This Category Naming Hack will Level-Up Your Budget
What's in a Name, Anyway?
Every year in late December, I love sitting down with a brand-new paper planner and dreaming about what I’ll do next year. And every year, there was one goal that kept returning to the list: the elusive dream of new flooring.
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When we moved into our house, there was some very thin, very unplush carpet. It was a shade of oatmeal that sparked no joy whatsoever.
When my first paycheck would arrive in January, I would send some money from checking into savings with the best of intentions. But then life happened. We’d go out to eat too much, the account balance would get low, and I would nervously move money back from savings to checking.
Then life kept happening. We had to replace the trim on our house, the air conditioner broke, I forgot to save for personal property tax. Every time, I’d find myself raiding the savings account. Needless to say, my flooring dreams kept getting kicked down the road as a “maybe someday.” December would roll around, and new flooring would make the list again.
When I set up my very first YNAB budget in 2018, I was floored (ha! floored!) by this concept to budget our savings. This blew my mind. I had never done that before. Savings was just, well, a big blob of savings.
With that first YNAB budget, I started being more specific in my savings: it turned into an emergency fund, saving for an upcoming vacation, and of course, saving for the new flooring.
That simple little thing—naming my savings—made that flooring goal feel real. I got motivated.
Suddenly, going over the budget on dining out became a little less tempting when I knew I was taking away from the new floors. I started that budget on July 1st and by November, the old carpet was coming out and the new floors were going in!
I had told myself for a decade that I was bad with money, but once I named my savings and hit my goal, it changed the way I thought about myself and how I could handle money.
Naming savings is powerful, but it doesn’t stop there. Sherri, one of our wise YNAB teachers, found that other creative naming in your budget can turbocharge your progress too. Here’s how:
1. Rename Your Debts as Villains
Back in January, we ran our very first debt bootcamp (see a list of our upcoming bootcamps here!). One budgeter renamed all of her debts to be some of her most-hated bad guys.
Her focus debt became Voldemort and she equated every dollar she budgeted toward that debt as an attack on him, weakening his strength. She took the feeling of her hostility and powerlessness that surrounded her debt and instead channeled it to be the hero who takes down the bad guy.
You can do this too! Think about enemies you want to take down:
- Scar (from The Lion King)
- Ganon (Whom I have yet to defeat despite playing 150+ hours of “Breath of the Wild”)
Name your bad guys. Rename your debt categories. Slay those villains.
2. Attach Feelings to Your True Expenses
A lot of new budgeters have a hard time saving for True Expenses—those larger, less frequent costs: Christmas, braces, car maintenance. These aren’t a lot of fun to save for, but what if we rename our True Expenses category group as “Future Debt Prevention.” That’s what you’re doing, after all. You’re saving up cash so when you need new tires, you don’t have to put the cost on your credit card.
- What if Home Maintenance instead becomes “A Warm, Safe Place for My Family”—does it make it easier to keep money there instead of pilfering it for eating out?
- Emergency Fund as “Peace of Mind”
- Car Maintenance as “Always Getting the Kids to their Activities on Time”
Experiment with your own creative renaming and you might be surprised how much easier it is to set that money aside.
3. Name the Habit You’re Trying to Break
A few months ago, we talked to a woman named Melissa who quit smoking after 20 years thanks to her budget. She split out cigarettes into its own category and didn’t put any money toward it. This forced her to pull from other categories instead. When the only category left to pull from was care for her beloved pets, that’s when it finally clicked. She wasn’t going to take from something she cared about to feed a vice she wanted to quit.
Take that bad habit you’re trying to quit, split it out into its own category and give it a name: “Achilles Heel,” “That Terrible Thing I Want to Quit,” or just call it what it is. You might be surprised how this simple trick can heighten your self-control.
Are you dreaming of paying off your student loans, paying for Christmas in cash, or finally quitting that pesky habit? Add it to your budget! No matter your goal, creative category names can turbocharge your progress. Let the budget be the place where you lay out the plan for the life you want and watch your dreams turn to reality.