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money talk


I remember it vividly.  Like it was yesterday.  I was a teenager with my own checking account, which was awesome.  What wasn’t awesome is that my dad had to drive me to the bank, because I had overdrawn the account.  Like, a lot.  He sent me to the desk by myself to tell the manager that I hadn’t reconciled my account, I spent more money than I had, I was irresponsible and it wouldn’t happen again.  Talk about a humiliating, but valuable life lesson.

I became very good at reconciling my accounts and paying all of my bills after that ordeal and I carried that mindset (or habit, maybe) into adulthood.

While I’ve always been good at keeping track of my money, I’ve never been good at budgeting it.  I would try, but it always seemed tedious, cumbersome and unrealistic.  We would be going along fine and then something would come up, a necessary expense, that wasn’t in the budget!  It felt like the entire budget would have to go out of the window.

And it would.


Some of you may remember from the story of my business, that this whole thing started because we needed the money.  A student loan, that had been deferred as long as it could be deferred, had finally come due and we were already living on a no-eating-out, no-cable-tv, no-new-clothes-ever, nail-bitingly-tight-each-month existence.  We had to have more income, so Mustard Seed Interiors was born.  

My goal was to make enough to make the monthly student loan payments, which would get that monkey off our back in 20 years.  That’s not a very tantalizing goal.

But, I plugged away and my business started to grow and bring in a lot more than I ever anticipated.  We were able to put small amounts towards the loan and eventually, we were throwing huge chunks at it, watching the balance dwindle until we wrote the last check and celebrated.  It took three years.

We could now do the things we hadn’t been able to for years!  We could eat out, take family vacations, fix up our house, buy things we needed or wanted with little angst.

And we did.


We didn’t go nuts and we weren’t overly frivolous, but each month, we would scratch our heads and wonder where all of our money went!

We were making more and we didn’t have the loan payment, so why did it still feel like we weren’t getting anywhere?

We finally got serious about our money.  We paid off my nice, new-ish van and sold it for a smaller, less expensive car.  We cut up the credit card and committed to working on a cash only basis.  We built up an emergency fund and started saving for large purchases and upcoming fixed and unforeseen expenses.

We were finally getting ahead, but there was one thing we still couldn’t get a handle on – the budget.  We tried five different money-tracking/budgeting software tools and we still failed at it each month.  And that momentum that we built up with each financial success stalled.  I was practically in tears over the most recent budgeting tool, feeling like a total idiot, because I couldn’t wrap my brain around the way it worked.

I wasn’t getting tripped up on the technical stuff or even the discipline of tracking the money.  I kept getting tripped up on how the budget related to the actual dollars in our bank account.  Every software tool I used either did budgeting or expense tracking, but not both.  So, budgeting became this overly complicated task to make sure that the theoretical dollars in our budget actually matched up with the real dollars in our account.


So, when I was asked by one of my clients if I would be interested in testing out a budgeting tool that claims to be the best, I was curious.  That budgeting tool is YNAB, which stands for You Need A Budget.

Why, yes I do.  How ever did you know?  

And if it doesn’t make me feel like crying, we’re already ahead.

I approached it with some skepticism, though.  I honestly expected that I would come across the same issues and would then have to tell them that they would not want me reviewing their budgeting tool, because it wasn’t any better than the other ones I tried.

Well, happily, I didn’t come across the same issues and I have become a huge YNAB fan in the process.

Let me explain how it works.

1.) You set a budget, which is really tricky for me as a business owner, because my income fluctuates.  YNAB encourages you to budget based on priority, so you always have a roof over your head, food in your belly and basic medical care.  From there, you can prioritize your true expenses, debt payments, savings and fun money.


(This is one of their sample budgets, as an FYI.)

2.) Sync your bank accounts securely with YNAB, so it matches up your balance with your budget.  This also helps you keep track of what has cleared and what hasn’t and how your actual money relates to your budget, which ensures your budget is fully funded.

3.) Track your expenses and income.  Enter each transaction when you spend money and chose which budget line item it’s subtracted from (outflow) or added to (inflow).  This is the feature I love, love, love.  And I could write that word many more times.  This, to me, is what makes it the best.  When I enter a transaction, not only does it subtract the money from my account balance, but it also subtracts it from the budget line item.  At the click of a button on my phone, iPad or laptop, I can see my actual account balance and the amount I have in each budget category.


4.) Set goals.  You can also set goals for each budget line item.  So, for example, Jeff is working towards his masters degree and we have to pay his tuition each semester.  Since we know that expense is coming, we know how much we have to set aside each month to be able to make the payment in cash, in full, and early, so we get a discount.  I can set a goal for the amount we need by the date we need it and YNAB shows me a little pie chart letting me know how close we are to the goal.  It’s a small thing, but those visuals really keep you going.


Those are the first steps I took just to get things set up and functional.  YNAB gives you “stay on track” tasks to complete and has an easy-to-digest handbook, video tutorials and even free live classes to help you on your financial journey.

They also have loads of information and encouragement to get you to a healthy, stress-free place financially.  To keep it straightforward, YNAB boils their plan down to four simple rules…

Rule 1 – Give every dollar a job.  This is what prevents you from wondering where in the heck all of your money goes each month.

Rule 2 – Embrace your true expenses.  This is about thinking ahead, so you can save up for expenses that you know are coming (like tuition payments or a new car).

Rule 3 – Roll with the punches.  This keeps you from abandoning your budget when unexpected expenses come up.

Rule 4 – Age your money.  This is what moves you beyond living paycheck to paycheck.


I’ve become pretty passionate about finances and living debt-free over the past couple of years and budgeting was the final hurdle I needed to jump over.  YNAB is the tool I needed to do that.

I told them that even if this blog post flops, they have gotten at least one loyal customer out of it.

If you want to try out YNAB to see if it’s really as awesome as I say it is, you can do that for FREE for 90 days by following THIS LINK.

And it really is FREE.  They think it’s lame when companies make you give your credit card information for a free trial (and I agree), so they don’t do that.  (After the free trial, it’s $5/month or $50/year.)

I know this post is a departure from our usual chats about decorating stuff, but I hope it’s been an encouragement!  Ultimately, inspiring and encouraging my readers is what this blog is about.


Disclosure: This is a paid sponsored post.  All opinions and words are my own and I was excited to introduce my readers to this awesome software.  I really do believe it’s the best out there!  I do not make any bonuses or commission off people signing up through this post.

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  1. Nicola says:

    Love ynab even if in the uk not all the features work it is still great . It has helped us to see where all the money was going. Christmas for example was much better this year as we had set aside money each month for it so when the bill cam last week it didn’t knock us off track as the money was already there . Love it

  2. We just started using it last month. It is exactly what we needed. I enjoy listening to the weekly podcasts too. They are usually about 5 minutes long, but they help keep you focused and on track.

  3. Jen Banker says:

    We discovered ynab about a year ago and it has been a game changer!!

  4. GinaG says:

    I am a HUGE YNAB fan myself!! It totally changed my financial game. I’m slowly but surely getting out of debt now and no longer have the panic moments of “Did I forget that???”. Best tool I have ever found to help me track my finances. I LOVE the phone app so I can track my spending on the spot in about 10 seconds. Game changer for me, indeed!!

  5. After the free 90 day trial, how much does it cost?

  6. Marian, I”m signing up! The only thing is that it’s a 34-day trial (or so it says). But that’s fine too. Can’t wait to use it!

  7. *insert thoughtful “Hmmm”*. This might be a sponsored post but it is very interesting and thank you for the personal details. They are very helpful. It is a “heads up” to see that even when money is rolling in, one still needs to have a good control over their expenditures.

    I might give the service it a try myself. :)

  8. Melissa Leach says:

    I would also like to know what the monthly service charge is after the 90 day trail period expires.

    • Denice Hicks says:

      It’s $50 a year. They also have a referral program where you and save a little and your friend can save a little. I’ve been using Quicken for years. Their upgrades are $60-$75 dollars, but they only support the most current 3 years. YNAB only offers email support, but it is very personable and helpful.

      • Melissa Even says:

        Their email support is awesome, though. When I started with YNAB in 2013 I had something I couldn’t figure out. I took a quick look through their extensive forums to see if anyone else had the same thing; I didn’t see my answer there. I emailed support, and within 1-2 days I got an email back from someone saying he couldn’t tell from my question what the problem was, but if I felt comfortable, I could email him my data file and he would take a look. The email gave me all the steps to do that, so I did.

        Within a day or two, I got an email back with A VIDEO of his voice, moving around and clicking through my budget. He showed me all I had to do was click back to a prior month, and the info I was looking for was there. I was amazed.

        And THEN, he went a step further and said if I had any more questions, I could make a video myself, of my own budget, and email it to him, with a link to FREE SOFTWARE that would let me do that. As someone who had never used screen capture video before, this was great! He not only answered my question, but he taught me something useful.

        And this was all for free. If you’ve got an issue with Quicken, good luck to ya. I used that for years, never getting any help. I listened in on a couple of YNAB’s free live classes too. It’s just awesome that they have those. There was a little bit of a learning curve up front. After I got a handle on it, I was a little sad that I didn’t have more to do with my budget. I get done so quickly, and the software is so pretty…I kind of want a reason to interact with it more. :0)

  9. Felicia Adams says:

    What are the charges after the trial. I find it frustrating that the web site says nothing about that. I almost seems like a bait and switch since they don’t disclose the price.

    • Kimberly says:

      Felicia, Marian states what the costs are in this blog post; also, they are clearly stated on the website if you click the “pricing and sign up” button. Marian’s link offers a free trial for 90 days if you follow the clearly marked link in this post.

  10. I spent a week with the founder of YNAB at a personal finance conference. He is the real deal and his program works. I don’t use it because I am a retired finance professional and I don’t need it. But it is valuable for anyone that has a problem with finances. Don’t waste your 20’s and 30’s without a good financial plan. Or just wasting money on things you don’t need. Savings in your early years will double or triple before you get to retirement. Take advantage of that.

  11. Shawna says:

    @ Terri-I am wondering that as well. How much of my budget will go to this budgeting tool every month? How much does it cost?

  12. April says:

    This sounds great! I am doing everything you mentioned in the post (except for the pie chart for future expenses) by hand on paper. Tedious, but I like to have the information and it helps us stay on budget. This would be SO much easier. I can’t wait to try it. I am sure my system will be improved beyond just the technological aspect. Thanks for sharing!

  13. Natasha Hough says:

    This is awesome! As I read I wondered “has Marian tried YNAB?” We got it a couple of years ago after a dismal year or so of being totally skint and like you, not knowing where our money went. It’s absolutely awesome, and while we’re still not perfect at keeping totally on budget all the time, we can see areas where we need to pull back etc, and can actually plan for upcoming expenses and not be left scrambling to try and find the money. Best investment we ever made! So glad you love it too :)

  14. April says:

    I googled the company and it looks like it is $5/mo or $50/yr. College students are free. What a great doable price for everyone.

    • Natasha Hough says:

      Interesting, we definitely don’t pay a monthly fee for ours – just the one purchase fee. Perhaps that’s for a “pro” edition or something.

      • Robin says:

        You have the older version of the YNAB software (4 or older), which will be supported for (I think they said) another year or so. The new YNAB which is being offered here and at the website now was rolled out at the end of last year and is a totally new, revamped version with some new features.

  15. Natasha Hough says:

    No monthly fee that we pay – we got it through “Steam” (a software management system) on a sale they did, think it might’ve been only $10 or $15 on sale, possibly usually about $70ish? Though was a while ago and can’t totally remember and it may’ve changed, but getting it on sale is great.

  16. Connie J Harbor says:

    As with the others, I would like to know the a ACTUAL cost after the free trial which would also have to go in the budget, right? :) I will also pass along to the other MMS followers a program a friend told me about last spring – (not .coM; just .co) It’s an automatic savings program that pulls random amounts from whatever bank account you link it to (checking, in my case) and deposits it in your Digit bank. It analyzed my spending, how much I spent and around what time of the month (1st, 15th, etc.). It has taken as little as $1.79, with an average transfer of $31. In 10 months, I have saved $3,881! Twice I have had with withdraw money (once for a set of new tires and another time for a dental emergency). It’s instant from my Digit account back into my checking account. And Digit pays me a bonus every three months I don’t withdraw any money. It’s only pennies on my dollars, but it’s more than I get from my bank on my savings account. I am going to check out the YNAB site as well – with a firm budget, I may be able to up my Digit savings, too! BTW, I am not a Digit spokesperson, nor is Digit aware of this recommendation – I’m just so thrilled that I managed to save that much money without even knowing it.

    • marian says:

      It’s $5/month or $50/year. As an FYI, I do not earn any commission, bonus or anything if anyone signs up.

  17. debbie says:

    This sounds very interesting. My comment is to Ann W. that said to start saving in 20’s and 30’s and your savings will double or triple by retirement. With compounded interest that use to be the case but what banks or credit unions pay any interest anymore to double or triple money. Ann, if you have any suggestions for all of us, it would be greatly appreciated. I know you are a financial expert which is great but I just don’t see that happening anymore.


  18. Lisa Mothersead says:

    Budgeting is so important. I made mistakes in my 20’s and 30’s then read books and articles and learned!! how to manage money and now do most of the bills and budgeting for our family. You can learn. Every woman needs to know. #teachyourdaughters

  19. I’m glad you shared this today! My husband and I have wanted to start a budget for some time and I finally looked into one earlier this month but found it very confusing. I just signed up for this and hope it will be a good thing for us. Thanks again for sharing this, we needed it as I’m sure so many others do too!!

  20. Eileen says:

    Congratulations on paying off that student loan! It’s a Big deal, so good for you and Jeff. My daughter had a big student loan and were she and I ever happy the day she paid it off!! Happy day!

  21. We’re 100% on the YNAB train! It has seriously changed our financial life! For so long I struggled with setting a budget and STICKING to it! YNAB makes it so, so easy. And, bonus…my husband loves it too (which has not been the case with other budgeting things we’ve tried)! It’s helped us SAVE…which has been so hard for us in the past. Thank you for sharing this!

  22. Melanie says:

    For those that use it now:

    I just had it pull in my bank account and it only pulled in my last payroll deposit and the last 4-5 transactions. Since it is Jan 29th should I go ahead and manually put in all the credits and debits for all of January to complete a full month? So going into February it has a full month of data? Or just enter in my monthly expenses and not worry about January?

  23. Cindy Brown says:

    I know this sounds hateful, but READ people!! Marian put the price in her blog yet many are asking about the price! Wish they had something like this in my younger years. Sounds like an excellent tool!

    • marian says:

      Cindy, I added that after I received so many questions about it. :) So, I think almost all of them asked prior to that change to the post.

  24. joanna n. says:

    this sounds like an excellent financial tool! i’m excited about it for me & my husband who’ve never been on a budget, since our income & expenses were always unstable due to running a farm. now w/ a new business set-up as an LLC & my husband making a salary now, this sounds like a fabulous option! as well, this sounds perfect for 2 20 yr. old family members who would benefit from some financial accountability. one question: how do you enter credit card expenses into YNAB? thanks for sharing about this helpful tool, marian!

  25. We are in our mid 70’s. I like Excel so I made up a sheet for each month, one for expenses that never change and one for other things, like auto repair, etc. I can look at it and see where we need to change or not spend so much money. One of the worst things is my husband and WalMart. I have him look at the spreadsheet and he can see he needs to not spend so much!! lol Anyway, this is simple and works for us. Really like Miss Mustard Seed!! So many good ideas.

    • Melissa Even says:

      The first edition of YNAB was actually an Excel spreadsheet that they sold. Over time, they’ve gone through some major upgrades, so that now it is the really useful web-based tool that it is today.

  26. Mary Borgsmiller says:

    Congratulations, Marian, on the March issue of Country Living. I opened the magazine cover to a pic and said to myself, that is Marian’s room, I know it is but it did not say what page it was on until I saw the article about the “Cape Cod”!!!!! How exciting and it all looks spectacular. As an avid and daily reader of your blog, your home is easy for me to recognize a specially because I love your style! Congrats on a great article! Mary

  27. Donna says:

    I’m so disappointed in the new version of YNAB. It’s left out so many of the excellent features of the previous version at substantially higher cost. New users need to be aware that it is possible to in advertantly steal money they have budgeted for future months- leading to nasty surprises when they get there.

    Age of Money is very misleading. It counts money you have saved for future expenses, leading to a false sense of security. It’s a great cheerleader, but it’s cheering for the band instead of the players on the field.

    The lack of reports (said to be coming), no check field, no search capabilities, no way to view multiple months at one time, no running balances, problems with reconciliation.. It’s just a shade of its former self.

    If you are not a North American user, it’s definitely not ready for you. It doesn’t allow for manual imports of transactions yet.

  28. Love, love, love YNAB! We’ve been using it for 3+ years and it has transformed our family finances! Thanks for sharing!

  29. I’m actually simultaneously using YNAB 4 and new YNAB and I will likely purchase the new version after my trial is up. I quite frankly hated manual import function of downloading transactions from my bank and then trying to upload them to the software. It made reconciling frustrating. Now my purchases show up in real time in the budget. I also like that it forces you to deal with overspending instead of allowing you to carry it to the next month. I could go on, but I’ll just say I’d rather pay $50 a year for peace of mind for software that works and helps me save money versus spending say $99 a year for something like Amazon Prime that only helps me spend more money.

  30. Penny Gharst says:

    Just want to say I look forward to your entertaining and educational blurb each day. Can’t wait to see what comes next. I love everything about it.

  31. Ellen says:

    As I was reading the beginning of this post I kept thinking “I wonder if she’s tried YNAB, I’ve got to tell her to try it!” 😀
    I also love their podcast, it’s short and inspirational.

  32. Minimal4Me says:

    I did the free trial and it doesn’t do anything that free programs like Mint do. I was hoping you could differentiate monthly payments from weekly payments. My one beef with Mint.

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