Budgeting While Single

I think one of my biggest challenges when it comes to YNAB is accountability. I'm a singleton with no one but my two pets to ever know that I spend too much money on things I don't need and not enough on debt reduction. I want to be better, but it feels like I'm hitting my head against a brick wall most days.

What do you do to help yourself stick to the budget? How do you consciously create habits around healthy spending? It's so easy to get off track and stay off track when you're alone.

I feel like I have all the knowledge and all the tools, but none of the "can do!" spirit.

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  • First, there is a difference in underfunding a category and overspending. Both will result in a negative category balance, but the first was not the result of impulsive behaviour, but rather unrealistic expectations that need adjusting to fit reality. As a single, it may take you a while to figure this out since no one is nagging you about the amount being too tight.  You just think you've been over-indulgent.

    My other strategies:

     I must consciously decide ahead of time which other category is going to be sacrificed for any impulsive overspend I want to do today. None of this 'I'll figure it out later" business.

    I have a zero tolerance for imaginary money in my current month. I do not let a category stay overspent or my budget overbudgeted. Ever.

    I remain alert to robo-spending, which I define as anything that was a treat the first time and which has become a habit. Little stuff can be really pernicious and add up to a lot for very little value in your day. I actually enjoy an infrequent treat far more than a daily one.

    I have at times, moved categories around in my budget for effect and grouped the easy to overindulge in category right below a high priority savings category. That way every single time I needed to adjust for impulsive behaviour, my eyes also saw my other loftier goal category.

    I join in on the forum challenges, declare my ambitious goals, then use the regular check-ins for accountability.  I'm fairly certain that there will be challenges in this forum.

    I will occasionally throw in a no-spend month here and there, or an eat-down-the-pantry month, just to reset my thinking and break a pattern.

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  • I use a compartmental system, not with ynab but with cash and cards:

    I have a Saving account where I put the money I want to save that month, a House accounts for bill and rent and a Personal account for the spare money. 

    So, rent and bill come first, then the amount I want to save, the rest is free to be used in my personal account. On top of that, I usually have a bit of cash to use as the last resource instead of taking money back from the saving.

    Ad the end of the month, before the next payday I can move unused fund from my personal account to the saving. I could probably save a bit more with a meal plan and/or by checking my grocery expenses. But I still manage to save roughly a third of my salary every month, so I'm fairly happy at the moment.

    Hope this Helps

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  • I have 2 main current accounts. 1 is for mortgage, bills, food and other basic monthly essentials. Each month I transfer some money to my other current account which funds categories such as holidays, home improvements and other non essentials in the current month. I don't stick rigidly to it. It is just a rough guide. I don't buy ready meals at all and rarely have takeaways. I do have to buy a lot of lunches out because I either work late or have evening classes. There isn't time to go home and eat between work and classes.

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    • Katejo I used this method for years! It was the only way I knew how much $$ I REALLY had to spend each month (the 2nd bank account). Then I started the 'envelope system' in the Excel spreadsheet. I was able to let go of that system I had a tight grip on eventually when trying to keep track of both accounts in that system became arduous. I like to call the YNAB system the 'envelope system' as well. It keeps track of all that stuff FOR me! I'm all for automation. My credit is very high also because I automate ALL my monthly expenses and monthly income into the SAME bank account. I don't even think about them! EZ Breezy!

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  • What do you want more than the thing you want right now? 

    Whenever I feel like I'm getting too crazy with my spending, I go back to the core of YNAB--checking my categories before I spend and making adjustments before I spend. It forces me to confront that I have to short "vacation" to spend on "dining out" and I think harder. I might still choose to short vacation, but I do it knowingly and having confronted my plans honestly. 

    (She says and then switches screens to reallocate $20 from "appearance" to "fun money" for pending afternoon movie with the niece.)

    Reply Like 4
  • Such a great question! I'll add a couple more tips I don't think others have mentioned: 

    • Set up a regular (weekly?) budgeting date...with yourself! :) Reconcile your accounts, cover overspending, realign your priorities, and ask yourself the hard questions that these other folks have laid out for you already.
    • Manually enter transactions at the point of sale. I know! It's a hassle to pull out your phone and enter the transaction when you've got a grocery cart to push. But once you get in your car, take out the app, plug in the transaction and if you have overspending, cover it right then and there. This way you'll be way more intentional about your spending and budget!
    • Set some really short-term goals for yourself! Something 1-3 months out. Maybe you've been eyeing something to do or purchase, but haven't had the funds to pull the trigger. Well, pick the one that's the most inexpensive (ie. not that European vacation you've been wanting to take). Hopefully, the work of setting the financial goal, getting in the habit of prioritizing your money, and achieving the goal will get your budgeting juices flowing! Once you achieve that goal, try another loftier one!
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  • I can't comment on managing the budget as a single, but ultimately the budget is a reflection of your priorities for your money. Sometimes you underestimate the cost of your priorities, particularly when you are first getting started, sometimes you overindulge and it costs your higher priorities. When the latter happens, it's because you're not focusing on your priorities.

    The trick is to pay attention to what you consider your priorities before you pull the spending trigger in a category that you do not have enough money in and acknowledge them. When you acknowledge them first, it makes the decision to spend or not easier.

    TBH, I don't think that this is a scenario where putting money in different accounts makes much of a difference, because it's not the location that determines your priorities but how much you choose to budget into your categories.

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  • HappyDance said:
    I have a zero tolerance for imaginary money in my current month. I do not let a category stay overspent or my budget overbudgeted. Ever.

     Your post is full of great advice and I might print it out, but this is probably most relevant to me. I have a very high credit limit on my credit card, so imaginary money comes into play way more often than it should.  If I don't have the cash, I just do logic olympics until I talk myself into using my CC, which of course leads to more debt carrying forward because I don't have the cash to pay it off...and on and on. 

     

    Dan at YNAB said:
    Set some really short-term goals for yourself! Something 1-3 months out. Maybe you've been eyeing something to do or purchase, but haven't had the funds to pull the trigger. Well, pick the one that's the most inexpensive (ie. not that European vacation you've been wanting to take). Hopefully, the work of setting the financial goal, getting in the habit of prioritizing your money, and achieving the goal will get your budgeting juices flowing! Once you achieve that goal, try another loftier one!

    Related to the above, I rarely set short -term goals because of my CC habit. I'm going to sit down and make out a list of all of the purchases I know need to happen or I want to happen  in the short-term future and maybe set up individual categories for each of them to fund. 

     

    nolesrule said:
    TBH, I don't think that this is a scenario where putting money in different accounts makes much of a difference, because it's not the location that determines your priorities but how much you choose to budget into your categories.

     Agreed...it seems a bit antithetical to YNAB to have separate accounts for things and it complicates things needlessly imo. 

     

    I think much of my angst over budgeting is that I don't really know what my "goals" are. What exactly are my priorities? I've tried to come up with them so many times, but beyond career goals, I'm never sure if I actually want something or if I'm just basing my list on things that other people say I should want. I think I'm also always looking to the horizon and thinking that if I were to meet someone tomorrow, wouldn't my goals shift and change anyways? Anyways, I usually tie myself up in knots for days over it and then just buy something with my CC.  😔

    Reply Like 1
      • HappyDance
      • YNABing consistently since 2014
      • HappyDance
      • 1 yr ago
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      blondeambition 

      Goals are a good thing to have.  Are you more likely to respond to fear-based goals or reward-based goals. Fear-based goals got me started in the beginning. 

       I started with a few 'never again' goals in a fit of total frustration and despair.

      • Never again will I be late in paying <fill in the blank>  which meant I had to get some funds in the bank ahead of those events, not use it for debt payments and not spend it on anything else. This is how I ended up living on last month's income before I found YNAB.

      Eventually I worked my way up to 'I want' goals, most of which were short-term immediate goals

      • - I want to go on X trip
      • - I want to buy the latest and best X
      • - I want to be debt-free and not have to use a credit card.
      • - I want to have money saved for _____ ahead of time, rather than paying for it with interest afterward.
      • - I want a minimum balance of $_____ in my bank account so I don't have to worry about overdrafting and paying fees to the bank.
      • - I want an emergency fund (definition of emergency will be based on your own past crisis experiences. Mine involved root canals, car repairs, lengthy unemployment, relocation fees, etc.)

      Then I began to develop mid- and long-term goals

      • How much car will I want to buy and in how many years (divide number by years/months to goal and invest it)
      • Regular monthly transfer to investment accounts for retirement
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      • J. Diamond/Green Harp
      • Gamelan composer, music publisher
      • Green_Harp_3533f4226c73
      • 1 yr ago
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      blondeambition 

      How to know our priorities? Perhaps start by looking at past decisions.  I just finish assigning categories to all my transactions in every account since 1/1/2017.  Seeing what I spent money on was (uncomfortably) eye opening; it revealed what my priorities were when I could just put everything on a CC and know there was enough in my savings account to pay the whole thing off every month. But I was not that aware of the choices I was making. Was it really important to spend so much on the online game Township, even if it is a cooperative? If I had thought about it before, I would never have spent as much as I did. I also found that I had signed up to make monthly donations to many more causes and organizations than I had thought.  Eating out always seems compelling in the moment, but maybe it would be better to have a plan of eating?

      Reply Like 2
  • This might seem counter-intuitive, but one of the things that helped my spending stay in check was charitable giving. I built up a small fund of money I could pull from whenever I saw a need I wanted to help fill. This had a few effects on me: 

    1. It made me feel like I had control of my money. I always felt wealthy when I gave money away, even when it was just a few dollars (and since I had set that money aside in the beginning, I was never worried that I had given too much). Money has a lot less psychological power on you when you can give it away with no strings attached. 

    2. It elevated the purpose of my money. When you purposefully give, it's not just about you anymore. That really helped me when I was tempted toward spending. If I splurged and went over budget, I might be more hesitant to give to others and miss out on an opportunity to help. 

    3. It tightened up my spending. A lot of people get into budgeting and frugality because of debt. When you have less money, you have to be more purposeful with how you use it. Giving can have the same effect, only your money is going toward causes and people you care about, not some bank or credit card company. 

    If you do try this, I recommend that you do everything you can not to touch your giving money. Treat it like you would your rent. (I always told myself that those dollars actually belonged to someone else, and I was just holding onto them until the right time.) If you put Giving at the bottom of your budget, you'll always find yourself using up all your money before you get there. 

    Best of luck! :) 

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    • Frugalitarian I love this idea so much, and am moving my Giving category right now! Thanks for the tip :)

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  • I literally look at my budget ALL. THE. TIME. It’s gotten to be an obsession! Once, I was using YNAB the right way, I began making progress in leaps and bounds. That helped tremendously with keeping my focused.  I find that the challenge and the reward of single person budgeting is that I can make any decision I want, put money into any category or not put money into any category, move money around as I choose to without asking anyone else, or change things as I feel like.

    I will pick 2 categories each month as my focus categories. These are the categories that I challenge myself to either spend much less than last month or to save much more than last month. I’ve been doing this for a few months and it’s been fun (haha…I’m a nerd!). It’s been tricky as well. I’ve picked spending categories that I’ve struggled with historically: groceries, eating out, and Amazon purchases. In terms of the savings, I’ll pick either something I know is coming up, like a trip, or just try to save more towards my emergency fund.

    I set a lot of goals for myself which I make a top priority, even if they could be seen as silly to someone else. Like for my birthday this past year, I wanted to go away with one of my best friends who happens to share the same birthday. We’ve been friends since college and have never done anything together for our birthday. So I added “Birthday Shenanigans” to my budget, decided how much I was willing to spend on shenanigans and began putting money towards it. We had an amazing time and I had all the money set aside for the trip. 

    I also find that as I am budgeting each money, I tend to challenge that category: Is this still important? How much do I care about this? Is this money better prioritized someplace else? Of course, this works better discretionary things, not your bills which you have to pay whether you want to or not. Although, I have used that thinking on bills but flipped the question: Would I obligate myself to this in the future if I had the chance? That’s helped focus some of my thoughts on what I would obligate my money to in te future. 

     

    nolesrule said:
    The trick is to pay attention to what you consider your priorities before you pull the spending trigger in a category that you do not have enough money in and acknowledge them. When you acknowledge them first, it makes the decision to spend or not easier.

     This is exactly on point and aligns with what I was saying about challenging all my spending, even my obligations. 

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  • A big one that has helped me has been shopping more.

    No really.

    I used to be those memes about how you go into Target for $20 worth of stuff and walk out with $200 worth of stuff. But then I lived right by a Target and I was popping in constantly. And this reduced my shopping.

    Growing up my mom, brother, and I went on a trip to the bigger town 45 minutes away to buy clothes twice a year. It was an exhausting all-day trip, but we didn't have the time to be making a 1.5 hour round-trip all the time (plus energy, gas, etc.) to go to a place where there were enough options to outfit two kids. 

    When I went to college I was flabbergasted by the idea of window shopping at the malls in town. All my friends had grown up in metro areas where this was a valid activity; I had grown up with the idea that you went to the store with a list and you followed it and you got things that weren't on the list if you found something you thought you wanted, because you weren't coming back for months. 

    By shopping more often, I retrained myself to realize that I live in cities now with tons of shopping. There is also online shopping now. I don't have to buy everything I like as soon as I see it because I might not be able to buy anything for a while -- I can buy things whenever I want/need them. I'm much pickier now about what I buy because of this. 

    Reply Like 3
      • HappyDance
      • YNABing consistently since 2014
      • HappyDance
      • 1 yr ago
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      readinggurl101 

      Interesting observation.  I came to a similar conclusion on grocery shopping. If I stick to the one shopping trip per week, usually on Saturday when every. other. person. in. the. world. and. their. extended. family is also grocery shopping, I would come home hot and cranky, and have to make multiple trips up to my 3rd floor apartment to get all my purchases home. It was time-consuming and exhausting. And it resulted in so much wasted food. One day I noticed that I was lugging similar sized bags of wasted food garbage back down to the bin behind my apartment building.  I switched it up to shopping more frequently for fewer items and fewer meals. Instead of buying for seven days, I bought for four days, and I still had more than enough to last the week. I don't buy extra out of a worry about running out of something. Instead I just drop in for a single item now and again as needed. Far more efficient use of my time, less exhausting, and it literally cut my food spending in half.

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    • HappyDance LOVE IT!

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  • Ive got my wish farm at the top of my category list. Things i cant have without saving. Keeps a bit of focus. 

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