The One Money Habit that Changed My Life, a.k.a. How I Fell in Love with YNAB

When I was in my first year of college, I found Jesus. Last Memorial Day, I found YNAB and my life will never be the same. That sounds dramatic and hyperbolic, but the effect both of those encounters have had on my life is astounding. How I met Jesus is a story for another day. This is the story of how I met YNAB.

I’ve always been thrifty, so despite taking on loans to help pay for college, I did reasonably well financially. I even made it through grad school on a pitifully low salary (technically a stipend) and with most of my savings intact.

Post-college work was a different story. Everyone knows that ministry doesn’t pay well. However, even in as cheap a state as Texas, I found myself struggling to make ends meet. In April of 2013, facing an unmanageable rent increase and a job that I could no longer keep working, I took a huge leap, not knowing how long I’d stay in the air or how far I could possibly fall.

I landed hard. I was unemployed from May to August. I found a new home with roommates and lower rent, gave up cable TV, and drove less. (Not having a job meant I didn’t have anywhere to go. How convenient.) I watched my savings account balance drop lower and lower and was genuinely scared about what would happen if I couldn’t find work.

In the middle of August, I got a call for a temporary job that finally gave me an income greater than the pennies of interest on my dwindling bank accounts. That temporary job turned into a full-time job, and that led to a raise in February and a promotion this past June.

By January, I knew that raise was coming, so I knew I needed to have a plan in place to keep it from slipping through my fingers. I also knew I would pay off my car loan before my birthday, and I definitely didn’t want that to disappear once it wasn’t promised to the bank anymore.

The first step of my plan was the dollar-a-day money challenge. There’s only one rule: Save a dollar a day. I literally set aside one dollar each day. Savings accounts can only have six transactions per month; otherwise I would have transferred that dollar every day to stay honest. In reality, I set up a $15 automatic transfer from checking to savings twice a month: one dollar for each day of the month. Despite my meager income, I didn’t miss a dollar a day, and I kept that up for 9 months! (I recently switched two dollars a day.)

The second step was YNAB: You Need a Budget.

I’d heard of YNAB before. The landing page was familiar when I followed the link from a FOCUS blog post. (Titles with numbers in them really work!) Amanda Teixeira’s ringing endorsement, a 10% discount code, and the promise of 34 free days to try it fully-featured (along with the free app) was enough to push me over the edge. You don’t give someone over a month to try something unless you know you can hook them in that time frame.

YNAB hooked me. It hooked me hard. I took two webinars over Memorial Day weekend and two more before the end of June. I accounted for every single dollar in my possession (by zero-sum budgeting) and gained a heightened awareness of my cash flow. I don’t balance my checkbook monthly anymore (or even read the statement) because I balance quickly and easily twice a week. I don’t need an email from my bank for every transaction because I record them all immediately and account for every purchase in my budget.

My day-to-day checking account balance is twice as high as it was in April, and I make no more money than I did before. It’s like I got a raise. All I did was make a commitment to budget and stick to it.

If you don’t have a budget, you need one: You Need a Budget.

On Friday, I’ll have more information about the details of my new budgeting life and the lessons I’ve learned along the way. In the meantime, feel free to leave a comment or use the contact form to ask questions. I want to tell everyone about YNAB!


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