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Can YNAB Keep Your House Clean?

Use YNAB to Reward Your Brain and Build Healthy Habits

Who doesn't love a two-for-one deal? YNAB takes all the stress out of money management, helps you reach your goals, and reach personal finance nirvana. But what if YNAB could do more for you? Pray tell...

I’m going to let you in on something: While YNAB is a tool for managing your money, it can also help you establish healthier habits. Let’s talk about an innovative YNAB hack that will help you inject a little extra motivation into your daily life and transform your most dreaded tasks into financial rewards.

The Science of Rewards: Your Brain’s BFF


Before we dig into YNAB as a tool to master dreaded to do lists, let’s get nerdy about why rewards are so motivating. 

Our brains are wired to seek immediate kudos. (Because science.) Habits like smoking, scrolling endlessly on social media, or overeating provide instant gratification. That’s why those habits can be so hard to break! On the flip side, healthy habits like exercise, eating healthy, or saving for retirement… not so much. Sure, I know these things will pay off in the long run, but in sweaty moments on the treadmill, I just kind of hate it. This dynamic makes it hard to establish good habits, while bad ones seem to proliferate effortlessly. 

And when your brain registers rewards, it doesn’t even have to be directly linked to the activity. If it associates a reward with the activity, your brain nudges you to repeat it. Remember Pavlov's dog? Ring a bell, get a treat, do it again 100 times, and voila—a conditioned response is born. 

So, how can you leverage YNAB to reinforce good habits? 

Play the "Fun Money" Money Game for Better Habits


Here’s a delightful game to try that makes your money work harder for you in YNAB. This game will help you keep your house tidier, stop procrastinating on boring projects, and yes, build up some extra fun money. Did your inner athlete’s ears just perk up?

Here’s how it works:

How to Set Up the Rules

  1. Make a List: Identify tasks or activities you wish you accomplished with more ease more often. This could be literally anything—exercising, house chores, reconciling your YNAB accounts. I mean, anything!
  1. Assign Dollar Rewards: For every good habit you want to encourage, assign a dollar amount as a reward. Keep the amounts small but proportionate to the task.
  1. Add a Category: Create a new category in YNAB, let's call it "🏆 Extra Credit." This category will serve as a pool of funds that you can unlock by completing tasks on your list. Decide on a monthly target for this category.
  1. Fund the Pool: At the beginning of the month or when you get a paycheck, fill up the "Extra Credit" category so the money is available for you to earn.
  1. Claim Your Rewards: Every time you complete a task, move the corresponding dollar amount from "Extra Credit" to your "Fun Money" category. Pro gamer tip: It’s important to do this immediately after you complete the task. The process goes like this: complete the task, grab your phone, move the money, watch the numbers go up, and enjoy the little ping of endorphins in your brain.
  1. Spend your Fun Money: Enjoy the extra fun money with the added satisfaction that you earned it by building better habits! 
  1. Refresh for a New Month: At the start of a new month, replenish the "Extra Credit" category, but just top it up to a predetermined amount. If you didn't use all your extra credit the previous month, it doesn't roll over. If you don’t earn it, you lose it this month!

Watch as the things you used to dread doing actually become a joy! You’ll start to complete those annoying tasks you’ve been putting off and enjoy more fun money spending. It's a win-win situation. Heck, if you’re doing this with a partner, make it a competition. You might start to argue over who gets the joy of doing the dishes this evening.

Reward Your Brain

This money hack is all about tricking your brain into enjoying tasks you otherwise wouldn’t. So if you're looking to make smarter decisions with both your time and money, try blending the two in creative ways like this. Here's to cultivating positive routines while staying on top of your money!

If you want to reward your brain and feel better about your money, give YNAB a try. It’s free for a month, no credit card required!

YNAB IRL: Kicking Habits, Making Change

Meet Bec, a Project Manager based in Australia. She and her fiancé used YNAB to increase their net worth by nearly $36,000 in less than a year, and plot twist: with healthier money habits, they also both stopped smoking!
YNAB user Bec and her fiance loving less money stress
My soon-to-be husband and I started using YNAB almost a year ago. We had decided to combine our finances, and I wanted a tool that would support healthy financial conversations and practices in our relationship. 

I had just finished reading Atomic Habits by James Clear, so I applied 'habit stacking' to embed daily rituals right from the start. To this day, I enter transactions and reconcile accounts every morning over a coffee. My fiancé routinely checks [YNAB] before spending, and we both use YNAB as a framework for conversations about goals and priorities.

The realization that saving is simply planning for future spending has completely changed my relationship with money. YNAB has also vastly improved our health. My fiancé and I had smoked cigarettes for all of our adult lives, between us a total of about 45 years. Because of YNAB, my fiancé and I no longer smoke.

Assigning funds realistically, I could see how much money needed to be assigned to pay for both of our smoking habits. That was no surprise, we had done the math before. What was different was that I now had visibility of the trade-offs necessary to continue smoking. Do I want to smoke, or do I want to go out for dinner and get my hair done more often? Do I want to smoke, or do I want more vacations?

When I marry the love of my life in a couple of weeks, we will both be grateful for how YNAB helped us fund our wedding while saving, reducing debt and paying increasing bills without stress. When we hear the word forever, our gratitude to YNAB will be even greater, knowing we now have more days left in our forever to enjoy together.
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