’ve had with budgeting software in the past. It’s created for families, not businesses and that’s very apparent, although my sister uses it to track her business expenses as well. It comes with instructional material that focuses on living within your means, building up a buffer so you’re not living paycheck to paycheck and really being accountable to yourself and your spouse.
The company is small and they really want to get it right. They have helpful forums and great response time. When I posted a question, I received a personal email and a fix for my problem within a few short hours, even though it was on a weekend.
I set up all the categories in my budget and then Dan and I have a meeting to go over everything. There has been no tension in our meetings, just sort of a giddy feeling of relief. Relief that we have a plan. Relief that there is enough money to do the things that are really important. Relief that he can finally trust me with our family finances.
We have a category for fun money for each of us and one for clothes. We can’t put a lot of money into these categories each month but the money accrues so next month if I haven’t spent my $10, I’ll have $20 and eventually I’ll be able to buy a whole sweater. In the past if I’d budgeted $10 for clothes, I’d rush to spend it so I wouldn’t lose it. The same thing goes with birthday money. I knew that if I didn’t spend my $20 from Grandma right away, it would be absorbed and end up paying for pull-ups or something so I’d buy a $20 piece of uselessness just so I could spend the money on me.
Now I just add my birthday money to my fun-money budget and watch it grow.
This accumulation feature allows us to do things like set up small budgets for several different projects without needing actual separate accounts. I have an account for haircuts and I budget a third of a hair cut each month so I can go in and have it done every three months with no worry about whether or not we can afford for me to live without split ends.
But if I overspend one of my categories, I’m not penalized for it specifically the next month. If Magoo suddenly outgrows all his clothes and I go $100 over-budget on the kids’ clothing category, $100 is taken from the OVERALL budget the next month. I love this feature because sometimes things come up and I don’t want to feel like if I overspend in an area, I’m toast in that area for months. I like that I can spread out the squeeze.
My favorite thing about it is the honesty. Sometimes in the past, when I’d go shopping, I’d hurry to get everything put away before Dan got home so I wouldn’t have to explain to him what I’d purchased and where the money came from. When he’d ask me a week later if the shirt I was wearing was new, I’d mumble something and he’d wonder if I had some whole new secret wardrobe he’d paid for with our life savings without knowing it.
Now I come home from shopping and show him everything with excitement because I know that he knows that it’s all budgeted and accounted for.
We’re achieving goals. We’re learning to have positive feelings about money. We’re strengthening our relationship. We’re gaining self-control and security about our future.
You should too.
Seriously. Go check out the site. Read what they’re all about. I know I can’t be the only one who finds herself at war with money.
If you’d like to win a free copy of YNAB Pro, and I’d highly recommend ordering Pro, leave a comment on this post and I’ll draw a winner on Saturday night. We saved more than $50 the first week we used it by cutting unnecessary spending and noticing strange charges on various accounts we hadn’t been monitoring closely enough. So even if you don’t win, it’s worth the investment. Good luck!