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The best money-saving wedding present we could have ever received!

How a budget has helped us survive a challenging and unusual financial situation

As you well know, our family has become big fans of You Need a Budget over the past year.

YNAB aims to be a different kind of budgeting software — one that will help you break the paycheck to paycheck cycle, get out of debt and save money, and ultimately help you live the kind of life you want.

When I shared earlier last year about how much we love this software, I was so happy to hear how many of you also loved YNAB. We recently partnered with YNAB to offer $100 Amazon gift cards to the top success stories we received from readers about how YNAB has changed your life.

We received so many wonderful success stories and it was hard to choose just a few to share here! Thank you to everyone who submitted entries!

Here’s the final winning post…

How a budget has helped us survive a challenging and unusual financial situation

Guest post written by Katie

When my husband and I were married in 2012, a relative gifted us with a copy of YNAB’s budgeting software as a wedding present. At the time, we were both working low-paying jobs and living in a high cost of living area, so managing our finances was a priority. We jumped right into YNAB and immediately fell in love! Though our income was low and our financial goals modest, following YNAB’s rules helped us devise a budget and stick to it in the early days of our marriage.

Six months after our wedding, my husband quit his job to pursue a master’s degree full-time in a more lucrative field. This would involve us living on my salary alone. Since YNAB had already taught us to plan for the future while living below our means, this transition wasn’t as jarring as it might have been. YNAB allowed us to “roll with the punches” – adjusting our budget to fit our new circumstances.

A little over a year into my husband’s studies, we faced another major (but welcome!) change: the birth of our first child. Since me staying home to raise our child is a non-negotiable for us (and most of my income would have gone to pay for daycare anyway), we decided I would quit my job and we would live for the remaining two years of the program on some savings and the student loans my husband receives through his school. This meant incurring more debt, since the loans would now cover living expenses as well as tuition.

Though this was less than ideal, ultimately we were confident it was the best path for our family in the long term. We weren’t thrilled with the idea of going into more debt, but felt comfortable with it as a temporary situation, as my husband would soon be employed in a profitable job in a thriving field, allowing us to repay the debt quickly after graduation.

Initially, I was skeptical of how much YNAB could help us navigate our new financial situation. Wasn’t budgeting for people who were actually, um, making money? Or saving for a house or a car or a vacation – all things that were not in the cards for us at that point? I soon realized, though, that we needed YNAB more than ever.

Since our loan disbursements are paid out at the beginning of each semester, we receive a check for a lump sum three times per year. That money must last until the next check arrives. After playing around with YNAB, I couldn’t find a way to make the software truly work well with our situation. Curious, I signed up for one of YNAB’s (free!) online classes, called “Dealing with Different Pay Cycles”. A light bulb switched on for me.

The instructor demonstrated exactly how to handle an irregular or “lump sum” income, patiently guiding me through how to set up YNAB to defer part of our student loan money to each month we need it to cover, so we are never scrounging to make ends meet at the end of a semester. Now, when a student loan check arrives, we use YNAB to divide it up among the months it must cover, budget for our expenses within each of those months, and then sit back and (mostly!) don’t worry about whether we’ll have enough to last us the rest of the semester.

YNAB has been especially helpful because once we deposit that student loan check, it is extremely tempting to see that high dollar amount in the bank and assume we can spend spend spend. Of course, then we would reach the end of the semester and be barely scraping by until the next installment arrived! Here’s where YNAB comes in: it allows us to take that loan money, budget it out across the timeframe we need it to cover, follow our budget, and not obsess over a bank account balance.

For us, YNAB has been a tremendous blessing in this challenging season of our lives. I could go on and on listing the features I love about YNAB, but three in particular stand out to me:

1. It’s simple. The interface is clean and pretty; the features are intuitive and user-friendly. Plus, any questions I have had have been immediately answered by YNAB’s top-notch customer service or the super helpful community of users on the online forum.

2. It looks forward, not backward. YNAB isn’t a vicious circle of recording expenses/grumbling about how much we overspent/vowing to underspend next month/repeat. YNAB forces us to look ahead, plan for the future, and address overspending as it happens, when it happens.

3. It doesn’t sync with our bank accounts. That’s a good thing! YNAB requires us to manually enter our transactions and assign each one to a category. While this means more grunt work upfront, it forces us to take stock of how much we’re spending and where. Sitting down every week to enter in data has allowed us to see where we’re succeeding (we came in under budget on groceries this month!) and where we’re struggling (I spent HOW MUCH at Target last weekend?).

While the path we have chosen may not be for everyone, YNAB has allowed us to take control of a challenging financial situation. It has made it feasible for my husband to pursue a career he enjoys and that will provide well for our family in the future, while I stay home with our now two children. Sticking to a budget has been financially freeing rather than restrictive. Now, just a few months shy of my husband’s graduation, we look forward to using YNAB as we work to pay off debt and build our savings.

Our YNAB subscription wasn’t the most conventional or romantic wedding gift we received, but it is certainly the most useful, the one we use the most often, and the one that has paid the most dividends!

Katie is a Canadian transplant to the U.S. She lives in northeastern Ohio, where she chases her two children, reads, binge-watches Netflix, and reheats the same cup of coffee over and over.


Interested in trying out YNAB? Go here to sign up for a free 34-day trial.

This post is underwritten by YNAB. Read our disclosure policy here.

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  • Kelly in CA says:

    I love YNAB too! Congratulations on making it work through a tight financial time! I don’t have a success story with it, though last year when we were doing a move-out home renovation, using YNAB made me realize that we’d run out of cash in a few months and gave us time to secure a low interest HELOC without the time crunch or high interest credit card debt. Now, YNAB is helping me plan to pay off the HELOC sooner.

    Starting in January, YNAB now sells it’s software as a service which you can access via website, rather than a desktop program (for an annual subscription fee). The new YNAB now automatically downloads your transactions, though I still enter each transaction as I make it to remain mindful of my spending. My husband won’t do that, and now that transactions are updated in the budget automatically from the banks, I don’t feel like such a nag. 🙂

    The new YNAB also gives you the option to set goals for each budget category. So, for example, we input how much we want to have saved for our car insurance payment by a certain date, and it shows what to put aside each month to reach that goal. Of course I could do the math, but I have LOTS of goals, so it’s nice to just have it done for me!

    It doesn’t have reporting, though, which the YNAB desktop software had, though I hear it’s coming soon.

  • Melinda says:

    I actually was totally overwhelmed by YNAB for some reason. I just recently downloaded the Every Dollar app and I’m hopeful that it will really work for us. It also is not linked to your bank account so each time I grab a soda from the machine at work or choose to grab lunch out rather than eat what I’ve packed I have to go in and account for it. In the past I always tried to budget per pay period but looking at the entire month has really changed my perspective about budgeting. I think it really takes finding the right system for each individual.

  • Joanna says:

    YNAB’s “Dealing with Different Pay Cycles” online class, along with the idea of only budgeting money you have (rather than what you think you’re going to have) helped me SO much!

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