Budgeting without a Budget: Mission Impossible

I have to admit I learned very little of finances growing up. In high school, I ran Quickbooks for my parents’ business and that process was the first time I really understood how to balance bank accounts and work an account ledger. I’ve always been good at saving my money up and blowing it all in one spree of buying needed items or items I want for others, which isn’t really saving at all.

Back in 2004, I recently had my 2nd child and was living alone in a small apartment my parents paid for at the time. My mom handed me $500 and told me I better figure out daycare and have a job before my money runs out. I put that money into a new checking account and from it paid for gas, utilities, and my telephone. I kept close tabs on where my money was going. I kept my lights off the majority of the day and as long as possible into the evening to save wherever I could. I didn’t travel much and spent the entire summer playing at the park with my kids and finding things to do that didn’t cost a penny. Fall quickly came and I was proud to still have $250 in my account when I was hired on in the Walmart Bakery. We all start somewhere, right? Truth is I had a degree in massage therapy and couldn’t find a job in the field as quickly as I wanted. Um…I know I’m trying to dig my way out of the embarrassment of this entire situation and it’s not working, so let’s just move on, shell we?

A month after opening my checking account I found myself calling my mom, at the age of 22, to learn how to reconcile my account. For the first few months I was great about balancing my register and reconciling my account, but soon after adding a debit card to my method of payment, I found it more difficult and time consuming to enter all transactions. Before I knew it, I had absolutely NO idea what the actual balance of my account was. This seemed to be the story of my life. Once married, the problem worsened with the addition of  accounts and double the debit cards and checkbooks. My oblivion to my balance bit us in the bum cheeks without warning on a number of occasions.

To ensure we were not paycheck to paycheck or worse–overdrafted–I often drew up a budget: X amount for tithing, X amount for rent, X amount for fuel, X amount for bills, X amount for savings and so on until the entire paycheck was accounted for. I always looked at these figures as guidelines rather than rules of what we should realistically pay in certain areas. In addition to these monthly guidelines, I never took into account that every 6 months we’ll by gifts for Christmas and birthdays, pay for school clothes in the fall or fill our propane tank once a year. My plan was to deal with those expense when the time came. So, come July, we’d work on quickly gathering $500 for school clothes in August and more often than not, we’d take from other areas.  What should have been saved or  payed on the current power bill would build this lump of needed money. Understanding I needed help with recording and budgeting skills, I used Mint off and on. No matter what we did, we always ended in Failure Creek without a paddle.

Recently, a friend shared her love of YNAB (You Need A Budget) with me. I reviewed their methods and advice and downloaded the trial version. Their simple methods of assigning every dollar a job, saving for a rainy day, rolling with the punches,  and stop living paycheck to paycheck really struck a chord with me. While I’ve created numerous budgets before, my take on “guidelines” allowed us the freedom to see $900 in our account and know we were well with cash for our wants. Never before had I assigned every dollar a job with intent and purpose of only spending that amount in that category. Quickly I would find that $900 dwindles down through $20 here and $50 there of eating out, and $30 for this need, and $40 for that want because I have enough to buy it, and then a week later I’m wondering if we’ll have enough for fuel and I forgot about the power bill I didn’t pay current last month. With YNAB, we quickly changed our thinking from deciding to spend based on a lump of money to spending based on the amount available in that budget category. If the money’s not there or already spent in a specific category, that “job” is done until next month. There’s no more excessive spending since $900 is actually $75 left for fuel, $220 left for groceries, $87 for the power bill….

Of course we’re not going to see immediate gratification in our financial situation or be 100% successful in carrying out the expenses as assigned.  We still find ourselves overspending our budget categories on unforeseen expenses and our habit of eating out in a busy pinch, but we’re learning to just go with it. We take from our grocery budget when the restaurants category is overspent. We take from areas that don’t immediately affect us, like the prescription or car maintenance allowance, in a month where we had to spend more on unforeseen expenses and did not use the assigned category allowance.

In this month of trial, I’ve learned that budgeting without a budget is an impossible mission. We’ve succeeded in having more money leftover in our account than ever before when the next paycheck rolls in. We’ve paid off a credit account, pay extra on all of our open lines of credit, pay a full tithing, keep our monthly bills current, stay aware of the danger in overspending on restaurants, never run out of fuel, and find ourselves less stressed thanks to budgeting with intent and purpose.

Just the other day, my YNAB trial period expired. For the first time ever, I’m in a panic feeling a lack of confidence in my ability to calculate a balance and the inability to see spending amounts in budget categories. My frugal-minded self hoped I would receive a prompt that my trial ended with a promo to purchase the YNAB software at a discount. After 48 hours with no such luck, I scoured the internet for a promo code and, much to my surprise, came across a page on YNAB’s site with annoying sarcasm reading:

 Indeed, everyone can always save a few dollars by simply doing a simple Google search for ‘[product] coupon code’. Your search for a YNAB coupon code (or YNAB 3 coupon code) has certainly brought you to the right place. But, to be frank, we don’t do coupon codes except on very rare occasions. Sorry!

How cheeky!

I didn’t buy it. I can’t fathom spending the full price on the software when I’m in the business to SAVE as much as possible. The purchase of this software falls under “miscellaneous” in my budget and that is a category I give very little to. So I pout and move to Pinterest to find some frugal DIY tutorials to keep me busy and saving money. I start dreaming of summer fun and build a board for it. I picture my family ice blocking (an inexpensive past-time here in Mormonville) and I search for a good ice blocking page with a photo to pin. In my search, I come to wikiHow: How to Go Ice Blocking. The first step and photo are wrong.  Ice blocking is a summer sport. But wait, a certain Google ad catches my eye:

Step 1
Put on warm and protective clothes and find a decent hill.
Save 10% on YNAB3 Upgrade Your Trial Version Today. Get a Special Discount. Buy Now!

It seems the Mormonville based company actually does have a google promo code. You just have to search the right Mormonville activity to find it. I do know that Google Ads change frequently and I wish you luck in finding that ad. 

It worked for me! I saved $6, applied my activation key, have total control of my money, and even managed to pin ice blocking while I worked up this post.

You need a budget. Get YNAB. Save money. In doing so, you’ll find you can afford the ice to go ice blocking. Or you could be frugal and freeze water in Rubbermaid totes and even add rope handles.

You’re welcome!


Update: About 3 weeks after my trial ended, I did receive an email acknowledging my lack of purchase after the trial ended. The email offered a “rare” 33% off. I guess it’s true that good things come to those who wait. I suck at patience. 


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