ADHD brains and YNAB-ing

Good morning YNABers!

The reason I’m starting this thread is because too many times I just seem to have a hard time grasping what I am sure is a simple concept for non-ADHD YNABers. If you have seen the movie It’s a Bug’s Life, when the ants are marching along and all of the sudden a giant leaf falls in the middle of their marching path. The ants go into a panic without having any idea what to do next. A simple task like walk around the leaf can be overwhelming to an ant, and likewise many seemingly simple budgeting tasks can be overwhelming for ADHDers. 

so let’s not be afraid to ask for help! Let’s not worry about whether stupid questions really are only the unasked questions. In fact, let’s revel in our stupid questions.  Let’s get over that there might indeed be some stupid questions, but lets applaud each other for not understanding something and daring to ask even the simple questions. 

who are my ADHD brains out there with  nagging questions or stumbling blocks with YNAB? I’ll go first and introduce myself below.

Later I’ll post my first ADHD brick wall — a basic concept that I bet most YNAB users never thought you could get wrong, but I did and have for about 3 years now!


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  • Hi! I’m Orchid Panther, I love using YNAB and I’m 52 yrs old with ADHD

    Like 2
  • Continuing with this thread's theme, my first big ADHD/YNAB stumbling block I want to address is my confusion about what to do when I start overspending in budget categories throughout the month. Should I just add more money to the category? Should I rob from another category to keep it fully funded (whack-a-mole)? Should I transfer money from some rainy day funds categories like my annual life insurance policy?  

    I know I've seen all these ideas used by others in the help forums and in the video guides, but these great ideas quickly become information overload for me, and then my ADHD brain just goes KABOOM !!!! --And then I end up just dumping money into my ever increasing categories, because "we want all the categories to be green" right? -- Wrong! I was unknowingly creating a budget fantasy world for myself that never really helped me make a real budget. 

    One of the many great YNAB help videos cleared this topic up for me,  so as of this month, I WILL NOT keep throwing money into my budget categories! I WILL stick to my budget instead! This means I can either: 1. rob from other categories, or 2. Just not spend any money once i've hit my category limit.

    REALITY CHECK: since sometimes sh#&t happens, I do have a contingency plan for when I end up spending more than I have budgeted. (like right now, by the way!) I have done everything I can do to prevent overspending -- I have transferred all available funds from my other categories and I'm just going to end the month overspending by $17.95 in my Home Maintenance category. I will let this category remain underfunded and show a red/underfunded amount for the rest of the month, which will be a nagging visual clue for me. This will allow me to better evaluate my budget at the end of the month for future budget adjustments, and it will spur me to tighten the belt a bit more next month! I realize that the overspending will not be a free ride, that the overspending will be coming out of the TBB available funds for the next month -- I will have less funds available and I'll have to plan for it.

    It's a big picture thing. It may be a simple picture for most, but sometimes with my ADHD brain, big pictures remain big fuzzy pictures. I'm thrilled that this one finally came into focus! And I hope this helps someone else's big picture come into focus too.

    So remain calm, wash your hands, and Budget On!

    Like 1
    • Orchid Panther Handling overspending is tied to your understanding of your priorities. Money SHOULD flow to important categories that need it. It's very helpful to move funds from the lower priority category BEFORE incurring overspending.

      Knowing the consequences before committing makes it far easier to say no as well as give peace of mind to say yes.

      Like 4
    • dakinemaui , great idea. I’ll start anticipating low funds and moving beforehand. Thanks. 

  • Orchid Panther said:
    I will let this category remain underfunded and show a red/underfunded amount for the rest of the month, which will be a nagging visual clue for me

    I really don't think this is a good idea. The reason the category is red is because you used money that is earmarked in some other category. That means the Available value in some other category is now misleading!

    Having categories lie to you when you rely on them for spending decisions is a bad idea in my book.

    • dakinemaui , I am following what you are saying about the overspent funds are really not going to be available in some other category because I just spent it on this category. Reality in my case is I don’t have any more category funds to pull from, and I know that this overspending is being covered by next month’s TBB available funds. So for me and my ADHD brain, this month is going to be an experiment to see if an end of the month report with glaring red negative overspent categories will alert me that the coming budgetwill have that much less off the top AND I need to rethink my spending. 

      I take it normally isn’t typically so hard for YNABers to recognize their overspending, but it has proven to be very difficult for me. So I’m trying to find something that might grab the attention of my wandering ADHD brain a bit more. (Squirrel! 🐶)

  • Orchid Panther said:
    Reality in my case is I don’t have any more category funds to pull from

    The reality is you have ALREADY pulled from somewhere.

    In my admittedly limited understanding of ADHD, I would think it be preferable to be able to rely on the truth of something at a glance, as you may be focused on something else very soon. Best wishes to you! 🙂

    Like 1
  • Orchid, I appreciate what you're doing with this discussion. As an ADHDer, I'm struggling even to get started. It seems to take a massive amount of focus to set up my budget and when I can't start uploading transactions the next day, when I have momentum for it, because it takes 2-3 days for transactions to land, I struggle to come back to YNAB to do it.  Dakinemaui's advice seems the logical choice, but my wife is incredibly logical and I find I have to use some non-logical methods to motivate myself through some things that most people don't even think about. I wish I could just simply a budget into 10 categories so I can easily wrap my head around things, but you need to details...and that takes some serious focus!

    • Lavender Disk I don't have ADHD, so can't comment on that part, but...

      Unless you are keeping budget with your wife, you get to choose the categories you have. If 10 categories is what feels manageable to work with right now, set up ten categories. Work with them for a while. If you find that's not working, figure out why - are you overspending in one constantly, so you actually need to make it more detailed to see what's going on? Are you having trouble figuring out how to categorize things, so you have a lot of uncategorized/unentered transactions? Is ten still too many?

      I also suggest using the mobile app and making it a habit to take the time when you purchase something to enter it right then and there. (Okay, step out of line so the next person can get rung up, but before even leaving the store.) That way, you're not waiting for the direct import to land and have the focus to do the update. 


      If you are keeping budget with your wife, work with her to figure out how to manage the categories. She might need more than you, but maybe there's a way to simplify from her zillion categories to 20, or something. 

      Like 1
    • Fuzzball Meows , amen to using the mobile app immediately after checking out! Make it a must, for if you slack off once you'll have the tendency to continue slacking off until you have weeks worth of receipts to figure out -- guilty as charged! 😁

  • Hi Lavender Disk , I understand what you are talking about, as I tend to get overwhelmed by too may categories, but still needing the details that require more rather than less categories. I expect this is why categories are a popular topic here in The Community. If it helps, I'll describe my category setup, with some explanations on what I like about it. (caveat: I recently ditched the default main categories and expanded that to 9 main categories...

    My 9 Main categories are: Issues & Parked Funds, Living Expenses, Child Costs, My Medical, Miscellaneous Expenses, Periodic Expenses, Fun Money, Loan Payments, and Credit Card Payments. I have (for now!) settled on these 9 because they make sense to me when looking at the Spending By Category Pie Chart. Drilling down gives me the granularity in each category if I need to explore why a main category is creeping higher. 

    1. ISSUES & PARKED FUNDS: This is for items that I either need to keep an eye on, such as disputed transactions under investigation, charges I don't recognize but need to find the receipt to properly categorize, and PARKED FUNDS -- which is what I do with surplus funds after budgeting: I park such funds into next month under this category, so that the funds don't appear in this month's TBB, and so they don't appear in reports for this month. It's just what worked for my ADD brain, as a bit of a modification of what others do with future budgeting.

    2. LIVING EXPENSES are simply the essentials of life that are home related: rent/mortgage, groceries, household supplies, hardware, home maintenance, utilities, and gas & misc vehicle expenses (I didn't want a main category for transportation expenses, as the only thing I want to keep track of here is my gasoline costs each month, and if I spend more in gas then I'll need to adjust typically with funds from the other categories in this main group). I keep a close eye on this main group, and it is second in the ordering of my Main Budget Categories.

    3. CHILD COSTS: This can dramatically vary each month, so I keep it separate from my monthly LIVING expenses grouping; I need to keep an eye on how this affects my cash flow.

    4. MY MEDICAL: Self explanatory, and I only need to keep an eye on this if I'm in a phase of higher medical expenses. This its good for me to have this separated in its own group.

    5. MISCELLANEOUS EXPENSES: These are categories that are all small and do not need their own major category grouping: subscriptions, miscellaneous pocket spending, banking/ATM fees, tithing.

    6. PERIODIC EXPENSES: These are expenses that some put into other categories such as maintenance/repairs for their Transportation Expenses, but I instead set it up under a Periodic category as my brain wants to know how this affects the available funds for my other categories. This main category for me includes periodic insurance payments, auto maintenance, birthdays and gifts, membership dues, clothing, and business/office expenses. They all are expenses that don't all happen each month, but by their nature have the potential to combine in unfortunate months (--hmmm....maybe I can continue keeping an eye on these and modify them so they never pile up in one month?! 👍 )

    7. FUN MONEY: comes this low in the order of Main Categories as a reflection on how essential this spending is -- it can be sacrificed if needed. Here I use: fast food, dining out, entertainment, and shopping. Fast food is really daily lunches at work when I don't bring something from home BUT I want to consider this as FUN and not really an essential expense. Shopping involves anything I just feel like buying: gadgets, books, etc.

    8-9. And the last 2 main categories of LOAN PAYMENTS & CREDIT CARD PAYMENTS are separate categories because YNAB creates a separate category for credit card payments. These are last in my main category list mainly because they have automatic payments set up so I don't need to keep an eye on the details here, just that I'v spent the budgeted amounts in the form of their monthly servicing payments.

    So with this setup I have a bigger picture (that works for me) in the main categories level. I think the best practice here is to think about what money questions you want answers to or to keep a good awareness of, and then categorize in a way that expresses that best to you. 

    Like 1
  • Oh, one other thing I'm going to give a try at is to print out at the beginning and end of each month my budget goals and final outcomes, and keep these in a binder. -- For my brain this would likely help to form a bigger picture over time, giving me time to mull over the data and re-review as needed.

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