Thursday, September 28, 2017

Back on the YNAB train

Toot toot

Well, it finally happened. After 3 continuous years of tracking all my expenses, I fell of the YNAB train! You might have noticed there have been no expense reviews posted here lately: it's because I literally don't know how much I spent.

Partially, this was accidental, due to laziness. Partially, it was accidental-on-purpose, due to not wanting to pace myself on buying men's work clothes. After I came out to myself, it just seemed unacceptable to continue wearing dresses and stuff anymore, even though I'd been okay with it for years. Dysphoria has a funny way of getting worse when you acknowledge it, or seeming to.

Once I realized I'd been forgetting to YNAB, and had no idea how much I had left in my various budget categories, I didn't rush to fix it - I was kind of curious to see if I was at a point where my budget could just kind of run without my keeping such a hawklike watch over it.

Answer: maybe someday, but not now. I didn't overdraft or anything, but I did spend more than I should have, and I wasn't able to answer my partner's questions that I usually can: "What is our budget for this?" "How much eating out money do we have left?" Someday, I hope that the answers to these questions will be, "Who cares, we have plenty of money." Or, "We are so frugal most of the time, one little splurge won't hurt." But the truth is that it seems we're still at a point where we'll overspend if we don't have guard rails. I will, anyway.

I'm not bothering to total up what happened in those heady No Guardrails months of August and September. Instead, I'm making a fresh start and beginning to budget again in October.

The good news is that my partner has a new job. The money will be very similar, and our fixed expenses are the same; still, we took the opportunity to blank-slate re-imagine our budget. The amounts ended up being similar, but we ended up shuffled the categories a bit for psychological reasons.

For example, we used to do roughly this (there are a few more categories, but you get the idea):
  • Family
    • Rent
    • Utilities
    • Groceries
    • Medical
  • Bagel
    • Clothes
    • Work lunches
    • Hobbies
  • Croissant
    • Probably roughly the same subcategories, but since I was the one entering things into YNAB I didn't bother to subcategorize here
  • Savings Goals
Basically, each of us had a lump sum of personal money out of which we bought anything that was just for ourselves. Even though I subcategorized my personal category, I found it difficult to regulate my spending within it. I didn't feel especially responsible about blowing any individual subcategory because I always reasoned that I could lower other areas of my personal spend in order to make up for it - until the end of the month when it all caught up with me. When I inevitably blew the category, I'd be racked with guilt for having eaten up too many of resources for my own personal stuff. I'd see that number at the top of the master category, seeming to say, "You selfish jerk, you spent $1000 on yourself this month! What a pig!" So, we're trying something a little different, psychologically. The current setup looks like this:
  • Rent
  • Utilities
  • Groceries
  • Medical
  • Clothes
    • Bagel
    • Croissant
  • Work lunches
    • Bagel
    • Croissant
  • Hobbies
    • Bagel
    • Croissant
  • Savings Goals
I'm not sure if this will work any better, but the idea that I may feel more responsible about stewarding the family clothing budget than considering clothes as part of my "personal" budget. Of course, I may still blow it, but at least I'll remove the always-b.s. excuse of "I'll just spend less on work lunches to buy more clothes" since the two appear less directly related. At the same time, I hope to reduce unnecessary guilt that comes from seeing the total of money I've spent on "just me", but rather see something more netural like, "Our family spent $x on clothes." (Even though I can still see how much of it was me.)

As always, there are potential pitfalls; we may find expenses we don't know how to categorize. In particular, I'll have to start categorizing money that my partner spends, which I never did before (just marking anything I didn't recognize is "probably Croissant"). We may find that this system works worse than our previous one. But, the old system wasn't bulletproof by any means. I'm curious if mixing it up will help, hurt, or have no effect.

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