How to keep things as simple as possible?

I have tried YNAB at least three times over the last five years, but have given up each time after a few months when I run into trouble. The most common problem I have had is the "To be budgeted" amount not matching the actual money I have available. Having read several threads related to this, I feel some encouragement that I might be able to avoid or deal with this problem if/when it occurs again. However, I'd really like to avoid as much trouble as possible. 

Here's what I know about how to keep things simple:

1. Zero out the "to be budgeted" amount every month.

2. Adjust to cover any overspending (red) categories within each month so they become green again.

3. (Possibly) avoid budgeting into the future to avoid needing to look ahead at future months to see what the real amount "to be budgeted" is.

Do you have any other suggestions for me? I really want to be able to use this system, which I know is good, but which just hasn't made sense to me in the past. I understand all the initial setup; I do fine for a couple months. Then things go off the rails.

Thanks for whatever suggestions you can offer. 

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  • Reconcile often; multiple times a week if needed. Maybe even daily.

    Manually enter your transactions. At point of sale if possible, at least daily. They say it takes 66 repetitions to develop a habit. Developing the habit of manually entering your transactions will probably serve you well better than anything else you do in YNAB.

    When I first started YNAB I made it part of my morning coffee routine to open YNAB on my laptop, open my banking app on my phone, and reconcile my account. If a transaction was "pending" meaning it hadn't cleared and therefore hadn't auto-imported, I entered it in manually (if I hadn't done so at the time of purchase) so that my categories were always accurate (it would then "match" on a future import.) I eventually switched to a bank that's not direct import supported in order to get a high interest checking account and losing direct import barely made a blip process because I didn't rely on it to manage my budget for me in the first place.

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    • Vibrant Thank you!

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      • PhysicsGal
      • Nerdy female homo sapien
      • physicsgal
      • 1 yr ago
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      Vibrant Yeah, manually entering transactions is key and totally necessary for me to stay on top of my category balances, but my budget is really tight because I'm killing debt right now.  

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  • Oh boy, I love sharing my experiences with YNAB, and writing out what I do because it helps me redefine my steps.

    First thing I would add to your list is to reconcile often.

    Next is a question.  What do you want to accomplish?  What is your big huge goal?  Make it something you truly want.  Something you will sacrifice for is best.

    Then it’s a matter of working out how you’ll get there.  If you just use the budget to track where you are today, that can get boring.  I have to have a goal.

    When I came to YNAB I didn’t think I had any goals and have found some huge ones.  It only took me a few years.  🤨 I started with the small ones, pay monthly bills without stress, then pay off consumer debt.  Then get some buffer going.  Now I’m working on paying off a couple huge mortgages, along with some more goals.

    For me it has been a matter of goals.  It looks like you have a handle on the basics, maybe you only need a destination for now?

    There are also some great videos I just found on the page.  Under the Learn to Budget tab at top, there are some great lessons.  I like the Ultimate Get Started Guide and the Video Courses.  Here is a link:

    Hope you stick with it this time.  It can be a life changer if you stick with it.

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    • MsTJ Thank you!

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  • Your TBB should never equal the money you have available. This is likely the root of your problem. It sounds like you are not quite understanding the relationship of the parts of the budget. 
    YNAB is just a fancy envelope budget. That’s it. In an envelope budget, you earn money, you divvy it up into envelopes, you take the appropriate money envelope to the store and spend, and you put the change back in. Repeat. In YNAB, you earn money (it shows up in TBB), you divvy it into envelopes (budget it to categories), you take the appropriate envelope to the store and put the change back in (record and categorize transactions). That’s it. Stop spending first and looking later; budget first, get TBB to zero, and spend based on the budget. 

    Like 5
    • WordTenor Thanks. I understand what you are saying, so I may have described my past problems incorrectly. Mostly, I just remember numbers not making sense--and also getting behind and having trouble catching up with entries. But I'm getting ready to try again! 

  • I agree with WordTenor - don't try to make the TBB match anything.  And I agree with everyone who said to reconcile often.  The reconciling is where your "actual" money is.  This is where you make sure that all your "envelopes" (the YNAB budget categories) actually have the amount of money you think they do.  As long as your accounts all reconcile, then your YNAB is accurate. 

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  • Manually entering transactions as you spend gives you confidence when they come in and everything matches. Try reconciling daily so you can catch any errors right away!

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