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Do You Have a Budget?

You Need a Budget

Do you have a budget? As the boys get older, we’ve been trying to save for the future, and I want to be more conscious of what we’re spending and how we can cut back in different areas — like grocery expenses, which can really add up. So, with help from the widely beloved You Need a Budget, I made some changes, and it felt really good…

In my twenties, working at entry-level jobs and paying back school loans, I was on a tight budget, and it taught me a lot. Overall, a budget isn’t just about not spending money, I realized. Instead, it helps you think about your goals and what’s important to you, whether that’s getting out of debt or taking a special trip, and then helps you create a plan to make sure you have the money for those things.

If the thought of spreadsheets or number-crunching makes you cringe (same!), the You Need a Budget app makes it really easy to track your daily progress. Once I started using it, I was surprised to see what we actually spent on certain things. Since we have two growing boys, groceries were number one on the list. We decided to cut back in four areas: groceries, dining out, transportation and entertainment.

You Need a Budget

GROCERIES
When we were in high school, and it was a fend-for-yourself dinner night, we would complain to my mom that there was nothing in the fridge. Her answer was always: “We have eggs.” Eggs! Eggs. So boring. But in my adult life, I kind of agree with her: peppery scrambled eggs are actually a delicious dinner — and affordable. Our boys already eat like teenagers, so to reduce our grocery bill, Alex and I stocked up on versatile items: eggs, bananas, apples, broccoli, peanut butter, rice, beans and pasta.

You Need a Budget

DINING OUT
Meals out were another big expense. (If you add in drinks, the bill suddenly skyrockets.) But you still want to see friends, right? So, the other day, instead of meeting a friend for drinks, we took a neighborhood “wine walk,” inspired by a reader comment. Even better, we were able to stroll around and catch up without having to awkwardly listen to the chicken special.

You Need a Budget

TRANSPORTATION & ENTERTAINMENT
Another bigger-than-it-should-be expense was the cabs and Lyft rides I sometimes took. Now I’ve started walking or biking to meetings and appointments as much as possible. I also dusted off my library card for summer reading; I cancelled my Spotify subscription because I never used it; and for magazines I read for work and pleasure, I ordered annual subscriptions, which are much more affordable than buying issues one at a time.

You Need a Budget

Cup of Jo readers have raved about You Need a Budget in the comments, and now I see why. You simply enter all your regular expenses — such as rent or mortgage, utilities, transportation and groceries. They even have categories like “fun money” and “things I forgot to budget for.” The setup is quick and easy. Then you connect your bank information, and YNAB takes it from there, tracking your goals and spending and offering helpful alerts. It’s also useful for partners who are budgeting together, since it keeps both of your information in one place.

Do you have any budgeting tips? If you don’t have one, it’s always a great time to start. It can feel daunting at first, but once you get going, knowing the details of your finances is really liberating. Plus, having a clear picture of your goals makes it more likely for you to get there. Good luck!

Great news: You Need a Budget is offering all readers a free two-month trial using this link. Thank you so much!

(Photos by Christine Han for Cup of Jo. This post is sponsored by You Need a Budget, an app we really love. The app is available for web, iOS and Android. Thanks for supporting the brands that keep Cup of Jo running.)

  1. Lindsay says...

    I know this post has already been up a bit but really wanted to say thank you! I’ve tried YNAB in the past and felt frustrated but this time I watched all the tutorials (they have them all up on Youtube) and finally feel like I have budgeting software that helps! For anyone frustrated by it at first, watch the videos or take the online workshops and it’ll all get easier I promise! It’s a different way of thinking about budgeting but by far the best I’ve seen.

  2. Laura says...

    Travel is so important to me, but growing up, I was taught travel was a luxury expense. So, my husband and I set up a separate travel savings account. Each month, we put a bit of money away, and when we have enough in it, we take a trip! It’s such a good way to treat ourselves without feeling guilty that we’re dipping into “actual savings.”

  3. Heather Hanson says...

    Zero sum budget and Cash. Cash. Cash – account for every dollar.

    Use cash as much as possible. Figure out what you need for things like gas, drycleaning, entertainment, dining out, and groceries – then manage those expenses using a cash envelope system. You might need to track for a period just to figure out how much you are spending – but once you switch to paying yourself the appropriate amount each week in cash it’s SO MUCH EASIER THAN TRACKING. If there’s a sizable one time expense in the future i.e. – daughter’s prom, new couch, anniversary vacation – figure out how much you need and use the envelope system (put in a set amount of cash in the envelope every week/month till you reach your goal). This also works great for large unplanned but likely expenses like car repairs/vet bills – decide on a realistic annual outlay and divide that by 52 weeks and give that an envelope – when the time comes you’ll be ready.

  4. Angela says...

    I feel so passionate about talking about money, finances and budgeting! I live in an expensive city and even with very average jobs (teacher and nurse) my husband I have purchased a home, traveled, and bought a car with cash thanks to budgeting! I’m so thankful my mom talked to me about money growing up and instilled the “living below your means” idea into me.

    Biggest tips we have:
    1) Track all expenses, especially when you’re first starting out! Like you said with things like transportation or monthly expenses, it’s crazy how it adds up without you noticing. And you don’t have to use anything super fancy. We have a google spreadsheet where we track expenses based on categories we decided for ourselves.
    2) Create a budget based off of the tracking your expenses. Also, our budget total is less than we make. My income fluctuates a little bit so going on the low end of the paycheck make makes it so that if something unexpected comes up or I spent more on clothes because I found a great deal it’s not a deal breaker and we can still pay off the credit card in full each month. If it ends up being extra at the end of the month it goes directly to fun savings.
    3) That being said, save first! We save for retirement, holidays, travel, and car every month first so when things come up we know they’re taken care of already! And similar to other commenters, we different savings account for each category so we know exactly what it’s for.
    4) Finally, we each have an “allowance” (not much, $50) that we can spend on whatever we want, no judgement. Mine goes primarily to coffees and random amazon buys :) It takes the stress out of spending money on something unnecessary.

  5. Oh Joanna, thanks for the recommendation! I hate even thinking about money but this seems pretty painless and necessary. I don’t want to sound cheesy, but I haven’t been steered wrong by one of your suggestions that I’ve tried. I appreciate your trustworthiness!

  6. Lauren says...

    CupofJo can you compile the best ones into a “Top 100 reader money tips” post? I’d read that in it’s entirety! Let’s all have a fiscally responsible summer together :)

    • Rosie says...

      Yes! that would be an awesome post. Plus tips on how not to get to the end of the month without living on pennies. My income has fluctuated massively throughout the years, but somehow i can’t get past that thing of only having, like, £3 in my account in the last week of the month.

    • Andrea says...

      I love this idea I would like to have it available as a resource as well :)

  7. Kate says...

    1. I find it much easier to focus on saving than reducing spending. On the same day I get pay, I set an auto transfer of x % of the paycheck to my brokerage account. This money auto invests into low-cost mutual funds.

    2. I also auto-save for my kid’s 529 and emergency fund (that covers rainy days)

    3. All my bills are auto paid by credit card that allows me to get cash back.

    4. The rest is what I have left in my checking account and what I am allowed to spend for foods & other.

    Auto is my key to never fail my future self.

  8. Heather says...

    This post came at the perfect time! I, like most young people, have had recurring nightmares about finances-student loans, monthly expenses in a big city, sick dog care, savings (??)- and this sounds like a great step to take. I’ve had friends talk about YNAB but all of these endorsing comments are making me take the plunge. Here’s to committing myself to this once and for all! Thank you, thank you!

  9. I’m not sure if this is actually a financially wise move, but I have separate savings accounts for different purposes. I have one that’s really just for savings: money I’m not supposed to touch unless there’s a huge emergency. One is for my travel fund, another for daily expenses (and online transactions), and the last is where my freelance income gets deposited. That’s a lot of cards in my wallet, excluding payroll, but it helps me stay organized with my money.

    • Alison says...

      I totally do this, too! My husband keeps talking about buying a car in the next five years (which is probably going to be necessary), and I keep telling him – “we need a new savings account then!” To me the separate savings make me feel less guilty about the purchase come time to make it. Like, yes, this is EXACTLY what this money was for, so spend it! My personality is to save, save, save, and to feel guilt over unnecessary purchases, so we also have a travel savings, emergency fund, car savings, house reno, etc. I know we could just divvy up a big savings onto a spreadsheet, but this also allows me to open my bank account and BAM have a view at our goal progress. Highly recommend.

    • Angela says...

      My husband and I also have a ridiculous number of savings accounts (like 7….) so no shame in this game. Its incredibly helpful to have it all separated out so I know exactly how much I have for different things (future car, holidays, travel, emergencies, etc.)

  10. Kristina says...

    Long time lurker coming out of the shadows – Thank you for posting this! I LOVE YNAB. It helped me pay off credit card and student loan debt and save for house renovations that I did not think were possible. The customer service is good and I like their ethos. It taught me:

    1. How much money I really have for disposable spending. My bank account might look like I have thousands but YNAB shows I really have like $18 until Payday after I deduct the necessities. That was the biggest change.

    2. Wait until I have the money in my bank account before I spend it. Such a silly thing but I’d spend next week’s paycheck at Target because convenience. “I’m already here so I might as well stock up on [home decor, clothes, lip gloss, not-necessities].” I was always in the hole. YNAB conditioned me to hold off until Payday before walking into the store. Same with restaurants – if I don’t have the budget to get take-out tonight, I’ll skip it but reward myself on Payday.

    3. But also keep a To Do list with shopping items so I can be organized when I go into Target or whatever. Now I don’t need to wander the aisles to remember the three things I actually needed.

    4. It feels glorious to pay for things in “cash” without borrowing on a credit card. (I technically put it on a credit card for miles but pay it off every month.) It’s easier to save for vacations, clothes, big items, luxuries a little bit at a time when you’re feeling flush and then you don’t feel guilty when it comes time to buy them. Vacations are so much less stressful when you don’t come home to a big credit card bill.

    5. From my husband – compartmentalizing really changes your mindset. Instead of budgeting X amount for broad miscellaneous categories, we create really small categories like haircuts and kid swim lessons and random kid’s birthday present.

    6. It took awhile to realize we need to budget in weekly increments. My husband gets paid on the 15th and 30th of each month and I get paid every other Friday. It took us awhile to figure out how to allocate for our bills and give ourselves spending money each week. We don’t have the discipline to allot spending money for two weeks.

    I could go on and on. Fiscal responsibility is fun!

  11. Shira says...

    How much is the app after the free trial?

    • Kayla says...

      I think $6.99/ month. Affordable!

  12. Lyn says...

    Once we acquired a stupidly large mortgage (unavoidable, as we live in a top 10 overheated housing market in the world), and I on a part time wage, my husband and I really doubled down on budgeting, especially since we now had a little person to worry about. The biggest challenge I found was agreeing with budgeting strategies with my husband, as we both had very different approaches. But here’s what we more or less agreed to do:
    1) Seek better deals with service providers: power, water, internet, insurance to see if you have the best deal. A lot of research required, but we saved thousands on that alone.
    2) No takeaway coffees (in our capital city, a coffee costs $4). At work, we would make plunger coffee. BYO work lunches.
    3) Reduce ‘convenience’/lazy eating out/takeaway, but budget for the occasional NICE restaurant as a reward. Go for lunch, when it’s cheaper. Don’t order a bottle of wine. Order a glass each.
    4) Make your own stock & bread. Braising cuts and mince are cheaper, but they are still tasty and goes a long way (as do lentils and rice!). Plan meals a week in advance to reduce waste and costs.
    5) Cosmetics is where I have really just been really strict and minimalist, using up what I have before I decide to splash the cash. But this applies for most things!

  13. gfy says...

    I still feel really uncomfortable having my bank info and personal habits tracked by an app. I worry that info is being stockpiled and or they are making money off of me without sharing that profit with me. It sure would be nice to trust the internet, but…

    • You don’t have to link your bank accounts to use YNAB! I’ve been using it for about 1.5 years and actually prefer a manual — not automatic — setup and so don’t give the app access to anything. We’ve conservatively saved thousands of dollars in that short time (we bought an apartment with our savings!) just by adding mindfulness to spending. I recommend giving it a try!

  14. gfy says...

    When we had ‘nothing in the fridge’ growing up, my mom would always, always, always say: Eat an apple!, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. No matter what, there was always a full fruit bowl – apples, oranges and bananas, sometimes grapes and cherries. Always. Those were our allowed daily snacks.

    I wonder, are you teaching your boys to cook anything? I’ve been watching Masterchef junior and it is mind-blowing how competent those kids are! Season one is my favorite group of kids, but they are all incredible!

  15. T says...

    Thank you, CupofJo, for starting to talk about finances! I’m loving the curiosity from your readers about this subject. I grew up poor, as in my family were refugees who came here with a suitcase and nothing else. As I’ve worked and been lucky enough to climb up the economic ladder, the attitude and conversations about money among different groups has been fascinating.

    Here’s what I’ve found – Rich people talk about money all the time. They talk in terms of real numbers and strategies. This is how they learn how to handle, preserve, and grow it. Your bosses talk about money – directly, unabashedly, and with an eye toward maximizing their own fortunes. But there seems to be a taboo among even upper middle class people and below. And especially among women, who are usually the ones who enforce cultural norms, even to their own detriment. The thinking does something like this – “To talk about money is crass or shows that you are greedy or too materialistic. Instead, you should work because you are passionate about something, without thinking to much about compensation.”

    Think about most businesses – workers often have no idea how much everyone else makes. And some businesses even have rules – which are illegal, btw – that workers can’t talk about salaries. But owners of businesses certainly knows how much everyone makes, and they use that information to extract as much work from you for as little as possible. I don’t mean that most bosses are malevolent about it. They are not. They are just people too so may be kind and genuinely care for their employees. But they usually look out for their own bottom line before anything else – that’s how capitalism works.

    All of this is to say that part of the answer is for all of us, women especially, to talk about money – in real terms and with real numbers attached. And to be brave enough to ask questions and share information with people in our lives (at the right time and in the right context) – How do you handle investing? Where do you keep your savings? What’s your salary and how did you get there? What’s your tax strategy? How you keep track of your spending?

    (I’ll get off my soapbox now. :) )

    • Claire says...

      good comments! I am with you on that soap box!

    • gfy says...

      …and women should also be asking each other, how can we make more money as well. It is not materialistic to want economic power. Getting lost in that pursuit is perhaps a genuine risk but it’s a risk that must be taken by more of us if we ever hope to be a force for positive change in the way this world works.

      Personally, I want cities with more green space, where sidewalks are not built “right” next to streets as a norm. There should be a landscaped greenspace to provide a psychological and physical barrier for many reasons; carbon offsetting and resulting crime reduction among the obvious. It’s just soothing for everyone, including the planet. There should be more beauty in basic building designs and everywhere.

    • Lea says...

      I couldn’t agree more! I preach about this all the time. My girlfriends have come to expect that I’m “that friend” who talks in real number amounts when the talk turns to money. I’ve learned so much from people who do that, and why not, as long as your conversations are sensitive to people who are lacking.

    • Meg says...

      YES! WOMEN: TRY TO TALK TO YOUR CO-WORKERS ABOUT COMPENSATION, BECAUSE THIS IS HOW WE FIGHT PAY DISCRIMINATION. I found out in a very roundabout way that my very “progressive” employer was paying my JUNIOR male colleague substantially more. Knowledge is power, so I fought (and fought) and finally got them to fix it. T is right, that at least in California (though I suspect not in most places, so do be careful) that it is legal to ask your employer about salary rates paid to others (though they don’t have to answer), and your employer cannot prohibit employees from talking to each other about compensation.

      I understand this is treacherous territory, and much much easier said than done. If you are someone with some power and/or safety in your organization, or someone who feels like you can afford to take a calculated risk, consider whether you can start this conversation for yourself and your colleagues. If we can change the culture of secrecy around compensation, we will be very close to ending pay discrimination.

  16. Laura Zublin says...

    We have been using Dave Ramsey’s EveryDollarPlus for 18 months. Life changing. His podcast is super inspiring too.
    Here’s my tip for living on a budget and not feeling deprived. I keep a note in my phone “things I want but I’m waiting to buy”. If I want something that’s not on the budget I write it there. Then I can gauge over the next few weeks if I really want that thing or if there’s something on that list that I want more. I can add it to the next months budget. Many times I end up taking things off. And when I do buy I keep it on the list but with a check mark so I see all the things I did get to buy. This idea of “later” instead of “no” helps remind me that the budget is about focusing on my long term goals and feeling abundant and grateful for what I do have now.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes, laura! i do the same thing, especially with clothes. if there’s a dress or a sweater on my wishlist, i’ll put the link in a word document on my computer, and wait to see how i feel as time passes. often, after a week or so, i’ll see the link again and not really care about it anymore!

  17. AC says...

    I tried YNAB, I did. But I couldn’t get it to work for me. Instead I use a really archaic method called “kakeibo” which uses a similar concept, but it involves physically writing everything down and setting monthly savings goals for yourself. It has worked. I also give myself a weekly cash allowance and try to only spend that much on groceries, coffee, etc.

    I ALSO use Digit, which allows me to set long or short term goals or monthly bill goals, and it uses algorithms to decide how much to save for each of those things. It’s how I save for spending money on trips, big ticket shopping, holiday shopping, etc.

  18. Rachel says...

    YNAB user here and big fan! It helped us get through a major financial blow this last year (Hurricane Harvey) and is better than all of the other programs (Mint) and methods (Excel spreadsheet, cash envelope system) we have tried. There is a learning curve for most people, but once you get it down, it is a really powerful tool! One thing that helped me was to join the YNAB Fans! Facebook group. Join us if you are struggling to stay motivated or need help with any of the features. It is a great community.

  19. Britt says...

    I was 21, a recent college grad, and completely financially inexperienced. I was spending my (very small) paycheck and more. My mom got so fed up “bailing me out” that one night she met me at a Steak & Shake and over milkshakes helped me build a budget spreadsheet that accounted for how much I made every 2 weeks and ALL of my expenses, line by line. I’m now 34, a successful professional, and I still use that exact same budget spreadsheet every 2 weeks to budget my money! The amount I make and expenses have changed over the years but the spreadsheet never fails me!

  20. YP says...

    I’m sure it’s been mentioned, Mint is great & free tool. Bonus if you do your own taxes thru TurboTax it syncs up at tax time & suggests breaks & expenses- essential for a freelancer. If you are meticulous you can leverage Mint in the same way as a paid tool. It’s secure & ‘reads’ your data. Your banks & cards essentially approve it to.

  21. Samantha says...

    I like the idea of a simple budgeting tool like YNAB, but am I the only one who is worried about hooking up all of my financial info to an app, adding yet another digital vulnerability to the inevitable ones that exist with online banking?

    • Rachel says...

      I know this is a common concern, and I totally understand! But if it helps reassure you, the connection to your online accounts is minimal–you can’t move money around in YNAB or even see the balance on your accounts. You have to “reconcile” to know how much is in your accounts, so it only imports transactions for you to categorize (and you can even use it without the import option).

    • Elle says...

      Further to Rachel’s reply, you can also set it up so that it isn’t linked to your bank accounts, but you just import the transactions from an OFX export of your account transaction history (open internet banking, click ‘export’ under transaction history, drag and drop the files from downloads to your YNAB screen. Done!)
      This is how we use YNAB in Australia where it won’t link to our banks. It takes maybe 10-30 seconds longer but I like the manual way as it forces me to be a bit more hands-on with my money.

  22. Thais says...

    Thank you for this great article! I am really interested in financial posts as I am always looking for new ways to better manage my budget. With no possible evolution in my salary and a second child on the way, this is definitely a worry! I basically cannot afford any personal purchase anymore (I haven’t bought any clothes or shoes in months and this was not even a New Year resolution…). Luckily, a friend of mine has lent me several maternity dresses for the summer. I would love to read a “money diaries” type finance series on Cup of Jo, this would be fascinating to learn about how different people / couples / families handle their finances, what they find challenging and what solutions they have found. Would love to know approx. how much (in %) they dedicate to each category: housing, food, holidays, transports, etc.

    • Milla says...

      Yes! I’m in college and would love to see advice about how to think about money & budgeting from different perspectives.

    • Tucker says...

      Refinery 29 does a daily money diary I find them super interesting and have picked up a few good savings tips! https://www.refinery29.com/money-diary Kitchn does food budget diaries which are also interesting but less comprehensive. https://www.thekitchn.com/search?q=food+budget+diaries I would love to see Cup of Jo’s take on the topic with more reporting and detail around the diary like the home tours or week of outfits!

    • Marie says...

      This is such a great idea. I’d love this, too.

  23. We need this. We are in the process of buying a new house, and were going over money stuff – in the process we realised that there is a good £1500 pounds per month…that we have no idea where it goes or what we do with it. Honestly? It’s probaly coffeees and quick cab rides, and impulse book and clothing buys. But it was shocking and we need to do something about it!

  24. Maude says...

    Any recommendations for a YNAB apps outside of USD? It does not look like it can be used for other currencies?

    • Muna says...

      It can definitely be used for pounds sterling (UK) but won’t work to import from banks directly to the app.

    • Elle says...

      I use it in Australia with no dramas, all in Aussie dollars. I don’t use direct import from the bank, just download my transaction history instead.

  25. Agnes says...

    I write all my monthly expenses on the whiteboard in my kitchen and tick them off and re-write each month. I’m very visual and need to SEE that the bill has been paid (if it’s automatic, it’s been set to go out on paydays – I can then track the bills I need to pay manually and on what dates of the month and tick off). I then withdraw a certain amount of additional spending cash each payday and try to spend only cash.

    • Kara A says...

      I do the same thing, but I write in in the desk calendar (paper) that I keep in my office. I love looking back at the check marks of past months. And then I can see when bill due dates line up with pay days.

  26. Terrible with actually budgeting but I made a New Year’s resolution not to shop for clothes, shoes etc. for all of 2018.
    I’m actually loving the freedom of not shopping! And it has certainly helped the budget.

  27. Laura says...

    My mom taught me a simple saving tip that I now swear by… I have a portion of my paycheck direct deposited into a savings account at a separate bank from my regular checking/savings. That way, if/when I want to pull from that fund I have to seriously think about it and plan ahead as it can take 3 days to transfer. It has stopped me from many a splurge!

  28. TC says...

    I listened to the audiobook for YNAB, but my go-to personal finance book is still “All Your Worth” by Elizabeth Warren and her daughter. That book taught me the 50/30/20 budget, which I’ve used for nearly 10 years. After I started using the 50/30/20 budget, I was able to pay off $13k in credit card debt in 3 years making ~$32k a year in San Francisco.

    • Colleen Wenos says...

      Wow, awesome! Thanks for sharing.

  29. Samantha Zutler says...

    I love the Texture app for magazines! $10/ month and you have access to tons of magazines – New York, New Yorker, Atlantic, Sunset, National Geographic…

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thank you, samantha!

    • Elke says...

      Also, if you have a library card you almost certainly have access to your library’s magazine subscriptions! I use my app with two different library accounts (from the locations I’ve lived recently), and I can get the New Yorker, Architectural Digest, Vogue, National Geographic, The Economist, Bon Appetit, and Us Weekly – just to name a few! I then save my magazine splurges for the airport…

    • Kristina says...

      Me too! I’ve saved like $40 a month this way and no longer have to hide in a corner of CVS to read Star.

  30. Em says...

    Thanks for the post. I actually first heard about YNAB from cup of jo reader comments. There were SO many! I looked into it and realized I actually love spreadsheets and math so I did it myself but thanks to the reader comments it got the ball rolling for me! My biggest expense? (Hands over eyes) chai lattes. Tsk tsk, who knew?! So my boyfriend surprised me with a milk frother, enabling me to make them myself.

    • Em says...

      Love it! Thanks, GFY!

  31. Katie says...

    I have an sprawling excel spreadsheet where I have budgeted out our projected expenses from now until we retire–in 2042! My husband’s eyes glaze over and I can feel him going to another place every time I start talking about the spreadsheet. It’s insane, but also helps me feel calm and in control of our financial life. It’s taken about 3 years to create a system that works for me. Through cutting back little by little on things we didn’t need (cut cable, went down to one car, starting bringing our lunch, etc.), I am making the last payment on our last private student loan tomorrow, 15 years early. That monthly payment going forward is going straight to our vacation fund (first up is Europe in the Spring!). We also use a cash system for groceries and expenses. There is something about counting out the cash to pay for something that really makes you pay attention!

    Lastly, I highly recommend Kelsey’s podcast Matrimoney (mentioned in the comment above)!

    • Stephanie says...

      For the record, I don’t think any of this sounds insane! It sounds awesome and I’m so impressed by your financial savvy! You go girl!

    • Erika says...

      Katie- this is my financial goals. Good work!

  32. Heather says...

    I live by – use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without!

  33. Nancey says...

    I feel like an idiot, I don’t even understand how YNAB works. then I tried to link my bank and god knows I haven’t known my password in years. It’s just in my computer! so that was kind of the end of that. I played around a bit but just don’t get it. I guess you have to do the bank account thing first and then it will make sense

    • Tricia says...

      Not all banks can be directly linked to YNAB. Mine can’t, but it’s been easy to just add all purchases manually.

  34. Marci Han says...

    Also, where is the bike from? Where can I buy one of those?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thanks for your question! it’s a priority bike, which are made to be super low-maintenance city bikes. they’re made so well, and with rubber chains, so you rarely have to take them in to be fixed up. alex and i LOVE them.

      https://www.prioritybicycles.com/products/priorityclassic2

  35. april white says...

    JoAnn-you may already be aware of this but your library also offers digital magazines through services like RB Digital. In addition, you can check out loads of audio and e-books through your library to listen to through Overdrive or Libby and stream movies through Hoopla or Kanopy services offered by your library (Can you tell I’m a public librarian yet? :)

    I’m down here in Knoxville, TN and if our city offers these services (along with so many others!), NYPL is surely the motherlode. And for those of you in tiny towns, check with your library-even tiny places have state consortiums that offer great resources for patrons!

    Happy summer, y’all.

    • Mona says...

      I also use Overdrive to check out digital library books to my Kindle app on my iPad! I love it. I hated paying for electronic books that I couldn’t share with friends. And now with the 3 week library limit – if i have’t finished the book in three weeks, it must not be that good so time to move on!

    • Haley says...

      Digital magazines through the library?! This is the most magical news I’ve heard all day! Thank you!

  36. Sabrina says...

    Hey CoJ- so much of this blog is focused on style and beauty- it disappoints me to see that these are categories left out of the finance post- as these are the categories I struggle the most with in my budget. Every day I read blogs and scroll Instagram and see people sharing links to a great new lipstick or a new dress by a higher-end ethical clothing company. Splurging for these items without knowing how to effectively budget for them can really throw me off, and has put me in CC debt in the past. CC debt is very taboo in our culture, but I imagine that in this day and age I am not alone.

    I am working out of that debt and becoming stronger in my finances, and I would find it refreshing to not only see all of the great things that editors and influencers suggest for us to purchase, but to also hear more about how real women budget for expensive clothing and/or beauty treatments on top of essential categories and saving money. Just a suggestion, as it’s rare to see personal finance touched on here.

    Thanks!

    • Krista says...

      Such a great comment. Thank you.

    • Dawn says...

      Word.

    • Nina says...

      And vice-versa – that is, I’m always wishing that the Week of Outfits and Beauty Uniform posts would give some hard facts about finance – like roughly what is that person budgeting for clothing or beauty products every month. It would bring a bit of perspective and realism that would really help a lot of us!

    • Em says...

      I agree and can share what I do personally. About 2 yrs ago I kept a log of things I lusted after and things I purchased in a dedicated notebook. Everything i bought, I gave a star rating along with my review and a line drawing of the product. After a while I started to notice that the things I actually bought lost appeal after a couple uses and often had a “meh” rating. These are products that are raved about across multiple blogs and magazines. It really brought home the point that much of it is hype and marketing. Soon my lust list dwindled down. I still buy a few things from time to time but after this experiment, I realized that the act of writing down what I wanted set off a sort of reward in my head. Also, looking back at past products I desparetaly wanted, ultimately got and then didn’t use much showed how I don’t need what I think I need.

    • Meg says...

      I have realized that it’s not always about budgeting – some (haha, like soooo many) people simply make more money – sometimes lots of money! – or have circumstances that allow them to budget more for items I can’t buy. And it’s a real possibility that some people who do buy those items have debt because of it, and that’s a choice they’re making. To deal with those intense moments of consumer lust (that sounds gross, sorry), I pin everything I want on a board in Pinterest that I named ‘Wanty.” And I promise myself that I can buy the thing in a week if I still want it. Straight up, I have never gone back to that board wanting that thing. Sometimes it has generated some gift ideas if my husband or parents ask me what I want for xmas, etc. But mostly it’s become a graveyard for things I really, really wanted for about 30 seconds.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      sabrina, such a great point, and we’d love to cover more of this. we will have to figure out a way to do so, without pushing the people we interview (for week of outfit posts, etc.) to share more than they’re comfortable with. but we are up for the task! maybe we’ll do a separate “money diaries” type finance series, where people who are up for opening up can share their personal stories. thank you so much.

    • Claire says...

      I don’t buy those items because I can’t afford them. I do not agree that it somehow makes me unethical or compromises my integrity to pass on expensive “ethical” purchases and instead buy things that work within my budget. Well-being and financial integrity first. There are plenty of other ways to be ethical within my life and community.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i completely agree, claire.

    • Angela says...

      Totally agree, Sabrina. I don’t spend a ton on clothing or beauty because I would rather have it for travel or food, BUT I’ve made foolish decisions in the past because of what I was seeing on blogs, instagram, etc.
      I stopped following a few people and blogs because I felt like they were so ad heavy and “things” focused that it just ended up making me want to shop too much.
      I also added in following blogs and accounts that are focused on smart personal finance! It’s helped to see consumer accounts following by an account on saving for retirement :)

  37. donna says...

    The best personal finance book I’ve read this year is Worry Free Money. I got it from the library which has saved me from having to buy books and magazines. But I’m lucky, I live in Toronto and our library system is pretty hard to beat.

    • Amy P says...

      Yes, the Greater Victoria library system has kept my house clearer and my purse fuller for sure!! The only books I buy now are cookbooks that I’ve already checked out of the library and know that I really want (and I usually ask for those as birthday gifts), and the very odd nonfiction book that I’ve checked out twice and know I’ll want to refer to multiple times in the future.

      My 7yo daughter is an avid reader, reading at least a dozen chapter books per week. She was given a few books for her birthday but after reading them 2-3 times she didn’t want to keep them anymore, so clearly the library is the way to go!!

  38. Jess says...

    Thank you for this. Budgets can be such a wonderfully freeing tool, but it took me a long time to figure out how to find the freedom in them! It might sound odd, but the it just took a lot of time to see the natural ebb and flow of life in our finances. Our children are pre-k and early elementary age, and we are just now getting into some categories we didn’t have before such as swim lessons and outings that previously may have been free. We’ve also seen our budget change with seasons – some categories are much higher in the summer than winter, and vice versa. Yet, tracking everything has been really helpful to reduce stress and understand why things shift around. One of the best choices we’ve made is to shift our money around a little to give us more freedom. We decided to step back from eating in restaurants and put part of the money we spent in restaurants into buying better quality groceries and a wider variety so occasionally we try different types of cheeses or have a nice steak or splurge on that really fun snack for movie night. YNAB has been a helpful tool for us, but as with any tool or app you need to make it your own and ensure it really works for you.

  39. T says...

    We do something slightly different than keep a budget. We have a spending plan. First is retirement investing. Second is shorter term investing. Third is short term savings (to cover annual things like insurance, vacations, gifts). Fourth is bills for the month, which includes our mortgage and childcare. Fifth is charitable gifts. Then whatever is left over, we spend without a second thought – no keeping track, no writing it down.

    I sometimes think that the financial gurus have oversold the “latte factor” – the idea that your daily cup of coffee is taking you to the poor house. Instead, it’s more likely that it’s the bigger things – housing, cars, and student and medical debt – that’s causing otherwise middle class people to feel squeezed. Also, it seems like more often than not, men are encouraged to take an interest in investing and growing their money while women are encouraged to save. It’s the former, plus the beauty of compounding, that generates the wealth that will give you control of your life.

    • Hilde says...

      Wow, T – this was really an eye-opener. I’ve been on a tight budget for years and by default put whatever’s left that month into my savings account. I have such a hard time spending anything on “unnecessary” things like fun and enjoyment, knowing that at some point I’m going to need a new (old) car, fixing up my apartment, and every other possible future expense. Just putting a fixed amount into the account, along with my regular monthly expenses, and then actually spend some money on myself (guilt-free!) with the rest sounds like heaven. Thank you!

    • ML says...

      +1 to this!

    • Jessica says...

      Totally agree with you T, on all of this, especially investing. Financial advice for women always seems to focus on saving and almost never mentions investing. I don’t really understand why that is. We should all have index funds, and not just for retirement!

      My pet peeve is when women talk about “investing in” some (usually expensive) item of clothing. The definition of investing is committing money to something with the expectation of an annual income or profit. Clothing depreciates in value as soon as you’ve worn it – so really what’s meant is just “spending a lot of money.” Not saying it’s wrong to buy expensive clothes – only that it’s misleading to pretend that’s as financially savvy as actual investing would be.

    • Summer says...

      Well, I think we have the winning reading comment.

      You’re so right on the focus for women to save and men to invest, but there’s also a class factor in there too, I think. My husband and I both grew up in small towns, were the first to go to college (in the entire family), move to the city, get jobs – you get the idea. We’ve kind of had to figure out everything as we go, and investments is the final frontier. Any recommendations?

    • T says...

      Summer, I’m so with you on the class thing. As I’ve posted elsewhere, I grew up poor so I totally understand where you’re coming from. Most of my clothes came from Goodwill or if we were feeling splurgy – K-Mart (remember K-Mart? Blue light special? I still think of it fondly). We were on welfare and food stamps for a chunk of my childhood. Incidentally, this is why I get so annoyed when people start ranting about how women (and the majority of welfare recipients are women with children or old and/or disable people) are “lazy” for getting these benefits. If you think navigating a job is hard, try navigating the welfare system. It is a whole lot of work meeting the bureaucratic hurdles for just enough money to keep the wolf from the door. And you get to enjoy it with a heaping side of condescension. But I’m also grateful that we had those programs because it gave my family the support to get the education we needed.

      Now, back to your question of investing – Here’s the secret: it’s incredibly simple. It’s not easy, but it’s simple. It can sometimes seem magical to average people how rich people make money. It isn’t. They often just start out with more money. If you’re an investment beginner, I would do this: Step 1 – Do you have access to a 401K or 403b? Start there. Put as much as you can in there and I would pick low cost mutual funds that buy the whole market. Vanguard, Fidelity, Schwab, Blackrock, and others are in a war to come out with the lowest cost passive mutual funds, and it’s wonderful. If your plan doesn’t offer them, specifically ask for it. If you don’t have access to a retirement account from your employer, go to Vanguard or Fidelity and open up an IRA, and do the same thing – pick low cost passive mutual funds that buy the whole market. Step 2 – Contribute the same amount every month, before you spend money on anything else. Think of it like a bill you’re paying to your future self. And she will love you and be sooo grateful for it. Step 3 – Leave it alone (for many years). The market will go up and down, sometimes by a heart stopping lot. The trick is not to be freaked out by that. There’s never been a ten year period where the market didn’t go up. If you’re buying the whole market, you’re pretty much just betting on American civilization, so as long as it chugs along, you’ll be fine.

      There are a lot of other nuances that I could get into, but the above is really all you need. You got this!

  40. Dana says...

    This is comically low-tech, but I’ve had the most success using a little notebook to track spending. I have a checking account for bills and one for more flexible expenses (groceries, gas, going out to eat). I copy out my standing bills for the month into two week pay periods, and every morning I check my balances, check off my bills as I pay them, and look at where I am for the month ahead to make sure I’m planning for additional expenses (tax payments, summer day camp, etc.). This quick “money minute” has helped me be aware of how much I have to work with and to become a much better planner.

    • Kara A says...

      me too!!

  41. Sarah says...

    One of the best budgeting mantras I’ve heard (I forget where) is to have a “F^%k It” fund. It’s for when you need to prioritize yourself and get out of a situation. Boss terrible and work toxic? F^%k it. Living with a partner and the relationship has ended and you need out? F^%k it. Car broken down and you need a safe one for your kids earlier than anticipated? F^%k it. You get the idea. I love the idea of a fund to keep you safe, take life’s lumps, and handle the unexpected with (some) grace.

    Great topic; I love the finance posts!

    • Samantha says...

      100% EVERYONE NEEDS A F@&K OFF FUND!

    • Ellen says...

      Yes! My f^%k it fund has given me the biggest sense of freedom and possibility in my life. A financial planner I met with once in my 20s told me to start one. A few years later this fund became the foundation for quitting my job, taking a very big pay cut to switch into an adjacent field, and starting a business that was rewarding both personally and career-wise. Later, this also allowed me to leave a job after the company changed ownership and the working environment changed with it.

    • gfy says...

      can people post some actual numbers? I realize ‘mileage may vary’ but seeing how much others consider vital is really helpful to see, thx!

    • Lauren says...

      I totally agree! Like Ellen, my F^%k It fund allowed me to quit my job and do a career 180 just about 8 months ago.

      @GFY – I reached my goal of $200k in my F^%k It fund in November. I was very lucky to have help from family for an initial down payment on a condo which I later sold, the result of which served as the building blocks of my F^%k It fund. However, getting to my goal was definitely the result of saving every month! I thought $200k seemed lofty but also reasonable and necessary given that I live(d) in the bay area and my rent/costs overall were bananas.

  42. Mary says...

    Does it talk to my credit card, and not just to my bank? 90% of my spending is on my credit card (which I pay off every month), both for convenience and for the cash back I get from it. Will YNAB automatically update those expenditures, or would I end up inputting them by hand?

    • Sonja says...

      Yes! I just set mine up and credit cards are easy!

    • it connects to any account you log into :) I just tried it!

  43. Betsie says...

    I know I’ve evangelized about Simple in the comments before, but I just can’t help myself, I’m a full blown believer. Think YNAB or Mint, but actually built into your checking account. Simple is an online-only bank (so not great for writing checks or depositing cash), but you can create Goals (i.e. spending categories or envelopes) to match your budget, shift money into those goals, and then allocate spending to the goals. The app makes checking my account enjoyable, and thanks to Simple my husband and I were able to pull off a debt-free wedding, a cross-country move, start paying checking off our student loans, and carry $0 in credit card debt. HIGHLY recommend https://www.simple.com/

  44. Heather says...

    What always seems to happen to us is that we set a budget, and as long as our lives stay pretty level and normal, that budget works: we eat at home, we cook from scratch, we make our own coffee, we have friends over for a potluck and $10 bottles of wine instead of meeting at a bar, we sew up the wrecked knees of our kids’ pants, we cut our kids’ hair ourselves, we mow our own lawn and walk our own dog.
    But our lives almost never stay level and normal: summer camp season hits and we are overwhelmed by commuting logistics and no one is actually home to make dinner; work will suddenly be crazy for one of us and we’re pulling long hours; the kids break a hole in the wall/flush a pack of baby wipes down the toilet; I have a spell of depression/anxiety/overwhelm and start delegating all decisions and work to people I can pay to make those decisions/do that work for me until I feel better.
    My guess is that everyone has these disruptions in their lives, and what I haven’t figured out how to do is accommodate those peaks and troughs in a budget that assumes our lives proceed in a straight line. Because when I’m already feeling overwhelmed and near tears from trying to do my job well and take care of my kids well, I order take-out and try not to feel bad about it.

    • Yes to this. I think you sum it up so well. I’m thoughtful about where I put my money but I also know that it’s not something I can 100% control. I stumbled on this article a few years ago that I keep coming back to and it has helped me take a healthy approach to finances: https://www.thebillfold.com/2015/12/my-best-self-will-be-open-to-things-falling-apart/#.j31spofe1

      To sum it up a bit, John Michtom writes, “I have generally been skeptical of material or financial aspirations. It’s not that dreams and ambitions are bad — they aren’t! But we live in a world where so much is beyond our control. We might invest heavily in training for an industry that suddenly becomes obsolete. An errant taxi might take our legs, our job, and our savings… [In 2016] I will try to shore up my finances, of course, but like Coates says, “I have to be open to things falling apart.” There just aren’t any guarantees in the financial realm, and any bold new year’s resolution involving retirement savings or down payments seems like an invitation to disappointment. But to live like my aunt has lived seems a reliable investment: to be kind, curious, patient, and generous; to find pleasure and intellectual stimulation in whatever is at hand; to wait and see how things turn out, being ready to make do with less.”

    • Lindsey says...

      Wow, I really resonate with this. I’m so good at keeping on budget when life is stable, but that can really change from one week to the next. And man, depression really does throw all the most carefully laid plans down the drain, doesn’t it? Don’t have anything to offer, but just wanted to say, “I hear you- me too.”

    • Eloise says...

      So much this. Thank you!!!!

    • Julie says...

      Sally, you are hitting the nail on the head for me with this comment. My issue is that I feel incredible guilt when I don’t stick to the plan… even when the plan was overly austere and not realistic or if unexpected expenses come up. Reading those quotes felt like a weight coming off of me. Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

    • Heather says...

      Sally – Thank you so much for sharing that piece. It’s so beautiful and exactly on point. <3 COJ readers <3

    • Abby says...

      I totally agree Heather. Sally- thanks so much for your comment as well and the article link, it was so helpful!
      As far a money management goes, I am die hard Mint fan!

    • Claire says...

      oh yes, absolutely. That happens in my world too, in fact the ups and downs and shifting around is the norm. Maybe there is no such thing as a consistent even keel. We keep an emergency fund, but reading your comment makes me wonder if it would work to also have a smooth sailing fund, or a really-busy-stressed-out-I-can’t-cook-tonight-fund… especially for crunch times? …just brainstorming here.

    • Beth says...

      Thank you so much for sharing that wonderful essay, Sally. It’s exactly what I needed to read today.

    • Hey, Heather! Ben from YNAB here. I wanted to jump in to help with this, because it’s SUCH a good concern, and so many people resonate with this. Too often people give upon budgeting when they have overspending, because it’s just been confirmed that budgets don’t work.

      But with the YNAB method, we’ve got a really good solution for this. It’s Rule Three of our four-rule system called “Roll with the Punches.” The problem isn’t overspending, it’s this idea around budgeting that you have to set a certain budget and stick to it no matter what! But that’s not what we’re doing here. It comes down to this: if your circumstances change or your priorities change, it’s okay to change your budget.

      And that is absolutely KEY to keeping up with a budget. You can change it, and you don’t have to feel guilty about it. After all you’re the one who made the budget. You’re the one who knows best whether it should be changed.

      If you want to dig in on that, I’d recommend you check out our class called “Roll with Your Overspending.” You can sign up for a free live class here (ynab.com/classes) or here’s a recorded version (https://bit.ly/2Mpm7wr).

      For the bigger “punches” like summer camp season, for example, we’ve got Rule Two, which is to “Embrace Your True Expenses.” This is all about looking forward for those larger, less frequent expenses that you can see coming (like summer camp) or even those that you can’t see coming, but you know will come at some point (like car repairs), and set some money aside for them every month. That way, you’re taking these big, scary, non-monthly expenses, and turning them into a monthly bill. Then, you can even out that financial roller coaster that comes from getting blindsided by big bills.

      And that brings SO much peace to your life. Let me tell you. The first time I had a big car repair and I looked down and saw I had the money set aside in my Auto Maintenance category in my budget, it changed my life! So much less stress.

      I hope that helps! And I invite you to jump in and learn more!

    • Anu K says...

      Yes to this. However, as Ben from YNAB said, you can start setting money aside for the stuff that throws things out of whack. You don’t even have to pre-plan this way in advance. What I have been doing is, just watching things each month. When our bill for HOA fees came up earlier this year, I knew that a year from then it would come up again. So from the next month, I calculated how much I’d need to put aside every month to be able to pay that fee in a year’s time. It’s easy to do this with things that come up annually or every 6 months or whatever. For stuff like vacations, Christmas, summer camps, you can see how much you spent this year and then using that assumption, start setting aside money for next year. It will actually show you how much you’ve spent on average on a particular category and then you can use that as your saving goal.

      My biggest pain point is categorizing Amazon or Costco purchases. Right now, I look at my order and split it into the different categories (which is a pain).

    • B says...

      Yes, I hear you. And YNAB has been pivotal in keeping us afloat through these peaks and troughs. Jesse Mecham, the founder of YNAB, has a great podcast and videos on YouTube. The ‘rules’ of YNAB are simple and they make a lot of sense. Rule 2 is embrace your true expenses i.e. include everything – even those annual summer camps, car registrations, subscription fees. We even have a Christmas fund set aside just because we know how much extra spending tends to happen during that time of year. Give it a go!

    • Summer says...

      This is the story of my family also. Thank you for sharing….I feel less alone!

  45. M says...

    Joanna,thanks for this. I’d love to see a similar post (or series) about how couples manage their money. It’s probably the primary thing couples fight over (how often should we dine out? Do you really need to get a coffee every morning?) yet so seldom discussed. Would LOVE to read how real couples manage their finances.

    • Lauren E. says...

      Second this. The longer my husband and I are together, the more our finances combine and the harder it is to not feel resentful over the stupid stuff he spends his money on (so. many. sneakers.). I love Cup of Jo posts on finances, so I’d also love to see one on having the tough conversations with your partner.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      such a great question, thank you — we’re on it!

    • Sally says...

      I’d also love this and am glad it’s in the works. I love the idea of a budget, but my husband just doesn’t and every time I mention it he says we’re good about spending (we mostly are) and so don’t need one. But I still want one?

    • Merideth says...

      Sally – I was the same. I finally told my husband I needed it because my spending had gotten out of control after dealing with post partum anxiety. I didn’t even know what baseline was for myself anymore. That’s when he agreed.

    • Ellen says...

      For what it’s worth, I love our system. We pay common expenses from our joint checking – cable/internet, mortgage, insurance, other boring stuff. THEN we keep completely separate credit cards. We each have a limit on what we can spend on those cards each month – it includes enough for groceries but also has a lot of discretion. Usually I’ll end up picking up the tab for our daughter’s clothes and he’ll pick up the tab most of the time we eat out. It’s fun to still be able to treat each other for dinner or a gift, and I don’t have to worry that he gets workday lunches out, etc. because it’s up to him to manage that piece of his own budget.

    • Another Sally says...

      I think one way for couples to deal with money is “yours, mine, ours.” The total of both of your salaries is 100% and maybe one of you earns 40% and the other 60%. Each contributes that percentage to any expenses that fall under the “ours” category — rent/mortgage, food, utilities, insurance premiums, childcare, savings, investments and so on. What you have left you can spend as you please. This may require 3 separate checking accounts and will have to be recalculated when your income changes. Depending on your circumstances, this could be once or twice a year or every payday.

      This way all of your common bills and goals are funded and you have money to spend as you please. It probably won’t be as much as you’d like to have, but it’s money you can spend without guilt.

    • Tara Barnes says...

      Creating a budget when we got engaged saved our marriage before it even started!!! We know exactly how much we have to spend on everything during the month and we each get a “fun money” amount for the month – this solves the frustratiion over my husband spending all out money on Starbucks or shoes. We each get a set amount of money that is just ours to do whatever we want, so if I want to buy makeup and my husband wants to buy his own lunch everyday that’s fine! No guilt or frustration.

    • Nina says...

      My partner and I have three bank accounts – a joint one, and then an individual one each. All our income goes into the joint one, all household expenses go out of it. From what’s left over (barely anything!) we’ve calculated an equal amount that we can afford to each have for our own expenses and ‘discretionary spending’, and that is transferred automatically to our individual accounts each month. It makes sure all essential household costs are covered, and it means we don’t feel the need to justify our own spending to each other. Works really well for us! Our incomes are the same right now, but I like to think we’d do it the same way even if one was earning more than the other.

    • Em says...

      About tough discussions with your partner… I highly *highly* recommend treating it like a business meeting or debate style. That is to say, don’t treat the conversation as casually as you normally would. Set an agenda for the meeting, set some ground rules (who is allowed to talk when and for how long before the other person has a rebuttal), what would you like to accomplish through the meeting, etc. It helped so much to do this in my relationship when my partner or I felt like we weren’t being heard or there had to be some compromise that didn’t work out through casual discussion.

    • Michelle says...

      My husband and I each get our own “allowance” every month, built into our budget, that we each choose how to spend, judgment-free. Clothes, lunches or drinks, pedicures, tools and whatever DH buys, gifts for each other – it all comes out of our allowances.

      We started this because six months into our marriage, I had felt guilty for the tiniest splurge, and resentful of DH for his spending. Now we have been doing allowences for 14 years of marriage and have not fought once about money. It’s my #1 advice for newlyweds.

      PS: We did the same thing with our free time once we had kids!

  46. Kat Jackson says...

    Does anyone have any insight into whether YNAB (or the other budget apps mentioned) is good for freelancers that have varying incomes each month? I saw that EveryDollar wants you to state your monthly income as the first step, but my husband and I are both freelance designers and I don’t know that it would be a good fit.

    Also, I’m a little wary of connecting my bank account but I love the idea of the convenience of not entering every transaction, I know we would not last long doing that! Any pros and cons to this set-up? Reading the terms of service made me nervous when I saw statements like “granting power of attorney” to an app. Any advice would be so appreciated!

    • Kate says...

      I find that it works really well for freelancers/independent contractors because you’re creating your budget based on the money you have RIGHT NOW, not the money you will have in the future. When I get paid, I immediately put 30% in the quarterly tax budget, then divide the rest into the categories that need more funding.

    • katie says...

      yep, YNAB is great for freelancers. it’s how i actually got our finances in check years ago. as a photographer, i had busy season and low season, so i would put a category in as deferred income and then actually “pay myself” for incoming money. with YNAB, you budget the money you have, not the money you think you have coming in. my husband is a firefighter too, so his income can change wildly depending on how much OT he picked up, which we don’t want to necessarily count on either.

  47. Kate says...

    I love the idea of these apps but am so cautious with my banking details – in this day and age the idea of just releasing that information to another growing app business seems too risky. I wish I could figure out a work around, because I’m sure INAB! :)

    • Christine Schwalm Design says...

      I’ve used Mint for several years now and have never had any issues–knock wood. I think these sites use the same encryption that bank websites do so you have the same level of protection–take that however you will. :)

  48. edie says...

    I *think* Dave Ramsey said this but I’m not 100% sure….anyway, it was this concept of spending “old money.” That is, spending money you’ve had in your account for more than two months. It has been helpful for me!

    • Lisa says...

      YNAB also shows you the age of your money in the top corner and encourages increasing that number.

  49. SB says...

    Amazed that there are people who don’t have a budget! I’d spend my money in crazy ways if I didn’t, and between student loans and savings goals (like vacations), the budget helps me remember what my goals are and be mindful about where my money goes.

  50. Kim says...

    Love seeing more posts about good financial habits and money management! Financial independence and security is essential for women’s empowerment. When we got married, my husband kept a budget and I definitely did… not. We spent a lot of time in the early years of our marriage aligning our financial goals and habits — and two things REALLY helped me grow to love budgeting. I know, I cringe a little typing that sentence, but it’s true now — which is shocking given I hated it so much in the beginning. First, (and you make this point here) a budget is not necessarily about restricting your spending – it’s about making sure you spend intentionally and in line with your values. Second, building a budget is easiest if you start by looking at your current expenditures (ideally look at an entire year, because some spend will be wildly different month to month – like travel, gifts, etc. ) to get a sense of where your money goes, and then contemplate what changes you may want to make. It’s challenging to set arbitrary targets (e.g., groceries should be X% of my budget) because spending habits are so different person to person. Keep up the great blogging, CoJ! This is the one site I read religiously, and I’m so glad to see you taking on this important topic!

  51. Zoe says...

    I was so happy to open this article and read about YNAB- since my husband and I got married, I would say using YNAB is the single best thing we’ve done for our marriage (and we’ve done a lot of awesome stuff!). A lot of people think that having a budget is restrictive. While I certainly thought that for awhile, I’ve realized it’s NOT true. It’s actually allowed us to spend more money on things we actually want and care about because we know the status of our finances each month! YNAB is the best budgeting app I’ve found and I would recommend it to everyone!

  52. Jessa says...

    I also found that Dave Ramsey offers real world, practical advice when it comes to budgeting. He really gets into the issues couples may have when they run into budgeting and most importantly how to get out of debt! He has a budgeting app too and a course called Financial Peace University. It has totally transformed how my husband and I view money and has helped us communicate more easily when we set a budget.

    • Yes to this! My parents, who have taught FPU (Financial Peace University) for about 12 years, recently bought a kit for me and my boyfriend to go through together (even though I’ve been through it multiple times before on my own). We just “shacked up” as Dave likes to put it hahaha, and moved to New York from Atlanta for work, so I’m looking forward to this phase of our life starting off on the right financial foot. My parent’s were recently featured on his Millionaire Theme Hour (if you search “Chris Hogan Millionaire Iranian” on youtube, you’ll find us!) and we got to meet some of the Dave Ramsey team. It was my mom’s dream come true; she’s such a fan. FPU helped my parent’s cash flow my college and my brother’s (two private schools!), and we now all work for our family business that was started and remains debt free :)

  53. Some really good tips here and the wine walks are pretty genius if you ask me!

  54. sasha says...

    Being vegetarian (or vegan!) and sober saves about a billion dollars a year. Just saying. ?

    • teegan says...

      Yes to this. Being a “boring” vegetarian saves a ton on eating in and eating out.

    • Stef says...

      haha I agree – I have saved over $10,000 since quitting drinking a year and a half ago (no lie). its CRAZY how much I was spending on alcohol!

    • Nina says...

      Yes! I stopped buying meat about six months ago and it saves my family about $200 a month! And we don’t need to buy any more veggies than before so that money is actually SAVED. If I had known how much cheaper having a vegetarian house is I would have done it years ago

    • sasha says...

      If you happen to eat beans (dry, cook yourself in that pressure cooker you’re not sure what to do with), rice and lentils (literally the perfect food- grown in the US, healthy and just about the cheapest thing you can buy, and cooks very quickly, or sprouts quickly too) you can cut your grocery budget down to NOTHING. We literally could not afford our beautiful life in our very expensive mountain resort town, if we ate like the rest of America. Or drank alcohol. Instead of wine walks we hike mountains. You really don’t need or miss the alcohol when you’ve got so much beauty.

      If I had to recommend one single thing to improve your life in just about every imaginable way, stop drinking. You’ll lose weight, save money (so much money it’s staggering), drastically improve your health (even if you are no where near a problem drinker), improve your sleep, relationships, sex life, set a wonderful example for all of your friends who ARE problem drinkers, and be a rebel. It’s really really good to be free, and it doesn’t matter if you don’t think you have a problem, your life will be happier. (Alcohol is a depressant, no one is immune to this fact).

  55. my husband created a spreadsheet that we can input to track our expenditures. we aim to use $450/week. standard monthly bills are not factored in. for me, this has really forced me to not hit up starbucks or be tempted to go out to lunch when i’m bored with what i brought that day. sometimes we go over, and other times we are under. since doing this, we’ve been able to put away as much as $2500/month into our savings account.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s amazing, lan!

  56. Andrea says...

    My best tip is having two checking accounts; a main one where my paychecks are deposited and another for weekly expenses like groceries and gas. I pay myself from the main account every Friday. It’s kind of like the cash envelope system with the convenience of a debit card. And I never accidentally spend money earmarked for bills. Not that I’ve ever done that…………….

    • Ro says...

      Whenever I complain about my budget, my mom always suggests I go to the bank and take out X amount of cash, and then accept that’s what I have for the week. She says it helps to see the money physically dwindling as the week goes on, versus blindly swiping a debit card. Once the cash is gone it’s gone — no more movies or coffees or fancy lunches for me.

      The things is, I don’t really like to carry cash or go to ATMs. While I appreciate what she’s saying, a debit card seems much easier and safer. With two separate bank accounts you can essentially budget yourself in the same way, without carrying a bunch of $20s around in your wallet. Love it!

    • Angela says...

      We do the same thing and it is so helpful!

    • Liz says...

      This is exactly what we do and it works for us. Like someone said it’s kind of like the envelope system. Cash only wouldn’t work for us because of buying things online or getting gas at Costco which doesn’t take cash, etc. This way, instead of trying to budget every little thing we just have a certain amount of $ allocated to spending.

  57. I’ve heard great things about this app. Several people have recommended it to me. I do have a budget, but I recently tracked my grocery spending. I mean, I took it down to how much I spend on dairy, meat, veggies, packaged foods, wine….etc. I was stunned by how much I spend, where the money is going and how little we truly have to show for it. I’m all about tracking areas of life we want to improve upon, get to know better, etc. Mental tracking is deceptive, so I keep spreadsheets and journals. You can imagine how interesting all of this makes me at a dinner party. ;)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      “You can imagine how interesting all of this makes me at a dinner party. ;)” = hahahaha, although i really do find it so interesting!

    • heather says...

      I feel like everyone actually WOULD want to talk about budgeting at a dinner party if it weren’t so taboo.

  58. Inês Calisto says...

    Hi Joanna,
    We also have a monthly budget but my advice (and life motto) is to be responsible but also to relax and have some fun with the money resulting from your hard work ;)

  59. Ooh – I learned a bout YNAB through readers’ comments on CupofJo, and loved it (am now on an annual plan)! And same here – the amount we spent on groceries was 30%-40% higher than what I thought it was… And also, canceled Spotify and renewed library membership, so easy!
    Thanks again for the discovery :-)

  60. Lolinka says...

    Eggs are great with every meal! A fried egg with new potatoes with dill and butter and very buttery string beans are our summer household staple for a light dinner.

    Thankfully, my fiance and I both love and know how to cook — so we eat all our lunches at home. And making each other sandwiches for work every morning is a lovely tradition that we have managed to uphold for the last year and a half! We found out that now we prefer to eat in unless its something we wouldn’t be able to make at home — and because we save so much on food (with careful planning we manage to have an almost no-waste household) we can afford to go out for something more fancy twice a month or so.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that dinner sounds so so good. and how sweet that you guys make each other sandwiches. (also bravo for an almost-zero-waste household!)

  61. Carol says...

    I’m only working part-time while studying so my budget is tight! I have an excel sheet where I keep track of long term goals, and I have an app to track my everyday purchases, because for me it’s all the little things that add up quickly (£2 here, £5 there…), so I like to see how well I’m doing in real time. I didn’t want one that had to connect to my bank account (I don’t feel comfortable with that), so I use Goodbudget, which uses the “envelope budgeting” method. Remembering to input the transactions can be a pain, but once you get used to it it’s ok. I like being able to see how I’m going and correct course immediately, rather than just seeing at the end of the month that I’ve overspent.

  62. m says...

    a tip I haven’t seen in the comment threads … if anyone has Sirius xm subscription make sure to let the subscription run out before renewing (usually yearly). My husband got a year long subscription for 50% off just by going without for a few weeks. Definitely don’t pay full price

    • Sam says...

      Good to know! I’m still kicking myself for not buying the Lifetime plan back in 2002 when I first signed up. It was several hundred dollars at the time but I know I’ve paid 10x that by now!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s such a great tip, M!

  63. Alison says...

    Am I the only one that found YNAB super confusing? It never seemed to be accurate for me…I paid for it too…not the free version. I ended up canceling because I became so frustrated. Should I try it again? Any advice? #amianidiot?

    • Ines says...

      It’s hard to wrap your head around, because it’s a “zero based budget”, meaning you only budget the money you already have, and budget to zero (this doesn’t mean spend to zero, of course). So every time you have money coming in (paycheck, bonus, gift, tax return, etc) you say to your self “what does this money need to do?”. It generally means you put some of it in your rent “envelope”, some in the groceries, etc.

      It’s very different from something like Mint where you set a standard budget and then it just tracks if you were good or bad. With YNAB if you overspend, you need to take that money from somewhere: either you are able to take it from a different envelope, or you create new debt.

      It’s this difference that creates a huge shift in mentality and why so many people claim that YNAB changed their lives. I actually still enter everything manually (even though the most recent version of YNAB synchs up to your banks if you want) because it really helps me with seeing the true scarcity of money–if I want to say “screw it, I’m buying this skirt despite having $2.33 in my clothing category”, that’s totally fine… but it needs to come from somewhere–will it be my vacation category? my daughter’s college savings? my wine budget? Do I want this skirt more than I want one of those things, then I move money around and buy the skirt. But most budgets would just tell you “you were bad on your clothing budget this month, be better next time” without a visible consequence (which is obviously still true.) Basically, YNAB, or any envelope system, allows you to see and manage your scarcity.

      But no, you are not an idiot :)

    • Sam says...

      They have a ton of videos on their website to help get you set up and I’ve heard good things about their forum on Reddit. It takes some getting used to but worth it! We stopped and started a couple times before really giving it our full attention.

    • Kmc says...

      Definitely not an idiot! I tried it a few years ago and it was awful but they’ve revamped it and its much more user friendly. They have a ton of videos and classes to get you started. I saw it in the comments here and tried again and love it more than mint or the other million things I’ve tried.

    • AM says...

      I am so glad you said this–I consider myself pretty financially savvy and tried YNAB as a replacement to Mint a couple months ago…and I completely failed. I just couldn’t get understand how the granularity of the budgets was going to work for our family because we have a bunch of one-time expenses and EVERYTHING wound up in the “other” category. I’ll try again since it seems like there have been some cool updates.

    • SB says...

      I have been trying YNAB this year, a couple months free and then paid for it, and failing miserably soooo not just you! The zero-based budget is fine, it’s credit card payments (how it “takes” money for them when you use them) that keeps messing me up. I’m going to try Mint next sooooo don’t ask me :)

    • heather says...

      Same. I’ve mostly used excel, but have also tried Mint and YNAB. I found YNAB dizzying and frustrating to keep up with if I even went a few days not monitoring it. Also, Amazon makes all of this a little hard, because in one Amazon order I may have household goods, grocery items, yard supplies, and make-up, so then I have to open my Amazon account and look at the order and break down the purchase and… this is just an obstacle too far. Same with Costco.

  64. Zoe says...

    I love this post! We re-worked our budget a few months ago and realized that we spent far too much dining out and used it as a means of entertainment (live in a small Canadian town with two kiddos.) We now take out cash each month that is deemed “fun money.” Once it’s gone, it’s gone until the next month. We created budget allotments for vacation, emergency money and household upgrades. Having these as fixed categories has also helped to prioritize them and keep things in line. Some months things go over budget in some areas (growth spurt = whole new toddler wardrobe needed or a trip to the vet for the dog) but for the most part it leaves me feeling more in control of where our money goes and has forced us
    to evaluate our financial values. I do still find staying on track with groceries ultra tricky!

  65. OCEANE says...

    Living abroad in Asia for few years now, I realized how the way we spend money/prioritize is not only personal but also very cultural. Being French and having friends from all over the world, I realized that having no dept when starting your adult life – for almost all french young people – is already a huge difference from many other young adults. And then, the word “loan” is mostly something we hate and avoid until we REALLY needs it. “credit” cards as you have in the US don’t really exists for us in France, etc… We learn how to save very young, and “you don’t buy what you can’t afford” is not even something we learn, it’s something everybody does.

    Also I realized how important it was for me and my husband to agree on how to spend money. Luckily we are on the same page but now I feel like I’m lucky because it’s not exactly a topic you bring at the beginning of the relationship and at the end it’s something that can very much matter in your future life as a couple.

    One thing we will actually never cut back on is GROCERY. Various and good quality food is our priority ! We also decided to decrease our meat consumption (close to zero for me – flexitarian for my husband), avoid plastic as much as possible (we cook a lot, no processed food), prefer organic products when its available… and at the end, we realized we are spending less money than most people around us on food, and eat healthy and quality food almost every day.

    • Capucine says...

      My husband is French, and what you say is true. Consumer debt was such a growing thing in France, restrictive policies about credit cards were put in place. So you CAN’T really get into credit card debt; none of our relatives even use one. Even debit cards have a predefined limit on how much you can withdraw each month. Culturally, most French people I know pride themselves on being ‘radan’ (how do you spell that?!) which means cheap or stingy – spending the least possible on everything. It’s like a game, how can you spend even less on xyz? Usually there is some crazy tortuous surprise way to be found and they all love sharing those stories. And we’re talking about down to the cents – my favorite example is when my French girlfriend asked us for a stick-on painting hanger we had a bag of, because when she trekked to the art store with her toddlers she found they cost thirty cents and she preferred to save that if we already had extra.

  66. Leslie says...

    I think that setting financial values (be flexible, generous, smart, adventurous, etc.) has been really helpful in the way I think about my budget. Identifying the the things that my husband and I want our money to do for us has also helped shape how much goes where.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i love that, leslie. what a smart way to begin.

  67. Rebecca | Seven2Seven8 says...

    I’ve been using it almost a year and have been able to halve my credit card debt accrued during maternity leaves (2) and part time work in the past three years. Cannot recommend it enough.

  68. Irene says...

    Long-term CoJ reader and YNAB user here (and commenter on the original budget post that apparently got you started with YNAB)…. Can I be totally honest here? While I love seeing YNAB here and generally love CoJ, this sentence in your post made me think you either didn’t REALLY try YNAB or else weren’t precise enough in your writing of this article: “They even have categories like “fun money” and “things I forgot to budget for.””. Every YNAB user knows that you set up categories yourself, and come up with names for them youself… Saying YNAB “has” categories named this or that makes no sense!

    • Sam says...

      Well it does have preset categories….we use some of them but also came up with our own. You can be as specific or broad as you want to be.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thanks, irene! i just liked how they suggest/encourage those kinds of categories and let readers think more broadly about what goes into an overall budget. should have been more clear!

    • Irene says...

      Thumbs up! That’s totally true :) I know of many long-term YNAB users who keep tinkering with their categories even years in – it’s almost like a game.

    • K says...

      As a longtime YNABer here, your point that we’re constantly tweaking our categories definitely resonates. My husband and I have a “Sunday Brunch & Friday Takeout” line-item, which funds our Friday-evening-takout-and-Netflix and our Sunday-morning-breakfast-and-crossword habits. (We also have a separate “restaurants” line but don’t use it often, as those are our major eating out expenditures). The beauty and utility of YNAB is in making super tailored to your life!

  69. Alex says...

    Accountant here. I found YNABs method really unique and a productive way of viewing your money. I canceled though, the app is majorly buggy and the bank connections are constantly breaking. Also the reconciliation feature is a touch over complicated. It also costs 50$ annually (a small price if it really helps you). So all that said I recommend it if you’re willing to put up with the finnicky aspects, otherwise good old Excel does the trick.

    • Andrea says...

      I LOOOVE me some Excel! I just do simple things, like keep a running check register for all my accounts, and a sheet with my monthly budget amounts. Easy.

    • C says...

      My husband is an accountant as well and I have to admit, I find it sexy when he pulls up his excel spreadsheet and starts making it do stuff. The thing is, he’s proficient at tracking and analyzing everything, but kind of an enabler when it comes to our spending. I’m terrible at the tech side, but I’ve been able to save well since I was a teenager with a very simple ‘save and donate, then the rest is for buying things’ approach. Obviously adult-ing is different, but our opposing abilities seem to be leaving us really terrible savers!

  70. Shilpi says...

    the BEST insight i got into budgeting and money came from a kids game called “Cashflow” by the writer of “Rich Dad Poor Dad” (which I haven’t read.) The game is all about making more money each month than you spend. You have some fixed expenses and then some wants that you can choose to spend on (like activities and eating out and buying clothes and stuff)… more importantly, you also have the opportunity to use your money to CREATE MORE INCOME, by investing in stocks, real estate or a business. the way the game is set up, it becomes really painful to waste money on frivolous items, and it feels fantastic to use money to create more income, and basically to create wealth. I am coming to realize that wealth is more important than income in many ways. I remember reading somewhere that the main difference between middle class and upper class budgeting is that middle class people spend money and it disappears, and upper class people are taught to spend money in such a way that will make them more money. I think that is the premise of Rich Dad, Poor Dad.

    Anyways, playing a couple rounds of this game really changed the way I think about money. Now, when I feel spendy, I often use a chunk of money to make some kind of home improvement, which i hope would increase our home value. and frivolous expenses do feel more painful in real life too.

    • This philosophy is kind of a game-changer. Now I want to read ‘Rich Dad Poor Dad’. Thanks for the mini-lesson!

    • Lauren says...

      LOVE this! Not only does not buying a $4 coffee save you $4 it gives you the opportunity to grow that $4 say into $5 a year later by investing in the stock market, etc.

      SO FEW WOMEN invest in the market because they are more risk adverse than men. Lots of research as well as tips can be found here. I’d love CupofJo to interview their founder!
      https://www.ellevest.com

    • Claire says...

      “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” is a game-changer of a book, as is “Your Money or Your Life”.
      I’d be interested to hear what others do to create more income for themselves.

  71. Jessica says...

    The “wine walk” recommendation really surprises me, considering open containers are illegal in New York and in many other states. And to post a photo of it! #privilege

    • Ally says...

      Um, they’re closed, opaque containers in the picture. No one can tell it’s alcohol.

    • Magdalena says...

      How’s this privilege and why do people think privilege is a negative word? The containers are closed.

    • Andrea says...

      Magdalena:

      In NYC, white people walking around (or in the park) with open containers would almost never get ticketed, while younger people of color are often cited for these nuisance violations. These violations/quality of life crimes often have a disproportionate effect on the futures of people of color. Same “crime” with different enforcement and impact.

      White people can walk around with alcohol without having to worry about the possible bad effects that would affect other people. That’s where the privilege comment I believe comes from.

    • Ellie says...

      As a public defender who works in Brooklyn I can attest to the fact that people of color are not just ticketed, but arrested, taken through bookings, and yes, charged with an open container on a regular basis. It’s absolutely a privilege to be able to walk around with a coffee cup of wine and know that you won’t be stopped and questioned about what’s inside of it.

    • Harah says...

      The open container law in NYC means that alcoholic beverages must be in their original, sealed/never opened containers from the store. It has nothing to do with cups with lids :)

  72. Maggie says...

    How’s this different than the free mint version?

    • Andrea says...

      In my opinion, Mint was always more retroactive (seeing where your money went) rather than proactive like YNAB is, where you can manage your money real time throughout the month.

    • Elizabeth says...

      I wondered the same thing for a long time. I switched over to ynab a couple months ago, and I will never go back to mint.

      First it’s easier to track your money and spending. If you’re saving for different things (ie: vacation, car insurance, holiday gifts, etc), it’s much more straightforward. If your expenses (and/or income) vary month to month, the system is much more flexible.

      Mainly though, ynab changed my perspective of budgeting. Budgeting is less time-consuming, less stressful, and even a bit more fun now. Ynab orients you to budget what you have rather than what you think you’ll need. It just makes sense!

      Give the free trial a shot! I was sold on it by day 2.

    • K says...

      It is actually very different. I could never get Mint to really work for me–I would sent goals for each budget category, but something would inevitably come up to where my spending would be different from what I projected, and with Mint there isn’t an easy way to compensate for that. YNAB has a very unique philosophy where you only budget the money you have *right now*, not projecting money you will have later in the month. If you check out some of their videos or free classes, you will see what I mean.

    • Sam says...

      Mint tracks what you’ve already spent (at least the last version I used did). With YNAB you assign a “job” or budget category to each dollar when the money comes in, before you spend it. You can adjust as you go or as expenses change. My husband and I have been using religiously since we bought our house/had our son a few years ago and it’s been a lifesaver.

  73. Mary says...

    The ‘wine walk’ concept could be illegal in some states that have open container laws. While someone like me may not be stopped and ticketed because of the way I look (skin color, clothing), it’s a reality for many of my clients (homeless folks) that if they were to go on a ‘wine walk,’ they could be ticketed.

  74. Justine says...

    Totally. I read every comment in Stella’s story about her $2 TJ salad lunch.

  75. Hani says...

    We decided it was time to get serious about saving for a legit go-on-a-real-trip family vacation, something neither me or my husband have ever experienced! (And by extension our two young kids)
    So we wanted to up our savings by 100$ month, when I felt we were already pretty frugal.
    Here’s where we found (without missing it at all) 200(!)$+ extra a month:
    We replaced three suppers a week with 1.) egg breakfast burritos in soft flour tortillas 2.) pb&j on hearty toasted whole grain 3.)black bean tacos in corn tortillas. All three of these meals are nutritious and satisfying and cost so little. It saves between 35-50$ per week off our grocery bill. (Depending on which meal they end up replacing)

    I stopped drinking seltzers (my weakness) andStarbucks shaken teas, and started brewing huge pitchers of iced herbal tea(Celestial seasonings Berry Zinger, yum). A touch of sweetening and it’s easily as delicious and refreshing. Pennies per batch, plus, it reduces waste from cans and plastic cups. I tote it around in my insulated stainless steel bottle; saves me 30$ per month.
    The other thing we did was to cancel all our streaming subscriptions except one- then we just rotate them. You get caught up on your shows and then suspend the subscription and reactivate the next one the following month. 10$ per month instead of 50$. (Yes, we love watching movies/great TV.)

    The great thing, I feel, is that more of our money is going to something we are really looking forward to. These switches were dead simple and we haven’t missed a thing!

    • Liz says...

      That is SUCH a good idea re streaming services!

    • Kelly says...

      LOVE this comment! Such great tips!

    • Lauren Kline says...

      Your tips rock! We should start a hashtag #eggsforthewin

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      such a smart idea about the streaming services!

  76. T says...

    For us, we try to remember that every choice is an elimination of something else. This dinner out now is a chunk out of a holiday, is it worth it? It really helps to sort the priorities and means we always do what we REALLY feel like, not just go out because we can’t be bothered cooking, we have to WANT to do it.

  77. Nam Aster says...

    The best advice I ever got about budgeting, if you make $75K than act like you earn $35K. 1. “Live below your means so you can always have enough kiss your butt money if you hate what you are doing. Life is too short to be in a constant money swirl.” 2. Plan for a rainy day! “The best times you will have in life will involve new friends, old friends, decent wine and a cheese plate…not the coolest joint.” 3. Learn not to compete with others. and be genuinely happy with what you have earned. 4. Budgeting is about paying yourself first. Whatever you do, pay yourself first, e.g., 401k, life insurance, kid’s college fund, etc.

  78. Courtney says...

    Do any international CoJ readers use YNAB without the bank account access? Is it still worth it for me in Australia, where we can’t sync our accounts?

    • You’d have to be super diligent about inputting transactions. I think it’s totally doable, but I imagine it would only be sustainable if you were super nerdy (in a good way) and excited about it. Sometimes one of my accounts doesn’t sync and life ends up happening and it’s difficult to get caught up manually. But it’s 100% better than nothing!

    • ML says...

      I used to use YNAB without bank sync. On the 15th and 30th of each month I would import, categorize, and review. Importing took just a few seconds after downloading from my banking and credit card accounts, so it was still quick and easy.

    • Natalie says...

      I use Pocketbook in Australia, which is fairly similar and allows you to sync accounts. It’s not quite as functional and annoyingly you can’t create a joint budget but you can both access it if you’re using a joint account and see joint tracking (if you want to use it with a partner).

    • Sarah says...

      I’ve tried it (in the UK, without account syncing) and found it’s great for a couple of months then my enthusiasm runs out and other things take up my time and I’m just left feeling bad that I haven’t done YNAB this month.

    • Emily says...

      Investigate Pocket book. (I’m not super familiar with YNAB so I can’t compare). Pocket book is free.

    • Marika says...

      You can use different budgeting programs in AU, for example, Money Brilliant or Pocketbook!

    • keri says...

      I use pocketbook in Australia…

    • Grace says...

      I actually have the older version of YNAB which requires manual input of each transaction. It does take extra time and effort, but I actually prefer it in that it forces me to see, analyze, and process each transaction. Sometimes I do a double take when I realize just how much I spent on a single transaction or hope many little transactions really added up. In a way, it motivates me to stick to my budget when I start getting loose with my money. I’ve been doing it for years, and I’ve gotten used to the manual process, but it’s all about personal preference.

    • Frances says...

      Have you heard of the Barefoot Investor, Courtney? I can’t recommend his book enough. No app, just separate bank accounts: one called spend (for everyday expenses), one called splurge (for going out, coffees, etc), one called smile (for short term savings) and one called save (for long term savings). It sounds complicated but it’s really not. You put 60% of your take home pay into the spend account. The other 40% is divided between your other three (eg. 20% + 10% + 10%, which is what I do). When the money in your splurge account is gone, it’s gone. That simple rule has drastically changed the way I choose how to spend my money. I’m finally saving money, and able to live a good lifestyle as well. Life is good :-)

    • Mel says...

      I’m in the USA but still manually enter of my transactions in YNAB. I like doing it that way because you really have to look closely at all your transactions and face your spending decisions! It felt tedious at first but then it became an easy routine very quickly. I’ve being using it for 3 years and it’s a total life changer!

    • Jo Ruck says...

      I do! We live in Japan. I input everything manually. It does take time- but I agree it’s 100% worth it

    • Tabby says...

      I’m outside of the US (in the UK) and I use Goodbudget it seems to be similar to YNAB but I also don’t sync any accounts. It took a few weeks to build up the habit, but now every time I spend money I immediately input the expense into the app. I keep a vague check that the app and my bank account are vaguely matching up during the month and then I’ll sit at the end of the month to check that everything on my bank statement has been included in the app.

      You do have to be committed to spend a bit more time with it than with an automatic, synced version but the idea of having to manually deduct that £4 for a coffee from my tiny ‘personal perks’ envelope really makes me consider if I REALLY need it! I’m so much more aware about where my money goes than I was a year ago – and I’m now well on my way to having a deposit for my first house :)

    • Courtney says...

      Thanks for such helpful responses, everyone. I credit most of my good financial habits to The Barefoot Investor, Frances, and recommend it to anyone who will listen! I still find that pre-spend budget is a little too tight so I end up dipping in Fire Extinguisher more than I’d like to cover some Splurge items. I’d like to get a better picture of what I actually spend rather than what I think I should spend… but those hiccups aside, I never used to actually have the extra savings in Fire Extinguisher (let alone my steadily building Mojo!) so The Barefoot Investor has been awesome.

  79. Mary Keller says...

    Joanna, I’d LOVE to see you do a post with inexpensive, healthy dinner ideas- really simple stuff – like someone mentioned eggs with blackbeans! it would be great to see everyones ideas….

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i LOVE that idea, mary! we’ll get on it!

    • Hannah says...

      Budgetbytes.com is an amazing resource for any families hoping to curb their food spending or just waste less. Awesome website with truly well constructed, well tested recipes!

    • Sally K says...

      Also goodcheapeats.com

    • m says...

      @Hannah: AMEN to budgetbytes! I make a slow cooker meal for every Wednesday (typically my longest day at work) and one of my favorite recipes is the rosemary garlic beef stew from budgetbytes.

    • Jess says...

      Bon Appetit has a feature called “Rent Week” with cheap meals, for when your rent is due and you can’t afford to eat!

  80. Abby says...

    My husband and I use EveryDollar (prob a similar app) and hold a “budget meeting” the last week of each month to plan the for the next one. Doing the budget together is really the key to success for us- it’s important to work as a team to reach those goals and decide where our money should go!

    • Kaori says...

      We use EveryDollar too – it’s awesome! We do monthly or bi-monthly budget meetings to track our spending, plan for the next month, and decide what to do with any surplus (i.e. pay extra towards loans, put into savings for a house, put towards a vacation, etc.).

    • Kaori says...

      We use EveryDollar too! It’s awesome! We have budget meetings every other week or once a month to track our spending, plan for the next month, and decide what to do with any surplus (my husband’s salary is based partly on production, so we plan our budget based on his minimum salary and if he earns more, we decide to put more towards our loan payments, save for a home, save for a vacation, etc).

      We meal plan and make grocery lists that help us avoid impulse buys and food waste. For entertainment, we’re pretty picky about which movies we go see in theaters (usually only 1 or 2 a year) and use RedBox and use our library cards to rent movies.

    • Kaori says...

      Also, doing this as a team with your spouse is super important! And we have a “pocket money” category where we each get a little spending money each month to put towards the things we *want* that we didn’t budget for/wouldn’t agree are necessary (for me it pads my clothing/makeup budget or nice running shoes… for my husband it’s hunting or fishing gear). This is really nice and helps us avoid conflicts over whether a shirt from Anthro or a salmon fishing rod make sense to both of us when budgeting :)

    • We use EveryDollar as well and love it. Mint didn’t work for us at all…its categories were limited and you can’t create your own. As self-employed people, a lot of the cookie-cutter categories just don’t apply, plus we don’t get monthly paychecks like most people, since we’re paid a downpayment upfront and then for the rest of a project upon its completion, and Mint didn’t allow for flexibility in that department either. EveryDollar is great, and we have been followers of Dave Ramsey’s budgeting/financial wisdom for years so it made sense to also use his app. I know, he’s a conservative Christian guy (and we are neither of those things), but he is VERY smart and his philosophies about money management have really helped our family.

  81. Cynthia says...

    A library card is a must. I am able through the Overdrive app to download e-books from my library, which is a big help, because I can check out a book at any time of the day or night. As others have said, public libraries have all sorts of free programs for everyone. Also examine your cell phone bill. We switched carriers which saves us $44 a month. When your internet is up for renewal, speak with a live person, who can work out a deal you might not find on line. Save eating out for special occasions. If you must eat out, order only water to drink. Bring your lunch from home to work. It keeps leftovers in check and saves a bunch. When you get paid, always pay yourself first. Everyone needs an emergency fund. Think of spending in terms of needs, not wants. Try not to pay full price for anything unless you’ve watched prices for awhile and it appears what you need may not go on sale. Learn to sew, do crafts, make things which will save you money and allow you to make unique gifts for holidays, birthdays, and special occasions. Cook from scratch-big savings. Get a crock pot which is a big help for working families. Cook enough for 2 meals. Eat meal A one night, meal B the next, and back to meal A. Make enough spaghetti sauce for a few meals and freeze it. Buy a freezer. Even if you live in a small space, you can buy a small chest freezer. Toss a tablecloth over it to hide it. Do not compare your financial situation to anyone else’s. Every one is different. Being debt-free is the best feeling of all. No material goods can replace that feeling.

    • Justine says...

      This comment rules! Couldn’t agree more with so many of these points. I love how economical you were with words too ;)

    • Jenna says...

      If you thought the Overdrive app was awesome – there is an updated app of Overdrive called Libby. Same basic principle but so much more seamless in application.

    • Tonia says...

      Yes to all of this!!!! <3

    • edie says...

      Yes! Love my local library. Another note: libraries will take suggestions for new purchases. I’ve requested hundreds of books and movies over the past five years and they’ve purchased almost every single one. It’s free to me AND benefits the whole community because EVERYONE needs to see Wonderfalls :)

  82. Yin says...

    I know this is a budgeting article but I’m loving your outfit. Where did you get the buttonup jumpsuit. I love jumpsuits but it’s tough for breastfeeding and I’m loving the buttons on the one you’re wearing.

  83. Sara says...

    To make a budget I find it’s easiest to spend 3-6 months just tracking where you’re spending money without changing anything. That gives you a lot to work with and you can start making small tweaks that stick instead of heading right into a strict budget!

    Another note – it’s sooo easy to spend more when you make more. I’ve caught myself doing it esp at the grocery store. Any advice?

    • Leslie says...

      I use an online grocery shopping service. I order from my list and since I don’t go in the store there are no impulse buys. It also lists comparable options that are less expensive than the ones I may have been looking at. The service has given me a free month trial and after it will be $5 – probably less than I would have spent on impulse buys!

    • Cynthia says...

      Make a list when you shop. Of course, sometimes you find a great bargain that’s not on your list, and you should definitely get it.

    • Sara says...

      I love food and can totally overspend at the grocery store. I have started in the last 6 months meal planning the heck out of the week and try hard to shop only once a week. We are learning it’s okay when the fridge empties out at the end of the week.
      We have a strict weekly grocery budget and my wife and I nerd out about sticking to it. We have cut out $400-500 a month (family of four) by meal planning carefully and shopping only once. It feels amazing. We also loosely use the amazing cookbook “ A New Way to Dinner” to get new ideas for meal planning.

    • Eunice says...

      Don’t go grocery shopping when you’re hungry? Everything looks so appealing when you’re hungry!

  84. Stephanie says...

    We do have a budget! We DIY’d it and made a really simple income v expenses tracker when we moved in and started sharing money – we’ve built upon it over the years. Now we’ve added year over year pie charts and my husband does a quarterly checkup ? ?

  85. Rachel says...

    I’m a librarian and would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that your library card may also give you free access to your favorite magazine subscriptions either in print or online, downloadable or streaming music, and streaming movies. You can save big bucks when you use factor the library into your entertainment budget. Plus it’s free entertainment for the kids when you visit story times or programs. I’m sure a friendly librarian would love to tell you what’s good in NYC.

    • Sharon says...

      thank you! great tip!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh wow, that’s a really great tip!! thanks, rachel.

    • Ling says...

      My library offers that, plus access to Lynda.com for learning and hoopladigital.com for movies/tv/music/graphic novels/audiobooks as well :)

    • T says...

      Also, I used to worry that if I didn’t buy books then the authors wouldn’t get paid. But then I illustrated a book and in Australia at least the libraries pay royalties to me once a year, which, for me at least, exceeds what I’ve sold elsewhere.

    • Myfanwy says...

      Libraries are also great on holiday! We were in Florida last July and we visited the local libraries twice a week. They were out of the heat and they had great story time and singalong programmes. It’s worth checking out what’s on.

  86. Poehlman says...

    Do you know if you are able to use for two people (household) I always find it hard when it only allows for one person.

    Thanka

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes, you are!

  87. Lisette says...

    I LOVE YNAB. I honestly couldn’t fathom spending $80ish dollars on something I could do myself on a spreadsheet. Of course, I changed my ways and I love it. Such a great tool

  88. Gianna says...

    Is the affiliate link missing from the post? I’m not seeing it.
    thanks!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      gianna, if you go to this dedicated Cup of Jo link, you can get the free two-week trial: http://9nl.es/lsq2

      hope that helps!! xoxo

    • Bailey says...

      Gianna, do you use an ad blocker? With my ad block on, all mentions of YNAB disappeared. I’ve never seen that happen before! So in the first paragraph, it reads: “So, with help from the widely beloved , I made some changes, and it felt really good…” I was so confused at first. Disabling ad block fixed it.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      we changed the link so it should appear now! let me know if it works! xoxo

    • Capucine says...

      Better, even – I clicked and it’s a free two MONTH trial!

  89. Ana says...

    Packing my lunch has been a game-changer!! I also pack a lot of snacks as well. I’m a medical student and with the long hours of studying I was buying a lot of study snacks which would add $5-7 to what I was already spending :/ Basically I try my best to eat at least two meals at home (or from home) if not all three!

    Thank you for always having such awesome posts. I get so many ideas from you guys and other readers :)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      YES!!!!!! food can be such a money suck, if you’re not careful, i agree — and a great way to save money, when you are focusing on it!

      lately, i’ve been getting a cheese/tomato/lettuce sandwich from the deli near our office (they’re SO much better than the ones i make) for $4. they’re really big, so half is enough for lunch. so that’s a $2 lunch every day. saves so much money right there!

  90. Sarah says...

    Eggs for dinner is huge! We have them with black beans that we cook up every few weeks and freeze in batches. Really good with a ripe avocado if one is ready and hot sauce!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      YUM!!!

    • SarahE says...

      Lol I had this exact meal for lunch today! It’s one of my favorites! I’m also Sarah… :)

  91. Katie Schultz says...

    My husband and I have been using YNAB for over 2 years and have saved enough for a down payment for a house and put a ton into retirement. It also allowed us the freedom, when my husband lost his job last month, not to panic because we had saved enough for this type of event. Can’t recommend it enough :)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      congratulations, katie! that is really wonderful.

  92. Katie says...

    My husband and I have been using YNAB for over 2 years and saved enough to put a down payment on a house and a ton into retirement. I can’t recommend it enough :)

  93. Ana says...

    Packing my own lunch has been a game-changer in terms of health and finances!! I try to pack as many snacks as I can too, since those add up for me. I’m a medical student and with all this studying I would keep buying little snacks and end up spending an extra $5-7 per day. I just try my best to eat two meals a day at home, if not all of them!

  94. Jham says...

    YESSSS!!! I downloaded YNAB after reading all the comments on a post you did back in April/May? It has been a GAME CHANGER! For the first time in my life I actually feel like I am totally in control of my finances and not the other way around. The subreddit forum for YNAB is incredible and has been such a great resource.
    For anyone considering it, just do it!! I am a 32 yo, single woman with no debt who thought everything was totally fine with my finances, but YNAB has been so eye opening and makes me feel so confident ! I am so excited about seeing the differences in my life a year from now, with this new found financial confidence and freedom.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes!!! jham, so glad to hear that! i couldn’t believe the comment threads on that past Cup of Jo post — they were so compelling! it’s incredible to hear how much this app has changed people’s finances and lives.

  95. Anne says...

    Yay I love YNAB!!!

    Our big issue right now is eating out! We love going out for dinner together, and it is ASTONISHING how much we can spend at restaurants. When I looked at YNAB, I realized that we might go out for 2-3 nice dinners in a month, but we were spending at least that much on breakfasts and lunches on the go. So now I’m challenging myself to pack lunch every single day. If it means I can go out to dinner 4 times instead of 2, it’s worth it to me.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      what a great point, anne. going to try the same now.

  96. Alexia says...

    Does anyone have an budget tips for college students? I am in a financially privileged position because of my parents help (I get an allowance, no student loans, and some money for grad school—I know I am very fortunate). I feel like I should leverage my lack of kids and financial responsibilities but have minimal idea how to. I have a decent chunk saved but always struggle to set savings goals and stuff because I’m not very motivated. I could definitely save a lot more, especially from my job, since I spend a fair amount on clothes and fun things. Any ideas?

    • elinor says...

      I graduated college last month, and I’ve thought a lot of how to be financially responsible in college!! One tip I have is to treat your allowance as your paycheck. If your allowance was your paycheck, how much of it (I find it useful to think in percentages) would you be willing to spend on clothes/food/fun things and how much of it would you save for rent/groceries/transportation/emergencies? Like maybe budget 30% for rent, 15% for groceries, 15% for transportation costs, 10% for emergencies, and 30% for incidentals (including clothes and other fun stuff). Then, just put the budgeted money for the things you don’t have to pay for (like maybe rent and groceries if that cost is included in your tuition) into savings every month. Just a suggestion from someone who has thought a lot about how to save in college:)

    • Samantha says...

      Try the Digit app! It takes small amounts of money for your checking account that you probably won’t notice and stashes it away for you. You can set goals for certain things, like ‘vacation’ or ‘car payoff’. And the main savings ‘account’ they have is called your Rainy Day Fund. I LOVE LOVE this app, I’ve been using it for over two years and have saved close to $2,000 with it.
      Acorns is another great one, which takes the round-up from a purchase and invests it (So, if you buy a coffee for $2.75, it invests $.25) I’ve invested $560 with this app!

    • Lisa says...

      1) You can use YNAB for one year for free as a student, so if budgeting helps you save I would go for it.
      2) I’d also recommend maxing out a Roth IRA since you have a part-time job. You can set those transfers automatically and really easily ($466 a month to a Vanguard target date fund, for example) and it will make a huge difference if you start now.
      3) Set aside monthly savings deductions (and since you say you aren’t motivated, I would recommend automating it) and put them in an account that is more difficult to access, like a high interest savings account at a bank that is different from where you do your checking, or, when you have a decent amount, build a CD ladder.
      I didn’t have an allowance and so forth, but I started saving in high school when I didn’t have living expenses and was able to travel internationally a lot in my 20s and have most of a downpayment already put away by my 30s, despite being in a PhD program. You’re already in a great position – keep that momentum rolling.

  97. anne says...

    Just commenting to give you a friendly head’s up that this post has a few editing errors- in a few paragraphs you left out the name of the app:
    ie in the first paragraph: “So, with help from the widely beloved [insert name of app here], I made some changes, and it felt really good…”

    A few other spots throughout the post are missing this too, and at the very end there is no link or name of the app. Also the last paragraph “Cup of Jo readers have raved about [insert name of app] in the comments,”
    And the very last line mentioning the sponsored post.

    You don’t have to approve this comment, I’m just writing as a long-time fan and follower of COJ and wanted to be a friend and let y’all know! xoxo

    • Vero says...

      This reminds me of when I handed in my first history essay in my undergrad. As a lifelong procrastinator, I cut it too close and didn’t have enough time to edit or even give it a final once-over before I handed it in. Imagine my mortification when I recieved the essay back and the TA had put a big question mark next to my sentence which read, “Blah blah blah *insert reference here*.

      Bloggers: they’re just like us :)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      hahahha! but for real, the link is in there — trying to figure out with our developer why it’s not showing up on some computers. :)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh, that’s so odd! it is actually in there, and we’ve checked on multiple computers/browsers — i’m not sure why it’s not showing up on your computer! maybe it’s blocked at work? here’s the link if it’s helpful: http://9nl.es/lsq2

      and, in case it wasn’t showing up, this post is all about You Need a Budget! :)

      thanks so much, anne.

    • Bailey says...

      On my computer, this was caused by ad blocking software. Disabling ad block fixed it.

  98. anne says...

    Just commenting to give you a friendly head’s up that this post has a few editing errors- in a few paragraphs you left out the name of the app:
    ie in the first paragraph: “So, with help from the widely beloved [insert name of app here], I made some changes, and it felt really good…”

    A few other spots throughout the post are missing this too, and at the very end there is no link or name of the app.

    You don’t have to approve this comment, I’m just writing as a long-time fan and follower of COJ and wanted to be a friend and let y’all know! xoxo

  99. Ellen says...

    Our spending was getting a bit out of control, so in January, my husband set up a spreadsheet with every single expense . It was painful at first, but we made a ton of painless cuts…subscriptions we weren’t using, changing cell phone providers, being smarter about groceries, and shopping around for better insurance rates. We refinanced our mortgage & equity line (which was full of overages from our gut-job remodel) so that we are paying a bit less (and can still write it all off). We’ve cut WAY back on groceries & eating out, and yes, we too are eating a lot of eggs! Now we can enjoy fancier meals out, albeit less often, and we now have the budget to add back in Blue Apron if we decide to do that. We have a baby on the way, so that means another college fund and I would love for my preschool age daughter to stay on for kindergarten at the nature preserve before transitioning to public school. We might even have enough for a second vacation in the fall. These goals seem worth some short term austerity, although I can’t say I really feel like I’m giving up very much.

    At the end of each month, he prints out another spreadsheet. Some months we are a bit over, some a bit under…but thats ok…for us its more about being mindful of what we are doing and being responsible with what we have. I feel good knowing our net worth is growing each month and that our future will be secure.

  100. McNeill says...

    Hi CoJ team! I think you meant to reference/link to YNAB in the first paragraph (“the widely beloved ___,”) and left it out…

    I was reading the post and hoping it was about YNAB, because I use it and think it is absolutely the best! It’s more hands-on than Mint or Learnvest, which in my case means I actually use it.

    There is a learning curve, and it probably took a few months of use to feel like I really understood how it handles certain elements, but it is totally worth it. My husband hasn’t spent as much time with YNAB, so he still finds himself frustrated by it at times, but being on equal footing with our finances is really important to us.

    The system we’ve worked out is to keep a Google Sheet with our standard budget amounts, divided by pay period, so that we know where our money should go when it comes into the account. I spend a few minutes distributing it from “To Be Budgeted” into the various categories every time we’re paid (giving every dollar a job, as they put it), and at the end of the month make adjustments if we’ve overspent in any category (covering it with another category where we underspent). We’ve made several changes to that standard budget sheet (for example, after realizing that we consistently spend 20% more on groceries than we thought), and will continue to adjust as we need to. It’s a helpful starting place, but not a rule.

    Since using YNAB we’ve made some other positive changes…because our standard budget is set up based on two pay periods per month, and we’re both paid biweekly, there are a few “extra” paychecks per year (there are three in June, for example), which go straight into our investment accounts (in addition to what we’ve budgeted monthly for retirement). Performance bonuses also go into our investments, less 10% that we keep as fun money.

    We also found enough extra money in our budget to put a small amount per month into a (future) small business category for each of us. There are no particular rules attached, and I’m using mine to explore a few ideas I’ve been mulling over–buying some small pieces of equipment, setting up a website, a Lynda.com subscription, etc. It’s allowing me to explore possibilities for a side hustle in a low-pressure way.

    Love YNAB!!

  101. Sarah Tippins says...

    We use YNAB and it really helps keep us on our budget. As a fellow magazine lover, I have a great tip to save on your subscriptions. Have you ever heard of Texture? It’s a magazine app for your ipad and was/ is a huge budget saver! The app has literally 100s of magazines available (including Bon Appetit!) and you pay less then $10 a month. I has saved me a ton of money over the last couple of years and really helps keep those, standing in the grocery store line, impulse buys in check!

    • Alicia Zach says...

      Check to see if you library has Zinio – you can possibly save that $10 a month and still have access to your magazines through an app. Show your library some love – digital hits count! (full disclosure, I’m a librarian :) )

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thank you so much for these tips!!

  102. Anna J Kohl says...

    My husband and I have been a one-income (mine) family with kids for 5 years, so having and using a budget was essential – things got really out of control without it, because the margins were so thin. We didn’t have any dollars to spend on date nights out, so we made a ritual of Sunday night budget-review-and-wine dates after the kids were in bed. Sharing a bottle of $10 wine made the $$ conversation (almost) enjoyable, and helped keep us on track. We’re now a two income family (hooray for savings!) and still have this weekly ritual for both its functionality and its “romance.”

  103. Glenda says...

    Always have a budget and stick to it. If I can’t pay cash/debit then it’s not important… it can wait.

  104. Meg says...

    For a future post, I would love a look at how different couples handle finances. My husband and I keep our money separate, and while it has its advantages, it also has proven a road block to having ‘state of the union’ type of conversations that I long to have (he also has children, so that’s part of it as well). It could be like the ‘do you sleep separately’ post but with personal finance instead. :)

    • Olivia says...

      Completely 2nd this post idea! I’m getting married soon-ish and still very undecided on how we’ll combine (or not combine) finances.

    • laura says...

      YES YES YES. I would love this as a person just about to start having these conversations with my partner (we’re moving in soon, eep!). And I would love to see a thoughtful CoJ take on it.

    • Ana O says...

      Yes! I would love to read this!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      we would LOVE to write about this — thanks for the idea/request.

    • Sam says...

      My husband and I have separate checking accounts but one budget. With a house, a kid and two dogs, we have a lot of shared expenses. He makes more than I do so he covers larger expenses like mortgage (and his student loans); I cover daycare costs. I also put more of my paycheck into joint savings account. It took some trial and error but we found what worked best for us.

      I have friends that are completely separate and send money back and forth to each other for shared expenses, which seems like a headache to me but works for them!

    • Jess says...

      We have one joint account that we use for household expenses, meals out, groceries, etc, but then we each have separate spending accounts that the other doesn’t have access to — we use those for personal purchases (clothes, mostly) and gifts for each other. It was a good solution for us because I’m a saver/money-hoarder and my wife is a fritter-er. This let us both embrace those tendencies without the other’s judgment/frustration/etc. The spending accounts get a weekly transfer of a set amount from the main account every other week.

    • Michelle says...

      Would be a very interesting post! I know that having separate finances is very common, but it seems like such a hassle to me. My husband and I have completely combined our finances since we were engaged. We’ve both made some big moves and life changes for one another (he quit his job to move halfway around the world with me, not knowing when he could find another one), and I think it would be harder to have the trust necessary to do so if we didn’t have combined finances.

    • Emily says...

      Ooh something like “Emily’s Finance Uniform”! :)

    • Jeannie Rodriguez says...

      We have a joint account and then separate individual accounts. All of our money goes into the joint and from that account we pay the mortgage, utilities, savings, groceries, etc. We also have a set amount automatically transferred from that account to our individual accounts each week (I love that it’s every week!)… that’s our individual money (the “no questions asked” money :)) to buy clothes, gifts for each other, haircuts, etc.

      I love this system – we’re building savings together, our bills are paid and we each have our own money to do with whatever we want!

  105. Michelle says...

    I agree on the surprising amount of money we spend in supermarkets and restaurants. Sometimes takeout wins, but one tweak I make is that I never buy a drink, I always have lemon water or iced tea at the ready. Saving $2-$4 with each meal is a surprising amount of savings calculated over the year.

    Saving is equally important as how you spend. The best budgetary expenditures for me are sneakers (exercise and free transportation), dental floss and toothpaste. I was shocked to learn how much some of my friends with dental insurance paid for major dental work. Floss and brush 2x per day, save thousands!

    • Surprisingly – I learned that a lot of luck with dental health can be genetic. My husband meticulously flosses after every meal and brushes the full two minutes, etc. and he’s had to have thousands in dental work.

      I don’t do any of those things and I barely have dental issues….

      This law is in my favor, so I’m definitely not complying ;-)

  106. Molly says...

    There’s a good introduction to the YNAB philosophy in this blog post: https://www.youneedabudget.com/the-new-rules/
    If you’re wanting to really understand how YNAB works, I wouldn’t skip the short (8-min) video embedded at the end.

    • Andrea says...

      Yes, I *love* YNAB, but it is a bit of a learning curve. You really do have to do things their way if you don’t want to have some very confusing balance discrepancies. The free classes were useful for me. I took the intro one, and a few on topics that were relevant to me. I also email support whenever something strange happens and they’ve always been able to get it straightened out for me. The classes also have a Q&A session at the end so you can get some real time tech support.

  107. Caitlin says...

    Ummm….speaking of budgets… where is your jumpsuit from!? Gorge!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thank you! it’s from ozma of california.

  108. Molly says...

    Hi CoJ team – I’m super interested in the trial of YNAB, but I think the code might have fallen off before publishing or I’m having an error seeing it. Can you share the free trial code? Thank you! Love reading about budgets here, one of the many taboo subjects that I appreciate you all bringing up with such grace.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thanks for your note, molly! you can get the trial just by clicking the link (you don’t have to enter a code): http://9nl.es/lsq2

    • Lola says...

      Love YNAB! The link doesn’t seem to be there….where am I missing it?

    • Anna says...

      I’m also not seeing a link?

    • clem says...

      It doesn’t work for me either! :)
      and I definitely need help, money is really tight!

    • Heather says...

      Yeah, I’m not seeing a link either.

  109. Traci says...

    I have so much love for YNAB! We’re a modest one income family, so knowing where our money goes is imperative.
    I like that it auto-imports transactions from my checking and savings accounts, so if I forget to log something, YNAB doesn’t forget it. I love that it is so simple to move money from one group to another, so if we decide to buy fewer groceries and eat out more, we just quickly move money. It is THE BEST that my spouse and I each have the app on our phones, so there is so little need for us to remind one another about what we’ve spent and what is left.
    I won’t ever be without YNAB again!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes! it’s so easy to use.

  110. Kristen says...

    I NEED this! I did start using DigIt, and I really love it. It helps me be more mindful when I have to see the total in my account change from day to day, and I like that it incrementally saves money for various goals. I have one for “Rainy Day” – aka my vacation or really expensive shoes fun money treat yo self money, “Credit Card” – which is the extra money I empty at the end of the month to help me pay down debt I racked up when I made no money and lived in a big city, and “Emergency Fund” – which I hope I never need.

    I know that some people have said “why don’t you just do this yourself and earn interest in the bank,” but out of sight, out of mind works better for me, and this has allowed me to to save much more in a short period than I would if I had to do it myself.

    • Samantha says...

      YES!!!! I LOVE DIGIT! Even though it doesn’t have interest…it’s exactly like you said, out of sight, out of mind. I don’t even notice the money leaving my checking account. And now they have the low balance protection, so if your account dips below a certain amount (that you set), Digit will automatically transfer funds to bring you back up to that level.

  111. My husband and I talk about our finances about once a quarter. We call it the State of the Union- talking about our finances really does clarify the state of our union! It can be a hard conversation (money talks can be!) but so necessary because it shows us what we’ve been spending too much on, and what really matters. It’s also a good time to remind ourselves what we value and what our long-term goals are. I’ve been eyeing a West Elm couch for a LONG time, and we’re about to buy it next month. All of those finance talks and budgeting are about to pay off!

    • M says...

      Yes! We have Team Meetings to review both how we’re spending our money and our time (vacation days) and what our goals are for both throughout the year. Goal setting is so important… people say communication is key, but I think the real truth is communicating expectations is key.

  112. Kim says...

    Wine walks = genius!

    • Traci says...

      I’m so glad I wasn’t the only one who was excited by the wine walks idea!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      we should have a group CoJ one! :)

  113. Brigid says...

    I was one month into my three-month YNAB trial when Stella posted her “The #1 Thing I Did for My Finances” article. I was having SUCH a hard time connecting the dots with YNAB after using Mint for years and was ready to give up on my trial, but after I commented on the post and saw the floods of encouraging comments to keep at it, I did just that. Two months later and I am full-on obsessed. My trial ends in a couple of days and I’ve already paid my annual membership for the coming year. LOVE YNAB!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      so glad to hear that, brigid! i couldn’t believe how many readers raved about YNAB in that comment section, too.

    • Sonja says...

      We use Mint and it’s kind of great and kind of awful. How do they compare – I’m SO curious?!

    • Anne says...

      Sonja – if I remember right, Mint has you follow the same budget every month, with no way to recover if you overspend. YNAB is a lot more flexible about budget-making. For example, we have a ton of birthdays in July, so our gift-giving budget is much bigger that month than other months. Then if we spend more than we plan to on gifts, I take a little money away from our dining-out budget to compensate.

      I think that Mint does better with ‘net worth’ type uses, like keeping track of investment accounts.

      Personally I love YNAB!!

    • Cait says...

      We tried Mint once and after setting it up I couldn’t even bring myself to use it because it frustrated me so much that I couldn’t carry over money month to month, organize how I wanted to, etc. I was so excited to read about YNAB in those comments. I just talked to my husband about getting started soon earlier this week, so talk about good timing!

    • Sonja says...

      Thanks, folks! Can’t wait to dive in!

  114. Mary says...

    FWIW, the Daily Budget App operates similarly (I think)- and its made a world of a difference for me as someone in my 20s! Its a lot more effort in the sense that you have to manually input every purchase, but I like that because it makes me think about what I spend a lot more.

  115. Tiffany L says...

    This is my favorite app! I also downloaded “Daily Budget” which breaks down how much you can spend daily (it takes your income then subtracts fixed expenses like rent/mortgage, utilities, etc). From there, you record expenses like coffee, sushi out with friends, gas, Lyft, etc. It made me see my flexible income very differently!

  116. Jess says...

    Yes!!

    We’ve used YNAB for over four years now, and I’m not exaggerating when I say it has transformed our lives. I know, I sound like a commercial, but honestly? We’ve paid off credit card debt, paid cash for IVF treatments & a cross-country move, bought homes, sold homes, and I now stay at home with our baby boy, all thanks to the clarity YNAB brings to our finances. It’s such a powerful tool if you use it. Check out the YNAB group on Facebook, there are so many supportive people there who can help if you’re new. YNAB is the best!

    • Zoe says...

      Jess, which group is this? I just joined YNAB via this post and started playing around in it and feel like I already need help (haha!) I noticed they have a Fans group and a Support group. Which one is it?

    • Molly says...

      Zoe, I’ve gotten tons of education as well as direct help in the fans FB group. Though the software is indeed easy to use, it can take some time to adjust your mindset if you’re used to thinking about budgeting as forecasting. But there are tons of other supports—a blog, many videos, interactive 20-min classes… Hang in there if the going seems slow!

  117. I don’t have a budget, exactly, but I have serious saving goals. I mostly live by the Warren Buffett quote “Don’t save what is left after spending; spend what is left after saving.” I save, save, save, invest, pay my bills, and then the rest is for fun! I can’t keep up with a strict budget because my expenses change so much month to month, so this kind of reverse budget works best for me.

    • Ryan says...

      It’s kind of funny because that’s actually how YNAB works. You take the money that you actually have (not that you expect to earn) and put it toward your bills and expenses. You can put some aside for next month’s bills if you need to or into your savings categories and then what is left can be for “fun” spending.

  118. Alli says...

    I don’t have a budget, but it’s something that my husband and I talk about once every few months.

    The biggest challenge for us is that we’re BOTH freelancers/sole proprietors, and some months our income is in the 10’s of thousands of dollars, and some months it’s in the single thousand dollars. It’s quite unpredictable and really swings. I know the advice – figure out your average income and “pay” yourself bi-weekly, just as you would if you have a steady paycheck. Somehow I can’t wrap my head around opening ANOTHER bank account to do this, and transferring $$ back and forth just seems like a pain. Am I overexaggerating how annoying that is? What do other freelancers or sole proprietors do?

    • MA says...

      My partner and I do have separate bank accounts and are constantly moving money around – both through automatic transfers and manually (e.g., at times when my credit card bill is a BIT larger than expected). It’s a pain sometimes, but it’s so easy to do and makes you stay on top of this stuff.
      Not to pat ourselves on the back too much, but one smart move we did was to set up an auto-transfer of $200/month to a separate savings account for travel planning. It’s been fantastic when the time comes to fork out money for plane tickets to see family or take a real “vacation” (i.e., NOT a trip to see family :).

    • Caitlyn says...

      HUGE YNAB fan here (totally changed my life, not even kidding), but chiming in as a dual freelance/business owner couple, too.

      The thing I do is I create separate budgets (in, well, YNAB) and I track how much each entity spends each month — after you do this for about three months, you can figure out how much an average month is. (Yay reports.) THEN you start writing paychecks to yourself out of the business — yes, physical checks. Transfer the payroll/estimated taxes to an online savings account (that compounds interest daily, as this will move relatively frequently, whether you are doing estimated payments or payroll) and take the expense of the paycheck out of the business and put it into your personal.

      It sounds like a lot and it’s more annoying than it should be, but I am not kidding, we have increased our income just by making this switch. You have to treat them as separate entities — because they are.

    • Andrea says...

      O My Dollar had a recent episode on how to budget as a freelancer. She also has her budgets going back years online, I believe.

    • kelly says...

      My husband and i used to work for ourselves and I did what caitlyn recommends. I set up an actual corporation (good for liability and tax purposes in some cases) and a corporate bank account and used Quickbooks to set up a payroll for the 2 of us – the bare minimum I figured out that we needed. then i could pay us ‘bonuses’ or ‘commissions’ as needed.

      it wasn’t that hard to set up and quickbooks makes payroll really easy, so not all that annoying. prob the hardest thing was opening the corporate account.

    • I’m a business owner also and have pretty varied/unpredictable income and have HUGELY benefitted from YNAB. I don’t pay myself a bi-weekly income. What I do is set aside a percentage of each payment that comes in, the same percentage no matter the amount that I get: a certain percentage for my personal income, a percentage set aside for taxes, a percentage for the operating costs of my business and a small percentage for profit (from the book below). Then with my personal income, I allocate money in YNAB to my immediate obligations first (rent, groceries, etc.), then to my “true expenses” (clothing, health insurance, retirement savings), then to my fun money (entertainment, coffee shops, eating out). If I have a surplus of income, then I allocate it for the expenses in the upcoming month so I know that everything coming up is covered. So instead of paying yourself a certain amount, you could consider just allocating the income to future expenses and savings. It makes more sense when you’re in YNAB and can see it.

      There’s this awesome, super-easy-to-read book called Profit First that helps with the idea of percentages (HIGHLY recommend), and they do it by moving money between bank accounts twice a month, but you could do it entirely in YNAB if you wanted because it’s the same idea. Anyway, it is totally doable to budget and have variable incomes, and a HUGE peace of mind.

  119. Nicola says...

    1. I wonder how it compares to Mint which is supposed to do things similarly for free. Anyone used both?

    2. Every few months, I log into all my accounts: banks, investments, credit cards, student loans, mortgage, etc and tally the debts and savings and re-adjust things.

    3. Automatic contributions/savings really help because I will spend what ever I have in my hand. Years ago I opened an ING Orange savings account, now Capital One that allows you to have separate “pots” of money named for specific things.

    • Brigid says...

      I used Mint for a solid two years and made the switch to YNAB a few months ago. Mint was great for tracking what I had spent, but I didn’t find it all that great for planning for the future. YNAB encourages you to save for future expenses and provides a really easy way to do so. I’m really pleased with how much I have been able to tuck away for future REAL expenses (Christmas! Car maintenance!). I will say that all of my Mint history was EXTREMELY helpful in figuring out how much to budget for each category in YNAB. Having all of that data made the transition a lot easier. That said, YNAB is a total mind shift for some reason and it took me a good month to really understand it. Now I’m obsessed!

    • Emily R says...

      I use Mint and have an ING (Capital One) account with lots of small pots. I’ve yet to be convinced to pay for a budgeting tool – but I live by the rule, pay yourself first. Every Friday (I get paid weekly – groan) money goes into all of my pots and then I budget the remainder. Works for me.

    • Kaya says...

      Like Brigid, I also used to use Mint and switched to YNAB. For me, it was like night and day. Mint was fine, but YNAB completely changed my financial life.

      I think the difference for me is that YNAB is more interactive. They encourage you to move your money around in different categories, and the phone app means that I enter in my purchases as I make them and see my budget adjust in real-time.

    • I used Mint for YEARS and as Brigid said, it’s okay in retrospect, but definitely didn’t feel very proactive. YNAB is worth every single penny to me for the clarity and control it gives me over my budget.

      What both you and Emily also mentioned is basically the same premise as YNAB. Capital One 360 allows you to open as many sub-savings accounts as you want for free and you can allocate your funds to different accounts for different categories. If that works for you, then totally stick to it! YNAB will just allow for more fluidity between categories and a little more clarity and control that you can’t always see in bank accounts (like when things haven’t been deducted from your bank accounts but you know it’s happening). So basically, YNAB is like the stepped up version of doing the multiple accounts. It depends on how much financial control you like to have, though I have found the more control I have, the more enjoyable it is (surprisingly! I thought budgeting was going to suck but it’s been great)

    • Andrea says...

      Totally agree, Mint is very basic and allows you to understand where your money is going after it’s spent. YNAB lets you plan, it’s honestly much more of a way of life than a tracking tool.

  120. My husband and I wwnt through some really big financial changes when I was peegnant with our second son. Kids have a way of clarifying your priorities! We buckled down and paid off the remainder of my $35,000 student loans, became a one car family (in sprawling suburban Phoenix), and got rid of our television along with lots of other clutter KonMari style. Being in control of our money, instead of the other way around, is incredibly liberating. In fact, to encourage others we started a podcast where we are totally transparent about our finances called Matrimoney.

  121. San says...

    I’ve been using YNAB for over three years and it’s the best budgeting tool I have found.