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7 Beginner Tips to Boost Your YNAB Momentum

A round-up of sage advice from seasoned YNABers to help you love the way you spend.

Some models look exactly the same in person as they do in print. Fabio is one of them. 

I know this because I met Fabio—yes, the actual Fabio—years ago at my local natural foods store. I had recently committed myself to eating more vegetables and hatched the perfect plan to make it happen: I would stop for some organic goodness on my way home from work twice a week. As I waltzed up to select my sweet potatoes, there he was, hair blowing (even though it wasn't windy) and walking over to talk to… me? Why me? 

The moment Fabio approached, not only did words stop coming out of my mouth, I realized my cart was full of the trifecta of non-starters: Panda Puff cereal (shopped off the list), a single radish, and toilet paper.

How could I be expected to go back to Fabio’s domain after that encounter? In my mind, I could never return to said health food store, and there wasn’t another trusted source for organic vegetables nearby. Knowing he shopped at my store knocked me completely off of my routine for a good three weeks… until I found a nearby twice-weekly farmer’s market. Take that Fabio.

Now, when I think back on that encounter, I don’t find it quite as cringey. And that’s because YNAB taught me a very important truth.

Even when you’re fully committed to making a change, there will always be a Fabio. 

You might have the best intentions to create a spending plan that lasts. You might be engaged in some pro-level habit-stacking. You might be following YNAB’s Four Habits consistently. But sometimes, Fabio happens and your new money mindset is put to the test. 

When you find your financial confidence shaken, your routine interrupted, or your credit card swiped more than you anticipated this year, these YNAB momentum-boosting tips will help you bend instead of break on your journey to creating a financial future you’re excited about. 

Top momentum-boosting tips from seasoned YNABers 

We asked experienced YNABers to share their best tips for beginners, and they did not disappoint! Honestly, these words of wisdom are relevant whether you started using YNAB 20 years ago or 2 minutes ago. 

Revisit these momentum-building tips regularly, and along the way, give yourself some grace. Soon, you'll find yourself effortlessly reaching your goals and living in a new financial reality—one that you created.

⁠1) Be patient with yourself

“Be patient with yourself! There can be a bit of a learning curve with YNAB but when it clicks, it clicks! Also, remember you’ll never have a perfect “normal” month. Plan for surprises!”

Plan for surprises. Yep—it’s what we do here, and it’s one of the biggest reasons why the YNAB Method is a game-changer. Habit #2 (Embrace Your True Expenses) basically says, “Expect the unexpected!” in your spending plan.

Look ahead to costs that aren’t a matter of if, but a matter of when: the inevitable vet visit, car maintenance, holiday gifts, or medical check-ups. When you break down future expenses into manageable monthly expenses, there’s no such thing as an unexpected bill.

Amber from the YNAB social team calls True Expenses “Your Patterson,” which is an even cuter version of “Your Fabio.” 

2) Adjust as you go

“Don’t get overwhelmed with trying to make perfect categories right away. It’ll be easier to start somewhere and adjust than to try and perfect it right away.”

The beauty of YNAB is that you can create custom categories that match your current priorities. Over time, priorities shift. Spending categories can shift too—easily! It just takes a few clicks to adjust your spending plan as your life landscape changes, new hobbies pop up, children arrive, Fabio invites you to Italy (jk), or retirement happens. The YNAB app makes it easy to rename categories, create new category groups, or add loved ones to your plan.

3) Reframe money arguments as goal agreements

“If you have a partner, include them by talking about your goals instead of money."

If you have a partner, YNAB can guide you to talk about the things that matter most. Instead of diving into stressful arguments about spending, focus on your goals together. YNAB acts as a neutral referee, turning financial discussions into collaborative conversations. It helps you both align your finances with your shared vision for the future, without placing blame or shame.

Next time you're tempted to argue about dollars and cents, shift the conversation to your dreams and goals. You might start to love talking about money so much, it becomes a weekly YNAB date night.

4) Aim for consistency, not perfection

“Committing to a little at a time makes all the difference. Checking YNAB just a couple minutes a day will rewire your brain in time!"
Ben B., Host of YNAB's Budget Nerds Podcast

The beauty of YNAB is that it doesn't demand a specific slot in your daily routine. You don't necessarily need to intertwine it with your coffee sips, workouts, or bedtime rituals. Changing your relationship with money is not about finding time, but making time. Whether you peek at YNAB in the parking lot or during your lunch break, there's no "wrong way" to review your plan before making spending decisions. Consistency beats perfection when it comes to being more intentional about your financial life.

5) Make your spending plan a reflection of you

“Your categories should look like your life. Your YNAB should be your life reflected back to you.”
Erin, YNAB Teacher

“Live on rice and beans,” some finance apps say. “Don’t dine out,” they’ll tell you. “Stop doing poor people things!” they sneer. The deprivation approach to finances is impossible to maintain, and the world of cruel personal financial advice can be demotivating. Keeping your momentum going in any new endeavor counts on it being realistic—and dare we say, joyful.

The YNAB Method says, dine out all you want if that’s what you’re into! The four flexible habits let you embrace your priorities with open arms and fund the things that light you up. It’s all about tradeoffs: if dining out is important to you, let your dollars do the job of Steak Frites. Allocate less of your paycheck to the things that are less important to you. Being more intentional about your money isn't about deprivation or imprisonment; it's about empowering you to live your best life within your means. 

6) Roll with the punches

“It’s not a big deal if you “mess up,” just reconcile and “roll with the punches.”

Don’t let overspending be your Fabio! Whether it’s a splurge or an unexpected expense, surprises don't have to derail your progress. With Habit #3 (Roll With the Punches), you have the power to adapt your spending plan as life throws curve balls. No need for panic; simply reallocate funds from a lower-priority category to cover the higher-priority expenses. It’s YNAB’s secret sauce: your spending plan should leave room for life happening!

7) Face your Fabio

“If nothing changes, nothing changes.”
-The truest truth teller of all time.

The truth is, I would never have been thrown off my organic veggies game if I stood my ground and confidently returned to my health food store. In hindsight, it wasn't Fabio, but my own toilet-paper-induced embarrassment that tripped me up. We've all got our own "Fabio" – that person, temptation, or time constraint that threatens our financial aspirations. I challenge you to confidently confront whatever is getting in the way of achieving your money goals.

Reminder! Your YNAB spending plan should:
➡️ Give you a clear picture of your finances⁠
➡️ Help you prioritize your money⁠
➡️ Reduce your financial stress⁠
➡️ Help you LOVE the way you spend 🤩⁠

On your journey to forming a new relationship with money, YNAB is your financial GPS, offering a clear picture of where you stand. It's your personal financial coach, helping you prioritize what truly matters. It's your stress-buster, keeping financial worries at bay. But lasting motivation comes from within you, when you realize that money isn’t an unpredictable evil beyond your control. Money is an extension of your time, energy, and hard work. You get to decide what to do with it. 

That change in mindset is your ticket to loving the way you spend—and where the real magic happens.

Ready for a 30 day challenge to reset your money habits and recharge your financial health? Join the free YNAB More Money Challenge. The average participant saves over $1,000!

YNAB IRL: From Napkin Scribbles to Money Savvy

Brett S. paid off $13k of debt in 9 months!

YNABer Brett S.
I started YNAB in April 2021 after many attempts at wishful thinking and writing numbers down on napkins/tracking spending. With so much debt, it was easy to feel like it was a lost cause. YNAB allowed me to create an interest category for my debt that I funded in addition to my monthly minimum payment. Seeing this interest amount go down each month was a glimmer of hope amidst the overwhelming shadow of my debt and was a huge motivator as I worked towards paying the amount off.

YNAB has helped me find the small wins, realize what my priorities are, and be able to spend happily and give generously.
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7 Beginner Tips to Boost Your YNAB Momentum