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How I Use YNAB to Budget Days Off

Many years ago, I was the kind of person who didn’t use all my paid vacation days. I didn’t have a lot of money at the time, I was new in my career, and while I can’t specifically remember anyone telling me it was frowned upon to take vacation days, I remember feeling like I could only take days off if I had a real vacation to go on.

If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. 55% of Americans don’t take all their paid time off, and over 768 million days of PTO were left on the table in 2018.

If you’re lucky enough to have a job that offers paid days off as part of your salary, then leaving vacation days unused by the end of the year (assuming they don’t roll over) is like leaving money out of your paycheck. Your vacation days are part of your compensation package–they’re part of what your employer pays you to do your job. As a YNABer, I know you’d never leave money behind.

I realized that by not taking my vacation days, not only was I leaving part of my salary on the table, but I was also slowly depleting my energy levels. Working long stretches of time without a break wasn’t good for me, my family, or my job performance. I got burned out pretty quickly, and I decided that taking my vacation days–all of them–was a good start to getting my happiness levels back up.

Budgeting Vacation Days

I’d been budgeting my money in YNAB at that point, so I figured “Hey, my vacation days are part of my salary, why not budget those, too?”

So, as part of my goal to use all my vacation time, I created a new budget just for my paid time off—and it was integral to my success with that goal! It reminded me that I’m a human person who needs rest, it helped me schedule weekend trips and staycations, and it kept me excited for bigger trips that were months away.

Create a new budget in your YNAB account, and don’t forget to give it a name!

How I Budget Paid Time Off

When I started my Vacation Time budget in YNAB, I added an unlinked account to hold the total amount of time my job gives me each year. These days showed up in Ready to Assign, and I knew I needed to plan ahead to use all of them.

Add your PTO allotment as an inflow in your budget.

If you accrue time off, set a Scheduled Transaction to represent the amount of time you earn each pay cycle–turn on Running Balance to see how much will add up before you’ve planned your next trip.

Then, I opened my calendar to begin customizing my Vacation Time budget categories. I added a category for the vacation my family and I had already booked. Normally, those 5 vacation days would be the only days I took, but I still had days Ready to Assign.

An example of a vacation list in YNAB. Emojis strongly encouraged.

Next, I looked at the holidays my company gave us time off for, and added on a couple of vacation days on either side of those to make 4-day weekends.

I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford to travel for all of my vacation days, but I still had days left in Ready to Assign. I added a category for my birthday, and planned a fun day for myself off of work (and this was one of my favorite days! I spent it trying out batting cages for the very first time).

I took time off to spend with my brother’s new baby. I took time off to visit a friend for a weekend.

I struggle with anxiety, so I added a couple of mental health days so that I could schedule in a day off around a busy season in my life that I knew would make me spiral a bit.

By the end of the year, I’d taken 100% of my vacation days, and instead of being exhausted and dreading my return to work after sweeping up the last bit of New Year’s confetti, I felt refreshed and hopeful. What travel and adventure would await me in 2020?

Well, we all know how that turned out. But even through the pandemic, I kept my vacation day budget alive, and even though I wasn’t traveling, I was still taking time off–to rest, to recharge, and to take a break from the sameness that came with staying home all of the time. I’m a happier person now that I’m taking my vacation days, and I have my Vacation Time budget to thank for that.

An example PTO Day budget in YNAB with all days accounted for.

Budgeting my time helped bring me joy, peace, and more opportunities for guilt-free rest and fun. Give yourself something to look forward to with a plan for your paid time off! You’ve earned it!

Ready to start your own budget to get better control over your money (and time)? Try YNAB for free for 34 days.

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How I Use YNAB to Budget Days Off