YNAB doesn't carry forward negative balances and this screws up everything

I've been using YNAB since their version 4 Desktop App days, and quite frankly the Desktop App is still my favorite. I have an almost constant problem with the web app version because it will not carry forward negative balances, and this screws up all my tracking.

Yes, yes, I'm well aware of YNABs rules and why they think this is a "feature" but it's not. It's a limitation that doesn't allow one to properly account for reality.

Just about every month, at the end of the month, various bills are due, and when those bills are deducted from the account can vary by a few days, and I don't have any control over this.

Sometimes a bill will be deducted on the 31st but then the next month, it might happen on the 1st. My lease payment is particularly fickle in this regard, but without going into all my personal finances, suffice to say I have a handful of bills for which it is normal for the bill to be withdrawn by autopay either on the last day of the month or the first day of the next.

The problem arises when a bill is taken on the 1st day of the month but then again on last day of the same month. That causes the budget in question to be overdrawn, with a negative balance.

If I don't catch this, YNAB rolls over to the next month, and suddenly none of my numbers make sense. The money listed as available is less than it should be, and....well I this plagued me for months until I realized what was going on, and now I know that after the first of the month I have to go back and change the dates of a hand full of transactions to make this work. This is very frustrating.

There are other realities of life that cause negative balances to occur as well, such as needing food for the weekend, but the months budget is spent, but the weekend is next month, but you have to buy the food today. Again the budget gets into a negative and I have to go manual edit the date to fudge things to balance out.

THIS SHOULD NOT BE NECESSARY. Simply rolling over the negative balance into the balance of the budget in the new month should be normal behavior. This is why we are all a month ahead in our budgets. It allows things to be seamlessly transition from month to month. The desktop app did this correctly. The web app does not and so causes the end of each month to be a constant hassle instead of a seamless transition.

I'm posting here because I have reported this issue multiple times via YNAB support and have been politely ignored by support telling me this lack of functionality is a deliberate feature.

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  • Ivory Python said:
    I think it would be quite normal to overspend and underspend on groceries every-other-month in the case where one buys in bulk and then ends up not spending much the following month ... and so on

    Sure, and the exact same thing happens for seasonal utilities like water or electric. The methodology would have you build up a surplus in the low and draw from it in the high. What it doesn't want you to do is start with the high -- it's not certain there will be a low next month. What is certain is you spent more than planned, and the money's gotta come from somewhere.

    Like 2
    • dakinemaui This is another good point.  But if I use the goal of spending $500 per month and only spend $400 this month, YNAB says I only need to budget $400 next month (because of the $100 UNDERSPENDING the previous month).  Maybe it's the goals that are throwing me off.  I would think if you could rollover underspending (which I like), we could also rollover overspending.  I think I'm starting to get the point, though, that I told YNAB that I only want to spend $500 per month (in goals) ... even if I underspent the month before.  More to think about.  Thanks.

      Like
    • Ivory Python I was talking about a Spending Goal with a YEARLY target. (A Spend Monthly won't build up a surplus if you underspend. Nor will it reduce next month if you overspend on the 31st.)

      Like 1
    • Ivory Python Last thought regarding the end-of-month scenario: You're basically accelerating the timeline by buying groceries early, right? If you cover overspending then fund next month at the full level, then you've permanently advanced things. IF you are within $500 from the 31st to the next 31st, you'll still have enough in the category to buy groceries on the 31st again. Cover once and you've solved that problem.

      Hopefully the follow-on conclusion is also clear -- IF you incur overspending on the 31st thereafter, it's because you've exceeded the $500 during that 30 days (31st to 31st). It's no longer about buying groceries on the 31st vs. the 1st -- the issue is you're continually overspending and should either raise funding or curb behavior.

      Just carrying over a negative balance would not give you insight into this distinction. You'd merely chalk it up to "31st vs. 1st" spending which actually isn't the cause.

      Like 3
    • dakinemaui I'll have to try the yearly idea ... will that show how I'm doing monthly?  Or will it just show a large amount and then I divide by 12?

      Like
    • dakinemaui I totally agree with this.  The over spending would HAVE to be balanced out by underspending over 12 months.  And, as you say, if I would just cover this month it, technically, shouldn't really happen again (especially if available money is piling up when I underspend).  

      I think my problem is that, coincidentally, I have a little overspending early on in my experience with YNAB.  As you say, I could just cover this month and then fully fund all future months and over time (since I budget somewhat liberally), I'll actually have a buffer over several months and a little over spending in future months wouldn't be an issue.   

      I'll think this over but you all have given me some good ideas.

      Like
      • Annieland
      • I was told there would be no math.
      • Annieland
      • 1 yr ago
      • Reported - view

      Ivory Python I have done yearly spending goals for many categories for this entire year.  Sometimes with money starting in the category too.   I'm even using it to help me accelerate a car loan payoff.  Not every category is a Jan.-Dec. either, and I put the "reset" month in the category line "i.e. Water Bill (Nov.)."  I estimate what my water bill SHOULD be for the year, and if one quarter comes in higher,  then I adjust the next month.  It's my way of "carrying forward."  Car insurance ended up way under this year, of course.  But I left the balance in the category, reset the estimated amount for the next year, and am now budgeting less each month.  

       

      The correct goal amount doesn't update until the month rollover in certain circumstances.  But I have been pretty happy with the way it's been working for me all year.  

      Like
    • Annieland Do you use "Needed For Spending" By Date?  Or something different (for Water Bill and, potentially for Groceries)?  Or another goal type?

      Like
      • Annieland
      • I was told there would be no math.
      • Annieland
      • 1 yr ago
      • 1
      • Reported - view

      Ivory Python Yep, needed for spending. The other is for saving and can mess you up a bit if you budget the suggested amount and then spend from it. I’m a very experienced YNAB user so I take pleasure in messing around and experimenting, always putting notes to myself on what I was thinking or trying and when.   I pick and choose what method I use to budget for each category. When I don’t like how things are going, I just change strategy or priorities. Believe it or not, I don’t often use spending goals for discretionary items like groceries, recreation, clothes, etc.  For me, I find that limiting and stressful, and rather just monitor vigilantly and revise at least monthly.   I’m considering revising to a yearly spending goal for gifts next year, as I had a very prominent “expense creep” last Christmas.  I want to make sure I spend much less than my category balance this year and then set a more conservative goal for next year. 
       

      There’s some YNAB “best practices” and then there is much flexibility in applying the features (or lack thereof) for your personal goals and situation, even if it may change month-to-month. 

      Like 1
  • Ivory Python In addition to the Spending Goal with a yearly target for groceries, a few folks have put a weekly spending goal on groceries. This is because a lot of folks do their groceries always on the same day of the week, eg, Saturday. But in some months, you'll have 5 Saturdays while in other you'll have 4. 

    For the weekly spending goal, you enter a weekly amount by a given day of the week. YNAB will calculate the adequate monthly goal whether there are 4 or 5 occurrences of this day in the month.

    Like
    • Ceeses I actually do my shopping the same day every week, normally.  Might be a good idea to change my goal.  I think my amount each week varies somewhat dramatically as sometimes I buy only what I need for the week and sometimes I buy sales (like if meat is on sale, etc).  But, I think if I "started low" the build up, over time, could mean never overspending in a month.  I guess it just seems simpler to me to allow overspending to rollover.  I get that some folks would turn this into "abuse."  I, personally, would not let this get out of hand.  Still, your idea is helpful.

      Like 1
      • Ceeses
      • Ceeses
      • 1 yr ago
      • 2
      • Reported - view

      Ivory Python Some people also have 2 groceries categories: one for everyday shopping and one for "special" shopping. "Special" shopping could be an infrequent run to Costco, buying a lot of meat at once ... People who do that usually don't have their "special" shopping at the same time as their everyday grocery shopping. So it might not be the best solution for you, but I let you judge of that.

      Like 2
  • Ivory Python said:
    How do you remember to prioritize spending less in future months after you've "blown it" a few times in a year? 

    Not @WordTenor, but I don't prioritize spending less in future months it I spent high in previous months. At the beginning of the month I budget the exact same amount to the majority of my categories. If I do have to WAM from a lower priority category, I do it and  move on.

    Like 4
  • I agree, its really confusing that positive balances get rolled over but not negative balances. It would make YNAB a whole lot easier to use if the deficits rolled over, or at least give users the option to roll deficits over. 

    Like 2
    • Slate Blue Sun The advice someone else gave me earlier on this thread fixed the problem for me.  I just added $1M to each spending category.  That way I know if I'm over $1M I'm positive and if I'm under $1M I've over-spent that category.  Mildly kludgy, but really not bad.

      Like 1
  • I did not have time to read this whole thread, however not rolling over negative balances is irritating.  We have a small side business.  Sometimes I buy things for the business and the business pays me back.  If those transfers happen on the 31 of one month and the 1st of the next, YNAB wants me to cover those expenses from non business funds while waiting to be reimbursed.   It just gets very annoying.  We have the money to cover it, but I dont want to make a new category of a business slush fund cause there is way too much variation each month to keep a steady amount in there.  I may do that, but an option to carry over a negative balance would be so nice.

    Like 2
  • Cornflower Blue Orca said:
    YNAB wants me to cover those expenses from non business funds while waiting to be reimbursed

    See the second recommended approach. No "steady amount" in the category.

    To summarize: categorize both outflow and inflows to the Business category. If that category turns green, move the positive portion to the CC Payment category. Search for the category in All Accounts for the pending reimbursement amount.

    Like 1
  • This issue is the primary issue that will push me to a competitor's budget software if it's not fixed between now and whenever the 64bit workaround for YNAB4 no longer functions.

    Every few months I check the forums to see if YNAB has fixed it yet, and this thread or one like it is always one of the top forum threads.

    As others have stated, the reasons nYNAB doesn't do it have been made abundantly clear, but at the same time the fact that this thread or one like it is almost always on the first page of the forum, the number and sheer creativity of "workarounds" that have been developed, point to how much it's wanted.

    Make the "nYNAB way" the default.  Fine.  Make carryover a super hidden feature that requires the Konami code to be entered in triplicate with multiple confirmations, whatever.  But do it.  As others have pointed out, that's what software is for - to make our lives easier, not harder.   If this was all strictly  about applying a specific method, and not ease of use, we'd still be using physical cash and physical envelopes to apply whatever said method was, because anything above physical funds makes cheating "easier". 

    I'm quite impressed by some of the creative workarounds and I can see how they'd work . . . but . . . I'm not paying a monthly fee to add extra time and steps to my budgeting.  For me to justify a monthly fee, it has to make my life better, not worse.

    Like 1
      • Herman
      • herman
      • 1 yr ago
      • 1
      • Reported - view

      nbhms Start looking now.  It will not be "fixed"  because it is working exactly as ynab intends it to work.  

      Like 1
    • nbhms Shouldn't be hard to run YNAB4 forever from a virtual machine which can be very seamless. I suspect the eventual issue will be the mobile client.

      Like
      • nbhms
      • nbhms
      • 1 yr ago
      • 2
      • Reported - view

      Herman Oh, I fully understand that, and have started looking already.  Right now YNAB4 and it's mobile counterpart does everything I need, so I'm not jumping in to pay anyone a monthly fee, YNAB or otherwise.  But I keep a casual eye on the "envelope" method budgeting market, and have a general idea of which ones I'll be looking at when the time comes, barring any newcomers between now and then.

      And before someone corrects me that YNAB is not the "envelope method, they are their own thing", yes I know that too, but I use the envelope method, and I thought (at the time), YNAB3/4 were the best software implementations of the envelope method, despite "not being the envelope method". 

      When the time comes and I have to go shopping, that's what I'll be looking for.  And again, yes, I'm fully cognizant of the fact that it will more than likely not be nYNAB that gives me the features I want. 

      I don't feel like I'm "owed" anything, nor am I demanding anything.  Just disappointed that the YNAB team are ignoring long time customers, when a (relatively) simple optional feature could be implemented to satisfy those customers, and provide YNAB additional revenue from keeping those customers.

      Like 2
      • nbhms
      • nbhms
      • 1 yr ago
      • Reported - view

      dakinemaui I agree, and that's my current plan.  Wouldn't surprise me if DropBox became an issue too, before the desktop client.  DropBox already cut back on the number of "free" DropBox connections you can have, and since YNAB is basically the only thing I use DropBox for, I can't really justify a monthly fee for them either (and had to cut back on the number of machines I was running YNAB on).

      Like
      • a_different_joel
      • YNAB 4 is objectively better.
      • A_different_joel
      • 1 yr ago
      • 1
      • Reported - view

      nbhms Re: DropBox - if you are needing more machines you can share a YNAB  budget/directory with 'other' users (like your partner's DropBox account) and it all works fine, thus freeing up some of your own machines.

      When if mobile/DB kills YNAB4 I'm going back to 2010 where the family dumps all our receipts in a box and manually enter them in every day 🤣.  Nothing beats YNAB4 yet, IMO.

      edit: I guess it’s not “freeing up” but rather  “allowing more machines”

      Like 1
    • a_different_joel Additionally, any computers on the same network can access the budget via network file share instead of making a copy via Dropbox. Similar idea in that you use fewer Dropbox slots. You could even use a different synchronization method if it's a laptop.

      The only things that absolutely need Dropbox are the mobile client(s) and one desktop.

      Like
    • a_different_joel said:
      When if mobile/DB kills YNAB4 I'm going back to 2010 where the family dumps all our receipts in a box and manually enter them in every day

      Nah, you could still enter in the mobile app while out and about and Legacy Sync when you return home. Easy as pie.

      Like
      • a_different_joel
      • YNAB 4 is objectively better.
      • A_different_joel
      • 1 yr ago
      • 1
      • Reported - view

      dakinemaui I completely forgot about the local sync option.  That will work great, thanks for the reminder!

      Like 1
  • This is frustrating - and doesn't follow the rules of any standard view of accounting principles.  I love YNAB for many other reasons vs. the main competitor out there, but I think I've reached my breaking point on having to deal with workarounds due to this "feature".

    The fact that you have an 800 comment thread on this and are unwilling to introduce an "optional" switch that provides something a large portion of your user base is asking for is mindboggling.  Could the customer feedback be any clearer on this?

    Rolling over positive numbers and hiding / resetting negative numbers is NOT a feature for a budgeting system!  There are so many reasons that this doesn't work that are articulated here:

    It's the antithesis of budgeting.

    Like 2
      • nolesrule
      • Stealing From the Future fix is an improvement but is incomplete....
      • nolesrule
      • 7 mths ago
      • 10
      • Reported - view

      Lavender Captain YNAB isn't an accounting system. It's envelope budgeting. And you cannot have negative money in envelope budgeting. When you need to spend more money than is in an envelope, you have to take some money out of other envelopes.

      Like 10
    • Lavender Captain Besides, I wonder how many of the 800 comments are complaining and how many are explaining/defending the current (correct 😉) implementation? 

      Like 3
    • nolesrule But that's actually not true.  YNAB currently enables you to have negative values in each budget category.  It just then ignores the values in the subsequent month.  As the original poster noted multiple years ago, your current implementation is the worst of both worlds.

      If we were to stick to a "true envelope system" it wouldn't allow you to have negative values.

      It would be an interesting analytic to run sometime around what % of your user base has a negative value on a budget category in a past month - I wouldn't be surprised if it's >40%.  Are they all "using it wrong"? 

      The broader issue here though is - a large portion of your customer base (which likely represents many more who are not active here) are asking you for an easy-to-implement optional feature, saying they'll defect due to it, and you're refusing to implement it?

      Like 2
      • nolesrule
      • Stealing From the Future fix is an improvement but is incomplete....
      • nolesrule
      • 7 mths ago
      • 7
      • Reported - view

      Lavender Captain 

      Lavender Captain said:
      YNAB currently enables you to have negative values in each budget category. 

      Because if they forced you to cover the overspending at the exact moment you enter the transaction or otherwise would prevent the transaction from being entered, then YNAB would become unusable from a data entry point of view. if I'm out running errands and entering in transactions, i don't have time to choose how to cover the overspending in the moment. I'll fix it when I get home and have time to really think about it.

      Lavender Captain said:
      If we were to stick to a "true envelope system" it wouldn't allow you to have negative values.

      Because they can't physically stop you from spending the money. Jesse can't pop out of your phone at the grocery store and wrestle you to the ground to keep you from swiping your credit card at the cash register.

      As such, they do have to make some small concessions to usability.

      Letting overspending carry over indefinitely breaks the budgeting system that they have built software for. They realized it from studying how people actually used that feature in YNAB4, and that's why they removed it.

      Heck, I was against them removing the feature with the new version at one point, until I realized that some of my categories were finishing the month in red every single month and I wasn't doing anything about it. What kind of budget is that? Anyone who is honest with themselves will realize they don't actually need that feature as it promotes dishonesty.

      Most of the time they are really looking for a way to track reimbursements, and there are other methods to do that which work just as well.

      Like 7
    • nolesrule said:
      Letting overspending carry over indefinitely breaks the budgeting system that they have built software for. They realized it from studying how people actually used that feature in YNAB4, and that's why they removed it.

       But this is *exactly* what you now have.  You can over-spend in a category and as soon the months rolls around you never see it again?  Again, this feels like the worst of both worlds - this "feature" hides the core reason you budget?

      I would love to see the data about how many people have uncleared over-spending in their past history.  20%?  30%?  60%?

      If that number is any of the above, you're designing around a concept of user behavior that doesn't exist.  And the software is deliberately hiding it under a justification of "sticking with the system".

      Like 2
      • nolesrule
      • Stealing From the Future fix is an improvement but is incomplete....
      • nolesrule
      • 7 mths ago
      • 2
      • Reported - view

      Lavender Captain 

      Lavender Captain said:
      But this is *exactly* what you now have.  You can over-spend in a category and as soon the months rolls around you never see it again?  Again, this feels like the worst of both worlds - this "feature" hides the core reason you budget?

       Nah. It doesn't.  Which is what I explained. There is definitely a difference between what YNAB does by drawing a line in the sand if you don't fix the overspending and just carrying forward overspending for as long as you want. Why not give it a real shot by following the method. I tried to fight it just like others until I eventually realized I was wrong. Give it a shot! 

      Like 2
    • nolesrule 

      nolesrule said:
       Nah. It doesn't.  Which is what I explained. There is definitely a difference between what YNAB does by drawing a line in the sand if you don't fix the overspending and just carrying forward overspending for as long as you want.

      But where?  Where does it tell me I overspent a category in the past?  I think the only way is you have to manually review past months and look for it?

      I think the logic behind the IOS red number badge count = "current month over-spends" + "uncategorized transactions".  It also ignores past month over-spends?

      (It's like the developers recognize that the majority of the people aren't using the system "correctly"... 🙂)

      I think we have the same goals here - I'm just not sure the current method of ignoring the past helps accomplish those goals.

      Like 1
      • nolesrule
      • Stealing From the Future fix is an improvement but is incomplete....
      • nolesrule
      • 7 mths ago
      • 2
      • Reported - view

      Lavender Captain the header shows you had cash overspending in a previous month. For credit overspending it's obvious because you won't have enough money reserved to pay off your card balance. The info is there. You just have to look. 

      Like 2
    • nolesrule
    • Stealing From the Future fix is an improvement but is incomplete....
    • nolesrule
    • 7 mths ago
    • 2
    • Reported - view
    Lavender Captain said:
    you're designing around a concept of user behavior that doesn't exist.

     YNAB is designing software to follow a method. Not allow 100% of people to budget however they want. There is other software out there that doesn't have those limitations. 

    Like 2
  • nolesrule said:
    the header shows you had cash overspending in a previous month. For credit overspending it's obvious because you won't have enough money reserved to pay off your card balance. The info is there. You just have to look. 

    I don't think this is true in the mobile version which the majority of people use? 🙂

    And in the desktop version... it's a single small number... that ALSO doesn't carry over to the following month.  I guess that is at least consistent.  😀

    Anyway, I think the point remains - hiding past over-spending feels like a really odd design choice in a budgeting app.

    Like
    • Vibrant
    • No more counting dollars, we'll be counting stars
    • vibrant
    • 7 mths ago
    • 1
    • Reported - view
    Lavender Captain said:
    I don't think this is true in the mobile version which the majority of people use? 🙂

     Literally the entire top of the app turns stoplight red if you have cash overspending in the previous month. 

    The details screen of the credit card category tells you if your available amount covers your entire balance or not.

    Like 1
  • nolesrule said:
     YNAB is designing software to follow a method. Not allow 100% of people to budget however they want. There is other software out there that doesn't have those limitations. 

    This. YNAB is not an open ended budgeting solution. It is the YNAB budgeting solution in software form. This is just Rule 3, Roll with the Punches in action.

    Now, could they do a better job of tracking and showing your overspends? Sure. But good YNABers cover an overspend soon after it happens. Even better YNABers cover the overspend before it happens. Making that priority decision and then spending or not.

    Like 2
  • Lavender Captain said:
    that ALSO doesn't carry over to the following month.

     It doesn't need to. If you have cash overspending in February, the information will be in March header because that overspent cash was subtracted from the To Be Budgeted number for March and hence enters in the calculation of To Be Budgeted for March. But since the overspending from February has been covered by hard cash in March (via reducing To Be Budgeted), the overspent has been handled. It doesn't need to appear any further.

    Like 1
      • SgtBatten
      • "YNAB broke" since 2013
      • SgtBatten
      • 7 mths ago
      • 1
      • Reported - view

      Ceeses exactly. It doesnt need to carry over further as the budget funds were already reduced. 

      I have data in YNAB from 2013 and have ZERO overspends. because i fixed every single one along the way

      Like 1
  • Lavender Captain said:
    I don't think this is true in the mobile version which the majority of people use? 🙂
    Lavender Captain said:
    and are unwilling to introduce an "optional" switch that provides something a large portion of your user base is asking for

      I'm curious where you get all your statistics about what the majority of people want and use?  Even if there were 800 comments here asking for this which there are not, what makes you think this constitutes "a large portion of your user base"? 

    Like 1
  • I agree that negative balances should carry forward.  If you let positive balances carry over, negative balances should carry over as well.  Otherwise, you are screwing up people's balances.   I just had this issue, I was funding my budget for June and thought, there is way too much money in this category.  I had to go back to May and fund May because some things posted in the end of the month in the negative but didn't carry over to June.  It would have completely thrown of the amount i have available for budgeting in June had I not gone backwards, which should be unnecessary.  

     

    So basically, unless near the end of the month, you are updating YNAB daily, you have to go backwards to fund.   The GOAL is to get to a month ahead - not everyone is there yet.  Plus, if I have to move money from say an entertainment envelope to a dining out envelope to cover, what's the big deal if I do it in June and don't go back to May to complete this?  I hadn't updated my budget for a couple of weeks and it was the biggest PITA to bounce back and forth between may and June.  

    Like 2
      • Ceeses
      • Ceeses
      • 7 mths ago
      • 1
      • Reported - view

      Sea Green Projector Also I agree that one needs to be careful with the end of the month, there isn't necessarily a need to go back to the previous month.

      I am not sure I understand your comment about having too much in June in a category. If I have $10 overspent in a category in May and budget $100 in June, I get $90 available. If I cover the overspent in May, then I am left with only $90 to budget and I still get $90 available in June.

      If last month overspending was in cash, then TBB is reduced in current month. You are going to budget the same amount in the current month whether you let the overspent being automatically deducted from TBB, or if you cover the overspent in the previous month.

      If last month overspending was credit overspending, then the information is available in the current month in the CC payment category(ies). One can simply budget money there.

      The only thing that gets wrong if one does not go back to the previous month is the average budgeted. I personally doesn't use that quick budget setting. If you use it, then you would need to cover your overspend (and not let the negative roll-over) otherwise the average budgeted would be too low for your needs.

      Like 1
      • nolesrule
      • Stealing From the Future fix is an improvement but is incomplete....
      • nolesrule
      • 7 mths ago
      • 4
      • Reported - view

      Sea Green Projector 

      Sea Green Projector said:
      If you let positive balances carry over, negative balances should carry over as well.  Otherwise, you are screwing up people's balances.  

       YNAB is an electronic version of the envelope system of budgeting. In the envelope system you take all of your money which is physical cash (paper bills and coins) and divide it into envelopes for each purpose. When you spend the money , you literally take it out of the envelope to spend.

      With this method, it is a physical impossibility to have negative money in a category . If you want to spend more than what is in the envelope, you must take money out of another envelope to complete the purchase.

      It would be a nightmare of a user experience for YNAB to force you to move the money around as transactions are entered, especially with the proliferation of import. Therefore if you don't do it by the end of the month, YNAB does it for you in order to keep you honest.

      If it was indeed cash overspending then in the next month you will have less money in you pile to add to the envelopes. if it was credit overspending, well, you didn't have enough cash reserved for the purchase, so you won't have enough cash reserved to pay back the credit card for the entire purchase.

      Allowing overspending to carry over in a category is a great way to cheat the system because you are refusing to acknowledge your actual spending and instead are trying to stick to some unrealsitic ideal. I know from experience.

      Like 4
  • This discussion has been rekindled every few months, and I'm probably not going to say anything totally new. But, I want to add my voice to the chorus just so the devs know that for many of us this is still very much an issue: YNAB's handling of negative balances on the month rollover is a blight on an otherwise brilliant app.

    There is a cadre of regular contributors who respond to these comments, and I know what they will say, so here are a few counterpoints:

    YNAB is a digital representation of a cash envelope system: Perhaps, but there is a reason I am not using a cash envelope system. It is inconvenient, inflexible and does not fit my needs. YNAB is an improvement on a cash envelope system for many reasons, and does not have to share all the same limitations.

    YNAB is not a general-purpose tool, it is the companion software to the YNAB budgeting system: That's fine, but it doesn't mean the app should purposely behave illogically to condescendingly (and ineffectively) enforce its system's rules. Let's try an analogy: if you're using a calorie-counting app and you're supposed to limit your intake to 2,000 calories a day, what should the app do if you splurge and go over? Just stop counting at 2,000 and have your metrics lie to you about what you ate that day? The app can't stop you from eating that second piece of cake, so it shouldn't prevent you from recording it faithfully.

    Instead of carrying a negative category balance, you should [insert cumbersome workaround here]: Yes, it is possible to prevent the software from lying to you, but it shouldn't be necessary. Any accounting software that intentionally causes cash flows and balances to become out of sync is BROKEN, full stop.

     

    I have been using YNAB for more than 5 years and with this glaring exception, I love this software. A couple times a year I look to see what alternatives are out there solely because of this issue, but (so far) I always come back. YNAB is better than the others in many ways, which makes it all the more infuriating that they stubbornly and unnecessarily keep this one time-consuming and confusing bug.

    This is the 5th most liked post in the forum and has been active on-and-off for 2 years. Please, devs, listen to your customers and give us a choice here. I'll keep begging you until I finally find an adequate replacement that doesn't have this behavior.

    Like 3
    • JD Just a heads up that to get feedback to our developers directly, please submit a Feature Request. While developers may see posts on the Forum, it's not common and a FR is the best way to get in touch.

      Like
    • JD You're missing the upside of a system that resets all your negative accounts to zero at the end of each 30 day period.  It's wonderful not to have to worry about any of it.  😄  It's like a debt holiday every month.

      Now is it a budgeting system?  That's a different question.

      The fact that you can roll forward positive balances but not negative balances is what is most odd to me.  Only in YNAB land would the two following patterns result in completely different account balances:

      * Jan 31st -$10, Feb 1st $10 = Account balance of $10

      * Jan 31st +$10 / Feb 1st -$10 = Account balance of $0

      If +/-1 day on a payment or expense will radically alter your account balances = it's a bad system.  (And doesn't take into account the reality of electronic tracking and payments where +/-1 day happens all the time).

      Like 2
      • WordTenor
      • Can we agree that goals are dumb and immature? Sure.
      • WordTenor
      • 3 mths ago
      • 4
      • Reported - view

      Lavender Captain 

      Lavender Captain said:
      * Jan 31st -$10, Feb 1st $10 = Account balance of $10 and $10 in new debt or a reduction in total ready to assign of $10.
      * Jan 31st +$10 / Feb 1st -$10 = Account balance of $0
       plus $10 of new debt or a reduction in total ready to assign of $10.

       fixed it for you. The consequences of leaving a category negative are still enforced in the app. Either you have to budget directly to the credit card payment category if the overspending was in credit, or it is taken out of next month's RTA if it was cash. It does not just reset to $0 with no impact. 

      The analogy to a calorie counter would be if sure, today, it didn't mind if you ate 2200 calories, but that if you did that repeatedly for 31 days, every day in the following month, you would only be allowed 1800 calories. There's only one point where it makes logical sense to force the user to true up the amounts and that's at month's end. If you choose not to do that, that's on you.

      Like 4
      • JD
      • probablyjd
      • 3 mths ago
      • 2
      • Reported - view

      WordTenor "If you choose not to do that, that's on you."

      Exactly, that's what I'm saying! There could be lots of reasons I choose to leave the account balance negative at the end of the month - reimbursable expenses, bills that hit a few days early, or maybe I want to set up a tracking category for hard-to-predict lumpy expenses that could occasionally go negative. And if I choose to do that, that's on me. Or at least, it should be.

      But it isn't on me. I can't do those things, because the software won't let me. If I try to do those things, the software does this wacky nonsense where it silently moves money from one account to another without any apparent transaction so that in that category, the total cash flows no longer add up to the cash balance. The balance will forever be wrong. Being quietly wrong is the worst possible thing a piece of budgeting software can do to try to "enforce" good behavior. It doesn't prevent overspending - it just hides it, confuses people, and makes the software less usable.

      Like 2
      • nolesrule
      • Stealing From the Future fix is an improvement but is incomplete....
      • nolesrule
      • 3 mths ago
      • 2
      • Reported - view

      JD 

      JD said:
      But it isn't on me. I can't do those things, because the software won't let me.

       Sure you can, if you can figure it out how to do it. It's just not automatic.

      JD said:
      the software does this wacky nonsense where it silently moves money from one account to another without any apparent transaction so that in that category, the total cash flows no longer add up to the cash balance.

       YNAB never moves money in accounts without transactions. You are likely incorrectly describing something having to do with how money flows between spending categories and credit card payment categories.

      Like 2
    • Agent99
    • Working to Get Smart at budgeting, finances and life
    • Agent99.1
    • 3 mths ago
    • 4
    • Reported - view

    My goodness! This debate still rages.  I'm so glad I'm still on YNAB4 and minding my business; negative balances and all. I've conveyed my use cases over and over and no one wants to address how do you make sure your spouse returns funds to you without the red arrow; there's also the end of month issue..  I hope there is a suitable resolution soon for nYNAB, whatever that may be.  

    Like 4
    • Agent99 People *have* addressed how to make sure your spouse pays you back. There are several forum threads and help article on various ways to handle reimbursements. It's just different from this red arrow thing you've gotten used to. 

      Like
      • JD
      • probablyjd
      • 3 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Fuzzball Meows You are correct, there are many forum threads discussing cumbersome workarounds for how to do something that in YNAB4 was dead simple. That is a sign of poor design.

      Like
    • JD It's not a sign of poor design. It's a sign of the design not being intended to be used how you want it to be used. There is a difference between those two things. 

      I hope you are able to keep using YNAB4/find another program you like. I'm happy with YNAB functioning as designed and keeping me honest about the money I actually have available.

      Like 1
      • nolesrule
      • Stealing From the Future fix is an improvement but is incomplete....
      • nolesrule
      • 3 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      JD While I agree that the lack of porting certain features that were present in YNAB4 was not the right decision, I think the topic at hand was a design decision to make the software more in line with the actual budget philosophy. it was a feature that was a poor design in YNAB4 because it allowed people to pretend they had more money than they really did, violating the first Rule of YNAB (Give every dollar a job), and that's dangerous.

      Like
      • JD
      • probablyjd
      • 3 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      nolesrule Fuzzball Meows

      I understand their reasoning, I just disagree with it. I'm glad it works for you and that the cumbersome workarounds do not bother you as much as they do me (and, clearly, many others).

      I think part of what's so irksome is the condescending nature of this design decision. In YNAB4's handling there is absolutely nothing preventing you from doing it the right way - you can get rid of all your negative balances every month just fine. In fact, you can replicate what they do now, but in a way that preserves the integrity of the category balance. If you know what you are doing you can also make rational exceptions to the rule when it makes sense to do so.

      By intentionally introducing an accounting bug into their software (and whatever you say, it is an accounting system - just a highly specialized one), they are saying to all of their clients that we are too stupid to be left with this responsibility. We cannot be trusted to follow the rules, so they make the software violate good accounting principles just to try to enforce an unenforceable rule. Meanwhile it breaks a number of perfectly safe, responsible uses for negative balances. The principle of it angers me more than the inconvenience.

      Like
  • Folks YNAB is NEVER going to change how they currently handle this issue. NEVER. Won’t happen. 

    Like
    • Sky Blue Tugboat I hope some developer out there copies YNAB in EVERY aspect (perfectly) accept this one.  If that happens, I'd switch in a flash.  Love YNAB except this point.  For now, though, I simply take the negative balance in the one or two relevant categories at the end of the month and re-enter them at the beginning of the next month.  Not a huge deal ... just annoying.  No need to lecture about how I'm not living in reality or will be in trouble over time.  This is MAINLY to remind me to UNDERSPEND in the following month for that category or that someone STILL owes me some cash even though the month has flipped.  If I didn't do this, I would forget all about my overspending or that the a friend hasn't paid me back yet.  This works okay.   I just wish I had software that offers this automatically.  Still, YNAB is so much better / easier to use than anything else out there that I've tried (web-based), so thanks.  I don't argue against the point/reason for them refusing to make this change.  I just wish the customers who wanted it had another good finance software option.  I'm guessing it's only a matter of time.  Happy budgeting and careful spending!

      Like 2
      • pgauntlett
      • pgauntlett
      • 3 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Ivory Python There is in fact at least one app out there that I can point you that has a good deal of YNAB's functionality plus:

      (a) multi-month view
      (b) hold income for next month
      (c) carry forward of negative balances.
      The downsides of this particular software are no goals functionality and no bank feeds (although both will follow some day).

      Like
      • JD
      • probablyjd
      • 3 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      pgauntlett That sounds great, but the lack of bank feeds is a deal breaker. Manually entering every transaction would be incredibly time consuming. Can you share the name of this app? I wouldn't mind keeping an eye on it.

      Like
      • pgauntlett
      • pgauntlett
      • 3 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      JD Understood. I have been doing manual entry since early 2000s (YNAB 2 I believe) and it is an ingrained habit taking a couple of minutes a day and allows me to categorise accurately whilst I still remember.
      Since this is a YNAB sponsored forum I have sent you a DM with details of the app I mentioned and it is the only one I would use as an alternative to YNAB even after much experimentation.
      The developer is not full time but is moving forward slowly but surely.
       

      Like
    • pgauntlett Very interested but absolutely want the bank feeds (and even use goals).  I enter items manually but I have several automatic payments and appreciate it when YNAB pulls them in for me.  But thanks for confirming that "it's only a matter of time."  


      I wonder if YNAB could allow negative balances to carryover in a category by adding a different category "requiring" funding the total negative balance amount (sort of like the credit card line). 

      Anyway, I get the idea that YNAB is innovative and able, but somehow it seems a bit stubbornly opposed.  I don't mind the idea that a dollar is a dollar and if it's not there, it's not there and ALL spending (including what I will be reimbursed) needs to be accounted for.  But I think there's got to be a workaround beyond "using my 1000 emergency fund" which conveniently subtracts an amount owed by using a goal (though I admit that is clever and keeps the point "in front" of the user).  

      I heard a while back the idea of assigning from "this category from next month's assigned dollars."  That's the type of creativity / user-desired-functionality I expect from YNAB as they have somehow figured out to put together such good software.  

      Hey, I'm just musing here a bit.  No need to respond.  This is actually a rarity in my budget other than a reimbursement here and there or grocery shopping a little heavy at the end of the month which actually DOES lower spending the following month (literally once, maybe twice a year, so no, it's not a matter of this being a pattern for years and needing to adjust my thinking).  The point is that it's a rare occasion, in my case, but when it comes up, it's a bit of a bother.  I can live with it, but would, for sure, go with this other app if it acted like YNAB in most, if not all other ways.

      Like 1
      • pgauntlett
      • pgauntlett
      • 3 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Ivory Python thank you for the musings!

      In or was Croce, I have some funds reserved in another category for a future project so I just “borrow” from these to cover any overspend in a category. By setting a goal for the project category I ensure that I remember to reimburse it in the following month.

      Btw I greatly reduce manual entry of transactions by scheduling all my recurring/automatic bills (utilities, software subs etc, etc). So usually only a couple of miscellaneous card payments a day to record.

      Like
      • nolesrule
      • Stealing From the Future fix is an improvement but is incomplete....
      • nolesrule
      • 3 mths ago
      • 1
      • Reported - view

      Ivory Python 

      Ivory Python said:
      I wonder if YNAB could allow negative balances to carryover in a category by adding a different category "requiring" funding the total negative balance amount (sort of like the credit card line). 

       Ideas like that have been suggested. A category group where the group total would need to be positive, and you could "offset" the negative categories with a positive category (such as an emergency fund).

      Like 1
    • nolesrule
    • Stealing From the Future fix is an improvement but is incomplete....
    • nolesrule
    • 3 mths ago
    • Reported - view
    Ivory Python said:
    This is MAINLY to remind me to UNDERSPEND in the following month for that category

     Yeah, I tried that for a few years in YNAB4. It didn't actually work. It turns out my reality was not that I was overspending, but I was underfunding  the categories and was going to spend what I was going to spend in those categories. This can be especially true of categories in which there is unrealized embedded inflation.

     

    Ivory Python said:
    someone STILL owes me some cash even though the month has flipped.

     There are workflows to support reimbursement tracking that don't require carrying over negative numbers. I mainly use it with my HSA and FSA, but the same concept can be applied to other categories where reimbursement is common.

    Like
    • nolesrule Thanks for the reply.  Are you saying YNAB will track reimbursements?  Can you point me to this workflow?  I've seen ideas like flagging or maybe future dating dating a transaction.  Is that what you do?  Or?  Thanks, again.

      Like
      • nolesrule
      • Stealing From the Future fix is an improvement but is incomplete....
      • nolesrule
      • 3 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Ivory Python What I do is use part of my emergency fund to prefund a reimbursement category to a set amount and set up a matching Savings balance target (no target date).

      Then when I spend from that category, the balance falls below the target. It will look like this:

       
      Both of these have $1000 targets. The top one has a small amount of spending on it that needs to be reimbursed.

      Then when I get reimbursed the money gets inflowed right back to the category and has the check mark.

      Like
      • JD
      • probablyjd
      • 3 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      nolesrule I appreciate that you are helping someone with a method that works for you, so I don't mean this as a personal slight -- but this kind of janky manual workaround highlights how silly YNAB's position on this is, compared to the simple elegance of correctly tracked category totals . What if you use your emergency fund for an actual emergency? Or multiple categories have reimbursements? It just shouldn't be necessary to do it this way.

      Like
    • nolesrule Interesting idea.  I appreciate it.

      Like
      • Superbone
      • YNAB convert since 2008
      • Superbone
      • 3 mths ago
      • 1
      • Reported - view

      JD My understanding is that YNAB is working on adding a reimbursement system. But I don't believe carrying negative balances forward will ever be on their agenda.

      Like 1
      • JD
      • probablyjd
      • 3 mths ago
      • 2
      • Reported - view

      Superbone A reimbursement system would be great!

      Like 2
  • nolesrule said:
    You are likely incorrectly describing something having to do with how money flows between spending categories and credit card payment categories.

     Fair, I was using "account" in the generic sense, meaning "a record of financial expenditure." Since YNAB has specific meanings for "account" and "spending category" it would have been more precise and correct to say "spending categories."

    But this is nitpicky and misses the point. YNAB is software that keeps a number of balances, where a balance should logically be the sum total of all expenditures and allocations in that category to date. It faithfully does that UNLESS you dare to leave a negative balance at the end of any month in any category, at which point those balances become wrong.

    Like
      • nolesrule
      • Stealing From the Future fix is an improvement but is incomplete....
      • nolesrule
      • 3 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      JD Understand now what you meant.

      What you are ignoring is that YNAB is not an accounting system. it is an electronic version of an envelope budget. Envelopes can't have negative money in them. When you need more money than is in a particular envelope, you need to pull the extra from another envelope. The money's gotta come from somewhere.

      Additionally, When YNAB corrects it at the month changeover, what it is doing is ensuring that the money that you have in your accounts is equal to the money that is in your budget. Having a negative balance in a category inflates the amount of cash your budget tells you that you have in the other categories. When you don't correct it yourself (Rule 3 of the method), YNAB does it for you to ensure that your budget and your accounts are actually in balance.

      Like
    • nolesrule Honest question ... why does YNAB allow ANY negative balance to EVER happen in a category (assuming it's an envelope with the impossibility to have less than nothing in it)?

      Like
      • nolesrule
      • Stealing From the Future fix is an improvement but is incomplete....
      • nolesrule
      • 3 mths ago
      • 1
      • Reported - view

      Ivory Python As a practical matter it would be difficult to impossible to enforce covering it immediately in terms of user experience. Think about the person entering a transaction at point of sale while they are in a hurry running errands. Or approving imports in the morning right before they head to work. it may not be practical to address the overspending right in the moment.

      Would you just stop them from being able to save the transaction just because they can't fix the overspending right in that moment? Wouldn't that just make things more difficult because then they have to remember to go back and enter the transaction later when they have time?

      Sure, in the ideal scenario, you would actually move the money before spending it, but it's not always practical to do so, and sometimes you just spend more than you had planned, and you need to be thoughtful about how you are going to fix it.

      Like 1
    • nolesrule Yeah.  That makes sense.  It feels a bit contradictory ... but I see the reason to "bend the rules" for the time it takes to sit down and deal with it.

      Like
    • nolesrule
    • Stealing From the Future fix is an improvement but is incomplete....
    • nolesrule
    • 3 mths ago
    • 3
    • Reported - view
    JD said:
    By intentionally introducing an accounting bug into their software (and whatever you say, it is an accounting system - just a highly specialized one), they are saying to all of their clients that we are too stupid to be left with this responsibility.

    Look, I was just as upset as anyone else when they initially removed the arrow, but I've come around to understand why it was removed and why the program is actually better without it.

    1. It's not an accounting bug. Take a look at the income and expense report. It's correct. What you are calling an accounting bug is just a difference between a forecast budget report with actuals and variance and the way an envelope  budget is intended to work.

    In an envelope budget, variance doesn't matter, because the amount you assign to a category is always just a guess with incomplete information, and you update as more information becomes available.  The method is a paradigm shift and you need to not be stuck in the old paradigm for the method to be most effective.

    My wife does corporate budget and accounting for a living for a MegaCorp (in fact she's busy right now putting together next year's budget) and I've learned all about how it works through osmosis over the last 19 years.  Even she agrees that  the envelope system makes for a better personal budget and that corporate finance is not the same as household finance. After all, we're  operating on a cash-based system and not on an accrual accounting system at home.

    2. I'm pretty sure they did actual research (not to mention lots and lots of "Why is there more money in my budget categories than in my accounts?" questions posed to support) and determined that most people who used that feature in YNAB4 didn't understand what they were doing by not following Rule 3. With this previous YNAB4 feature, not understanding what you are doing means you can literally overdraft your bank accounts while thinking you have plenty of money because that's what your categories tell you. It is literally adding monopoly money to your budget. This obviously would lead to failure in an application designed to help people avoid financial problems. The software is written to support the method, and a feature that breaks the method doesn't need to be part of the program.

    3. YNAB is not and never was intended to be a reimbursement tracking system, just like it's not intended to be a full featured personal finance application. It just so happened you could do reimbursement tracking using a particular feature in YNAB4 that no longer exists. And now it can be done in an alternate manner in this version while still sticking to the rules of the budget method.

    Like 3
      • JD
      • probablyjd
      • 3 mths ago
      • 1
      • Reported - view

      nolesrule 

      Mr. Noles, I suspect we will not agree on this. You've clearly put a lot of thought into this and I respect your opinion, but I still disagree. I believe the answer to misuse is education rather than handcuffing. At the very least there should be a toggle option, maybe hidden behind a super secret Expert+ Mode with a strong warning and an accounting quiz to deter people who don't understand it. In any case, the current system doesn't really deter overspending each category every month either and also confuses people, so there isn't a perfect way to force people to use the software the way they want - the YNAB method requires self control no matter how the app behaves.

      Like 1
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