A few months ago I wrote about the MyFitnessPal.com app that I had started using “to preserve my orangutan-like figure.” I’ve been happy with the results. I’m down to chimpanzee-like, and appear on track to hit lemur-like sometime in the spring.
Seeing how well having a plan, and empirically and simply following that plan, worked for physical problems, I wanted to see how the approach might work with another problem of mine, finances.
When I first started working here, my college-student mind was blown by the idea of making more than $1,000 per month, a five-figure annual wage!
Being unable to imagine having that much money, much less spending it, I simply trusted that after I bought the things I wanted, that piles of leftovers would accumulate. Trickle-down microeconomics.
To my surprise, this has not been the case. Although my cutting down on fast food and pizza buffet expenditures helped a bit, I realized I needed to do something.
After looking around the Internet, and a couple of false starts with other programs, I found an answer. You Need A Budget.
YouNeedABudget.com is the home of a program of the same name, as well as lots of tutorials, guides and user forums to help understand your finances and how best to improve them.
The program differentiates itself from other financial software — like Quicken and Mint.com — by taking a more proactive approach, making you figure out where your money will go, rather than tracking where it has gone.
YNAB has the ability to import past data, but they recommend against it. They would rather you simply figure out your current situation and then work to improve it.
You input your income. Then, as they describe it, you “give every dollar a job.”
You can create categories — mine are Need, Want, Should, Shouldn’t — and subcategories, like rent, electric bill, emergency fund and groceries to organize where your money goes.
Right now, I’m just budgeting to an even balance each month, with savings and debt payments factored in. Any money that is not budgeted gets added to the next month’s budget and takes a burden off of that month’s income. Their tutorials say the goal is to live this month off of last month’s money. I can’t wait.
Whenever you spend money, and enter it into YNAB, you choose which category it belongs to, and the program automatically subtracts the purchase from that category’s total monthly budget. If you have anything left over at the end of the month in a category, it can carry over, or you can adjust your budget and put that surplus somewhere that it might be more useful. Like a booze fund.
The program is mostly for computers, though they have apps for most devices that can do most of the same things.
One catch is that, unlike a lot of the projects I enjoy on the Internet, this program costs $60. But it comes with a 34-day free trial, which, if you like it, could be enough time for you to budget and save enough to afford the full price. I’ve also heard of people being able to redownload and use successive free trials, but I don’t know if that’s reliable, or if the YNAB team would like me telling you that.
While it’s not helping overthrow governments or fighting injustice or ignorance in the developing world, I’m just excited that the Internet can help my body get skinnier and my bank account get fatter. What more do you need?
(Zach White is a reporter for the Havre Daily News. He can be reaqched at email@example.com.)