Resolutions Review: How “You Need A Budget” (YNAB) helped us save $1000 in less than 3 months.

On Monday, I introduced this month’s series in a post called Resolutions Review: did you get control of your weight, fitness, money, and work issues? (Plus Power Poses.) Tackling this series a bit of a stretch for a paranormal-themed blog, but less so if you understand that I define the word paranormal broadly.

Para- / par-ə / Prefix. ”Alongside, near, beyond, altered, contrary to.”
norma/ nawr-muhl / Adjective. “Conforming to the standard; usual; regular; natural.”

No matter how far I stray from topics like ghosts, cryptids and mysteries, I am always thinking about how to make life better and easier for my kindred. These articles will become part of a section of the blog I’m developing, dedicated to living a (moderately) paranormal lifestyle.

body preservation

There. That’s out of the  way.


Today, let’s take a sharp turn toward the concrete and practical and talk about money.

You can skip this next part if it’s too long and you want to get to the review of the financial planning software we’ve found. Just scroll 🙂

Here’s our backstory, told as succinctly as possible, in case you need or want to know what our situation was before YNAB:

My husband and I married at 23, and I brought him a four year old daughter as a wedding present. (Shout out to Pooka.) We were determined to live a very Ozzie & Harriett kind of lifestyle, and though he was at the beginning of a promising career as a software engineer, the paychecks didn’t stretch far enough to pay for all the “normal” things we wanted. Obviously, then, we financed the lifestyle we wanted with credit cards. (It was the early 90s.) We bought used cars (though we weren’t able to fix them when they broke.) We bought a house (though we weren’t good at or interested in home maintenance projects.) Five years later, we had a son. (Shout out to The Boy.)

But, other than my husband’s 401K, we had no savings.

Eventually of course, we realized how over-extended we were. We entered into a non-profit debt consolidation program. We decided we wanted to simplify our lifestyle, so we sold the house in town (which was falling apart anyway) and moved into a “less expensive” house, out to the country so we could be a bit more self-sustaining and finish raising the kids on a min-farm.

But, other than my husband’s 401K, we had no savings.

Over the next 5-7 years, we repaired the damage we’d done with our early credit-fueled spending. We loved the farm, though it ended up costing a LOT more than living in town had, despite the lower sticker price. Even small scale hobby farming is harder than it looks, and requires more of an investment than you’d think. (And we still weren’t good at home maintenance stuff.) Then there was the added cost of my husband’s commute, which was more than an hour each way, on good roads. (We live in Minnesota. There were many more days of bad roads than good.) But we were surviving, and our credit score had recovered. We carried little debt. We used a big bonus my husband received to almost completely pay for TWO brand new, if eminently practical, vehicles. (We loved the extended bumper-to-bumper warranties and learned that we probably should have been buying new from the get-go.)

But, other than my husband’s 401K, we had no savings.

Then some sort of vorpal tunnel opened up beneath us. Elder-care for my mother (who had me late in her life) — which had always been a bit of a drain on our time and finances — intensified. Our daughter received an entirely unexpected double diagnosis of thyroid cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. (We had good insurance, but there are so many expenses that come along with worry over family members … and in this case we were lucky to have our girl living with us, but my mother was a 45 minute drive away.) Gas prices were soaring. To top it off, though we were barely aware of it at the time, the housing market crashed and our home mortgage was suddenly seriously “upside down.” We had to tap those credit cards we hadn’t been using, and we were grateful to have them.

But, other than my husband’s 401K, we had no savings.

Then, two and a half years ago, my husband was let go from the job he’d had for ten years. We know it was ten years, because — just the month before he got the pink slip — they threw him a big party at work to celebrate his anniversary. We didn’t see the job loss coming. That’s when we became truly aware of how bad the economy had become. We knew he’d probably be job searching for at least six months. We knew we were going to lose the house.

Because, other than my husband’s 401K, we had no savings.

My husband’s company gave him (and another 3-4  of his mature, well-established, expensive co-workers) a nice severance package. After much thought, and taking into account all of the developments in our family, we moved from the farmlet to an affordable apartment, near the college my son would attend, in a lovely town, close to the Twin Cities. We both set to looking for work, even though I was nearly unemployable. We lived on the severance package until that ran out, then on a combination of unemployment and the pay from the near-minimum-wage job I eventually found. (At the #paranormalhotel, of course.) Because God hates us, both my son and I needed expensive dental work during this time, and we didn’t have insurance.

Savings? Hell, we weren’t covering all the utilities.

ELEVEN MONTHS after losing his job, my husband found another. We paid off the dental balances. We got caught up on utilities. We  bought some jeans that didn’t have holes in the knee. We realized that we’re basically starting all over again — at 46, with a lousy credit rating and a foreclosure to our names. We came to the conclusion that we want to move to the Mid-Atlantic, to get away from Minnesota winters and get closer to where our daughter has settled in North Carolina, and then we realized …

We still didn’t know how to save any money to make that move possible.

We took an online class, which helped. We learned about zero-balance budgeting. We tried to work with Quicken, but quickly discovered that its budgeting features didn’t do what we wanted them to do. In November, I set myself the task of finding some sort of financial planning software that would help us meet our goals. After several false starts, I found You Need A Budget, aka YNAB.

And now we have $1000.00 in a real savings account.


I can’t introduce the software better than the professionals over at YNAB do. Below, I’ve provided a selection of links and videos that will give you both an excellent overview of the product and some details abut how it works. What I can do is tell you why it worked for us.

What we love about this program:

  • There’s nothing tricksome or scammy involved in the process. All the advice offered is founded on safe, practical, common-sense practices.
  • Granted, that means there’s nothing revolutionary in the system. What is revolutionary is how EASY this program makes it to do the right thing.
  • The software interface is clean, comprehensive and easy to follow intuitively, once you understand it.
  • The companion cell phone app makes it amazingly easy to maintain an absolutely current understanding of spending, even when there are multiple people spending in different locations, over the course of a day.
  • This program is supported beautifully. The company has created dozens of easily accessible tutorials which are complete and easy to learn from (if not riveting.)
  • The emphasis in the system  is on flexibility. There is little guilt associated with overspending in any given category, as long as you stay within the overall plan, which includes savings for long-, mid- and short-term goals. (The Ogre and I treat those savings categories as sacred.)
  • The program replaces any checkbook program with it’s functionality. The emphasis is on the budget portion, but you can track the activity of every spending account you have in one place.
  • Skeptical by nature, we may have hesitated if we’d had to pay the $60 cost of the program up front, but YNAB offers a fully functional, 34-day trial. After the first week, we knew we were going to pay, and pay gladly … so we budgeted for it, in YNAB, over two paychecks.


This is the short commercial-style video.

This is an 8 min. video that details the basic process, including some screen shots of the program itself.


main page:

a good overview of the support resources available to everyone:

and here’s an overview of the features, including some discussion of the tech that makes it work:


wrimoprog: 02/25/2014: 36 + 35 = 71/80


Resolutions Review: did you get control of your weight, fitness, money, and work issues? (Plus power poses.)

It’s Resolutions Review Week, here at The Paranormalist.

Why? More pointedly, why now, in late February? Because most of us made some resolutions just seven weeks ago, whether we admitted it aloud or not. Now, in the trough of this extreme and exhausting winter, we are at a challenge point. If we’ve been “good,” we’re feeling deprived and tired. If we’ve been “bad,” we have slipped back into the same old pre-resolution, habits, and we don’t care … because, hell, it’s hard enough to just get from one (frigid, ice-coated) day to the next, right?

(Apologies to my readers who live in reasonable climates … here in most of the United States, it’s been a rough winter.)

This week, I’m donning my Miss Mary Sunshine persona and sharing my thoughts about a few amazing life-hack tools I found. (You should appreciate that; this particular mask pinches and smells funny.) Still, some combination of desperation, determination, and good luck has allowed me to actually make real progress on a few of my 2014 resolutions, and (in the name of karma, or something) I have to share what is working.


Photo by Don O’Brian
(linked to original)

The truth is, I didn’t make my resolutions on January first. Long-term readers know that our family is coming of a pretty brutal period (during which we experienced: cancer, eldercare issues, sudden unemployment that lasted 11 months, losing our house, moving into an apartment, etc.)  We’ve been trying to rebuild our lives for about two years. For most of that time, we’ve been consumed with just hanging on. Following Halloween of 2013, though, I had a bit of an emotional crash — the stress of the previous years finally caught up with me.

I stopped being able to write fiction.

After about a month and a half of unrelenting writer’s block, I decided I might as well be doing SOMETHING useful, so I set out on my quest to fix everything else, in the hopes that relieving some stress would ignite my creativity.

I didn’t find all the fantastic tools I wanted right away. There were some false starts. As weeks passed, however, I found some treasures and a few things started to come together.

Now I can tell you that in the last 3-4 months I’ve:

  • lost 10 pounds without really dieting
  • started working out regularly
  • taken control of our financial situation
  • saved over $1000.00 – in a real savings account
  • increased my hit traffic here at the blog substantially (On this one, I’m not quite sure WHY it’s happening, but I’ll take it.)


  • I’ve started writing fiction again.

So, what has been working?

This intro to Resolution Week is already getting long, so I’ll start the series by sharing a quick link to one of the flakiest helpful techniques I stumbled on. I’m going to assume that you, like me, are a special kind of (paranormal) person — one who is simultaneously open minded and skeptical.

Power Posing:

wonder woman

(linked to Wonder Woman on IMDb)

I warn you, the idea seems silly. If you watch the whole 21 minute presentation, though, you might be persuaded to give it a try, based on the psychological and neurological science cited in the video.

Perhaps you’ve already seen Amy Cuddy’s viral TED Talk, Your body language shapes who you are. The idea is that our brains are hardwired to take cues from the body language of the people around us, and this capability is unconsciously applied to our own personal body language too. We come to believe things about ourselves based on the body language we adopt. Now, this is obviously a chicken and egg thing, but the question remains: if there is a feedback loop, can we really “fake it ’til we make it?”

I don’t yet power pose daily. In fact, I hardly ever do it at all. I just forget. Right after I watched the video, though, I tried to adopt a regular practice. I wrote in my personal journal:

A funny thing happened today. My husband likes it when I greet him enthusiastically when he gets home from work. You know, if I stop whatever I’m doing and go to give him a kiss before he can even get his coat off. I know it makes him happy. 

I thought I’d be funny today, and be waiting for him at his parking spot. I went down and was just sort of slumped against the wall when I remembered I hadn’t done any power poses yet. So I did. Just the Wonder Woman stance. 

Next thing I knew, I’d decided I might as well walk laps in the big underground garage of the apartment complex while I waited. It was probably my third lap before I started to wonder if the power posing energized or focused me in such a way that I started to do something good. Just a thought. 

My biggest take-away from this video was a realization that the position I adopt while writing matters. I happen to be one of those people who has always walked and stood confidently, but I tend to slump and fold in on myself and shrink when I’m seated. Now, when the words are feeling confined or cramped, I change the way I’m sitting and I stretch out a bit. It’s just one little thing, among other hacks that I’m using, but it helps.

power rangers

PS: A whole lot of yoga poses already tap into this idea, I think.

Photo links:
Warrior II
Yoga @ Midway Castles
Happy 50th Francine


wrimoprog: 02/24/2014: 35 + 31 = 66/80