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Five Life-Changing Ways to Think About Money

Five Easy Budgeting Tips

Budgeting. Could there be a more humdrum topic? But! Keeping track of money can actually feel liberating and empowering. In partnership with the wonderful You Need a Budget, here are five simple tricks we use to feel good about finances…

Five Easy Budgeting Tips

You’re more than your number.
No matter what numbers are in your life — your credit score, student loans, mortgage, bank balance, etc. If you have debt, it doesn’t say anything about your worth as a PERSON. It can be so easy to get caught up in how your value relates to your numbers. But you are separate from your money. Your financial situation is flexible. (And you have the power to change it.)

Five Easy Budgeting Tips

Keep the larger goal in mind.
Whenever you feel a pang about not ordering the expensive entree at a restaurant or splurging on new jeans, think about your exciting larger goal, like paying off your student loans or putting a down payment on an apartment. It can help put things in perspective and keep you focused on the big picture. To that end, using an easy tool that helps you save toward your goals can be a game-changer.

Five Easy Budgeting Tips

Look away from the screen.
One way to help curb spending (or even just the temptation to browse) is to take a phone break. Scrolling through Instagram, it’s easy to see all the clothes, trips, accessories (not to mention targeted ads) and want those things. Taking a break helps you clear your head and take stock of what you already have.

Five Easy Budgeting Tips

Leave it in your cart.
When shopping online, leave your item in your cart for 24 hours and see if you still want it the next day. Often, with a little bit of space, we find we’re “over it” by then! Impulse averted. Another compelling reason for leaving things in your cart: sometimes, retailers will email a discount offer when items have been left in your cart overnight. So, if you DO decide you want to move ahead, you can save on the original price.

Five Money Tips

Think about the everyday.
Little things you do can really add up, so think about small changes you can make. Pack your work lunch. Skip the take-out coffee. Get books, magazines and movies from your neighborhood library. Make a big pot of soup on Sunday to last throughout the week. Walk instead of taking a cab. These may not feel like big differences, but after time, small changes make a huge impact.

One way to feel good about daily finances is with You Need a Budget. It’s simple and easy to set up — you just enter your regular expenses like your rent or mortgage, utilities, groceries and transportation. There are fun categories, too, like “things I forgot to budget for.”

You Need a Budget teaches you that budgeting isn’t about restricting yourself, it’s about goal setting. Their award-winning method helps you “give each dollar a job,” meaning the money you have right now will automatically start helping you towards a better financial future. With charts to track your progress, it makes being in control of your money feel empowering. It’s also great for partners who are budgeting together, since it keeps all of your information in one place.

Our team uses it, and many Cup of Jo readers have raved about it in the comments. Says Kristina, “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. Their customer service is good, too… I could go on and on.” Zoe adds, “Since my husband and I got married, I would say using YNAB is the single best thing we’ve done for our marriage. 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!”

If you don’t have a budget, now is always the perfect time to start. If you’d like to see what a difference You Need a Budget can make, you can try it for free for 34 days. Setting it up is quick and easy and feels so good once it’s in place! It’s truly life changing.

Do you have a budget? What tips would you add?

(Illustrations by Elizabeth Graeber for Cup of Jo. This post is sponsored by You Need a Budget. Thanks for supporting the brands that help keep Cup of Jo running.)

  1. Charlotte says...

    I love YNAB! I’ve tried every other budgeting tool out there, and YNAB is the only method that works for my brain. I’ve paid off about $2,000 in debt since starting in July simply by being more mindful–I didn’t make major changes to the amounts I was paying, I just paid better attention. In 2020, I will become debt-free with YNAB’s help!

  2. We started using YNAB about a year ago and it’s dramatically reduced the stress around money in our household. My husband and I sit down every 2 weeks (after our biweekly paychecks come in) and go through the line items in our YNAB budget. We give ourselves “allowances” so when we want to buy something for ourselves it doesn’t have to be a discussion or a secret and no one has to feel guilty about spending more than the other person. We also have line items for gifts, charities, concert tickets, etc. in addition to all the regular bills. It takes a couple of cycles to get it started and established but it’s been a lifesaver!

  3. Bridget says...

    How about a post about teaching your kids about money and talking with them about it as well. Growing up it wasn’t something comfortable to talk about and I would love some suggestions from this great community!

  4. Molly says...

    I will forever be indebted to CoJ for bringing YNAB into my life! It has made a huge impact on my finances. Related: I wanted to pop in and see if Ask Paco would be returning to the blog? I found that series super compelling and loved Paco’s approachable…approach. Ha.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes! we hope to do a post with her soon!

  5. This is going to be slightly left-field in a post about budgeting – but I have always had the slightly bonkers philosophy: “You’re never too poor to go on holiday”! Meaning not that you should max out your credit card and skip on rent, but that experiences are so valuable, and don’t cost very much!

    My best friend and I used to get cheap tickets to a sunny destination in Europe, then just live off 50 cent baguettes and cheap wine. Our “holidays” cost peanuts – because we lived on peanuts! They weren’t the stuff of glossy vacation magazines but man, did we have a great time.

    In a (pea)nutshell, budgeting is super important. But all things in moderation, sometimes just roll with the hard times!

    Thanks for your awesome blog!

    • Melissa says...

      Excellent advice! It’s about prioritizing, and experiences should be near the top!

  6. Dana says...

    My husband and I made two huge (for us) financial changes on Jan 1.
    1) No food delivery for the year
    2) No drinking for 6 months
    We are fairly frugal, and kept wondering where our money seemed to be going. After talking it out, we realized a huge amount of our money was going to alcohol and to delivery on those nights when we “didn’t feel like cooking.” I can’t wait to funnel all that money to our savings account. Bonus: we feel so much healthier.

    • rach says...

      yes!! we are doing something similar for January (dry january) not eating out, and it feels SO good!!!

  7. Gemma says...

    100% agree! Started YNAB 6 months ago, and while the set-up was a little intimidating, it has been a lifesaver!

  8. Meg says...

    Long-time YNAB user here. This is a life-changing piece of software/service, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. As I write this, I actually have another tab open to check my YNAB budget! Plus, their social media pages and helpful newsletters are legitimately entertaining.

  9. Jules says...

    While I usually dont read sponsored posts (because I used to sell them and read them in a different way), I actually just signed up for the free trial for this one because of the comments. Me and my husband talk about our spending often and use excel sheets, but I feel like maybe you never know if a new method will work better if youd dont try it? Thanks for the recommendations and hopefully it helps us save for our house!!!

  10. Emma says...

    My husband and I have recently started giving the weekly board meetings a shot, to discuss our finances, chore goals, meal planning, and other grown up things in a more formal setting to keep us accountable. In that meeting, we propose purchases that we’d like to make. If it’s a necessity (new leash for the dog, new phone charger) we’ll approve the purchase. For fun non-essentials, we’re using them as rewards for accomplishing a set goal. For example, if we can stay under this month’s grocery budget, we get to buy a board game we’ve been wanting. When I reach a certain weight loss target, I’ll get to buy a video game I’ve been dying to play. This way, we have extra motivation for working towards our goals AND we curb impulse buys.

  11. Cyndi says...

    Young and newly married, my husband and I had numerous disagreements about money. He was a saver and I was a spender.
    After a particularly epic argument, my husband asked me, “What do you want our money to do for us?”
    I had never thought of money in this way before. Over the years, we slowly incorporated our financial goals into our lives.
    Today, after 38 years and nearing retirement, I’m so glad my husband didn’t give up on our marriage. We’ve had a good life, we’re financially stable and looking forward to spending more time together doing the things that matter to us.
    It all started with one question. “What do you want our money to do for us?”

  12. valentina says...

    so excited to see that you guys are shouting out the amazing ynab! we’ve been using it for about a year, and I fully credit it with the fact that we were able to pay for our entire wedding with cash — despite only having a nine month engagement! love love love ynab.

  13. Jeannie says...

    I feel like trying to get out of debt is a lot like trying to lose weight… some people can read a book or sign up for an app and accomplish their goals, others need to work with a personal trainer or accountability partner.

    I’m lucky, my husband is a money coach and is basically a personal trainer for your money :) A lot of people don’t know that money coaches exist, so that’s something to look into if you need some help sticking to your budget (OR, having a neutral party when talking money with your partner)

  14. Monica says...

    I started using this app in December to prep for full use in January. So far so good. I definitely interact with my budget more than I ever did with my spreadsheet.

  15. Andrea says...

    An app I have used is called “Budget Envelopes” – basically the cash/envelope system but it’s virtual. You make up what your “envelopes” are and the amounts. It doesn’t link to anything so you do have to enter each transaction manually. So basically an accountability tool more than anything. No monthly fee, I believe there is a fee for the initial app purchase.

  16. Laurel says...

    It’s a pretty glib remark to just say “But you are separate from your money. Your financial situation is flexible. (And you have the power to change it.).” While I understand the meaning is to validate our self-worth as separate from our bank account/credit scores/what-have-you, this throwaway remark negates the fact that if you’re suffering from crushing poverty, it’s very hard to see your situation as merely “flexible.”

    • Laurel, it sounds as if your suffering is intense and looks endless. I’ve been there, and remarks can indeed sound glib and hurtful. I think the idea of separating your core self from the crushing poverty might still be useful to you. You are more than the poverty. You are an important person of great value. Sometimes poverty makes it hard to remember this, and I think the article is trying to remind you of how much you are worth as a person. Invaluable!

    • liz says...

      your worth as a person has nothing to do with your bank account/finances. it is so important to understand that!

  17. Haley says...

    I have a little budgeting “tip” that might help some. I created a monthly calendar and I gave myself a sticker for all days where I spend $0 – with ONE exception – GROCERIES (note: I also make exceptions for medical emergencies/needs and gifts, which I consider “unavoidable”).

    I find that if I give myself an unlimited budget at the grocery store, I end up spending less overall for a few reasons:
    1. Cooking at home saves me money – I bring lunch and breakfast to work, and eat dinner at home.
    2. If I spend a lot on groceries, I get sticker shock when I think about ordering lunch or ordering in – so it prevents me further (I can’t bring myself to spend $25 on takeout when I’ve just spent $125 on groceries, for example)
    3. Cooking at home usually takes time. If a friend asks to make plans, I tell them I’m happy to cook for them and that’s usually our plan for the evening.
    4. Because I cook so frequently, I typically end up making mostly easy, basic meals that are often cheaper anyway: pasta with veggies, simple salads, soups that I freeze that end up lasting for a while, etc.

    I’ve also made rules like giving myself a “spending day” or relegating all extra spending to a weekend – just one day where I can online shop, go out to dinner, etc. It works for me! I am very responsive to sticker charts and daily goals :)

    I also highly recommend the suggestion of avoiding tech & social media to help you budget. I’ve gotten really into going to the library lately, and reading keeps me occupied, focused, grounded, entertained, and is completely free.

    • OS says...

      Haley, I love this idea!!

    • Such an amazing idea Haley, love this!

  18. Keeley says...

    For anyone commenting about how pre-programmed tools like YNAB or Mint don’t work for them, I will throw out a recommendation: Tiller!

    Tiller ports all of your financial transactions into a Google Sheet template that you design and makes it so easy to categorize/track expenses in one place.

    I just wanted a simple tool to see my financial life in one place without all the bells and whistles, and Tiller fit the bill. Just giving them a shout out!

    • Sara says...

      Thanks! Gonna give this a try, as YNAB stressed me the f out.

  19. Rosie says...

    I see a lot of couples posting here as if their finances are 100% transparent and joined with their spouse’s. Is that the case for everyone? My wife and I have a joint bank account, a couple savings accounts, and credit card, but we both maintain our own credit card, savings account, and checking account. I put most of my income into the joint account, but that is exclusively used for things the whole family benefits from like bills or for our daughter. When I needed a new car I took the money out of my personal account. When I was buying clothes for a vacation I put my daughter’s on the family credit card and my clothes on my personal card. My wife and I couldn’t agree on how to budget for personal expenses because we prioritize different things so anything non-family is up to the individual. It’s working so far. I can’t imagine having to justify a purchase to her or question anything she did. The only real conversation about money is what to spend on household expenses or our daughter. I had considerably more savings and better credit and I purchased the house on my own before we got married. She paid the mortgage until we broke even and now it comes out of the joint account.

    • Sarah says...

      My husband and I are similar! We have a joint checking and savings and we split shared household expenses 50/50 (mortgage, insurance, water, power, internet, etc). But I make more money than my husband, so things like our vacations or gifts generally come out of my personal savings/checking. It works for us!

    • Eliza says...

      We do it the way you initially described – joined accounts and transparent (with me being the one “in charge” of balancing the budget and bills). Our work fluctuates in terms of who gets paid more – especially when I was on parental leave with my kids for a year (Canadian perk) I made no income – so if I had been relying on my own money, things for myself that I deserved and was working hard for would be non-existent. Out of our combined income we regularly re-evaluate and come to an agreement on a comfortable, even, exact amount that we both take monthly and we have that to save or spend as we see fit individually – we agree that we don’t have to ask or justify how we spend that money.

    • Laura says...

      My husband and I have our accounts joined like Eliza described, for the reasons she also mentioned (fellow Canadian here). We too budget a set amount that we both get to spend each month however we want– he spends his on things I would never justify (fishing, video games, etc), and I spend mine on things he would never justify (manicures, leggings, etc.), but there’s no judgment on the spending of our personal “fun” money. Works well for us!

  20. Tari says...

    I currently use Every Dollar, and I really like it. Does anyone know what the difference(s) are between the apps that makes YNAB worth the cost? I know the cost is pretty negligible, but I’m still curious.

  21. Amy says...

    I tried YNAB, but it didn’t work well for me. IIRC, a lot of this had to do with the fact that, as a freelancer, I get paid in irregular amounts at irregular intervals. It seemed to be based in cycles. And to some extent, I WANTED a monthly budget. I would’ve been happy to expand beyond that, but the inability to even set a monthly budget as a base really frustrated me.

    • Nicole says...

      I completely agree! I’d love To use a budgeting tool/app but as a freelancer with a rollercoaster of a payment cycle, I have yet to find one that works for me.

    • Maggie says...

      Try dollarbird.co – it’s a calendar where you put in incoming/outgoing money on the days you anticipate getting/paying it, and you can easily change the days or balance at any time. It helps you see when there’s extra money you can put away, or when you’re not as flush as you think because you have a big expense in a few weeks.

    • Madi says...

      It’s a different system- I used Every Dollar for a long time & then switched to YNAB & found the transition really difficult. YNAB works off of what is in your account RIGHT NOW, so it’s really hard to budget for the whole month, for example, if you get paid every other week. If you try to do that, it shows overspending because there’s no way to input future income. That’s just one small way that it was hard for me- I never found it intuitive (I tried using it monthly for over two years!)

  22. Nikki says...

    Military Families! FYI: Guess that? They offer another 3 free months after the free month. Hooray! :)

  23. Hailey says...

    YNAB has been amazing for myself and my husband. I’m a financial advisor, and thought I had everything under control with an obsessive multi-tab spreadsheet. He thought he had everything under control with good ol’ pen and paper. We tried YNAB, and found that it was the perfect go-between to help us truly speak the same language and move towards the same financial goals. We are currently an entire year ahead of schedule of paying off debt, and we look forward to budgeting conversations–a far cry from how we used to feel about money together.

    WORTH IT!

  24. Whitney Olson says...

    My spouse and I appreciate YNAB. Not only has it helped my spending habits (if only it would lock you out of your bank account once you had spent your allotted amount), but it’s helped my spouse take risks/adventures with our money because you don’t have to be nervous about spending money when you know exactly how much you have. Because of YNAB we have big trips we are saving for (which calms my patience knowing that trips are happening, but in a way that won’t lead to regret after the money is spent), we are saving for retirement, kiddos college, etc. . . And it takes the worry and unkown out of it all. Plan for life so that you can be impulsive/adventurous! (That contradiction was on purpose)

  25. RLK says...

    I am obsessed with YNAB! It has really changed my whole financial life. As others have mentioned, the learning curve can be steep- it took me several fresh starts to get my budgets set up in the best way for me. But so worth it!

  26. Laura says...

    YNAB has guiding principles that retrain how you “budget.” While Mint has you build out your monthly budget, YNAB directs you to only budget the money you have. So that may mean not being able to budget for all of your bills for the current month at once. YNAB also directs you to give all of your dollars jobs. So everything is assigned to a purpose, whether that is to pay your future credit card bill, your trip next year, someone’s birthday next week, etc. I find YNAB to be a much more active budgeting tool than Mint is. I think the interface is much more engaging as well, providing different colors when you haven’t budgeted enough and pushing you to correct it by moving money around.

  27. Summer says...

    While I’m still cheaping out in spreadsheets, I have to say I’ve only heard amazing things about YNAB. My friend, who was always a spender, seems to really have things together now and credits it to YNAB.

    I also wanted to chime in, because I’m a big fan of #debtfreecommunity on insta. It’s soooo inspiring, esp while scrolling through all those ads!

    • Annie says...

      Totally second you about following #debtfreecommunity ! I have learned so many budgeting tips and increased my will power to not spend from reading these incredible posts!

  28. S says...

    I like the idea of YNAB, but does no one else feel weird about giving a 3rd party app access to all of your banking information? Just me?

    • Kat says...

      You don’t have to link your bank accounts AT ALL in order to use YNAB. I add all of my transactions manually, which helps me reinforce where all of my spending is going.

  29. Lee says...

    I used Mint for years and never saved much money and always went over budget. When I switched to YNAB it was a game changer. I am totally obsessed with YNAB and it has helped me pay off credit card debt, pay off student loans, and save money! I highly recommend this product!

  30. mpb says...

    I’ve been using YNAB for two years next month. My husband and I do not fight about money anymore. Y’all- that’s amazing. All you have to do is use it consistently. I recommend it to all my friends and family and have given subscriptions as gifts!

  31. Elizabeth_K says...

    I love, love, love YNAB — my husband said it has made our marriage so much happier and with much less drama.

  32. Sarah says...

    Too funny–I’m reading this as I update my YNAB!

    I take five minutes every morning to go through our accounts and reconcile our spending. Sometimes, like today, it’s just making sure automated credit card payments go through; sometimes it’s looking at a day of eating out and going “Yeesh, you spent how much on lunch out?” I don’t link my accounts, which makes me a more active participant in my spending. Having been a YNAB-er for more than five years now, I credit the program with getting my now-husband and I in a place where we’ve almost paid off all our student loan debt (around $100K) on fairly modest salaries, while saving to buy our first home and setting aside money for retirement.

    Are we perfect with our money? No. Absolutely not. But YNAB reminds me spending isn’t about perfection and following plans to a T; it’s about making your money work for you and learning to be an active participant in your financial life. I recommend it to everyone. (Full disclosure: I am a tid bit bitter the desktop version no longer works and I have to go to the cloud version, which requires a small monthly fee rather than the one-time purchase of the desktop, but it’s a well-worth it cost in my life.)

  33. Kelsey says...

    If you’re really trying to budget and don’t want to spend any money on a budgeting service, I highly recommend the Every Dollar app. It’s from Dave Ramsey, and it gives every cent you earn a job. It’s helping me stay focused on paying off my mortgage 20 years early — yes, you read that right! Tackling a 30-year mortgage in 10 years! You can also access everything on the Every Dollar website. I highly, highly recommend it!

    • celeste says...

      Thank you! That seems much more my speed!

  34. Sam says...

    The comments here basically have me sold on YNAB.

    A more abstract question: what do you do when you make more money than you need? My partner and I have found ourselves in about that situation. We know we are very fortunate and want to be generous and helpful, but we are mid-disagreement on execution. One of us thinks we ought to just make charitable donations every year. The other thinks we ought to invest that money in order to develop a dividend producer that can sustain donations past our incoming-earning years and even our lives.

    Does anyone have a perspective on this issue?

    • Christina says...

      Team Both! I’m a firm believer in investing in real change now, especially as the world is burning, so I would encourage you to find a cause or two you care about, and budget an annual or monthly donation to those. But investing in your own future and the long-term sustainability of our world is so important, and not many people can do that. I would find a way to budget for both, so maybe it’s smaller current donations and a larger pot for later? Or vice versa, since even small investments can grow to a huge fund over decades. There are lots of solutions, including life insurance policies that can have a charity as the beneficiary.

      I encourage you and your partner to work with a financial planner and/or the staff at your nonprofits of interest to come up with a personalized plan that will maximize benefit (and possibly minimize tax exposure).

    • Christina says...

      Also, what a wonderful person you are, Sam! Thank you for not only being generous, but also thoughtful about how you give.

    • GJ says...

      Keep in mind that many major charities and universities have endowment funds that *they* have professionally invested and use the dividends from to advance their causes. You can always contribute to those. There is no reason you need to be investing the funds yourself and the investment (and gains) will likely stretch further if they are being taxed under their rates and not yours.

    • Abbie says...

      A small thing that I have committed too as our income has grown is individual generosity. Making small contributions to my community ($20 to the kids holding fundraisers for sports/band/scouts,) regular generous tips for my favorite baristas and shipt shoppers, and I hope to be able to contribute more substantially soon to things where a moderate donation goes a long way – the garden club at my kids’ elementary school, paying off layaway bills at Walmart for strangers. Investment in your future, supporting charities that matter, AND all the stuff I’ve mentioned are my personal mission to be a person who does as much good as possible.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i love that, abbie.

    • Caitlin says...

      I love this!

      My parents are in a very fortunate financial position. I got a full merit-based scholarship to college, which they had otherwise planned to pay for. Since my sisters and I have graduated, my parents have made a practice of anonymously paying for someone else’s college tuition every year. They’re currently paying for a former student of mine to earn her teaching degree! It’s something I would love to do some day, if I’m in a position where it’s financially feasible.

    • hortmm says...

      Retirement, investing, and emergency savings!

    • Both options together look great to me! I suggest Kiva, too — microloans all over the world — which help people now, yet also build a sustainable giving fund for the future as loans are repaid.

    • Sam says...

      Thanks everyone!

  35. Agnes says...

    I tried YNAB before and I quit because I was so frustrated with the system. It’s not intuitive at all and quite frankly didn’t have the time (or patience) to sit through hours of videos and tutorials on how to use it properly. Has anyone else had this problem? Should I suck it up? SO many people rave about it.

    • Lauren says...

      SAME! It seemed to get all complicated when I linked my accounts to it initially (which I thought would make it so easy!). It did not seem intuitive and I was frustrated it wouldn’t ever balance. It seemed weird when I linked my credit card and then paid it off because I felt like it wanted me to categorize all my credit card purchases which I was not about, I wanted to just pay it off and call it good…
      However, new year, new me- so I’m trying it again, mostly because so many people have loved it and I really need a budgeting system. I decided to not sync my accounts this time so I can put in my net pay bi-monthly and then track my expenditures daily. I’m hopeful this will help. Based on other commenters it also seems that maybe I should watch some youtube tutorials.
      Too soon to see if I end up liking it but I’m trying to be better at budgeting so here goes round two…

    • Susie says...

      I gave it up too, after realizing I need to link it to a Dropbox, which, while I’m at work, is tied to the same public Dropbox we all use, so everyone at work that paid attention to Dropbox the first morning I used YNAB saw all my transactions downloading. I couldn’t figure out how to decouple it from the office Dropbox, and since I’m SO private about money, I immediately got rid of the app. This was years ago though, so I’m guessing there’s an iPhone app now maybe, that’s easier to use?

    • Brigid says...

      I totally agree that there is a STEEP learning curve, but all of a sudden after about a month of feeling like “what in God’s name am I doing” every time I opened the program, it all started to click. Two years later I could not be happier with the decision to stick with it. I hated it when a friend who used the program said this to me, but here I go repeating it: it’s almost so simple that it’s hard. I found that there was a big focus on creating goals and while I agree with figuring out how much to allocate to each category each month, I don’t like the physical goals feature and I don’t use it.

      I also think their tutorials can be a little gimmicky and don’t really get to the point, but the user guide was helpful to me. I have a draft email ready to go (which I created for and sent to a few friends who have tried the program) if you’d be interested in seeing how I’ve set mine up :)

      I gave them the feedback that I think their trial period should always be at least 2 months because I think so many people give up after a short period of time because it just doesn’t make sense yet. I really believe in this program, but it does take a bit more leg work in the beginning than some others.

    • mpb says...

      I’d try and suck it up. I gave myself 8 weeks to figure it out. I signed up for a few of the online classes and made myself learn it and by the end of the two months it was easy. I’m so glad I did.

    • Ashley says...

      SAME. I did the free month trial run & ended up having some very frustrating issues with long-term planning vs the money i have TODAY. Guess it’s still me and my spreadsheets!

    • Kat says...

      Those of you who have tried it in the past and failed, I encourage you to try again because I was the same way! FYI, the OLD version of the software used Dropbox to sync, but the new version DOES NOT. The new version also handles some things differently, and to me it was SO much more intuitive. I could not wrap my head around the old system (YNAB4) at all, but the new, cloud-based YNAB instantly clicked.

    • Rachel Eash-Scott says...

      YUP i got super frustrated with it as well.

    • JBM says...

      Yes!! Scrolling through these comments to see if anyone else felt similarly! I have tried a few free trials of YNAB and just can never get fully into it/figure it out. I really want to love it but so far it hasn’t been for me.

  36. Hannah Gierosky says...

    Nick True’s videos are for sure what sold me on YNAB! He explains everything so clearly that I felt like I could jump right in as soon as I signed up.

    • Agnes says...

      Thank you for posting about these videos! I looked him and up and I’m going to give YNAB another try because he does explain it SO clearly. Thank you!!

  37. Nancy says...

    I use Mint and have been pretty happy with it. Does anyone know what the difference is between Mint and YNAB?

    • GJ says...

      The difference for me was it felt very reactive instead of proactive. Mint only tracks what you actually spend while YNAB lets you use a digital “envelope system” to decide where you want your money to go. For example, I designate money every month for car insurance “envelope” but I only actually pay it twice a year; Mint would only show I overspent two months and underspent ten months which is not helpful . I also have monthly funds for eating out. If I don’t spend it all, YNAB rolls the balance over to the next month and I can eat at a fancier place.

  38. Sarah says...

    My friends and family are constantly making fun of me, but I check our bank account/credit cards daily and enter all expenses into a categorized spreadsheet. (I’m an accountant, so it comes naturally.) But this 5-10 minutes spent each morning helps me know where we stand, and helps bring peace of mind. We’ve used a budget for years, but only got serious about it about 2 years ago. In that time, we’ve managed to pay off about $15k in debt. Now I create budgets for family and friends for fun! I know, I’m a nerd.

  39. lauren says...

    I absolutely love YNAB and am trying to get all of my friends to use it too. For me, Mint never really clicked but YNAB’s guiding principles of “only budget the money you have” and “give your dollars jobs” made total sense to me. It allowed me to prioritize longer term goals like paying for my wedding and big trips. When J Crew would have an amazing flash sale, I was forced to look at my budget and see that in order to buy something, I’d have to take money away from those bigger goals. suddenly the sweater didn’t seem that important…Also, the interface is pretty nice. It kind of feels like a computer game to me!

  40. Marit says...

    I looooooove YNAB. It helped me mentally be okay with spending money on myself because I budgeted for it. AND our mortgage will be paid off in the next 5 years.

  41. Amy says...

    Love YNAB!!!!!!

  42. Maggie says...

    People who have used YNAB for a while – how much time do you spend on it every day?

    • Marit says...

      User for probably 5 years, I spend 5 minutes a day. Maybe less.

    • laura says...

      hi – i check in on it for about 5 min every morning to input new transactions from my credit card/checking account and to reconcile anything needed. It also helps to remind me of what money I have available to spend in my categories so that I can make better purchasing decisions throughout the day. When it gets close to the end of the month, or I’ve been spending a lot (hello, holiday season), I probably spend about 15-20 min on it making sure all of my money is doing the jobs I want it to do and everything is in place.

    • Karen says...

      We’ve used it for a few years. I spend a few minutes every morning approving transactions. Every time we get paid I spend about 30 minutes budgeting our paychecks. It has really made a huge positive impact on our lives.

    • Christina says...

      I’ve been using it for about 6 weeks. Now that it’s the second month of using it, I spend 5 minutes or less a day. Expenses to same place, like the water company or the grocery store, are tentatively categorized, so they only need quick “approval.” On pay days I’ll spend a little more time on a check in between my husband and I.

    • Anne says...

      I sit down for about 2 hours, once a month, to go through all our accounts and set a budget for the next month.

  43. Amy says...

    In UK, there are ads which offer simple, but good advice: The best day to save is payday. Put aside money for yourself on the day you’re paid, otherwise you might be wondering where it all went.

  44. Bee says...

    It seems like most people using YNAB are living in America, would anyone recommend it for people living in Europe?

    • I live in France, and I found it very difficult, especially because it doesn’t allow to manage the “découvert”, it’s very oriented towards paying off credit card debt – but we do not function that way in France (we just have an authorization to go below 0 on our account, and my YNAB was always red and I never knew how much money I had to spend!) So I paid for two years but abandoned it after 14 months or so, it took me SO much time and energy. I am still looking for a better system though! Ynab is great, but really not adapted for European-style accounts (debit cards).

    • Anna says...

      I’m looking for something similar in Europe too! I’m good at saving (for a down payment, etc.) but would like to channel money towards other purposes, from a book fund to charity donations.

    • Bee says...

      I feel the same as you both! The concept of credit card debt or student debt isn’t a thing here but would love to save more for a house or travel trips and automatically see how much I’m spending on food, going out etc. My friend uses bunq, the online bank where you can have 25 separate ‘accounts’ but I don’t want to pay 8 euros a month for that :/

  45. Jordan says...

    YNAB adds structure and freedom to our lives. My husband and I make a point to talk through the budget each Sunday. We feel in control and that feels good! Love YNAB!

  46. I don’t think even I realize how important it is to put the phone down because I truly think it influences how I feel about my finances and my worth and things. Great tips!

  47. Phoebe says...

    Another YNAB success story over here. It made all the difference in paying off student debt and keeping us accountable to live within our means.

    One word of advice: once you get the hang of it don’t be shy about tweaking the system to suit your personal psychology. Like I prefer to set up YNAB budgets for different accounts rather than roll all accounts into one budget. My mind just prefers having different accounts for different purposes, like one for day-to-day spending and another for big ticket or annual expenses.

  48. K says...

    YNAB has been such an important tool in my marriage! My husband and I have been using YNAB since 2015, and it’s one of the primary ways that we check in with each other about our shared goals and priorities. We used to be spreadsheet people, but we save a ton more money in YNAB for whatever reason. The fee paid for itself in the first month and we never looked back.

    I love so much that CoJ partners with YNAB :)

  49. Nikki says...

    Question for YNAB users- I travel for work (think every week M-Th) and get reimbursed for meals from my company. I still really want to do this because I need to budget. Does anyone else have this and also travel a lot for work? I’m afraid my data will be skewed. (Sidenote, because I go eat out M-Th I rarely on F-Sun when I’m at home)

    • Emily says...

      Hi! I have a few potential solutions if you’re concerned about work expenses reflected in your account.

      First, could you look back and estimate how much $ you spend on such things monthly? Then add in “income” as your typical reimbursement amount and allocate that amount in your monthly “to be reimbursed” category.

      Or, you could simply use the app without actually connecting your account. Since (in theory) you’re reimbursed for all of the work charges, simply don’t factor them into your YNAB plans.

      Do these make sense? Basically, I think there are potential work arounds. There’s a learning curve with YNAB but I’m a big fan and think it’s worth checking out :)

    • Molly says...

      I keep my expenses for work in a category called ‘Float’. It helps me track the spending and reconcile my expense reports for work. Ideally at the end of the month it gets reset to 0.

      I’ve been using YNAB since YNAB 4 way back in the day and am a huge supporter of it. I hope that helps!

    • Kelsey says...

      I do! The easiest thing for me was to create a “to be reimbursed” category where I categorize all my work travel expenses. Then I fund that account from my “To Be Budgeted” (which is where I keep this month’s pay before I divvy it all up for next month’s budget). Once I do my expense report, I put that money back in “To be budgeted”. This has the added benefit of making my expense reports easier because I filter the transactions on that category to see what I need to expense.

    • Anne says...

      It will be a little annoying but not impossible to do this. YNAB doesn’t let you carry a negative balance from month to month, so I put a set amount of cash in one bucket (like $1000) and all of my reimbursable expenses are funded out of that. When I get reimbursed, I ‘pay back’ into this bucket. I do keep a running log to make sure it all balances out. It’s an accounting trick that keeps YNAB happy.

      There are a couple small issues like this with YNAB, but overall I love it and feel so empowered financially.

    • Robyn says...

      I have a category for work reimbursement that I just don’t stress about going negative. Then when I get reimbursed I allocate it to that category (instead of “to be budgeted”)

    • I think the cash account workaround mentioned above would work, but will be a bit annoying. I had work expenses, plus money transfered by various family members for various needs, and at the end it was just one big mess (like my husband transferring me money for our daughter’s language lessons, for which the payment wasn’t due for another 2-3 months, money sent by my father to buy a gift, reimbursements by Social security… every time, you need a workaround!)

    • Nikki says...

      Thank you so much everyone! That did it for me! I signed up.

    • Just want to thank everyone who gave tips on how to handle this!

  50. Grace says...

    Another YNAB disciple here. The learning curve was a little steep for me initially, but Nick True’s YouTube videos helped things click for me. The reports have been so useful to me; the app is worth every penny to me. I thought budgeting would feel restrictive, but YNAB has given me so much peace of mind. I wish I had downloaded it a long time ago. My net worth has gone up by 237% since I started using it 14 months ago.

    • Irene says...

      YNAB is life. Been using it for over two years now. Can I say it’s also helpful if you’re NOT in debt? It’s just the best daily money management tool out there and it typically pays for itself tenfold over in the first year. I will strongly suggest that those of you taking the leap become members of quite possibly the most helpful Facebook group ever (“YNAB fan”). You’ll have many questions at first and they, in conjunction with the outstanding customer service, online YNAB classes, and Nick True videos are indispensable supporters for users. Have fun!!!

    • Thanks Irene, I’ll try joining the group – I had so many questions and needed so many workarounds that I ended up quitting and not using it, while I know that the program in itself is great!

  51. Veronica says...

    Wow I’m so happy to see YNAB partnering with Cup of Jo! It’s the single most important product in my life and the price absolutely pays for itself. It helps us keep our spending in line with our priorities and has made me feel so confident and in control of my money. Love YNAB!

  52. Erin says...

    I started using YNAB seven years ago when my husband went back to school full time. We were living on one income and had no experience budgeting. YNAB has saved us so much $ over the years by helping me clearly see where every dollar is going. Obviously we all have a finite amount of money, but with YNAB it is so easy to see that if you overspend in one category, you’re going to have to pull funds from something else to cover it. You can make your categories as broad or as granular as you want. Something about it just clicks with my brain. I can’t recommend it enough!

  53. Lindsay says...

    Dave Ramsey’s book Total Money Makeover changed my life but honestly without YNAB, I’m not sure I would have been organized enough to do it. I made a little progress using Mint but then I got YNAB and within 3-4 years, I’d saved a 6 month emergency fund, paid off my car, $20K in student loan debt and $4K in other debt. I wish there was a secular version of Dave Ramsey but – keep what works, leave the rest (if you’re not religious).

  54. While I haven’t used the app, the YNAB Debt Stories podcast series of journeys out of debt is so amazing! Made me feel like being totally debt-free is 100% possible.

  55. Erin says...

    We don’t have a set budget but I realized I was spending a crazy amount of money at Target so I dedicated part of a linen closet to hold “extras” of all my frequently purchased items (paper towels, laundry detergent, dish soap, trash bags, dishwasher detergent etc.). This has really saved me from making extra trips & spending an additional $10, $20, $30 each time on cute things that catch my eye while I’m there for actual necessities.

    • Maureen says...

      Dave Rsmsey’s Financial Peace University course and budgeting app totally changed my husband and my finances which seemed hopeless until that point. I would highly recommend looking for a course offered in your zip code!

  56. Jess says...

    YNAB is the best!! We’ve been using it daily since 2014 and it’s such a powerful part of our lives. I could talk about it for ages, and I often do to anyone who will listen 😂 It transformed our finances as a married couple and I can’t imagine life without it. Yup, I nerd out over budgeting software, I’m even more fun in real life haha

  57. KC says...

    I don’t personally use YNAB (being a cheap spreadsheets person), but from the wide and spontaneous readership acclamation in the comments section on every money-ish post, this seems like an extremely positive “sponsorship” matchup and I hope it helps out a lot of people! :-)

  58. Carolyn says...

    Yay! Love YNAB! A couple of years ago my husband and I took a hard look at our finances- consumer debt, student loans and a car loan- and realized if we wanted a second kid in the DC area we’d need to free up that money. Settled on YNAB to help us and paid all of that debt off and are about to finish our fully-funded emergency fund, just in time for baby #2 to arrive. 😁 It really helped me (definitely the spender in our marriage) change my relationship with money.

  59. McNeill says...

    Love YNAB! Also, I occasionally find out that other people in my life use it, and the major mutual nerd-out that follows is super funny. :)

  60. Julie S says...

    I’ve wanted to use this app before, but what keeps stalling me is data. Do they sell my spending data? How do they protect privacy?

    • Elizabeth says...

      This has been our reason for holding back too!

    • Allison says...

      I made a budget using a Google spreadsheet and while it probably doesn’t have the same features, it works fine for my family. Just another option to consider if you don’t want to pay for an app or wonder about your data being mined. There’s lots of free budget spreadsheet templates out there if you don’t feel like designing your own.

    • Julia says...

      SAME!!!!

    • Veronica says...

      I researched this pretty thoroughly before I subscribed years ago. They don’t sell user data! Their privacy policy is actually pretty clear and easy to read; they lay privacy topics out nicely. (Just another personal-info concerned person here!) https://www.youneedabudget.com/privacy-policy/

  61. Melissa Pennise says...

    YNAB has transformed the way our family approaches money. I have NO IDEA how we managed before – we were just flying by the seats of our pants. Now we know where every dollar is going and we’ve set aside a healthy emergency fund this year now that we are more mindful about everyday spending. Can’t recommend YNAB enough.

  62. Sophie says...

    I have seen commenters raving about YNAB on COJ for years. It’s great to see you take the comments to heart and did this post on the app. This is the step I needed to try YNAB.

  63. SaraL says...

    Another satisfied YNAB user here and I agree with the comments in the article that it alleviates so much stress in my relationship. Priceless! (And, yes, the price is easy to find under “Pricing” on the website.)

  64. jane says...

    The most useful tip I have is to deposit to savings the amount I would have spent on something every time I am able to decide I don’t need it. I keep track in a little notebook in my wallet then make myself deposit the balance daily. Those on-sale-for-$80-dress/work-pants-that-I-really-really-like: deposited into savings. That newer-than-the-perfectly-useful-one-I-already-have-$6-sink-strainer: deposited into savings. It’s addictive to see how much you are able to save at the end of each month.

    Also I love the book called All Your Worth by Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Tyagi.

    I would really love to try these apps but just do not want my financials profiled in a data bank somewhere where they will be used to draw a box around my life. I’ve decided to return much of my life to pen and paper and other analog solutions until individual data is protected by legislation and data brokers are finally outlawed, as they should have been from the beginning.

    • Sequoia says...

      I love your savings plan. I’m usually mortified by the amounts I’ve spent on unnecessary things. I’ve already planned to do a trick where I don’t buy an item for 30 days (24 hours is not long enough for my impulses) but now I will add moving thee money I would have spent to our savings! I’m so excited, it’s such a simple thing that I would have never thought of. I’ve realized that money is a skill and not one that comes natural to me so I need all the instruction and practice I can get.

      I also agree with your second point and I hate giving over my information to companies that then use it for other purposes. Ju

    • Julie says...

      I love this idea! I’m not big into huge tracking efforts via app either but this sounds like an easy way to make a change.

    • FGB says...

      Jane, this is brilliant. Thank you for sharing!

    • Bonnie says...

      I’m with you in that. I track our spending in a notebook, separating out many categories that others probably lump together…but I want to know food spending separate from, say, pet food, cleaning products, etc.

      I think it’s helped me, too, to check out frugal or FIRE blogs, like mrmoneymustache…you realize you’re not alone thinking an $80 pair of jeans or a $100 pair of shoes is how the “other half lives” … and MANY are spending much less and are fine. Our goal is financial independence and retiring early and we’re close. So the ability to rein in unnecessary spending gets easier. Brings to mind that saying, you see all that stuff? It used to be money. … and all that money? Used to be time.

    • caroline says...

      A huge second for All Your Worth by Elizabeth Warren!! This book changed my financial life! I love how it talked about the emotional aspect of money and knowing that things are different now then it was for my parents. Also, contrary to budgeting apps which give the illusion that you can save just by budgeting,she goes into making hard life decisions. Because when it comes down to it sometimes, no matter how much you want to save or get into a good financial position, it may not be possible unless you make a big life change like moving, changing jobs, etc.

    • Denise says...

      On January 1st I started logging every miscellaneous expense in a notebook. I know my big picture with mortgage, utilities, insurance, etc., but the “little” things were doing me in. I’ve thought about an app, but I really like writing these down in my notebook. Daresay I get a little excited! And extra excited when I have a “no spend” day. I’m going to create a spreadsheet to log everything at the end of every week, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised on how much I’m enjoying this – and realizing how quickly things add up. I’m much more mindful about expenses already!

    • Kat says...

      I do this as well! Also, if something is on sale I will transfer the difference between the sale price and the full price.

    • I love this idea! I also wanted to chime in with something I do that’s similar: when tempted to purchase something, I ask myself “would I rather have this item (jeans, nail polish, etc) or would I rather have whatever amount of money it costs ($10, $80, whatever)”

      9 times out of 10, the answer is I’d rather have the money! I think I’ll combine this idea with yours and start actually transferring the amount to savings.

  65. Sandra says...

    I really like YNAB and it has helped me change the way I think about money. I got the book from the library and listened to the podcast before ultimately signing up for the software, so that is a good free way to get started. I think there used to be some longer free trial offer codes online, but not sure those are still out there.

  66. Tara says...

    LOVE their system! I like their features and methodology better than the also popular every follow which I used for a while. Setting up a shared budget for my husband and I saved our marriage before any money fights could even get started. I’m a convert and will never go back

  67. Ashley says...

    I LOVE YNAB! It is such a game changer. Love that you’ve partnered with them.

  68. Rachel says...

    It would be really nice if your article included the price after the free trial, since that also can’t be found anywhere on their website. Not signing up for something if I have no clue how much it will cost to use long term!

    • It’s $84/year and SO worth it!

    • Leanne says...

      Hey Rachel! The website (under “pricing”) says $11.99/mo or $84/yr.

    • Kamaile says...

      It’s under pricing on their website. It’s $84 a year and totally worth it. I’ve definitely spent more than $84.00 on a nice dinner out some other material item. I’ve used it for 2 year now and it helped me stay on track and pay off $14,000 worth of credit card debt. There are free budget apps, Dave Ramsey has Every Dollar, but I like YNAB better.

  69. lesley says...

    i have used YNAB for four years and paid off my student loans. great company to partner with!