YNAB & Why We Use It

5 min readJan 13, 2024

Caveat: This is not a sponsored post, although I truly wish it were, and speaks solely to my personal experience. It is also not official financial advice, as I’m not a financial expert.

Mint is retiring. This sucks, but let’s face it Mint has been buggy in recent years. So, Pablo and I took the next step in our relationship: financial transparency.

From the YNAB Website

If you don’t know much about YNAB, it originated from the envelope system for budgeting and ultimately focuses on allocating your dollars as they are in your bank account. YNAB stands for You Need a Budget. And… I do.

At the start of the year we made the big decision to be fully financially transparent.

The main trigger was simply that YNAB has an annual subscription which means if we wanted to pay for it, we were going to use it. But beyond that it probably makes sense to look at our common expenses together, think about our goals together, and consider how we contribute to them intentionally.

These triggers of course, made me think a lot about what it means to be financially transparent.

Family Habits

Financial transparency has been really scary for me. I have a lot of familial financial baggage like I imagine many people do. We bring forward habits, fears, aspirations with our money from previous generations in the same way we do other habits. For our family it was often taboo to discuss in detail, and my parents had very different approaches to finance.

My fear as I mentioned from student loans, I think also comes from a past relationship. I think my student loans really scared my partner. I do think large loans should feel scary, but like an obstacle I wanted support on how to tackle it. I also wanted to know how we could put up safeguards and rails financially. I think really I was craving something like YNAB but didn’t feel like I even had enough money to conceptualize it all. I made $48k annually, and felt like I was barely making ends meet.

Fast forward, and I’m happy to have a partner who also seeks to build generational wealth together.

A Move Towards Security & Peace of Mind

At first I was nervous about being financially transparent. I was nervous Pablo would now know how much I spend in Amazon expenses and on organic and gluten-free foods. I was nervous I wouldn’t be able to get as many gifts for friends, or spend money on my art supplies. That we’d make budgets that were confined and scary.

But, duh — he already sees what comes in, what I buy, and what I cook and eat. He sees my Hungryroot subscription, and the new inks for printmaking. We live together. So I came to the conclusion that this system is only going to be beneficial to us. We can build habits about being conscientious of how much we each spend regularly, and to be fair — it feels secure to know we have the funds tucked away for obligatory monthly expenses. It also means we get to watch all of our finances in the same spot truly grow. I can track my acorns investments, my venmo balance, my 401k as well as my day to day spending. We can move away from living paycheck to paycheck and actually plan.

Budgeting with a Data Informed Approach

One thing that hung me up about YNAB, or really any budgeting app, is that I didn’t feel I had the data to plan or even set strong categories. I felt like we were guessing. I hate guessing. I am not one for the squishiness of answers, I like rules, and black and white. That is unless we truly can’t account for all the variables. But in this case, we absolutely could.

I have the data. I’ve had data for years actually, stored in mint. While I never used mint to its fullest in terms of budgeting, I did recognize the value in have funds all in the same spot for tracking purposes. So while Pablo and I were planning, I finally exported all of my transaction. Then I categorized them further into buckets that felt comfortable to look at on a monthly and daily basis.

I looked at the last four years because it felt most representative of my habits (newer habits like international travel), and salary. Technically I could go back to 2017, but it gets fuzzy in terms of how connected my accounts were.

Here’s how it ultimately broke down:

Keep in mind, this excludes my 401k, which fluctuates between 15–19% of my salary pre-taxes. Ultimately this means I’m spending roughly 23% on rent, utilities (lights, gas, water, electricity), 35% on savings. The other 42% goes to everything else from auto insurance, medical bills, to dining out, coffee, and tuition for the master’s program I’m in.

I’m pretty proud of this actually. I was nervous about Pablo seeing how much I use my credit card (although I pay it off regularly and use it to accumulate travel points). I was nervous about whether or not I was truly spending more than my means. But after laying out everything, categorizing a budget based on 5+ years on my financial history supported by real data, I’m pretty excited to be this in control.

Maintaining Habits

I was nervous that the habits would be tough to keep up. While I certainly am speaking sooner than I should (it is still January after all), I’m excited for this habit. I have a built in accountability partner, and if anything goes off course it lights up in red or yellow colors. Guardrails in place to keep me on course, to keep us on course.

This habit means freedom. I won’t have to be nervous to pay for a trip, because I realistically allocated for it. I will have budgeted for the bigger fun gifts for friends and family. I designated money for the inevitable shipping I pay for for my etsy shop. I found space in my budget for the Netflix subscription and the books I buy.

I’m good, and I’m really happy to say that. I feel at peace, to be able to conclude that I’m good.




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