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Date: Friday, 25 Jul 2014 15:10

photo 2Recently, my fellow YNAB blogger Alex wrote a great post about how her budget allows her to afford certain indulgences. She’s right: Even if you’re living on a shoestring, you can consciously plan for the special things that bring a little sunshine into your life, without letting them drain your bank account.

But the budget isn’t just for people who want to keep their luxury spending from getting out of hand; it can also liberate those of us who tend to avoid ever spending money on ourselves, even for necessities. (Surely I’m not the only one?)

For example: I’ve been hiking with our new dog a lot this summer. And because I am a cheapskate, I’ve been doing it wearing my only suitable outdoor shoes, a pair of 3- or 4-year-old sneakers that a couple of years ago went from being my primary indoor workout shoes to my beat-up yard work shoes. These were already nearly useless for hiking when I started in May. As of last week, my toes were poking through the mesh and the smooth-worn soles were flapping with every step. (I tripped a lot.)

But, thanks to the budget, I had been saving up for a pair of actual hiking shoes. They cost $100 ($100!) — knocked down to $80 with a coupon code. That’s pretty cheap as far as light trail shoes go, but for me it might as well be a million dollars.

Before the budget, I never would have been able to justify to myself the cost of these shoes. If I had bought them, I would have felt a guilty pang in my stomach every time I put them on. I shouldn’t have indulged myself in something I could have lived without, I would have told myself, because the money could have been better spent elsewhere.

YNAB has changed that kind of thinking for me.

Now that I have a dedicated clothing/shoe category, I can plan for more expensive purchases — even for things I don’t strictly need. I always believed I didn’t deserve Nice Things, because they cost money. I felt kind of noble going without Nice Things because that proved that I was careful with money (though somehow I was always broke).

Now, thanks to the budget, I am able to spend more on myself — plus I have more money for everything else. Go figure.

I’ll probably never get over my innate tightwad tendencies. Heck, before YNAB it took me six months to pull the $7 trigger on a new manual can opener (well, I already had one that kind of worked even though it hurt my hand, and who needs two can openers?).

But my point is this: While most people tend to think of a budget as a way to control their spending, I use mine to help me be less frugal.

When I head out on my morning hike in a few minutes, I’ll be wearing my new Merrells. And thanks to YNAB, I’ll be smiling all the way.

Author: "jessiebird" Tags: "Budgeting, Psychology"
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Date: Wednesday, 23 Jul 2014 15:59

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 10.14.03 AMFew things make an engaged couple happier than having a store clerk hand you a registration laser gun followed by the permissive, “Have at it”. I (Christy) think my squeals were audible. I know I blew imaginary smoke that (wasn’t) flowing from my laser pointer after I scanned each item and I definitely swirled the scanner gun around and shoved it in my imaginary holster while annoying my husband to death with exaggerated cowgirl speak: “Well, how-do little darlin’! I reckon I’ll take that, there cheese grater.” (You’re asking yourself how my husband made it to the altar knowing he was marrying such a nerd, aren’t you?)

My adventures with the registration scanner aside, I was thrilled to death to have my pick from the rows upon rows of kitchenware. The colorful measuring cups and brightly patterned dishes, garlic presses and salad spinners, all seemed to whisper the promise of a warm, bustling kitchen in the center of a happy home.

As our years together progressed, I became more and more confident as a home cook and my meals expanded both in difficulty and ingredients. I remember how proud I was when I tackled my first Thanksgiving dinner—including three pies made from scratch! I enjoyed spending time in the kitchen and creating moments where our family could come together over a yummy feast.

Fast forward to last year: My husband’s job was at its most demanding. We were lucky to see him for a few hours on Sunday after church. The little time he did have off was spent on operating tables or doctor’s offices.  Our house was in a constant state of disarray—our kitchen being the biggest disaster area—due to a damaging flood. We were adjusting to a new baby and all of the joy (and extreme sleep deprivation) that went along with her.  (Oh, but that new baby smell- it’s magic, I tell you!)

My bountiful, inviting dinner table had gone from home cooked meals and meaningful conversations to three different dinner times and leftover scraps from takeout boxes. Our weekend, eat out splurges had now become an everyday survival tool for me. The idea of getting a meal on the table was overwhelming…..little did I know that I was completely overwhelming our budget as well.

Slowly our life began to heal from the “Year of Disasters”, but old, convenient habits die hard. At least five days a week we were eating from plastic “to-go” containers. Take out was my new crutch, and what’s worse, I was crippling our bank account.

When we sat down to input our spending into YNAB, I was slapped with the reality that we were spending well over $600 a month (and that’s being conservative!) on restaurant eating. It was a hard truth to stomach (pun intended) and I knew it was time to get cooking!

I was nervous that after a full year and a half of avoiding our kitchen, I might’ve needed a refresher course in slicing and dicing, but the comforts of simmering pots and delicious smells filling the house quickly awakened my joy of cooking. I took a cue from YNAB and became much more organized with my meal planning and shopping trips. I’m no longer staring into the fridge at 5 o’clock hoping a three course meal will appear on the second shelf. Our daily meals are set in advance, keeping dinner time anxiety free.

In the past 6 weeks we’ve eaten out three times…..THREE!! Our eat-out category has been flush and we’ve saved over $500 a month! I admit that I dreaded making this change. I was sure I would miss the ease of someone else handling our meals and freeing me up for other duties, but I was surprisingly mistaken. So many aspects of our life were improved when we committed to making this change: Our physical health, our financial health, our time together as a family. The benefits keep rolling in.

Of course everyone has days that require sending out a “bat signal” and surrendering to the chaos of the day with a pizza run or an escape to your favorite restaurant. I’ll always be grateful to have that option in my back pocket. But more than that, I’m proud of the progress we’ve made by rediscovering our kitchen and recommitting to a full fridge and a happy bank account.

Has YNAB helped you break some unhealthy habits? Have you had a recent victory in your budgeting? Let’s celebrate!! Share them with me and your fellow YNABers! Crunching those numbers can be stressful at times so let’s take a moment to focus on the amazing progress we’ve made! I’ll whip up something tasty for us while you’re writing…

Author: "christy" Tags: "Budgeting"
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Date: Tuesday, 22 Jul 2014 15:37

I had told you about how we just got back from Europe, and Sarah in the comments had asked: “How did you track your expenses while on vacation?”

So my husband and I got to talking about it, and, using much of what he commented back to Sarah with, we came up with this post.

While it’s a challenge, keeping to a budget on vacation requires a LOT of preparation and foresight. We’ve now gone to Europe three times on a YNAB budget, and at this very moment I’m sitting in a cabin in Taos on another vacation. (I plan on telling you next how I manage my travel addiction.) So hopefully this will help in Europe or wherever your heart takes you next.

1. Before you purchase anything, know your conversion rate!

It’s not board game money, as much as you feel like it is. It’s real money; trust me. If you don’t want to do the math, then get an app for your phone that can do it for you.

2. Pay for as much as you can while you’re still home.

If you plan on traveling by train or bus once you’re there, then buy the tickets as early as they’ll let you. Many of the companies mail you the ticket, and others simply email them. But trust me, don’t wait until the last minute. Also, pay for any shows or tours that you plan on going to in advance. This helps a ton.

3. Check the admission prices on the websites of everything else you plan on attending and public transportation passes, and budget for all of those.

I made the mistake once of just estimating what I thought the museum admission prices would be, and it ended up being about 2-3 times more. If you spend a couple of days at home on your itinerary, you won’t regret it. You don’t even have to nail down the itinerary day by day, just list the things that you definitely want to do, and then plan then play it by ear, planning around the events that are set in stone. Also, do a search on the public transportation of the cities that you’re going to so that you can maximize on the passes that you’ll surely want to buy.

4. Give yourself a budget for gifts and souvenirs, and get cash out for those.

Once you have your cash, then use an envelope system for this. Keep you cash safe in a money belt or traveler’s wallet. This will also keep you from making regrettable impulse buys.

5. Give yourself a per diem for food and use cash.

Again, you’ll want to use the envelope system for this, keeping the cash safe in a traveler’s wallet or money belt. Also, be sure to do an internet search for what is customary tipping procedure. You may end up saving a little dough that way.

6. Make sure you and whomever you’re traveling with all have a chip in your credit/debit card.

If you don’t already have one, get this sent to you a few months in advance of your trip. Many vendors, especially in Eastern Europe, don’t take a credit card with a swipe. This prevented me from renting a bike one day because each of us needed our own card to register, so it was a major bummer. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EMV - the US will be doing this very soon. (Tip: Call your credit card company and bank before you leave to let them know you’ll be overseas.)

7. Give yourself (if possible) a few hundred dollars of buffer so that mistakes or minor emergencies aren’t a big deal. You’re on vacation, and it’s awesome, and you don’t know when you’ll get to come back, and that this doesn’t happen every day, so you don’t want to be stressing out about money! A buffer will ease the stress as long as you don’t rely on it too heavily.

8. Download your transactions every night.

Any credit card/debit transactions will show up almost immediately as converted into dollars, so if you’re doing a best guess conversion during the day, at night you can look at your pending transactions and you’ll see those transactions in dollars. Make sure you use a credit card that doesn’t charge you a huge conversion fee (we use the Barclay Travel card because of its rewards and for this reason too).

9.  Use Yelp or Trip Advisor to find places to eat out of the tourist areas to save money.

If you do this beforehand, it’s great. But if you don’t, you might consider getting data on your phone to make things easier (you can buy a prepaid SIM card while you’re there that’s pretty reasonable), but we managed to find enough places with free Wi-Fi to get the information we needed (the Trip Advisor app was my favorite). A lot of times you can end up going a few blocks outside of the normal tourist trap and get something more authentic and much cheaper. So I’d recommend looking at your itinerary now and finding options for where you’re going to be. I think the most expensive aspect of our trip was the panic-and-eat-out-at-a-tourist-trap scenario.

And as far as the nuts-and-bolts of your categories and whatnot, that’s up to you. We just had one category with a simple list of the budget in the notes. Some of you will probably want a master category with sub-categories for each thing (food, souvenirs, etc.), and that’s fine, too. My personal taste is to keep it a little simpler.

I hope this helps! Happy travels!

Author: "annie" Tags: "Budgeting"
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Date: Monday, 21 Jul 2014 16:59

Alex here. I admit it. I’m a fool for fakery.

Specifically, I’m a fool for having hundreds of synthetic polyester fibres painstakingly glued to my face every four weeks.

Fake lashes. Lots of ‘em. And they cost me a pretty penny, which I always find is an interesting exercise in explanation whenever someone asks me how much they cost.

See, people who know me understand I live and die by My Budget. I turn people down for drinks because It’s Not In The Budget. I decline going out for lunch because I’ve Already Spent This Month’s Restaurant Budget. Yet I turn around and drop a hundred bucks a month on something that seems so frivolous.

But there it is. I love the time saved by no longer having to put on makeup. I love not worrying about my mascara smudging when I’m slinging tires at the gym. I love how they give me an instant eye-lift in a world that makes women feel crummy if we’re not Botoxing and threading and Juvederming and trying to look like we’re twenty-eight instead of however old we really are.

We all have our luxuries. And in my (tightly-budgeted, single-parenting, self-employed) world, I have two: wine and eyelashes. (When I first threw my hat into the ring to get this blogging gig with YNAB, I confessed to Mark that I spend the equivalent of a plane trip to Guatemala every year…on wine. But that’s for another post. (And sometimes I share it with others.) And besides, that’s nothing compared to the return trip to Singapore I’m hucking away on eyelashes.)

I save for my children’s education. I save for their braces. I pay hundreds for life, critical illness and disability insurance. I save for Thing One’s trumpet lessons, for Thing Two’s gymnastics lessons, for their annual passes to the museum, the pool and Miniature World. As for me? My monthly clothing budget is $30 (oh yeah, baby, it’s Alex what’s keeping Value Village #yyj in business). My electricity budget is $20. My iTunes Store budget is $5. So I’m not a reckless spender. What YNABer is?

But – and I’m sure others who have oddball luxuries that they seem to spend ridiculous amounts of money on will agree – this apparent inconsistency in meting out money to the various fiscal arenas of life is sometimes difficult to explain to people who aren’t acquainted with a) YNAB, or b) budgeting in general. And it still raises eyebrows, even when I explain that it’s a measured choice. That I can afford the lashes because I have cut away the other frivolities, like Starbucks coffee, and new shoes, and movies out, and pedicures, and things at Costco that aren’t really necessary but which are such a good price they just have to be purchased.

I explain it anyway.

So now it’s your go: What expenses do you find tricky to justify to those people who challenge your budget allocations?

Author: "alex" Tags: "Budgeting"
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Date: Friday, 18 Jul 2014 15:15

Screen Shot 2014-03-24 at 10.54.29 AMAssemble, budgeting bushido! I, Jeremy, am sporting my pointy hat and fu manchu in preparation to bestow upon you, Grasshoppa, some basic techniques in the ancient art of FICO defense.

[Wooden flute plays while I balance atop my bamboo cane.]

The terms “FICO” and “credit score” are essentially the same creature and those terms are interchanged by bankers, since FICO is the company many use to get your credit report. Despite your or my feelings about it, your FICO…is. Though shrouded in mystery, since it can work either for or against you, it is wise to study its ways. Let us begin…

[Gong!]

If it is a mortgage you seek, you must face your FICO since banks employ it heavily in guiding their lending decisions. If married, you will not face it alone (though you may wish you could if your spouse has been tiger-style with their borrowing, yet sloth-style in paying back.)

FICO has no feelings about your borrowing history. FICO does not hear sincere reasons, nor poor excuses. It peers unbiasedly through you and gives you a score ranging from 300 to 850, with higher being better. Like middle-aged man’s abs, building your score up is long and difficult, while sagging is quick and easy.

FICO sees only darkness. FICO will not mention the time you ate only wild beetles, drank dew droplets, and lived without electricity to pay off your 30 year mortgage in seven grueling months. FICO will, however, point out the time you spent forty days meditating on Youtube cat videos and were late on paying your Target card…five years ago.

Let not your anger control you, Grasshoppa. Neither be seized by worry if you are now trying to remember every little thing you may have ever done wrong. The best course of action is to bring your FICO into the light. Journey to www.AnnualCreditReport.com where you can request your credit report once per year without charge.

[There are many sites (even some banks/credit cards) which offer this service for a fee. Unless you want to monitor your credit score more than annually, this is letting your money take the way of the cherry blossom in the wind.]

Like waxing car and painting fence, checking your score is more than going through the motions since they are not always accurate. Be not intimidated! FICO will back down when confronted with good evidence of payment sent on time. Even a sincere call to the company reporting a genuine late payment may suffice. “Hello, friendly cell phone carrier person. I see I had a late payment last year. I was unconscious due to a nunchaku-induced head injury, but I paid as soon as I woke up and was never late otherwise. What might I do to clear that up?” It might do the trick, if it is the honest truth.

Many an unwary mortgage shoppa has been bitten in the backside by FICO and thus denied in their quest. When next we meet, I will teach of the anatomy of the FICO, and how to avoid those attacks. I will offer you further techniques, but they will be more valuable to you once you have seen your credit report with your own eyes.

That will be all for now, enlightened one. Now go and find what it is you seek.

Author: "jeremy" Tags: "Miscellaneous"
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Date: Thursday, 17 Jul 2014 14:34

bag of moneySomething exciting happened yesterday.

For over two years, I (Jessiebird) had been begging my 28-year-old stepson to try YNAB. He had grudgingly downloaded the trial, but insisted that he couldn’t use it unless he entered all his future expenses. This had thrown off his budget numbers and left him convinced that YNAB wouldn’t work for him.

He had still not come around to YNAB at Christmas this past year. I knew this because he mentioned having to check his bank balance to make sure he had enough money to buy a few more gifts. (I may have given him my standard lecture about how YNAB teaches you to make spending decisions based on category balances, not account balances. But if I did, he wasn’t listening.) 

A couple of months ago, out of the blue, he did say something about wanting to give YNAB another try. Worried I might scare him off, I kept my normal gushing tightly controlled and merely said I thought he’d really find YNAB useful and that I could help him if he got stuck. But he hadn’t brought up YNAB since, so I assumed he had changed his mind.

He was in town this week for a brief visit. And last night, while we were all watching a movie, he pulled out his laptop and said, “Sorry, but I have got to get caught up on YNAB.”

I almost dropped my popcorn.

I tried to appear casual, but I had to hug my knees to keep myself from turning cartwheels around the living room. I quivered in silent excitement as I watched him stare at the screen while murmuring number-type stuff.

After about 5 minutes, he gave a little cheer, and I knew exactly what the sound meant. “Balanced to the penny, first try,” he said with a grin. It was a beautiful YNAB moment.

He spent another 5 minutes or so examining the budget and tapping the keyboard now and then. “I overspent a little on this trip,” he said. “I kind of figured I was going to, but it’s not a problem. I have a couple other categories I can take the money from.”

Hear that? He speaks YNAB.

He joins my younger stepson and his wife, who started using YNAB when they got married last year and who have had great success so far, as well as my 14-year-old daughter who, as I wrote in an earlier post, is a young but avid YNAB user.

I’ve often felt bad that my husband and I didn’t set the best example of how to handle money when the kids were growing up. We can’t change the past, but I’m thrilled that we’ve been able to do the next best thing: get all three of our children using YNAB so they can avoid the money-management mistakes we made.

At last, our whole family uses YNAB. Maybe that is worth a cartwheel or two. 

 

Author: "jessiebird" Tags: "Family and Kids"
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Date: Wednesday, 16 Jul 2014 17:39

exclamation copy_thumbOkay YNAB friends. Christy here, and I’m about to get deep. Are you ready for this? Turn on your favorite slow jam and pour yourself something dangerous. (Dr.Pepper on the rocks? Oh no you didn’t.)

My recent journey with YNAB has led me down a path of self-reflection. I’ve had to own up to some hard truths about the way I’d been abusing money. This process has forced me to grieve my detached, over-extended spending habits of the past. As I look back on the events that brought me here, I was shocked at how closely they resembled the stages of grief. Like clockwork, I hit every step—and it wasn’t always pretty!

Denial:

We all have that “fight or flight” instinct that sends an urgent message to our brains in times of trouble, letting us know we need to react—and fast. Right then we choose our response and either we are putting up our dukes and karate chopping our way out of a difficult situation, or we’re hiding behind the couch cushions in the fetal position with our fingers in our ears. When it came to finances, I made myself a very comfortable cushion fort of denial.

When my better half would try to engage me in conversations about our budgetary goals, I would smile and nod and give him my best, “Team Hiniker! Yes! We’ve got this!” but I never fully engaged because I never connected to the situation. My head remained firmly planted in the sand while I left my husband to deal with the reality.

Anger:

When it became clear that I could no longer hide from the stack of bills brought on by the previous year’s events, my bitter side got the best of me. We had been through one of the most trying times of our lives and I was downright mad that “Life” slapped us with a hefty price tag to match.

It became hard to watch the success of others and not feel the sting of jealousy. I envied those who seemed to “have it easy” and found myself trapped in the hamster wheel of comparison. The anger and resentment I felt for our situation stole my joy and overshadowed the countless blessings we were fortunate enough to receive daily.

Bargaining:

This little fella has been my companion for years. As a girl with very few vices (“Don’t drink, don’t smoke—what do you do?”) I found comfort in “treating myself” when the emotions of what I was going through were too hard to face. It was a habit that developed during our 10 year infertility battle. (“If I can’t have a baby, then I should get this sweater.”) Needless to say, the more loss we experienced, the more I shopped away my sadness.

This unhealthy bartering system seeped into other aspects of my life and gave me permission to purchase a false sense of entitlement. When walls were crumbling down around us (literally and figuratively) I deserved some compensation. That was the deal I had made with Life.

 Depression:

Eventually the magnitude of the situation caught up with me. I rode the Ferris wheel of grief and was dropped off on a big black cloud of gloom. I went from blaming the government (Obamacare! State adoption laws!) to landing squarely on….me.

I threw myself a pretty lavish pity party complete with isolation, crying jags, an entire lemon meringue pie and binge watching 90210 reruns. (Another vice, I know. Don’t judge.)  The “sads” lasted longer than I’d like to admit, but looking back it was a necessary step. The cloud always comes before the silver lining…

 Acceptance:

What is it they say in the Serenity Prayer?

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

There were many things we couldn’t change about our current situation and I had spent far too many precious moments dwelling on them. My husband and I sat at the kitchen table early one morning having a hushed conversation about our finances. It wasn’t unlike the dozens we’d had before except for one thing: I listened, I processed and I made the choice to change.

Enter YNAB. I knew I couldn’t do it alone. Just like most addictions require a regimented program to keep them on track and accountable, I needed the structure of a system that would be forgiving of my past failures and mentor me as I created healthy new habits. I quickly learned that nothing would heal our monetary grief faster than actively streamlining and sticking to a budget. Actions speak louder than worries. YNAB taught me that.

Have you or a loved one experienced one or more stages of budget grief?  How did YNAB help you overcome your emotional and financial woes? Are you still trapped in the grief cycle? (Don’t worry; I’ve got a pie and a DVR full of 90’s reruns with your name on it.)

Author: "christy" Tags: "Psychology"
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Date: Monday, 14 Jul 2014 14:48

As I said, we were in Europe for two weeks and got back on Thursday. And as Christy put it so well, vacation budgeting can be quite a challenge. I (Annie) am working on frugal vacationing (a post soon to come), and I’m pretty decent at it compared to what I did in the past. But it’s just so hard to track, especially when you’re using three different currencies!

I made a budget before I left, tried to plan out my itinerary as well as I could (I really stink at it because it kills my soul), and tried to make wise purchases while I was out. At one point during the second week, however, I think I had a screw-it moment. My budget suffered the same fate as my diet which was thrown out the window during the first day or two.

I found myself making purchases that I wouldn’t have made in the first week. At that point I just figured that I was already screwed, so I might as well just have fun and worry about it when I got home. Now don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t making extravagant purchases of crystal and gold, but it was more like extra little gifts for my kids, a second glass of wine, or a sweet treat with my espresso. (Don’t worry; I’m still cheap.)

So my husband was like, “How are we with the budget?” And I’m like, “Uh…you’re the one that wanted to go out to eat tonight. And I don’t really know. I’m kind of scared to check.”

So we have a little convo about how I suck at planning itineraries, but then he says, “Reality is never something to be afraid of; that’s something YNAB taught me.” Of course. He was absolutely right.

Later that night he downloaded our transactions and saw where we were at. My prediction was that we were $1,000 over what we budgeted for. But in reality, at that point we were projected to end our vacation at about $250 over what we budgeted for. Now don’t judge me…but that’s not too bad. We’ve had vacations where we’ve gone about 4 times more than that over. Plus, this time we had a little padding left in our overall budget for just such an occasion, so we were fine.

He was right, though – knowing reality was much better than being left in the dark. Being in the dark is scary and stressful, and it just leads to more irrational behavior. But knowing that I overspent by $250 was manageable, and it led me to more rational behavior.

Author: "annie" Tags: "Budgeting, Frugality"
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Date: Thursday, 10 Jul 2014 15:05

computerWell, it started out as mine.

Three weeks ago, I (Alex) marched into Future Shop and purchased a spanky new MacBook Air. I’d been saving in YNAB for a year, treating my wheezy old dog of a MacBook Pro like gold (fan under her bottom, lots of rest time, full shutdown every night) so she’d last me until I made the switch. Hundred dollars here, fifty dollars there, until the magical day finally arrived (June 1) and the numbers in my MacBook Air category rolled over – ding!ding!ding! – to signal I’d reached my goal. Time to go shopping.

And shop I did. I knew exactly what I wanted: the smallest, least expensive version of an Air. I don’t download anything other than things to read. I don’t watch movies. I just need somewhere to store my Word docs and PDFs and all the things that go along with the writing life. Lucky for the budget, these things take up an insignificant amount of computing space, so I can get away with buying the cheapest model. Which, when it comes to Mac, is never cheap. Then again, it’s also not cheaply made: I’ve gotten two solid years of 12h+ daily use use from my Pro – and it was a 2009 model, purchased used in 2012. I anticipate my Air will give me the same longevity.

Here’s where I stumbled on an unanticipated hiccup with my plan. My littles are Minecrafters. They had been sharing an iPad for months, passing it back and forth between turns, and looking forward to the day when Mumma could buy her new computer…because then they’d get the old one to play Minecraft on, and they wouldn’t have to play the Pocket Edition anymore. Imagine my chagrin when I realized my poor old Pro couldn’t handle the graphics, memory and processing requirements to make Minecraft actually work. Instead of running around building zoos, mining redstone and outsmarting Endermen, my boys were jerking along in a slow, staggering smudge of green and brown, at risk of punched to death by faster-moving zombies.

I couldn’t watch it happen.

So now, thanks to YNAB, the kids are playing Minecraft on a fancy new computer that’s small enough and light enough to be carried between your fourth and fifth toes, barefoot on Jupiter.

And I’m still dogging it on my old Pro.

Author: "alex" Tags: "Budgeting"
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Date: Monday, 07 Jul 2014 15:24

houseHello, and welcome! If you’re just joining us, my last post I said that if you want to put the hurt on your mortgage, you gotta punch it in the principal (the amount originally borrowed). There was growling, I was squinting, and a plethora of cheesy boxing parallels were employed.

You heavyweights already played around with the calculator to see how various amounts of extra payments will punish your mortgage.

Once you’re convinced you want to do this, it’s a matter of strategy. I promised to share my favorites, so here they are:

1. Automatic biweekly payments.

Mortgage payments are typically collected monthly, so paying biweekly packs the same wallop as forking over an extra payment every year. Good news: 100% of the extra payment hits your principal directly–boom! In our created scenario ($100,000 at 4.5% interest), making 26 biweekly payments per year instead of 12 monthly payments would knock almost 5 years off our 30 year loan and save us $14,519.87 in interest–bam! Put in your own numbers here to see how it would impact your mortgage.

How to get it done:

  • Have someone do it for you. Banks and third-party services will gladly take this job off your hands and direct draw from your checking account. I’ve seen setup fees at $400 + $40/month, which comes to more than $3,000 over the life of your loan for this service. It costs, but it’s better than not doing it at all.
  • Your lender may already do this for free. Call and ask if they will automatically take payments from your checking account every two weeks instead of monthly. If so, boo-yah!

2. Overpay your mortgage a little every month.

You can get the same effect by overpaying. No setup, no fees, cancel anytime. Take your payment, divide it by twelve months, and tack it on. In our scenario, that comes to: $506.69  / 12 = $42.22. Add that to our monthly payment and pay $548.91 each month for full impact.

Tip! If you pay by check, you may have to write a separate check and write something like “mortgage principal” on the memo line. Call your lender to confirm this.

3. Tuck it away, earn a little interest, and pay it all at once.

(This dodge-counter approach is a little more advanced. Depending on the interest rate on your savings account, it may be more hassle than it’s worth but I’ll leave that to you.) Take the same amount from the method above ($42.22) and have it automatically transferred to an interest-earning savings account every month. Choose a date, and agree with yourself to withdraw that money and catapult it at your principal in one annual lump. May I suggest you not choose a date near major holidays? Something closer to tax refund time would help with your follow through.

*DING!

Well, there’s the bell and that’s all I got for now. Get out there and tear ‘em to pieces, Champ!

Author: "jeremy" Tags: "Mortgages"
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Date: Thursday, 03 Jul 2014 14:13

goalsbadFive 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.

Author: "jessiebird" Tags: "Budgeting"
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Date: Wednesday, 02 Jul 2014 15:49

sunIt’s that time of year when backpacks gather dust, popsicles become an acceptable breakfast choice and the sun blazes through our shutters no later than 5:30 in the morning.

You got it—summer!

Summertime has extra value for us, as well as for most families, because along with the later bed times, the pool parties that take the place of bath time (or am I the only mom who thinks that counts?) and consuming unnatural amounts of watermelon, we also escape for our hallowed family vacation.

In our pre-YNAB days (we call them “The Dark Ages”) we would be meticulous about planning every detail of our trip: Where we would stay, where we would eat, what activities we would do, and the ever important, what we would wear. I would pack for every possible type of weather condition weeks in advance, new shoes were worn in, snacks and back-up snacks were dutifully placed in plastic containers. Not a detail was left to chance!

Oh- well, except one…..our budget. (Insert sheepishly grinning emoticon.)

We always planned a ballpark amount ahead of time to spend on our little adventures, but the truth is, it didn’t take much for us to go over and above that amount.

“What’s that? You forgot your sweater at the hotel? No problem. We’ll just grab one of these here, massively overpriced gift shop sweatshirts. No big deal! We’re on vacation!”

“A dozen of Disneyland’s hundred dollar churros? You betcha! After all, we’re on vacation!

“Monogrammed specialty keepsakes, eating out for every single meal and impromptu purchases at every turn? Why the heck not? WE’RE ON VACATION!

Whatever modest stipend we’d set aside for our trip would quickly expand without much thought, because, well… we were on vacation.

We are a few months into YNAB and have already seen huge changes in our finances as well as our daily habits. I don’t want to undo the good that has been done here. We are days away from our first post-YNAB getaway and I can already hear the vacation party monster whispering in my ear, “Ooh wouldn’t lunch with Shamu be amazing?!”  (I know, I know. I’ve heard all about “Blackfish”. Insert penitent emoticon.)

Here’s where I need your help: Obviously the longer we’re with YNAB, the more of a “vacation cushion” we’ll have to work with, but how do you keep from going overboard budget-wise on your vacations? Are we “rolling with the punches” or “giving every dollar a job?” Or both?

 Tell me, lovely YNABers: Do you stick to a certain, regimented plan or do you leave it up to chance in the name of “fun” and reconcile it later? I don’t want to be a vacation Scrooge, so how do you find the balance? Is vacation a proper excuse for leaving the budget behind and loosening the reins a bit?  (I fear an “Anti-Budgeters Anonymous” meeting may be in order before our trip to protect me from any upcoming spending triggers… eek!!  I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.)

Author: "christy" Tags: "Frugality"
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Date: Tuesday, 01 Jul 2014 14:15

houseI (Jeremy) almost put the word “easily” in the title of this post, as in, “How to Easily Beat…” For most of us, however, it’s gonna be a fight. Don’t sweat it, Champ. I’m in your corner, so let me show you how you can dodge a blow or two while setting up the knockout.

If you want to put the hurt on your mortgage, you gotta punch it in the principal.

[squinting and using my surly boxing coach voice] “Keep chippin’ away at ‘im! He’s big, but he’ll go down just like all the others. You gotta keep hittin’ where it hurts!”

The principal is the amount you initially borrowed. Let’s pretend we borrowed $100,000 just to make the math easier (we are boxers, after all) at a 4.5% interest rate. Mortgage payments are structured so you pay mostly interest at first.

Before you pound your fists and growl, “Why I oughta…!” at your local banker, remember real people and real money are involved. If a stranger borrowed a few hundred thousand dollars from you, wouldn’t you want to get a return on that risk as soon as possible? (If you answered “No,” please contact me directly and right away.)

As the principal gets paid down, however, it flips. In our $100,000 loan scenario, the monthly payment would break down like this:

 

Monthly payment: $506.69 Principal Interest
First Mortgage Payment $131.69 $375.00
Last Mortgage Payment $504.79 $1.89

 

The more shots you land on your principal, the closer you get to knocking out that last payment. Capiche? It’s gonna be a formidable fight. No two ways about it.

Trust me, this is not a fight you want to lose. You want to absolutely rock this one, and you can. Spit in the bucket, tighten the laces, and find places in your budget you can slim down to attack that mortgage with intensity. Your YNAB training partners are cheering for you.

Next time I’ll share three of my favorite strategies to give brass knuckles to your mortgage payments. Rip off! Tell me now! I don’t mean to tease, but unless you’ve seen for yourself how impactful paying down principal is, the greatest strategies in the world won’t tip the fight. Check out this link, plug in your own numbers, and see for yourself. Until next time.

Author: "jeremy" Tags: "Mortgages"
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Date: Monday, 30 Jun 2014 14:57

Annie here, checking in from Europe! Right now I’m sitting on a train headed to Vienna from Prague and loving it. As a side note, one of the ways we save on vacations is that I piggy-back on my husband’s work trips. We only have to buy one airfare, one person’s food, and any additional lodging outside of the work week. So he spent last week working, and now we’re touristing for one week.

Anyhow, we were sitting at a pub last night with one of my husband’s co-workers from the Prague office, and he was discussing his desire to move to the States for a few years. Other than the adventure and the fun of it, his primary goal is to save a little nest egg. You see, a lot of companies outsource to Prague for their top-notch employees at a discounted rate, so it’s possible that he could make much more in the States.

On top of that, the Czech taxes and cost of living are higher. It doesn’t seem fair, but that’s the way it turns out. The result, however, is that many Czechs (and Europeans in general) have really succeeded at something that many Americans struggle with: living simply. In very broad and general terms, they have smaller everything; they rely heavily on public transportation; they conserve energy. And there is not as much of a culture of acquisition and consumerism as there is in the States. (Like I said, I’m just generalizing, of course.)

But a funny thing happens sometimes, and I made sure to warn our friends of this. You see, we have seen other people from the Prague office come over to the States in the name of making more to save more, but what do you think happens? Well, they fall into the trap of living like Americans and don’t end up saving much. One of them told me, “We thought everything was cheaper in America, but we’re spending the same if not more.”

It’s a trap, though, because the standards are different, and when you’re freaking out about turning your life upside down by moving around the world, you tend to throw money at the problem. You tend to see what everyone else is doing and do that.

She wasn’t spending more on the equivalent lifestyle. She was spending more because she felt compelled (and saw no other obvious alternative) to live the big-time, suburban-American lifestyle – two new cars, nice house, no public transportation, private school, etc.

If they would have known how to hack the system, they could have chosen cheaper digs near the office, put their kids in public school, bought one used car and one bike, and bought used furniture, then they’d be in more of the position that they imagined they’d be in before they left. But it’s hard! There’s a reason people live in the mainstream – because going against the flow is HARD.

But why does that happen? Is it just too enticing to live the big-time American life? Can we humans not handle people seeming like they have more than us? Do we think we deserve it if they do? I don’t know. I just know that it’s an issue.

I’m constantly questioning my motives on financial decisions because I don’t want to decide something based on what the mainstream is doing. The mainstream is most likely dog-paddling in debt, and that’s not exactly where I want to be. 

Author: "annie" Tags: "Frugality"
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Date: Friday, 27 Jun 2014 11:57

brussels sproutsSo far, summer has been crazy busy, and the red in my budget reflects that — especially when it comes to food. I’ve identified a few issues:

Problem: Wasted food. Fresh produce is suddenly available, but I need to work on my timing. I missed at least two meals’ worth of asparagus from our garden, for instance, because I forgot to harvest it in time. While home-grown vegetables are (arguably) free, letting them go to seed in the garden or wilt in the fridge means having to buy something else.

Solution: Use my food resources wisely. I’m making more of an effort to use fresh fruits and vegetables when they are available and save the non-perishable foods for another day.

Problem: Winter’s over and life is good! Getting through winter is cause for celebration (especially in Vermont), and right now I’m celebrating — frequently. For example, I was so happy about going to the garden center last week that I stopped at the bakery and got a bagel and coffee for the ride. We’ve gone out for ice cream several times, because we’ve been cooped up all winter. We order pizza and eat on the porch because, hey, it’s summer. 

Solution: Settle down, girl. It’s great that summer finally came. And while I’m giddy with the sunshine and flowers and long days, I don’t need to mark every butterfly sighting with a treat. The beautiful weather IS the treat.  

Problem: I’m sooo busy. Work has been crazy lately. And at home, the vegetable gardens need all the attention I can give them. I just don’t have the time or energy to cook like I do in winter. Things I regularly do in January — such as plan for leftovers on weeknights so I don’t have to buy lunch the next day — have gone by the wayside. I stop at the store almost daily to grab last-minute dinner ingredients, and usually end up buying things I don’t need.

Solution: Plan ahead. This is a no-brainer. This past weekend I planned three meals (it’s a start), taking into account what the garden might yield. Five minutes spent on a Sunday jotting down meal ideas saves me time, money and trips to the store later in the week. 

Problem: Waah, I don’t wanna worry about the food budget right now! I have a hard time reconciling my childhood memories of summer as lazy and carefree with the reality that these days, it’s anything but. I’ve identified ways to rein in the food budget. But can’t I just let things go for once?

Solution: Budget in some breathing room. Last year, I budgeted extra food money for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and it made the holidays much less stressful. Maybe I’ll do the same for next summer. I don’t think I’ll ever call summers “lazy” again, but I could use a little bit of “carefree.”

Do you find your food budget harder to manage in the summer, or is it just me? Please share your struggles — and your solutions.

 

Author: "jessiebird" Tags: "Psychology"
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Date: Thursday, 26 Jun 2014 15:40

envelope with moneyMy very first job was a dream for a nine year old girl. My mom noticed a sign in the teacher’s lounge looking for a mother’s helper for a few hours after school. Twice a week I played, sang and snacked with the most adorable set of twins while their mom worked around the house. It was little girl heaven. (Did I mention they had the Disney Channel??) To top it all off, I was handed a crisp five dollar bill at the end of each week.

Those Abe Lincolns would barely touch my palms before I was looking for ways to spend them. On rare occasions I could hold out for something special (a mermaid bike with a pink banana seat!) but most days, all it would take was the first few notes of the ice-cream man’s warbled siren song and I was right there, digging into my pockets for a Bomb Pop.

Unfortunately for my bank account I continued to work in cash-based industries…. and I continued to throw money at anything that moved. I waitressed my way through high school and college and while it was an excellent source of revenue (customer service was my jam) it left me with hundreds of wadded up bills, and no idea how to responsibly distribute them.

A few years later I married a money- minded banker, who quickly realized my weakness where cash was concerned (well, money in general). We both agreed it would be best for him to take the lead in our finances and he inherited my crumpled pile of tips.

Cash and I were no longer friends. Instead of confronting my failures in finance, I took my proverbial ball and went home.

It’s been over 20 years since I was handed my first “hard-earned dollar.” With all of the mistakes I’ve made since then, I never would’ve pictured a day when I’d know exactly what every penny in my bank account was doing, where it was going and how much remained. When I have a wallet full of “Benjamins” (Ha ha! Who are we kidding? More like “Abes”.) they have a purpose, a job. (Rule One!!)

YNAB is giving me a fresh start with money. I don’t have to be the girl who shrugs her shoulders and changes the subject when finances come up in a conversation. I can take control of our financial future and maybe even be an asset. Imagine that?!

Not everything has changed. I still have a major sweet tooth. When I hear the familiar song of our neighborhood ice cream man, I’m the first to spring for Bomb Pops…

…because I know it’s in the budget.

Tell me YNAB family; is your history with money management as colorful and sticky as my favorite frozen treat? How has YNAB helped reprogram your bad financial habits? Have you experienced a re-birth in your bank account? (And is it just me or does one of those Pink Panther ice cream bars with the bubble gum eyes sound really good right now?)

 

 

 

 

Author: "christy" Tags: "Budgeting, Psychology"
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Date: Wednesday, 25 Jun 2014 18:08

Hello, fellow YNABians! Alex here.

You read the title right. Just like J. Money tells us, budgeting is sexy!

See, I signed up for online dating a couple weeks ago. After all, I spend my working days alone at home, writing things like annual reports, middle school resources, books and, of course, blog posts. It’s not like I’m working for a corporation, networking and meeting new people on a regular basis.

I wanted to see what’s out there.

Well, let me tell you what’s out there. A hella lot of great guys, is what! I have now solidly disproved the dismal claptrap that there are “no good men” in my city. I have found so many lovely people online (okay, six, but still: that’s six for six*!) that it makes me wonder who people think these “good men” are?

Hmm. Let’s make an educated guess. Tell me if you think I’m wrong. I suspect wider society’s idea of a good catch, for a woman, is as follows:

  1. He makes more than $100,000.
  2. He spends like he makes more than $200,000.
  3. He drives something new, preferably very large (i.e. a Range Rover) or very small (i.e. a BMW M3).
  4. He has all the new gadgets and talks about the expensive places he’s been.
  5. etc.

While I’m being a little facetious – I know women consider more than just money when they’re sizing a guy up – I suspect that a guy’s income is a deal-breaker for what many people consider to be a “good man”.

I think that’s kind of crummy, especially for guys.

Whether you agree with me or not, here’s something interesting. YNAB has changed what I find attractive in a man. Whether he earns a mittful or a mountain, the way a man spends his money has become one of my key indicators of whether he’s partner material. I’m not saying we should drink water and stand outside the fence to watch the ball game (if I even liked ball games). But I am saying I like a dude who knows the value of a dollar.

A guy who throws down $80 on dinner with a woman he’s only just met while paying thousands in support per month for his ex and juggling his own mortgage, two cars and two fledgling overseas businesses on top of his original business looks more to me like a fat mess roaring down the track than a guy who’s financially prepared for life’s curveballs.

I don’t know. Maybe they’re not all as thinly stretched as that. (And anyway, I chipped in my monthly restaurant budget for this date – all twenty dollars of it, sob – so he didn’t have to actually pay the full amount for dinner.)

But still. Here’s what I know: to me, a man who saves, resists the urge to squander, and knows where all of his dollars are going is infinitely sexier than a guy who can’t make money fast enough to meet the pace at which he spends it.

So in a way, this is only good news for Alex: all the other ladies in town can wrestle for the golf-course-hopping, mansion-dwelling Range Rover guys. The “good men”. I’ll be going for quiet walks in the forest with the balanced, modest fellows who have their houses 80% paid and their retirements well in hand.

So sexy.

* Despite his insane relationship with money, this one still qualifies as a lovely man – gentlemanly, considerate, articulate, funny, caring and prepared to use what he learned from his first marriage to improve his next one. I suppose I *could* introduce him to YNAB…

Author: "alex" Tags: "Relationships"
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Date: Tuesday, 24 Jun 2014 12:37

whatshouldwedoI’m writing this on behalf of your friendly YNAB education team (Malisa, Lee, Sherri, Todd, Ronna and Dave).

  • We love teaching you about YNAB.
  • We love hearing where you’re from and reaching folks across the globe.
  • We love when you join us for one class and then feel inspired to hang around for other classes that same day.
  • We love when you ask us questions.
  • We love answering them.

But…

Sometimes we get questions in class that we shouldn’t answer.  When it comes down to it, some decisions are really yours to make and what we think doesn’t matter as much as what you think.  The answers depend on your financial situation and your priorities. Here are some examples of what I mean:

“Should I zero out category X at the end of the month, or let those dollars roll into the same category next month?”

That’s totally up to you, it depends. Maybe you’ll decide those dollars are really needed somewhere else.  Or maybe you’ll decide to let it roll in that category and then you won’t need to budget as much in that category next month.

“How much should I budget for car repairs?”

I don’t know, it depends. How old is the car? Does it have a lot of miles on it?  Is it under warranty?  Are you planning to keep driving it for a while?  What kind of work does it need to keep it going? Do you have alternative transportation if it breaks down?

“How much should I be spending on groceries?”

I have no idea, it depends.  How many people in your household?  Do you have any teenagers?  Where do you live?  Are you in an expensive city?  Do you live where you can garden?   Are you or is anyone in your household on a special diet? How much do you love food?

We’re happy to bat ideas and scenarios around (though sometimes that can be tough in a big class), but really in the end, this is up to you.

Here’s the thing we want you to really know: Together with your budget, you are your own best financial advisor.  We can teach you the principles behind YNAB and how to use the software, but as far as what you spend your money on, that’s up to you.

And that’s a good thing!  Budgeting is about aligning your spending to your priorities. Read that again: YOUR priorities.  You know your financial situation better than anyone else.  We have no idea what’s most important in your life.  Who are we to tell you what should or shouldn’t be important to you?

“Should I zero out category X at the end of the month, or let those dollars roll into the same category next month?”

“Wow, we came in under in the grocery category by $42.50.  If we reassign those dollars to debt, we’ll knock that credit card off even sooner.”

That’s a perfectly valid choice.  Maybe the inspiration you get from paying that off will motivate you.

“Hey we’re under in gas.  Let’s leave it there.  We’re driving to see your mom next month so we’ll have higher gas costs.”

That works pretty well, doesn’t it? Now you’ve got a headstart going into next month in your gas category.

How much should I budget for car repairs?

“Well, we just bought this car and it’s under warranty.  So we probably just need to budget for routine maintenance.  Instead of keeping $1000 in that category, let’s keep it at $500 and revisit in a year”

Yeah, that makes sense. Sounds good!

“Hmmm, the car has 142,067 miles on it. If we’re going to keep it we should probably replace the timing belt.  Last year we spent $656.99 on repairs.  Let’s shoot for an $1000 in this category, fix that timing belt and see if we can get it to 200,000 miles.”

How much should I be spending on groceries?

Oh don’t even get me started, I’m not even going to try to play out a scenario on this one. Grocery budgets can vary wildly because they are dependent on so many factors; diet, prices, stores in your area, etc.  Track it.  Look at it.  What do YOU think?  Does it feel high?  Are you comfortable with it?  This is one area where I think the task of comparing to other households doesn’t have as much as value as we’d like it to.

I (Erin) have spent $61.83 on fruit for just me this month.  You may think that’s high.  Too bad, no one is touching my fruit!   Or maybe that’s low from your perspective.  It just depends, doesn’t it?

If you want help understanding the rules and how they work, or how the software works, we’ve got your back.  Ask us anything.  And you know, we’re certainly happy to toss ideas around and discuss different scenarios. The forum is a great place to bat ideas around since sometime we don’t have the time in class.  But we really believe that once you’ve got the information in front of you, you’ll make the right decision.

Trust the budget, trust yourself. Together you’re an unbeatable financial team.

Author: "erin" Tags: "Budgeting"
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Date: Monday, 23 Jun 2014 15:36

exclamation copy_thumbI don’t believe it’s a coincidence that “debt” is a four letter word. I’ve seen it fly out of the mouths of family members with just as much despair and pain as you would any common obscenity that comes to mind when you stub your toe or shatter a glass in the kitchen. There are many a financial guru that could break down the benefits of “good” debt and “bad” debt. I’m far from guru status, but I do know one thing: Debt can turn even the most docile budgeter into a swear-slinging mess. (Sorry Mom!)

Our “debt story” was not written with extravagant purchases or an over-the-top lifestyle, but rather a series of events that we simply didn’t prepare for or anticipate.

Over the course of ten years, my husband and I struggled with infertility. Through medical intervention we were blessed with two healthy daughters. In our tenth year we tried for a third little miracle, but medical assistance no longer worked. We couldn’t deny the feeling that our family wasn’t complete. We felt strongly that we should pursue adoption.

Our adoption experience was beautiful and terrifying and exactly what we were supposed to do to find our precious little girl. Since this is a financial blog and not a Mommy magazine, I’ll resist waxing poetic about the miracle of adoption (but I could….for days!!) and instead I will share one simple fact with you: Private adoption is really expensive.

We would do it all again and pay a million times more for our little one, but I know that if we had the structure of YNAB to cope with such a large payment, it wouldn’t have been such a financial strain. Instead, we were left with…..debt.

Two months before the adoption our eight year old Nissan Xterra decided it didn’t want to give us cool air conditioning anymore. It sputtered and groaned every time I put the key into the ignition. With our new addition on the way we needed a bit more room and a car that wouldn’t melt our baby. Although our brother-in-law helped us get an incredible deal, we hadn’t had a car payment for years. We incurred…. more debt.

Six months after our youngest was born, I came home from a day of errands to find that our fridge had leaked and soaked through our wood floors. What I thought was just a simple clean-up job in our kitchen turned into flood repair and a three month remodel with walls hacked to pieces and replacement wood for the entire first floor. And we were left with….a hefty insurance deductible.

Eight months after the birth of our baby, my husband went to his PCP for an exam. He’d been having pain in his right leg and had previously been to the ER where they diagnosed him with a “pinched nerve”. Two hours after his scheduled appointment I received a call from him saying that it wasn’t a nerve at all but a giant blood clot that had formed from his waist to his ankle. He was being rushed into emergency surgery. By the time I made it to the vascular center, his surgery was well under way. A surgeon pulled me aside and showed me the ultrasound video of my husband’s clot. He pointed to a large piece that was flapping back and forth on the screen.

“This is not good. This clot was days, maybe hours from breaking free…and taking his life.”

Over the course of six weeks my husband had three lifesaving surgeries. I could fall to my knees and sob with gratitude for the incredible team of doctors that brought my husband home to me and our three girls (and I have….for days!) but since this is a financial blog and not a Lifetime Movie, I’ll resist. I will say this: Teams of doctors send medical bills that are really expensive.

Over the course of a year we incurred more debt than we had in the previous ten. I wince a little when I think of how different things might’ve been if YNAB had been our companion a year and a half ago when all of this took place. The good thing is, we have YNAB now and a very workable plan in place to help us avoid any unladylike cursing as we take steps to heal from a very chaotic (and bank account draining) year.

Soon we’ll even be able to start saving for those “rainy days”… or floods….or emergency surgeries….

Tell me, friends, has YNAB helped you stop the bleeding and heal the wounds of debt? (What’s it like on the other side?? I imagine rainbows and running through fields of flowers!) Are you still in the trenches like us? What is your debt story? 

Author: "christy" Tags: "Debt"
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Date: Friday, 20 Jun 2014 15:13

Screen Shot 2014-04-18 at 7.19.17 AMThis time of year, the Peyton household (that’s mine) gets fun mail rolling in. “Pretty gardening catalogs!” my wife would interject. Those are cool too, but I’m talking about the growing collection of announcements. Pictures of hope-filled graduates and beaming brides-to-be decorate our home.

When it comes to gifts, I want to be personal, meaningful, and helpful. (Thankfully, we’ve been keeping the “gifts” category beefed up in anticipation of this month.)

At the risk of sounding like an infomercial, this year I’ve offered YNAB to two of my favorite engaged friends as a wedding gift. While it’s not sophisticated as a crystal clock and probably won’t inspire “ooo-ing” and appreciative head nods from Grandma, it’s honestly the best thing I could think of giving people I want to see set up for happiness and success.

Here’s what led to a meaningful gift-giving experience for me.

Knowing the couple.

I knew my friends were taking a course on financial management together and they’re on the techy side. Anyone who can use a computer without drooling on it too much can benefit immensely from using YNAB, but in my mind, these are perfect YNAB candidates.

Making a sincere offer.

I suppressed my enthusiasm to just below happy puppy and talked to them about why I love YNAB. I said something like, “YNAB has made a huge, positive impact on my marriage and I wish we’d started using it on day one, or even before. If it’s something you’d use, I’d be more than happy to get it for you as a wedding gift. They offer a free, fully functional demo, plus you can use the free app. Once you’ve had a chance to try it out, let me know what you think. I’ll send you a link from my phone right now.”

Offering support

Budgeting can be tough to start, even with something as elegant as YNAB. Knowing this, I always offer emotional and even a little technical support to friends and family who start the journey. Don’t sweat the tech support though. If you’ve ever used YNAB’s help, then you already know how fast and well they treat folks. You can just focus on the cheerleading.

If the graduates in your life are heading off to college, you can pass along this link where college students get YNAB for free! If they’re graduating from college, YNAB is, again, my new favorite gift for helping friends start out right. The worst that can happen is they decline your offer, in which case you buy them the crystal clock. Best case scenario, however, is giving them a tool that will genuinely help them toward a happily ever after.

Bonus tip: you can pick up a gift card for YNAB 4.0 right here at the store.

Author: "jeremy" Tags: "Budgeting"
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