Starting to budget with YNAB

Almost 2 years ago I started using YNABs budgeting software (version 4). Before then, I thought I was pretty good with money, a bit impulsive sometimes, but I always had a good buffer. Or so I thought… What I found out is that I was using future money to pay for current spending. I was shocked! I thought I was doing so well!

So what happened?

Let’s pretend for convenience’s sake that I have €0. From now on I get €1000 a month. Every month is february, i.e. exactly 4 weeks or 28 days. The money comes in on day 21, so a week before the new month. I spend exactly €250 each week, so exactly €1000 in a month. This is what my balance looks like at the start of each week:

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
Month 1 0 0 0 1000
Month 2 750 500 250 1000
Month 3 750 500 250 1000

Do you see what happens there?! 2 things are going wrong here:

  1. I’m starting to spend next months money in week 4 of the previous month.
  2. My account never reaches 0 after the first month, which would’ve been a major red flag, even when that months money is gone.

And ironically, if you eliminate the first problem, the second one only gets worse. Watch:

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
Month 1 1000 750 500 1250
Month 2 1000 750 500 1250

Now if I look at my account balance, it never dips below 500! This makes me think I have €500 where I actually don’t have any left over money! So what happens next? I think I can afford to spend more, say €50 extra a week. That’s €1200 a month! Watch what happens:

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
Month 1 1000 700 400 1100
Month 2 800 500 200 900
Month 3 600 300 0 1000

I takes me 3 months of chronic overspending for my account to hit 0, and for me to realise I have a problem!

These are of course imaginary numbers, but the principle stays the same: you can chronically overspend for a pretty long time before you realise something is going wrong, and by then you have a host of bad habits to correct. And this is assuming you realise something is wrong the first time you hit 0, instead of just writing it off as a fluke!

So how can a budgeting program fix this? By splitting up that big number. Even just 1 extra row of info can be your saving grace:

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
Month 1 spending 1000 750 500 250
Next months money 0 0 0 1000

So to get back to my first point: I got YNAB and I was shocked. And then I was annoyed, because it took me several months of budgeting to start seeing useful patterns, and even longer to start reaping the benefits. But now, almost 2 years later, I just can not do without!

(stay tuned for more blogs on budgeting)


A basic pasta recipe + BONUS sugar free jam

Pasta and… jam? Yeah I know. I promise I didn’t eat them together. My stove was just so pretty with all the colours I had to share it with you all.

I had some basil wasting away in the back of the fridge and decided to use it in some pasta. When the time came to actually add the basil it of course turned out the basil had white fuzzy visitors and I had to throw it out. But I had extra basil hidden in the freezer, so ha!

So how does one make a simple pasta for dinner?
Step 1: boil pasta in salted water.
Step 2: add stuff.

What is stuff?
Ideally about 400-500 grams of veg per person and some oil and herbs. Maybe also some grated cheese. If you’re a meat eater: 75-100 grams of meat, 250 grams of veg and maybe less oil than with all-veg.
When cooking Italian, ‘veg’ usually includes onions, garlic and tomatoes, but you can sneak in a lot of stuff, as long as you cut it small and cook it until it’s soft. Think eggplant, carrots, broccoli, leek, white cabbage or bell peppers. That’s 6 different options right there! You can eat pasta all week and never get bored!

Why the jam?
I eat sugar free now and that shit is expensive. So I make my own. And I kept forgetting to actually make it. So when I started cooking dinner I thought what’s another pot and greatness was born.

Can I have the jam recipe?
Sure: take a pot, throw in a kilo of frozen fruit, boil medium-low until it’s only half as much in volume (1+ hour), stir in 10-20 drops of Stevia. DONE.

Now for the real food.

Simple 3 person vegetarian pasta

30 minutes for experienced cooks. 50 if you suck at cutting. 60 if you forget to boil the pasta halfway through.

(kitchen staples)
  • 300 grams of any pasta
  • 5 tomatoes (Roma)
  • 1 zucchini
  • 3 onions (medium)
  • 250 grams tomatoes (cherry)
  • 2-4 garlic cloves
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp basil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • water
  • Heat up olive oil in pan.
  • Cut onions any way you like (I did fine strips).
  • Cut garlic very small.
  • Add onions, garlic and salt to taste (1/2 tsp?) to hot pan.
  • Add any optional dried herbs now as well.
  • Fry onions and garlic at least until the onions are glazy (5 mins) and max until onions are browned.
  • Start heating up salted water for the pasta.
  • Cut zucchini any way you like (I quartered it in length and made fine strips).
  • Add zucchini to hot pan and fry until soft (not too soft (10+ mins) or it will fall apart!!).
  • Wash and cut the big tomatoes into little dice (literally the size of dice).
  • Add tomatoes to hot pan with a splash (1/4 cup?) of water.
  • Add pasta to boiling water and cook according to instructions (usually 8 mins).
  • Cut the cherry tomatoes in halves or quarters.
  • When the tomatoes in the sauce have mostly fallen apart: take the pan off the heat.
  • Stir cherry tomatoes into the sauce along with any fresh herbs (like fresh basil) you were planning on using.
  • Drain the pasta.
  • Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper to taste. (Maybe also more basil, or oregano…)
  • Enjoy!