If someone were to ask me to summarize what I know about personal finance into a few simple points, perhaps this is how I would do it. In my simple world, there is basically golden triangle of three parts, each aspect of equal importance.
- Start Budgeting
- Insure Yourself
- Save & Invest
When the question is posed to me on how to optimize saving or investing, my answer usually draws a blank face. “Huh? Budgeting? What’s the link?”
As the cliche saying goes, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”.
Budgeting comes first for me due to a variety of reasons. Personally, it helps me to create and more importantly, continuously maintain a sense of awareness about my financial situation. Many people have the capability and capacity to save and invest. Even then, I feel that budgeting still has its value.
I started budgeting when I was really young and probably still studying in secondary school (that’s about the age of 13 to 16 if the term secondary school isn’t familiar to you). The reason for doing so is that both my parents worked. This means that on weekdays, I have no food at home.
For whatever $X dollars I received monthly (salary) and yearly red packets (bonus), it covered everything from my food, my transport needs, miscellaneous school expenses, and whatever crap you can think of for a teenager. Not budgeting carefully could mean a mega disaster, and I am not a person who likes to ask for help even when I screws up – I would rather go hungry or rely on my stash of instant noodles at home.
It is amazing what budgeting can do – something that had started out as a chore and a need eventually became empowerment as I grew older. I felt that I am always in complete control of my finances – one of the most important skills that was never touched on in schools, and the one skill that has served me well to this day.
Why Budgeting Comes First For Me
Every individual has their own set of financial problems to worry about. Very seldom is it the case of a single piece of “wise advice” that can cater to all. Budgeting allows the person to be truly aware of what are his/her financial obligations and hopefully, their financial goals.
Even for above-average income earners, budgeting could be an extremely valuable habit. Haven’t you heard of executives who earn $4,000 or $5,000 which no savings? For many, budgeting also has the unintended side-effect of weeding out “inefficiencies” (expenses) and increasing “productivity” (income). Thus, more money for savings and investment!
Of course, it goes without saying that if the circumstances allow for it, one should always go for insurance coverage first, and then investment/savings.
Basic Free Tools
I relied on spreadsheets for the longest time. “Free” mah. Does it work? Yes. Is it efficient? Not for me.
With smartphones taking over the world and putting a powerful personal computer in everyone’s hands, it has changed my approach drastically. My time that I’m spending on spreadsheets is becoming more and more valuable, and I needed a more efficient system.
You Need A Budget (YNAB) is an incredibly popular budgeting software with hundreds of thousand comments in its official forum and tens of thousands of subscribers in its Reddit thread. It is popular for a reason – it works.
Tonnes of people share their success stories on how they pulled themselves away mountains of debts, paid off their mortgages, credit card debts and student loans, built up emergency funds and started saving for their home and kids and investing for their future.
You Need A Budget (YNAB) don’t even have to advertise their software – their users are simply marketing it free-of-charge, full-steam ahead and quite often, buying copies of it just to gift to their family and friends. This is why they don’t ever hold software sales now. No summer sale. No Cyber Monday sale. No Black Friday sale. Nadah. Zilch.
Here’s a review that I just read yesterday on Reddit :
“I just hid the buffer category. Since I started YNAB in January, I’ve paid off my credit card debt completely, been able to buy a car (which is on track to be paid off early) and no longer feel any worry about making the bills, especially my student loan payments. No longer being stressed about money is the most amazing feeling ever. I need to put more effort into getting family and friends into this.”
My mind was blown away when I first found out about the stories, rather than the software. You mean, there are so many people in this world who have problems handling their personal finances?! Let’s not even talk about savings or investments – we’re talking about people who are living in desperation, from paycheck to paycheck.
Budgeting was something which I had taken to be granted, and had to do out of necessity. Just, wow. My interest was piqued.
Basically, You Need A Budget (YNAB) is a form of virtual envelope budgeting. Nothing new here – simply keep money to meet separate categories of expenses in physically separate envelopes so we always have money meant for a specific expense.
The methodology is really simply and easy to understand. To be honest, I was hoping for something new and exciting in addition to what I was already doing. Check them out below if you’re interested to find out more.
- Rule One : Give Every Dollar a Job
- Rule Two : Save for a Rainy Day
- Rule Three : Roll With the Punches
- Rule Four : Live on Last Month’s Income
For me, I was already aware of the methodology in use. What sealed the deal for me was the ease of use. Although there is a mandatory desktop software component that you must install, the data is synced to my Dropbox account. My Android app then accesses the Dropbox data. With the simple use of Dropbox, my data is kept updated seamlessly across two platforms and I can update all my expenses at point of sales.
However, after some time with the software, I realized that I had a very fundamental change with regards to how I view my money. Money in bank accounts must equal money budgeted for expense categories! This means I no longer have to look at my bank accounts, besides the occasional verification that there is nothing not accounted for. One look at my categories and I know what exactly how much I have for what – yes, I’m confident enough to say this now.
Quick Look At Myself Using You Need A Budget
This is an example of how some of my monthly expenses categories (Rule One) look like on my mobile phone app. The numbers in green shows the amount of money that is currently allocated to that particular category – its job.
At the start of the month, each category would have an allocated amount of money and as the days go by, the amount remaining decreases. If I top up $100 into my Ezlink, I deduct $100 from my “Transport (Bus & MRT)” categories. On the other hand, if I get credited with $20 from Travel Smart Rewards, I credit $20 into the category. I don’t look at my bank account and guess how much I have ; I always look at my categories. Always.
Another screenshot below that shows my longer term expenses (Rule Two) yet to be incurred, such as annual web-hosting charges (I have a few websites), where I’m going to travel to next and what I would like to call “predictable rainy days”.
I’m scheduled to replace my 7-yr-old computer, even though it is still running pretty strong. Even if it goes *KAPUT* today, I can head to Sim Lim Square and get a new one immediately.
I had also planned to attend this year’s Formula One race but so happened that it clashed with a wedding that I’m attending – guess the money can sit tight until next year. If an unplanned emergency comes up, I can utilize the $400 bucks (Rule Three) for unpredictable rainy days.
Travel is big component of my expenses and I always make sure my trips are fully paid for BEFORE I go overseas. An example of expense tracking for my upcoming trip to Thailand with items like one-way flights, accommodation and travel insurance.
If I tap on my expense category, it goes into the detailed view. Each expense item has a category, a payee, an amount, as well as an account it belongs to. In this case, my expenses are all incurred on my Citibank credit card.
My motto is #HaveBudgetWillTravel!
By default I have already achieved Rule Four – my last month’s salary pays for my current month expenses. All along, I thought this was the norm. However, I’m guessing there are folks who are finding it hard to achieve this and would need some time before they can do so.
YNAB – What I Don’t Like
As much as I love YNAB, there are a couple of things I don’t like about You Need A Budget which I thought I shall highlight here.
- It does not run on mobile devices only. You Need A Budget requires a laptop/desktop installation to work.
- It is not free! Obviously, this puts off a lot of people who would otherwise benefit from it. I guess you get what you pay for.
- Data sync requires Dropbox – no workaround it if you don’t want to rely on a third party app. I’m hoping the next version brings it to a truly cloud-based solution.
YNAB Sample Images
Can I Try You Need A Budget Before Buying?
Yes, of course you can!
You Need A Budget is not cheap. At USD$60 pre-discount, that’s more than SGD$80 at current rates. That’s why You Need A Budget has a 34-day free trial so that you can give the software a spin before deciding whether or not to purchase it. I highly recommend that you give it a try.
Also, don’t forget to sign up for the free classes and get the companion mobile app to realize its true power!
Updated : 2nd June 2017
The new version of web-based You Need A Budget has officially launched for almost a year and a half, and I have been using it right from the very start. Now, YNAB is priced @ USD$50 per year on a recurring subscription basis, which is about SGD$5/mth if you think about it. Am I still using YNAB? Yep! Every. Single Day!
I understand that it isn’t a small amount of money, which is all the more why you should try out the 34-day trial before buying! A budgeting software isn’t for everyone, but it is perfect for me.
Disclosure : It has a brand new (beta) referral programme that gets both you and me an EXTRA month of free subscription when you choose to sign up via my referral link. I love it that there is actually no physical money involved in the new referral programme. Just more and more months of YNAB! Try the 34-free day trial now 🙂