YNAB makes it difficult to plan ahead!
WAIT! Before you fire off your standard response to this much discussed topic, please read further- this is not THAT question!
I'll also say that this is probably more of a feature request than a question, but I don't see a place for that, so I'm hoping someone at YNAB might read this...
As a new user I've had much frustration and headache about the "budget only what you have" philosophy and the inability of YNAB to plan for future expenses. But I did more research and followed the advice to make a budget template with scheduled transactions and funding goals. Then I had the "Eureka!" moment and now I totally get it.
This look-ahead functionality is still not that great. YNAB seems to be mostly about managing spending. But isn't budgeting about planning too?
YNAB still seems very weak on that front. As is clear from the many posts and help articles that I've read, those of us accustomed to traditional budgeting methods do not want to give up the clear view of future cashflow that we're used to.
While YNAB does allow us to schedule transactions and create goals, it is still difficult to see what is going on. If I want to see what my planned expenses look like, I have to go through each budget item, one by one, to look at my goals and upcoming transactions, all in different places. This makes it practically impossible to see the whole picture.
Here's my proposal FWIW:
Please consider creating a "LOOK AHEAD" report tabulating scheduled transactions and goal amounts for each budget item, for this month and next. This would allow us to see the big picture in one view, and make better decisions in goals and budget.
I think having this feature will also cause less frustration for new users. It would provide the future cashflow view that traditional budgeters are craving, while also pointing them towards the proper way to set up a budget template in YNAB (which is currently kind of an "under the hood" feature not immediately obvious to us newbies)
To me, adding this simple "LOOK AHEAD" report to the (very) few you have available now would be a huge improvement.
I think you can tag YNAB employees just like you would in a tweet or Instagram post. Just type '@YNAB (without the apostrophe) to bring up a listing of them. That should either get their attention, or annoy them. Or both! :D
I wouldn't tag anyone that doesn't have YNAB in their username.
Angela at YNAB April at YNAB Arturo Guzman Ben at YNAB
You will find that this seems UBER IMPORTANT when you begin using YNAB, and then slowly, your desire for it fades as you get better with your budget, and as you start building wealth. I don't need to see what's coming down the pike anymore. I'm prepared for it. There's usually too much money in my checking and savings accounts rather than the potential of too little. And when my water heater eventually blows, the money is already sitting there.
Hey 57 Twin !
Thank you so much for this detailed feedback/feature request! It's so helpful to see where YNABers are coming from when they have a feature request or submit feedback, because that's exactly what our designers ask themselves when researching to plan for what’s next in YNAB!
Speaking of feature requests, did you see this recent announcement that Janelle made? Feel free to submit a request for this feature!
I am currently looking at a few issues that may be related to this.
One is that I have expenses that are seasonal. Examples for me are that in the Winter months, my gas bill goes from its stove only $40 per month up to as high as $300 a month for 3 months or so. My electric bill does the same in the Summer with the engagement of central air (although the swing is lower, base electric in winter is $180, goes to $250 in dead of Summer). I also have landscaping in the non Winter (lawn, fertilization, tick spraying. And of course there are those two months I have no car insurance. All of these are smaller things, so I’m not to worried about it one even offsets the other. But it’s tougher to see what that extra cash is for without the future visuals
the other is home renovation. We are just kicking off a major kitchen renovation. I’m not quite sure how this should be budgeted. I have decided to create a Home Renovation category and budgeted 40,000 for it in March, even though it’s going to be paid out over 3-6 months starting next month. The money is there, it’s sitting in checking now. This brought my “to be budgeted” down from 50k to 10k or so. Not sure if this is the right way. I’m guessing it is ONE right way anyway.
This seems so obvious. Whether I can afford to allocate all my budget items at once for the month, or I am doing it piecemeal as the money comes in, I need an overview to help me decide what to allocate. This is really lacking. I can do it myself with exports and spreadsheets, but this functionality should be built in. All that's needed is a spreadsheet-style list of categories (same order as the budget) which shows previous months' actual spending.
Silver Dollars said:
One is that I have expenses that are seasonal. Examples for me are that in the Winter months, my gas bill goes from its stove only $40 per month up to as high as $300 a month for 3 months or so. My electric bill does the same in the Summer with the engagement of central air (although the swing is lower, base electric in winter is $180, goes to $250 in dead of Summer). I also have landscaping in the non Winter (lawn, fertilization, tick spraying. And of course there are those two months I have no car insurance.
How you handle cyclical utilities depends on when you start using YNAB. If you start during the low usage months, look at your past bills and just budget your 12 month average. By the time you get to the high months, you'll have the money sitting there to pay those higher bills. If you start in the high months, you should be budgeting the highest amount you paid in the last 12 months. Then once the bills drop below the average you budget the average. You can calculate your "overage" number... that's the sum of all above the average spending over the course of the previous 12 months. At the end of a month, you can pull out any amount above the overage total.
For the seasonal, you budget for it like a monthly expense. It's just that depending on when you start YNAB, you may need to budget more during the first annual cycle so that you have enough when you need it. The examples you gave are all predictable spending.
For the 10-month insurance, I handle it by just budgeting the monthly cost in the 10 months I'll be paying it. I budget zero in the 2 months I don't. If you don't pay attention, just budget it every month, and then take it out at the end of the month in the two months you don't pay it.
The software can only do so much. You have to be proactive in determining some of the correct numbers yourself.
OP here again... After seeing the responses here, let me try my same question from a different angle, since clearly I'm missing something.
After your budget, scheduled transactions, and goals are all set up- how do you guys compare your monthly expenses with your monthly income to make sure you're on track? And yes, I get it- after staying with the YNAB program for a while you probably don't even have to worry about it. If you are there already, I'm truly happy for you. But the rest of us still need to use this tool to get there.
The only way I can see to get a forward view of the month is to look at the "underfunded" number to see if that is in line with my expected income. But as I mentioned in my OP, this feels kind of weak as a planning tool. This is only is valid for the brief moment in time before you do your budget. For the rest of the month, any forward-looking data is a bit convoluted.
To illustrate, here's my situation: A week or so ago, I wrapped up my March budget and had about $3000 to budget for April, which I did. But I have set some rather aggressive goals to pay off some debt, so I was wondering if my payoff goals exceeded my income. But since I had already plugged that money in the budget, that underfunded number no longer reflected the total monthly expenses.
Now that we're in April, I've made some tweaks to my budget and my income forecast has changed a bit, so I find myself wanting to look at this again. As far as I know, the only way to figure this out is to look at the current underfunded number, add my expected income for the rest of the month, then subtract the amount of money I want to have left at the end of the month. And of course, that's not a hard math problem. It's just the principle of it. To me that "total month's expenses" number seems like it should be important enough in a premium budget program that it should be readily available without having to do off-line math.
In my particular case, I'm finding that some of my goals were unreasonably aggressive and I would quickly blow through the cash reserve that I like to have at the end of the month. Again, I was only able to figure this out by doing some off-line calculations. So I'm having to make many iterative adjustments across all of my goals and budget items to balance things out. This is a pain since I have to look at each individual budget item to see what is going on with goals and upcoming transactions. All I'm saying is that I know the info is already there in the app, but it would be nice to see it all on the same page and totaled so I can quickly see if something is out of whack. And maybe I won't care about this after a few years of building wealth. But I'm not there yet...
For those of you who still have some debt, and don't have a 30 day supply of cash, how do you make sure your budget and goal plans are in line with your income? I feel like the idea of "balancing" your budget is one of those traditional ideas that YNAB is trying to eliminate. From the above responses, it is clear that this isn't an important concept in YNAB-world. So, please help me out. What am I missing?
(And maybe as a related side-question- how do you guys account for the cash surplus that you want to have at the end of the month. Do you make a budget line item for it? )
I agree that for the planning stages at the least (and why not for ever) a list of the planned expenses would be useful.
I analysed my expenses for the last year, spreadsheet and classified everything I could (cash was just a lot of guesswork) and pulled together a list of amounts by category. I've put them into YNAB but some are already paid by this point in the month. So all I want to see is how does May the first full month shape up. Does it square to my spreadsheet? Have I entered it right? I can't check by adding up the two columns of numbers.
I also want it to gloat over and cheer myself up but also it's nice to try the expected spend and the actual for months that vary.
57 Twin said:
those of us accustomed to traditional budgeting methods do not want to give up the clear view of future cashflow that we're used to.
Hi 57 Twin ,
I'm glad this discussion is happening for many reasons, so thank you for bringing it up and continuing to ask questions. I wanted to speak to this particular quote, if that's alright.
It's going to be an adjustment, and it may be uncomfortable at first, but we've intentionally designed YNAB as an allocation system, not a forecasting system. Not that we think all forecasting is bad, but allocation is the purpose of the software itself. And the reason we focus so much on allocation in the here and now is because it creates a feeling of scarcity and eliminates speculation at the same time. Scarcity helps us make good decisions -- to dig into the nitty gritty of our priorities. When we forecast, we solve everything with future money, which ultimately allows us to let ourselves off the hook. And how often does everything go according to plan? That future money may or may not come about the way we imagined it. Or, it may not come at all! So, all we have is what's in front of us -- today's dollars and our priorities.
We talk a lot about setting the right goals. There are those non-negotiables others have mentioned here -- annual car registration fees, for example, or maybe tuition fees charged every few months. We have to pay those. But there are also personal goals -- debt paydown, travel, or other things we dream of achieving. So we set those goals in the budget and let YNAB break down the monthly allotment.
Then, we make every spending decision count. Will this purchase -- in this moment -- get us closer to or further away from our goals? We have the goal (the long term thinking), and we have the focused, in-the-moment decisions. The combination is where the prioritization magic happens. And it's ongoing. We don't want anyone to become "less interested" in where their money is going at any point. We make choices about our priorities every single day and each one matters.
This is getting long so I'll wrap it up, but if you're meeting your immediate needs and funding your goals in each month, you can be confident that you're on track. Goals with timelines are typically highest priority, so if a goal is restricting your cash flow so much that you can't cover an immediate need, it's worth investigating and possibly adjusting a lower priority goal to make more room -- just keep in mind the priorities you set and use them as the compass. And allow time for adjusting to the newness. We're here to help and encourage along the way :)
Such a great thread, thanks for getting the ball rolling 57 Twin . After reading through, I wanted to throw a hypothetical out there. Hopefully I can get to it in a minimum of words. 🙂
As Janelle mentions, YNAB is purpose-built to be an allocation system. The best decisions you can make are only about now. It's the origin of the idea of think long, act now. The lure of a prediction is strong and can cause problems when we're acting now, in negative ways we can't always anticipate. So, yup, we've always been cautious about that.
But/and, we all want to feel confident about our future, right? I mean, that's why so many of us, myself included, started budgeting. And WordTenor is right about "five years in", as far as my experience has shown me (and I don't mean just my experience, I mean that of thousands of YNABers...).
BUT STILL, I can hear people saying. And I empathize. So how can we provide some view into the future that doesn't trick you into believing that that particular future is exactly how it is going to be? (Half of my current spending are things I might not have predicted five years ago...).
Okay, okay, here's what I wanted to throw out: What if you could see a report that shows the net cumulative effect, into the future, of the goals you set. So, I don't mean the net effect on your account balances, there's really no point in predicting those. Danger lies there.
So 57 Twin I don't mean just looking ahead to next month, but looking as far as the scope of the goals you have set. If you set goals A, B, C, etc., how much money would you need to fund all those goals (remembering needs outside your goals may change dramatically, to keep throwing out the same caution...)?
How would trying to save for one goal in a shorter time-frame impact six months from now? And if you're in a good enough position to be budgeting into next month (or the next one or the next one...), how many of these goals/months are already funded?
For me, I find it annoying that I have to trick YNAB into setting up my monthly budget for the next month. Although I get paid twice each month, I usually just enter transactions for both pays at the start of the month. I know that YNAB says to budget as the money comes in, but most of my expenses are monthly so it is easier to do it by month. The other problem is that I have to wait to set up a new months budget until the date actually changes to that month. As I write this, it is 11PM on 4/30. I really want to set up May's budget tonight, not tomorrow. So I have to trick YNAB for the next hour into thinking I've been paid today, then change it tomorrow, then change it again when the second pay really comes in. Other than this issue, I find YNAB really helpful. It is much better than my old spreadsheet. Oh, and I'd really like to see a list of all transactions, including moving from one budget item to another.
I read everything regarding a plan for my money with YNAB. I found it very interesting but I still don’t appreciate the fact that I can’t register an income in the future. For say, I receive my paycheck on a regular basis every two week. So, that would help me a lot if I could see what happen in the future with my budget with these futures revenus. I understand all the principe with the rules but I really don’t understand why we can consider a future revenu as done. We could do that in YNAB4 and I really liked it. That is helped me very much to see the big picture andsee what it will be in relation to my money.
I do not understand why you do not let the user choose. I fullyunderstand the principle of the rules. The idea of allowing income to be considered at later dates is simply to provide an overview of longer-term planning. You lose me because of that. I invite you to contact me if this item is corrected to your application. For your information, I am a professional accountant (CPA) and I loved your application.
For me just the simple addition of a "Goals" column before the "Budgeted" column with totals for each group and a grand total would be extremely useful, even if there was a way to toggle it on and off. The numbers in the "Goals" column would reflect the "Goal Target" number for each category. The key here for me is the grand total. If the grand total amount is equal to or less than how much money I expect to have for that month then I know I likely won't overspend. If the grand total is greater, however, I need to adjust my goals until I can afford to cover them all.
I am actually able to gain most of this functionality already with the "Toolkit for YNAB" plugin for Chrome, but the font doesn't match the rest of the UI and there are no group totals.
I can hear people saying. And I empathize. So how can we provide some view into the future that doesn't trick you into believing that that particular future is exactly how it is going to be?
Todd the feature that 57 Twin and several others, including myself, are asking for would be covered with an additional column that considers the future transactions in that category. I've seen this in several other software and spreadsheets (see attached picture). Currently as is, YNAB will show funded categories with future/planned transactions having money available in "green", however it's not until that money is spent will the category go to "orange" to show it's unfunded for a future transaction. What an awful workflow, seems like a little too late for that, because now I've got to go adjust my budget to cover the overspending. By contrast, if I had seen no available money in my budget prior to spending taht money I won't have spent it in the first place and avoided all the issues. It's such a "reactive" method for budgeting and feels unplanned. Reminds me of the days before I budgeted and planned for expenses.
After nearly 3 years being released I'm disappointed that simple features like these have not be integrated. Not sure that the YNAB team is much concerned with their customers feedback, and yes I've submitted a feature request for this specially.