We’re fortunate in this day and age that there are all manner of tools that help you to keep your budget on track. Gone are the complicated spreadsheets and manually balancing all of your various accounts against paper statements.
In the past (prior to, and for the first years of our marriage) I relied on Quicken, but that was really not built to be a budgeting tool. Sure, it was handy for reconciling accounts against statements (thankfully, these were easy to download and import), but it wasn’t a vehicle conducive to actually allocating expenses against income.
A few years back I ran across a piece of software called You Need a Budget (aka YNAB) that hit all the right criteria, especially when it came to allocating your income to specific segments of the budget.
So, we made the shift to this new tool. The nice thing about the licensing is once you’ve bought the application, you can install it on multiple computers, so copies went right on to both of our computers. It took some setup to synchronize the files across the home network, but we got it up and running.
The thing was, it just wasn’t convenient to use. Yes, I could set aside some time (generally an hour chunk or so every week) to work on it, but my wife had a much more hectic schedule, especially once our second child arrived. Booting up a computer, getting things synced, and then loading in all the receipts just took too much time.
That is, until YNAB 4 (and a companion app for our iPods) came along. Along with all of the performance and visual improvements you’d expect from a major version upgrade came a change that was just one bullet-point, but made a world of difference – automatic syncing via DropBox.
Setup for this within YNAB was rather simple – just tell it that you want to store the budget files in your DropBox folder (rather than an “offline” location), and it syncs just like any other file. With this, I did setup a share on it to my wife, so she could access it easily from her DropBox account, but that was the only change outside of YNAB itself.
At first, I was nervous about having this single repository of our finances sitting out in the cloud. Ultimately, though, the data within DropBox is encrypted, and YNAB itself isn’t storing any account logins or passwords. To me, the risks seemed low, especially when weighed against the benefit.
What is that benefit? To sum it up, it’s the automatic syncing of any updates. What this means is that, as soon as I update something (say, entering a lunch expense against a credit card) and save it, it’s synced automatically, and within a minute or so, shows up on the other devices (be it a computer or iPod).
The other great thing about the app version is that it gracefully handles being offline. This means you can enter your expenses, and once you’re back near a wifi signal, it can sync the changes up to the cloud.
In other words, you can enter the spend as soon as you’re incurring it, rather than having to pile them up to enter at the end of the week. This also means you get a very handy view into where you are on the budget, to help stay within the limits that you’ve set.
While we’re still tightening up our discipline with the budget, this latest version of YNAB is helping us out quite a bit. It’s just plain simple to use, and gives the both of us almost instant transparency into what our budgeting goals are, in terms of allocation and spend.
If you need a free DropBox account, you can sign up here (using that link gets you an extra 500 MB of storage).
If you’re looking to pick up YNAB, using this link will get you the best price plus get EM a small commission for referring you.