Tuesday, September 29, 2015

If you have to "work on your budget," you're doing it wrong.

(I wrote this. It is not an advertisement.)

YNAB makes the "burden" of following a budget feel like freedom.

    by JonnyRockets 

Several months ago (possibly over a year ago) my son gave me a copy of YNAB (You Need A Budget) software. Last week, after several false starts due to not understanding this software's approach to budgeting, I finally took a free online seminar to introduce me to the concepts of this software. Afterward, I set up a new budget using the software. I am impressed.

I have owned and used Quicken, Microsoft Money, Money Matters, and even software I wrote myself that automatically checked my bank account, distributed deposits for various purposes, and showed me how much money was available by purpose.

These various programs all do what they are supposed to do, but every one of them took so much time to manage, that I fell behind with each of them until restarting was not practical. The software I wrote for myself was the only software I actually used for an extended period of time, but it had so many hard-coded assumptions that no longer apply now, that it took too much work to adjust figures, and I fell out of the habit of using it.

YNAB's strength is that its focus is on planning how to spend the money on-hand, rather than on forecasting and record-keeping, although it does remember how I use it, and makes it easier to do repetitive tasks, and it keeps excellent records. It also has user-friendly pie charts and reports. If I ever get behind, starting over is a simple matter of clicking "Fresh Start," entering current account balances, and planning where to spend those current account balances.

Every budget software I've used in the past has focused on setting up (and then endlessly adjusting) rules and schedules, but YNAB only focuses on assigning a task for each current dollar. I spend very little time using the program on the computer, and when I'm at the store, I can use my phone to check what money is available to spend per budget category, rather than just checking my account balance, which can result in false security. Meanwhile, money tucked away for future use doesn't make me feel "rich" until it is spent, because I only see grocery money in my account when I'm shopping for groceries.

One week is not a lot of time to judge the value of a personal accounting program, but I have spent more time writing this post than I have spent planning today's shopping trip, scanning the receipt afterwards, and entering the receipt in my budget register. I am very impressed that it is possible to spend so little time and effort to gain much greater control over my money than I've had in the past.

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