Budget Planning with YNAB

So I have been using YNAB for many months now and I love it. I do master it and it allowed me to take control over my budget; especially having a real holistic view about what does happen in real time. 


Now, I feel there is only one component missing for me. And I could swear I ask/read about it when I started (and was more active on the forum :) ), but I can't locate details. So I do apologize for the repeat....


So in nutshell, before YNAB, I was using an Excel Spreadsheet to put all my planned, schedules expenses/investment for the year, all my planned income for the year, and I would know instantly if I am in a positive trend or not. And with the Extra money, then I could then start distributing money in various Excel Cells to test some scenarios (how much money I have available to splurge and indulge myself in vacation, restaurants, new toys, etc). I could easily see when my budget would break for the year. This could tell me things like for this year, I can spend 4000$ for family vacation let`s say.   With this information, I could decide to adjust my planning to Invest/Spend/Redistribute. It was useful to me to test some ideas, and always be sure that I remain in the positive for the year.

In clear; a simple way to see if over the current year my spending appetite remain under what I have available.


 In a way, I am able to do this today for the current month. I have my categories with goals, and I can't miss if I go over budget. The big red indicator can't be miss... But it seems I have no way to plan ahead, only now. Even if I put my income as recurring, it is not considered when I move month forward. Now I get it; YNAB rules tell me to only work with the money I have.... but it seems that planning far ahead to see if we are in a positive trend or not is difficult.

On my side, I have variable pay check, and I have enough statistical evidence that I will remain employed for the foreseeable future, and that allows me to plan projects..... in a few months from now, not necessary today. I guess I am trying to figure out the future impact on how much money I will have available if I decide to adjust my goals in some Categories.


By example, I want to change my mountain bike in the next 2-3 year. With the Excel method, I can easily see how much money I will have available if I do respect my budget, and when. And then I can do some scenario (more vacation, less on the MTB, etc) . Now, I have no idea how to do this with YNAB.. :)


So the obvious answer is to keep doing both, which I will do moving forward.... but though I would ask the experts! :)


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  • I use a spreadsheet to do the overall planning and annual reviewing of my budget and then transfer the monthly numbers into YNAB goals. I find it much easier to do that tinkering and scenario testing outside of YNAB.

    Like 1
  • Eric Poulin said:
    it seems I have no way to plan ahead

    Your future plans manifests themselves in the present via Rule 2.

    Like 2
  • You mention variable income, which can be normalized in a manner similar to Rule 2. Target your budget at the average income level. Absorb the income overages and shortages in/with a Deferred Income category so the rest of your budget doesn't need to change.

  • Eric Poulin said:
    By example, I want to change my mountain bike in the next 2-3 year. With the Excel method, I can easily see how much money I will have available if I do respect my budget

    So you need $5000 in 2 years, that's $208/month via Rule 2. You need to identify where in the priority hierarchy this bike sits and reduce the ongoing budget entries of lower priority categories until a new $208/month category fits within your income constraints. ("Income constraints" is your average income level since you're variable.)

    The lowest priority category should take the hit, and on up the scale. Cut scope, push timelines, or both. Cut scope leverages the varying priority within a given category: it might be a low priority to eat out 20x per month, but mandatory to eat out 5x. You can also extend the timeline on lower priority categories to reduce their demand.

    If your combined adjustments to lower priority categories cannot give up $208/month, you must plan on a cheaper bike or extend the timeline. Iterate until things are acceptable.

    So the budgeting is trivial. The "only" hard part is identifying the priorities. 😉

    Like 3
  • :) Thanks for all the details dakinemaui . I see what you mean in the last example in putting everything in YNAB and assign money in Priority... I guess it is really about knowing advance how much I can afford relative to the time...the thing is that I am okay with Variable time. I do not mind if it takes 12,18,24,36 months to get to my dream bike. :) But I'D like to know. And this is where it is YNAB is a bit short, at least for what that aspect of budgeting.


    I will still remain 100% commited to YNAB;  no changes there. :) I love it. But doing a few hypothetical calculations about future project is just easier with Excel I feel. Then when I am comfortable, I can simply put it as a category and then it's alive in the real world. 

      • dakinemaui
      • dakinemaui
      • 10 mths ago
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      Eric Poulin If you really don't care, then by definition, everything else is more important. The bike gets whatever is left after funding the other categories (if anything). You get there when you get there. Anytime you want to "know", just subtract what's currently available from what you want and divide by the budget value to give the remaining months. Sure, Excel can do that, but I suspect you can ballpark it in your head close enough.

      One caution, because I see this a fair bit: Others, in the back of their mind, are already planning on bumping up the bike (or whatever) fund with tax refunds or other windfalls. In other words, it's not really the lowest priority. They're now juggling two sets of priorities (one internal), and conflict ensues.

      My advice is to make a concrete and feasible plan with which you're satisfied right now based on current priorities -- address both scope and timeline for a bike with which you believe you'd be happy. You will know when that bike is possible. If you later decide to change either (scope or timeline), then change the plan at that point in time to satisfy the then current priorities.

      ETA: I suspect a new bike isn't the least important thing on your plate. And I think you should be happy. 🙂 I'm not anti-Excel, but I am pro about acknowledging your true priorities (even ones that might violate societal convention. Your budget, your priorities. Starbucks run, anyone? 😋)

      Like 3
      • Emma Catherine
      • Civil engineer getting back on track
      • emmacatherine
      • 10 mths ago
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      • Reported - view

      Eric Poulin spreadsheets are my happy place, so I do as you do. I plan out months in advance in a spreadsheet, funding the big things first (bills, groceries, subscriptions) and then see what I have left. If I'm happy with how things are spread out, I leave it. Maybe the next day I feel different and add or adjust categories. Regardless, when payday comes around, I know exactly how much I need to put in each category in YNAB and I feel confident knowing I'm not taking away from others. And then when an expense comes up, or I remember about a yearly fee,  I simply add it to the spreadsheet and the category to YNAB and it is ready to go for the next paycheck. I like using both. I feel like without one or the other (spreadsheet and YNAB) I wouldn't feel as in control. Sure, it would be great if YNAB had some sort of feature to do this, but that would also go against their philosophy, so I don't think that will change. 

      Like 2
    • dakinemaui I get what you are saying. Well for me it is really about to know if the Sum of my Priorities are above or below my yearly income. That is the main idea for the Excel spreadsheet, which I do not mind to maintain every 6 month or so.... I was more curious about how to do this in YNAB; figuring out what the futur looks like. But I get this is agains the method, and maybe I should just embrace it ....... (while cheating with my excel spreadsheet! :) 


      I agree with your concrete and feasible plan that I can adjust as needed, and YNAB allows that more easily than Excel. That, I can see. And this is why I have been with the software for a year now and it helps me tremendously!   

    • Emma Catherine Totally agree with you here; I guess that in our respective "mindset", we like to have the planned approach (YNAB) but also the overarching, 10000 feets view (Excel). And I do not mind doing both really.... I think I wanted to know if YNAB would offer this but I get what you say; since it is not really align with their rules, they will most likely never change it. But its not a problem at all; really. 

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

      Eric Poulin  I don't see why the sum of your priorities (the ones high enough to be funded at least) would be anything other than exactly your yearly income.

      It's interesting that "dakine" is a placeholder term when you can't think of what to say. Faced with trying to come up with a username... well, you get the picture. 😆 I do like Dakine gear though!

  • Eric Poulin said:
    But I'D like to know.

     Well if you follow dakinemaui 's method you will know. He starts from setting a timeline on the bike. You can start by looking at your monthly budget: where would you be happy to cut some? See how much you can cut from those monthly budgets in other categories. That will give you how much per month you can put on the bike. Then it's trivial to know how long it will take you to save for your bike from that. Feel free to do that in a test budget (open a new budget), or in a future month. To Be Budgeted will be negative in the future month but it doesn't matter since you know why that is the case.

    What dakinemaui doesn't mention is that he is a big fan of always budgeting the same amounts each month in all categories. And if you use YNAB as intended, that should happen naturally with time unless you are really short on income for your expenses. With a budget that is the same every single month, then you don't need an Excel spreadsheet to get to what you want. You simply change your monthly budget amounts until it fits with your new wants/needs/priorities. 

    Like 4
  • Ceeses said:
    big fan of always budgeting the same amounts each month

    True dat. As I see it, amounts change as priorities or timelines change or a better understanding of how much things cost (another way to view priorities, really). Otherwise, what reason is there to change?

    It's also the nominal budget amounts that I think should be fairly consistent. As "life happens" during the month (I budget in month sized chunks), money shifts as needed. A chronic shift (month after month) is a signal of a priority mismatch and a reason to adjust those nominal values.

    Like 1
  • Ceeses  I see what you mean.  Setting the timeline is actually the easy part, but considering that I am always allocating 100% of my money to existing categories, it means I need to cut somewhere. TBH, I am spending a lot of money in non-important categories like Restaurant, Vacation and activities (and a few others), so re-allocating is not an issues. It feels still "feel easier" to quickly do scenarios with Excel  compared to YNAB.... for now at least. :) 

    As for the way dakinemaui  does his budget, I can actually see this in some categories already.  I should probably aim toward this strategy for the sake of simplicity.... 


    And dakinemaui , first I need to say that I really dig your username. Hopefully I do not look like a fool if there is no connection, but me and my GF are a big fan of the Dakine Brand, and we would love to hit Maui one day.... One more thing to add to YNAB :)  But back to the budget; I would agree that amounts budgeted should mostly change when Priorities evolve. It is clear to me that I have some work to do around my priorities to take the full advantage of YNAB... and my budget!


    Thanks for all the info!      

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