The Clarity of Reality

“Reality is never something to be afraid of; that’s something YNAB taught me.”

Excellent post on not flinching from reality, but embracing and dealing with it over on the YNAB blog. This applies to food/exercise/weight as well as it does $$. Knowledge is power.

You Need a Budget logo, YNAB logo, budgeting

On the Life-Changing Properties of YNAB

True story: There was a time when Creighton and I saved every single receipt and wrote down every single transaction so we could spend an hour+ each Sunday plugging them in to an Excel spreadsheet that he built. This was a pain in the ass. Budgeting is a pain in the ass. you need a budget, budget, piggy banks, budgeting solutions, best budgeting program, YNAB Here’s a list of bland “good reasons to budget”:

  • Save money.
  • Track/curb your spending.
  • Make every dollar count/give every dollar a job.
  • Feel guilty about what you are spending.
  • Get into fights with your family members about their spending.

The first three are things personal finance experts like Dave Ramsey will say over and over, and yet I found that I didn’t know why it was important until we started doing it. We all know WHY to save money. We often know how to save money. But the reality is more complicated. You look at your bank account, and you are like, “Oh, I have $XXX to spend; I’ll just buy this dress.” But that’s conducive to living paycheck-to-paycheck, which also sucks. Budgeting, like all things, only sucks until you make it part of you. Queue YNAB.

Creighton once decided he wanted to buy an old beat-up Nissan Z-car so he could fix it up and race it AutoCross (he didn’t). The guy who was selling it mentioned this program called You Need A Budget. Creighton was into saving philosophies at this point in time, which was the beginning of his interest in Financial Independence. During his research, he borrowed all of the YNAB philosophies and used some screenshots to build his own Excel version because we were too cheap frugal to spend the $60 on the real version.

The YNAB “Rules”

  1. Give every dollar a job.
  2. Save for a rainy day.
  3. Roll with the punches.
  4. Live on last month’s income.

After nearly a year of using the Excel spreadsheet, which was clunky and got huge very quickly, we agreed to try out the YNAB 34-day trial. Needless to say, we spent the $60 and have the full version now. I encourage EVERYONE even remotely interested in budgeting, saving money, financial freedom, etc. to TRY THE TRIAL.

My friend over at My Cash House once told me they didn’t want to be restricted by a budget, but just wanted to save as much as possible. I think that’s a downright noble goal, and if you can make it work for you, then you should do that. It’s certainly the best philosophy. Buy only what you need, and save the rest. But I’m, like I said yesterday, incapable of non-consumption. I still like things and clothes, as much as I sometimes wish I didn’t.

The budget puts a sort of structure in place. It creates “envelopes” into which you can earmark your money (a beloved method of aforementioned Dave Ramsey). It provides discipline as well as transparency. It has some cool reporting features for number-crunchers and nerds, and at least the graphs are colorful.

Other things I love about YNAB:

  • They have an app that effortlessly/seamlessly enables you to update and check your budget on-the-fly.
  • They are non-judgmental. People are on different levels, and shit happens, so set up your goals, save what you can and adjust as needed.
  • They make me feel responsible and empowered, but not guilty.

Dave Ramsey and the like feel too preachy for me, and I don’t want to find myself constantly beating myself up over how much we are saving. YNAB doesn’t make me feel like that. It’s validating instead of soul-crushing.

Naturally, I am always looking for ways to save more, and Creighton and I revisit our YNAB set-up often to ensure it doesn’t grow stagnant or lazy. But it has been a real game-changer for us during our budgeting journey.

Postmortem: The Excel version of our budget will always have a place in our hearts, and we shared it with many friends, but it was so clunky and took forever to use. We grew to hate the hideous receipt box that gathered dust on our desk. 

It’s The Climb

I wouldn’t say we are “non-consumers;” we are “low-consumers.”

I strive to consume less in my day-to-day life, but I still like clothes, being crafty, home decor, going on vacation, convenience, etc.

We have to find the “level” that works for us. There will always be someone who is more extreme — who can slash more from their budget, who can save more, who needs less and wants less. Additionally, there will always be perfectly happy families in Cambodia living on less than $1 a day. There will always be stories of people who are less fortunate. We were born into privilege, and our dilemma is to find a way to both appreciate that privilege and to live beyond it.

It’s impossible to go through life measuring yourself against others and still be happy. We’ve normalized what the cost of the American Dream is; we’ve put a definitive price tag on it.

So, Creighton and I have tried to cut back, but end up swinging the other way on the pendulum. I’m not thin enough. I’m not saving enough. I’m not “non-consuming” enough. I’m not doing enough to push myself to the next level.

It can make you feel very trapped — on the one hand, you don’t want to aggrandize your journey toward some sort of enlightenment, but you aren’t satisfied with what seems to be the status quo.

Creighton and I talk all the time about how people are on different “levels” for all things, all journeys (weight loss, spirituality, frugality, happiness, racquetball skill, athleticism, productivity). These levels are like a funnel or spiral staircase. The farther up on the level you are, the more you can see what other people — especially lower than your level — are doing (wrong), but it’s harder to see up. We have got a lot figured out and are doing a lot “right,” but we aren’t in the top 3 percent of savers, eating only rice for nourishment and retiring at age 27. We are doing what is right for us; we have a plan that works for us, fulfills us and satisfies us.

Bottom line: Find your level, try to continue climbing that ladder, but don’t kill yourself over it. It’s good to recognize and appreciate where we are, where we are going, or to stop striving and be happy with wherever we are in the process.

No matter what level you are on in your journeys, enjoy the view.


Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen

“Natives dislike speed, as we dislike noise, it is to them, at the best, heard to bear. They are also on friendly terms with time, and the plan of beguiling or killing it does not come into their heads. In fact the more time you can give them, the happier they are, and if you commission a Kikuyu to hold your horse while you make a visit, you can see by his face that he hopes you will be a long, long time about it. He does not try to pass the time then, but sits down and lives.