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The Big Questions of Budgeting

From Podcast #192: To Automate or Not to Automate, the one in which Jesse challenges you to dig deep about the things you want your life to be.

To automate or not to automate your finances, that is the question. It may not seem terribly interesting, but I think in fleshing out the answer there is a lot to be learned. And so, we shall proceed...

Should You Automate Your Finances?

Should you put your bills on auto-pay? Should you import transactions? Should you directly connect to banks and have transactions import, automatically, every day?

Here’s what I know: I want your awareness high and the tedium low.

We want you spending the best of your time and energy on prioritization. What do you really want? What is most important to you? How should you be spending your money to achieve the life you want? This is big picture stuff. These decisions have tangible impact. Spend your time here—this is awareness. And awareness leads to change.

Debating the minutiae of book-keeping particulars? Ain't nobody got time for that. This brain drain is the tedium. And it leads to boredom, burn-out and quitting.

There is a degree of tedium that’s necessary, especially when you’re first getting started. But that tedium should quickly go away. And the real work isn’t categorization or reconciliation or even transaction entry—the real work is the dreaming and subsequent decision-making to make those dreams reality.

“Wait—What if I quit my job?” These are the kinds of conversations that the budget can—and should—stir up from time to time. You might think you and your wife are just having an innocent budget meeting, nothing exciting or new. But somehow looking through the numbers, you end up talking about whether or not you are fulfilled at your job…. and okay, now that is real work! Categorizing a transaction? That is nothing compared to taking risks, and questioning norms, and plotting out the life you want to live.

Or maybe you’re sitting there, and you know that you want to live on one income. Julie and I had this conversation way early on. She wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. I wanted that too, but it was a huge deal for her.

She was working at the time, before our first came along. So our budget meeting, was about the big, impossible question of how we would make it all work if Julie stayed home. And that was real work, figuring that out. Figuring that out is actually what led me to start YNAB—so, like I said, some very real work.

I say all this to help you put the tedium in perspective. Yes, reconciling your account is important. The accuracy is important, but the real value lies in having frequent, heart-felt, honest conversations with yourself—or your partner, if you’re sharing finances—about things that really matter, about the life you really want.

Maybe you’ve always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, but didn’t think it would ever be an option, so you never even voiced that desire. Or you’ve buried it so deep, hoping it would go away altogether, and yet…

This is the hard work I’m talking about. It will take time and transparency. It might make you uncomfortable. It might require a mediator, and sometimes therapy, but this is the stuff that matters.

So, I got a little deep for automation, but should you automate your finances? Yes, as far as you can reduce tedium without killing awareness. Because awareness is the secret sauce that makes budgeting such a powerful agent of change.

For more about how to stop living paycheck-to-paycheck, get out of debt and save more money, faster—subscribe to the You Need A Budget podcast today! Until next time, follow YNAB’s Four Rules and you will win financially. You’ve never budgeted like this.

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The Big Questions of Budgeting