How I got my partner to YNAB with me (and you can too) - A success story

In April, I asked in the forums how to go about this: https://support.youneedabudget.com/t/80sf72

I just wanted to report back to share how we went about this because it worked surprisingly well. Our new budget (same as my old budget) even includes the historical data I'd built up since I started YNAB-ing!

If things continue as they have been, we're on track to have our 20% downpayment before closing on our home (4 mo away), plus an extra month of rent at the old place, plus a few months' buffer. YNAB wins for sure!

Tl;Dr:

  • Don't start a new "fresh start" budget. Use your old one. Keep your data.
  • Connect partner's accounts on the 1st of the month. It's easier that way.
  • Combine the budgeting categories and set funding goals, then quick-budget everything.
  • Show them how to use the app to categorize transactions.
  • This is an ongoing process, not an event. Expect to continue adjusting categories based on spending.
  • Talk about spending+budgeting priorities. Communication and honesty is everything!
  • Be proactive to educate your new budgeting partner, especially with YNAB mindsets you may take for granted like "next month's money".

You can see our categories before/after in the attached screenshots.

Here's our process:
First, we connected her checking/savings accounts, and those starting balances went into "To Be Budgeted".

Next, we connected her Discover card -- the only one she really uses. It had a small balance left on it, so connecting it now made it easy to budget towards paying it off. We went ahead and set a goal in YNAB to pay it off in 2 months.

Then, the magic step: how we "merged" each of our categories. She had already been budgeting on her own (using a Google Sheet), so we simply combined/created her categories in my budget. For example, we'd each been budgeting $200 and $300 a month respectively for groceries, so we combined them and set a $500 "Monthly Funding Goal" in YNAB. Our "Work Lunch" categories we wanted to keep separate, so I renamed mine to "His Work Lunch" and created "Her Work Lunch" with a "Monthly Funding Goal" of her previously budgeted amount. This is where it started to become "our" budget and not "mine" anymore.

I paused here and checked our work by making sure our total planned monthly funding goals were less than the combined amount we budgeted individually before. (more info below)

Finally, I selected all the categories, clicked "Underfunded" to quick-budget them, and called it a day. That was a big mistake for us -- more on that below. But if your co-budgeter wants to be hands-off with funding the categories, and only spend what's already in them, maybe this is a good shortcut for your situation.

Now that we had funded each category, we logged into her Discover account and manually entered all her pending transactions, categorizing them as we went. We did the same with her bank accounts. In the process, we found some things that could be categorized better, so we adjusted the budget accordingly. We continue to do this.

Then I got the app installed on her phone, and showed her how to categorize transactions when imported.

And that's basically it. It's now half-way through month #2. As we expected, we're still adjusting categories regularly as we both get to better understand each other's spending habits. We make it a point to sit down at least once a week and look at how we're doing in each category. Ie, are we gonna have enough in here to make it to the end of the month? Do we really need that much before the end of the month? Each time, we discover things and adjust our funding goals accordingly.
Any time we adjust a funding goal, we click into next month and select all categories to make sure we will make enough to auto-budget those funding goals. We often realize that we're budgeting more than we make, forcing us to really think and talk about our priorities (which is a good thing IMO).

A few notes, details, and caveats:

We both get paid on the 1st of the month, so we made sure to do this on the first. That made it easy because the TBB amount was sure to equal what we'd already been budgeting on our own. This might not be an issue for you if you are already "living on last month's money" as YNAB suggests. On the other hand, if you are already in debt and/or living paycheck to paycheck, this becomes even more important.

Before taking the above steps, I made a "fresh start" budget so I'd have a backup in case something went wrong. I did not end up needing it, but I find comfort in knowing it's there.

Because we set funding goals on each category we were able to simply select all categories to see how much in total we'd need to budget in a month. We used this number to check our work when merging categories: if we did it right, the total amount we need to budget should add up to what I'd been budgeting + what she'd been budgeting. It was only a few hundred off -- close enough for us.

Her BofA accounts had to be "manual" because YNAB only supports 1 BofA login. If we used different banks, this would not be an issue. In our case, so few transactions flow through those accounts that we don't need auto-import.

So this is that mistake I made, where I should have seized the opportunity to educate...
All that money in "To Be Budgeted"... with a few clicks, I quick-budgeted it into our categories based on those funding goals. My wife had no idea what I just did, and this deprived her of understanding what was really going on when we "budget money into a category". Most notably, it took a while for her to wrap her head around how: the amounts in your bank account really don't mean anything, because your budget represents "giving that money a specific job", and the sum of your budget is the sum of your assets (no matter what account they are in).
That led to a lot of questions like "where did all my savings go". My answer was: "you had less in savings than you make in a month, so it went into the 'next month's money' category", which just created more confusion. This would have been much easier to explain from the outset, or if we were both living on the same "month's money". I had just started doing "next month's money" the month prior, which I'm sure didn't help.

Here's what I should have done -- instead of just quick budgeting everything without explaining. We actually did this a few weeks later and it proved a very educational exercise.
We went through the first 5-10 categories and manually budgeted amounts, so I could show her how it moves from TBB into the category, and how the balance goes up/down. I also clicked into the next month to show how the balance carries over.
After we'd done 10 "by hand", I showed her how we can click the "Goal Target" button to "Quick Budget" that category, saving the manual entry.
Finally, I showed how she can select multiple/all categories, and quick-budget them all at once.
For the rest of the categories, we just set a funding goal and used quick-budget. We still went one by one though. It was a huge help to simply talk about them. Ie: How much do we need to budget here? Is this too much/little? When do we need this money available? Are there things in here we should combine/separate further? I think that helped her to feel more like it was "our" budget -- the psychological aspect @green_garden_reader mentions in the thread where I asked originally.

Here are the budget categories, before (left) and after (right):

  

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