How to improve my skill level in identifying my own inputting errors

I've been using YNAB since August 2016, and it has helped me identify and start to clean up several financial messes. I use (and only know about) what true old-timers call "the new YNAB").

One mess that I can't seem to clean up is errors in inputting information that is crucial to the success of my budget and my plan for the month. This has been a source of deep embarrassment for me over my lifetime (I actually remember being completely horrified by my un-noticed errors in addition and subtraction as far back as first grade). Here's a recent example:

I move money from one account to a second account each time I receive a paycheck. From that second account, I pay my monthly mortgage. I also maintain a buffer of extra cash there that I use for emergencies. I've had some unexpected and unwelcome but desperately needed car repairs over the past few months, and I've been able to pay for those thanks to YNAB - phew! However, recently, I made an error in determining how much I needed to pay the current car repair bill and how much would be left over to pay the mortgage after I paid the car repair bill.

So: I paid the car repair bill. Then I wondered why I did not have enough cash in the account to pay the mortgage. I had double, triple, and quadruple checked the account before paying the car repair, just to assure myself I could pay both and have money left in the account. Turns out, I can't and I don't.

Fortunately, again thanks to YNAB, I have money in other categories which I will move to the account that doesn't have enough money in it right now. I also have a plan to rebuild the categories that I am moving the money from as well as the account that I wrongly thought had enough money.

This is not an error on the bank's part, just to get that out of the way. This is me missing a completely obvious bit of crucial information even after checking multiple times to make sure I wasn't missing it.

I hope I have explained this coherently. I have done this time after time after time, throughout my lifetime. YNAB has gotten me closer to accuracy than ever before, and so you'll have to pry my YNAB subscription out of my cold, dead, financially solvent hands. But I can't seem to understand how to identify errors that I can't see.

Help? Thanks!

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  • Hey, Amy! This is a great question, and I think it really gets to the heart of why this is probably the most-shared article ever here in the forum:

    The Relationship Between Your Budget & Your Accounts: It's Complicated

    It sounds like you had the money you needed for both the car repair and the mortgage in their YNAB categories, but not enough money to cover both in that mortgage/emergency bank account.

    The solution we recommend—and we understand that this is a process that may take time both to get your head around and to implement—is to close the second account and transfer the money into your primary checking account.

    This isn't a personal failure whatsoever! Maintaining two parallel systems for giving your dollars jobs is difficult for everybody, and that's why we suggest that you simplify. When I came to YNAB, I had ten savings accounts. One for medical. One for vacation. One for clothing(!). One for emergency savings. And so on.

    I didn't do it right away, but over time I've closed all of these accounts and now just keep that money in my (interest-bearing) checking account. I trust YNAB to tell me what jobs my dollars have, and as long as I don't overspend or overbudget, I have no risk of overdrawing my account. It's one less thing (or in my case, ten less things) to worry about.

    Now, if your checking account doesn't earn any interest and your savings account does, you're probably want to continue to keep some money in savings. But I think most successful YNABers maintain a higher checking account balance (sometimes much higher!) than before they started using YNAB. If this costs you, say, a dollar a month in interest, I think the peace of mind you get from not having to chase dollars around between accounts (and enter the transfers!) is worth it.

    Like 3
      • Amy H
      • Makingspace
      • 3 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Matthew Thanks for this detailed reply. I also appreciate the suggestions to consolidate accounts and review the budgeted amounts in their categories from within only one account.

      In this particular situation, I did not have enough money in the account/category to pay both bills; however, I did have money in two other categories which I moved to the deficient account/category. Now I will build up cash in the "donor" categories as well as in the deficient category/account.

      My error was in simply not seeing (though I quadruple checked - it's maddening) that the number of dollars in the category/account did not match the number of dollars I needed in order to pay the bills. I saw the number (physically looked at it) as being twice as much as it was. I have no explanation for this, I'm not dyslexic. I have done this kind of thing all of my life, and it always terrifies me. I want to know how people DON'T do this, because I have honestly never "talked" about it before, but I assume it's just a problem I have.

      In terms of consolidating accounts, I currently have one account from which I do 99% of my banking/budgeting/paying; and a second account (the one I read wrong) that I use to pay the mortgage. I would love to pay the mortgage from the first account, but there is no way to do that via autopay. And I would similarly love to use only the second account, but it is in a state I plan to move to in a few years, and I cannot do direct deposit from my day job or cash deposits from my side hustle there.

      I know this is not really a YNAB-related issue, it's a me-seeing-numbers issue; I just figured this would be a good place to ask if anyone has specific skills in reading, identifying, and double/triple/quadruple-checking numbers so that they will be more correct. YNAB has helped immensely, but I still see errors like this one that make me really panic.

      Thanks again, and I welcome any further insights as well.

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      • Matt T
      • matt.1
      • 3 mths ago
      • 1
      • Reported - view

      Amy H I can fully relate to the error-prone nature of humans and numbers. I've always thought YNAB could have some sort of history log of every time available funds are moved between categories, and ability to rollback to a snapshot of your budget from earlier in the day, week, month, etc. A lot of times I simply make silly mistakes that throws off my budget. There's one thing I do often (I have an automated Python script doing most of the work now) and that is: I'll tally up category balances and make sure it aligns with my bank account balance. It's more of a sanity check than anything but it assures me that whatever I have available for all categories is actually supported by my bank account with the actual money in it.

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

      Matt T it may be helpful to know that TBB is actually computed as the remainder of money you hold that's NOT in categories. Since people are error prone, repeated verification that the computer can perform arithmetic is more likely to stress the user (until they realize it is they who have made the mistake).

      Like 1
      • Matt T
      • matt.1
      • 3 mths ago
      • 1
      • Reported - view

      @dakinemaui Thanks but I'm referring to money already budgeted to categories, not TBB. The repeat verification is a sanity check to ensure my bank account lines up with what I have budgeted and provides absolute peace of mind.

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

      Matt T My point was that the money is split between categories and TBB, and because TBB is zero (Rule 1, right?), all your money must therefore be in categories. You seem to like to verify this often, which is cool. I'd suggest that others should probably prove this to themselves once and trust from that point on. They don't have the benefit of your automation and are more likely to make a mistake.

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      • Matt T
      • matt.1
      • 3 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      dakinemaui Makes sense. Yeah I think in my early days of YNAB I was still learning and made mistakes and now that I've gotten better I probably don't need the balance check but I've kept it around at the very least because it's a fun side project. 😄

      Like
  • Simplify your accounts. The absolutely easiest option is to put everything in a single checking account. Yes a savings account earns more interest, but if one mistake outweighs a years worth of interest, why take the chance?

    That said, a consistent process is crucial if you are using multiple accounts. I have a monthly ToDo reminder to ensure my checking account balance is sufficient for the next 4 weeks. I use scheduled transactions and the running balance shows at a glance whether I need to move money.

    Additionally, use of a paid-in-full CC minimizes the number of transactions hitting your checking account. Bonus points for the rewards income (free money).

    On a larger note is consistency in budgeting and use of Rule 2. My nominal monthly budget values are pretty consistent at this point. A few clicks at the beginning of the month is all I need to get started. Being able to push income into next month's area helps here, because I work with month-sized chunks. However, being consistent with paycheck-sized chunks is invaluable until you get a month ahead.

    Like 4
      • Amy H
      • Makingspace
      • 3 mths ago
      • 1
      • Reported - view

      dakinemaui Hey dakine, shout out from the Big Island! (Also, thanks for the detailed response - much appreciated information on consistency and consolidation)

      Like 1
  • I have a  suggestion for you to try!  As you say, this is not a budgeting problem but a "seeing the numbers that are there" problem.  I majored in math and had to be extra diligent when writing down numbers (from a textbook or the blackboard) that I didn't transpose numbers.

    My suggestion for you:  When wanting to double-check numbers, use multiple senses.  Instead of just looking, use a Read-Write-Say sequence:  As you are reading the numbers (visual), write the number (touch), and say the number (audio) outlaid.   You are more likely to catch a disconnection of perception this way.

    If you still find you are making mistakes, do the same thing but backwards.  The extra work of having to process a number backwards makes it less likely to see what you expect to see.  This same process works for adding a bunch of numbers as well.  Add downwards, get a total.  Then add upwards and get a total.  Compare.

     

    Hint:  This tip also works great in proofreading for spelling...

     

    HTH!

    Like 2
      • Amy H
      • Makingspace
      • 3 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      VickiS This is brilliant!! I'm going to try this.

      Like
  • My heartfelt thanks to everyone for your thoughtful, detailed, and helpful responses. I look forward to re-reading them and to implementing ideas you've shared. Thank you so much, it really means a lot.

    On one level, I'm relieved to know I'm not alone in a tendency to miss seeing and identifying specific numbers while in the act of looking at them. On another, I really appreciate you folks' real-world experiences and advice based on using YNAB to deal with issues of consistency, consolidating accounts, and determining inputting accuracy.

    Again, thank you so much. This is the first time I've ever "told" anyone how difficult numbers are for me, and while YNAB has come pretty close to being a magic solution (it really fixes 90% of my issues right off the bat), there are things I still miss. I really appreciate the level of detail and positivity in your responses. I don't feel like a freak and I have several solutions I can implement - that means more than I can express. Thank you!

    Like 5
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