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How to Stress Less About Money: 4 Simple Rules

Watch Our Free Video Course to Learn a Method for Managing Money that Works

If you’re new to YNAB, you’ve probably found yourself wondering how to stress less about money. We’re even willing to bet you might’ve tried the traditional form of budgeting before. Maybe it went something like this:

You decided you needed to make some sort of financial plan. You listed out your expected income and expenses. It took some digging, but it felt good. Then you kept track of what you spent by checking your bank account more often. When life didn’t go as planned, the budget couldn’t keep up. It felt like a big letdown—a new source of financial anxiety, even. You then decided budgeting just isn’t for you. Or maybe you’ll try this whole “responsible money management” thing again in a few months when life “calms down” and you feel more in control. 

But it’s not your fault that your budget didn’t work. It’s because you were using a flawed system. In that budget, there was no way to decide what was more important, no guarantee the month would go (and pay out) as planned, and there was zero room for flexibility. As soon as life didn’t line up with your predictions, that monthly budget failed in one giant womp-womp bummerfest.

And now for some good news: there is a budgeting system that works. This system has helped hundreds of thousands of people gain control of their money and experience less financial stress. These are normal people who had credit card debt, student loan payments, who order dessert in restaurants, and buy things at Target they weren’t planning on buying. It’s the same budgeting method that can help you too.

What is budgeting? Learn everything you need to know in our comprehensive guide.

How Financial Health Affects Stress

Stress levels and financial health are undeniably linked, however, it’s not just financial problems that cause stress—it’s often money in general. Whether it’s shame about spending, anxiety over an emergency fund, or just the constant burden of doing mental math every time you pull out your debit card, feeling a lack of control around personal finances is a significant stressor and can have a negative impact on more than just your sense of well-being—it can affect your physical health, as well. 

A 2022 survey by Bankrate states that 56% of Americans can’t cover a $1000 emergency with savings, and the American Psychological Association (APA) report titled Stress in America 2022 reveals that money is a significant source of stress, with 57% of respondents reporting feeling concern about paying for things in the present, such as rent and groceries. It’s safe to say that financial issues weigh heavily on a lot of us. 

So, how can you find peace of mind?

Learn more about the connection between money and mental health. 

How to Stress Less About Money 

Budgeting isn’t often classified as self-care, but it should be. Financial stability has a ripple effect of benefits that reach so many different areas of life. And it isn’t as difficult as it seems. 

Improving your financial situation starts with a few simple rules: Four to be exact.

What are YNAB’s Four Rules?

  1. Give Every Dollar a Job
  2. Embrace Your True Expenses
  3. Roll With the Punches
  4. Age Your Money

Rule One: Give Every Dollar a Job

In Rule One, every dollar you bring in gets a specific job (and we only give jobs to the dollars you currently have). Maybe some dollars get the job of paying for electricity, or maybe their lofty calling is paying for this month’s groceries. You want the unemployment rate for your dollars to be 0%, so give each one a job. Assign every dollar you have to a job based on order of importance or priority. You get to choose. You’re the boss.

Rule Two: Embrace Your True Expenses

With Rule Two, no more getting walloped on the side of the head with the twice-a-year car insurance, the three-times-a-year water bill, the yearly Amazon prime fee. Rule Two teaches you how to bake these non-monthly expenses into neat-and-tidy monthly payments. You save for these irregular budget busters equally all year, turning those unexpected choking hazards into a smoother monthly consistency.

Rule Three: Roll With The Punches

Rigid budgets break. They break on paper, they break your heart, they break your budgeting willpower.

So with Rule 3, we future-proof the ol’ budget.When you overspend on groceries (note we said when...not if)—just move money from another category that’s less important. Our community calls this WAMing the money, which stands for Whack-a-Mole(ing). Picture that arcade game: a mole pops up one place, then disappears below the surface and pops up another place. That’s your money, just reappearing in a different spot where it’s needed more. Go to town and WAM away.

Rule Four: Age Your Money

If you’re hoping to achieve more breathing room in your budget, this rule is gonna be HUGE. Like life-changing, stress-busting, happy-dancing, blood pressure-lowering-ly, mental health-improving-ly huge. 

Think of it like this: with Rule Four, you use last month’s money to pay this month’s expenses. You’re using “old” money instead of “new” money. We’ve got a handy little calculated “official age” in the YNAB app. While we don’t have a “right” number, we will say once it hits 30 days you will be living on last month’s money, and that’s something worth celebrating. Side effects of following Rule Four: forgetting it’s payday, not being afraid of the bills in the mailbox, and telling all your friends about this budgeting app magic.

When people put YNAB’s Four Rules into practice, the average person saves $600 in the first two months, and $6,000 in the first year.

Without further ado, let’s get you set up for financial success.

Video Course: YNAB's Four Rules for Less Money Stress

24 Videos | Total Run Time: 58:25

Learn more about the Four Rules and the mindset that’ll get you in control of your finances in this free video course.

What you’ll learn:

  • How to break the paycheck to paycheck cycle
  • Why your budget failed in the past
  • How to make a plan for your money
  • How to smooth out your monthly expenses
  • What your money needs to do next
  • When to prepare for unexpected expenses
  • How to spend money on what’s actually important to you

Follow this method and you’ll break the paycheck to paycheck cycle, reduce stress, get out of debt, save money, meet your financial goals, and gain total control of your money.

At their heart, these rules—and this method—aren’t really about money. They’re about creating the life you want. A life where you spend more time living and less time feeling stressed about money. 

If you're inspired to get started on a new and improved life with less money stress, sign up for our free Change Your Money Mindset email series. It's five short, friendly emails that come with a free downloadable DIY Budget Planner workbook that helps you organize and explore your finances and your feelings.

Ready to learn how to stress less about money with a system that will help you manage your financial future? Try YNAB for free for 34 days. No credit card or commitment required!

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How to Stress Less About Money: 4 Simple Rules