finlit

#FinLit: You Need a Budget

***Disclosure: Dames in Debt received a free copy of this book. This post contains affiliate links. <3 from the Dames***

Hi friends, it’s time for another installment of #finlit! You know, that thing I do where I meet my annual GoodReads reading goal via consuming every personal finance book know to man (& several Nancy Drew Mystery Stories). Anyways, today’s book happens to be You Need a Budget by Jesse Mecham.

Before we get started, I want to just reiterate one more time that each of us Dames got a free copy of this book to review it. That’s it. No strings attached to the review, but please know it’s definitely at your library if you want to read it for free too. Now, onto my review…

You Need a Budget is written by the creator of the You Need a Budget website (kind of like Mint, except confusing and not free), and I’m not going to lie, it’s not my favorite #finlit book. For many of the same reasons I didn’t love using the YNAB software.

Mecham’s advice centers around his four rules (as written on the book jacket):

  1. Give Every Dollar A Job. Be intentional about what you want your money to do before you spend it.

  2. Embrace Your True Expenses. Break up larger, less frequent expenses into smaller, more manageable amounts. By saving monthly for insurance premiums, holidays, or car repairs, when the time comes, your money is ready and waiting to do its job.

  3. Roll With The Punches. When life changes, so must your budget. Make adjustments and move along. Flexible budgets succeed because they’re guilt-free, realistic, and sustainable.

  4. Age Your Money. As you repeat the first three rules, you’ll increase the time between the moment you earn a dollar and the moment you need to spend it. When your money is at least a month old, you’ll have finally broken the paycheck to paycheck cycle for good.

Great Framework, Little Execution

The rules are easy enough to follow and make sense…but he doesn’t actually tell you how to implement them. It’s a lot of vague “find your money priorities” and “start with housing and food,” but no discussion on what those numbers might look like. Mecham actually says in the book this is because everyone’s lives are different (totally true), but it’s hard to know whether your $1500 rent is a true expense if everyone else in your area pays $750 for the same apartment. How are you supposed to know? I would have enjoyed the book more if there were more concrete ideas offered as to how to figure out what those numbers should look like for your budget, or at least some rough estimates you can use.

If you’ve been reading me for a while, then you know my love of sinking funds, so I did enjoy Rule 2, which is basically just making sinking funds for everything. This is something I’ve implemented over the past few years, and I can’t tell you how instrumental they’ve been on helping me get out of debt.

Most of Mecham’s advice, and his four rules, really boil down to what every other personal finance guru says: live within your means, break big expenses into smaller chunks, etc. The part of YNAB that’s a little different though, is the concept of aging your money. “Money’s ‘age’ is based on the gap of time between when you earned the money and when you spend the money.” (p.95-96).

Basically, Mecham wants you to have a minimum of one month’s of expenses in your checking accounts at all time. This way, the money you’re spending on January expenses is actually the money you earned back in December. Your January paychecks all go to February, and so on. By doing this, you’ll break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle and probably have a lot less stress.

This also sounds like having your emergency fund chill in your checking account instead of a savings account. I don’t know if I’m oversimplifying the idea, but really, that’s what it is.

After chapters devoted to each of the four rules, there are also chapters on dealing with debt, couples using the YNAB method, how to talk to your kids (I LOVED this chapter…I just don’t have any kids at the moment), and what to do when you feel like quitting. I think those last two chapters were actually my favorites.

Conclusions

In the end, I really did enjoy You Need a Budget. Jesse Mecham has a great voice and his writing style was fun, entertaining (without being too jokey – unlike other books). I also liked that while Mecham made his money with the popular YNAB software, he repeatedly lets you know it’s cool if you use Excel, pen/paper, something else that isn’t his product. He actually doesn’t push the software at all and that made me like him more.

The advice is great for a true beginner or someone who hates the idea of traditional budgeting. In particular, I think YNAB would be an excellent resource for someone with little to no debt because you’ll have much more fun with the YNAB budgeting style (rule 1: give every dollar a job). If you’re someone with a lot of debt and fixed monthly payments, it’s more depressing than anything else.

Let me know if you’ve read it, and happy #FinLit reading folks!

-ECD



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