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Cheap Going Away Gift Basket

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Since my friend was moving cross-country, I decided to put together a little going away roadtrip-ready gift basket. This was super cheap to put together, but is thoughtful and practical at the same time.

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In my basket I included:

  • 3 current magazines, purchased through trade-in credit at our local used bookstore (tip: this is a great idea for magazines to flip through while you travel, too. They sell current issues for as little as $1 at our store). Cost: $0
  • 3 dollar store snacks (Corn Nuts, Yogurt-covered pretzels, and trail mix). Cost: $3
  • 3 candies from Walgreens (Skittles, Lemon heads, and Rasinetes). Cost: $3
  • 1 basket from Dollar Tree. Cost $1

Total Cost: $7

Another idea that I had after I’d already given the basket to my friend was to include a gift card that could be used for something to listen to. Ideas include iTunes (to download music or audiobooks) or a Cracker Barrel gift card, since you can rent books on CD from Cracker Barrel and return to any other location (and since Cracker Barrels are typically directly off of highways, its super convenient to rent and return items).

The whole basket was very inexpensive for me, but I like these types of gifts that can be meaningful (and/or practical) without having a big price tag. I feel like blogging here has really helped make me more creative in that regard (instead of just defaulting to buying a $25 Home Depot gift card for a moving-away friend as I might have in the past).

Speaking of more meaningful and low-cost gifts, I’ve been working on another Mother’s Day gift toddler craft (reminder:  Mother’s Day is this Sunday!!). I’ll try to get a post up soon in case anyone is interested in doing something similar for a special woman(-en) in your life!

 


April ’15- Month in Review

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I hope everyone is having a fantastic week thus far!

I want to start doing a “month in review” here on BAD to clue everyone in on what’s occurred during the previous month. I think this will help summarize what’s going on in my life as we move forward on my debt reduction journey and allow people to quickly get up to speed that didn’t catch my weekly updates.

To summarize, A LOT occurred in April:

  • I began the month (technically it was March 31st, but let’s call it April) by telling you what’s been bothering me even since I started my hardcore paydown (read it here). This was the hardest to write but most heart felt post to date. Update: I’m starting to realize time is more important than money and or gifts, and spending time with people and giving them a minute or two every couple of days is priceless.
  • I vowed to help my sister by contributing to a 529 in my nephew’s name (read it here). Update: I officially opened up an ESA (not 529) account in my nephew’s name over the weekend. The first contribution will be this Wednesday.
  • In the same post, I decided to re-contribute into my company’s 401K plan (read it here). Update: All the paperwork has been filed and I’m set to start contributing 4% (giving me the max. 2% company match, as well) of my paycheck this Wednesday.
  • I also decided to start budgeting for $50 of “fun” money per month to use to go out with friends (read it here). Update: I’m going to set the $50 aside on the 2nd Wednesday of every month for the following 4 weeks. I don’t have any other bills, except my electric due at this time.
  • I came across a roof leak in our house and freaked out! (read it here) Update: I haven’t opened any ceilings yet (mostly out of fear) but it’s been dry now since the day I ventured upon it. We’ve had some pretty good rainstorms already this year, so if it was from rainwater, I feel it would still be wet. My hunch is still ice dams.
  • I got a work bonus and a raise! (read it here) Update: The bonus was quickly put into my savings account. The raise has amounted to $17 a paycheck, but every additional penny helps.
  • We (GF and I) finally got around to celebrating Valentine’s Day, while also doing a fun little getaway up in Buffalo, NY (read it here).
  • Lastly, I got around to putting  our summer plans down on paper (read it here). It may not seem like much but I have a feeling it’s going to be a busy one this year!

For those interested in where my budget shook out:

April '15

I had some major expenses this month: 1) a tax bill close to $200. Since my I didn’t pay enough taxes last year to match my income (which was greatly increased due to pulling out my retirement fund), I owe the state of PA estimated quarterly taxes this year. 2) Our get-away cost nearly $400 in total 3) I spent more for groceries and dinner than I normally do. After my post to kick-off the month, I’m not too upset about this.

In debt reduction notes:

I reduced it by OVER $2,500!!

Pretty exciting stuff.

However, all good news aside, I had thoughts last week of stopping my debt reduction pay down altogether (obviously I’d still pay the minimums), which would have also meant writing for BAD, too. As I was sitting my car thinking about everything, I couldn’t help but wonder if instead of throwing every extra cent at debt, if I threw every extra cent into my savings. It would build quickly, giving me a large enough windfall to get through any obstacle, and when the balance was big enough, I could use it to pay off all the debt at once, alleviating my stress while giving me comfort that I won’t be in debt forever. After talking it over with GF, the feeling came to pass. With savings interest rates so low, it wouldn’t make a ton of sense mathematically, but, as I’ve always said, being in debt is a psychological, as well as, financial burden.

But what do you think? Do you ever get feelings like this? If so, did you suddenly change course, or did you let it pass? Let me know in the comments!

Have a fantastic week!


Ashley’s April 2015 Budget Update

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Happy Monday! Hope you had a good weekend, wherever you are! We spent our Saturday morning at the splash pad and Sunday morning at church. A fun and relaxing little weekend (wishing it weren’t already nearly 100* in Tucson)!

Now that we’re officially in May, here’s an update on how we did with our budget in April.

Place Amount Spent
Rent 1055
Electricity 101
Water 53
Natural gas 22
Sprint (2 lines) 115
Cable/Internet 99
Car Insurance 58
Health Insurance 394
Trash 35
Preschool 1035
Gift-Giving 37
Restaurants 125
Entertainment 16
Groceries 416
Gasoline 75
Household Goods 93
Clothing 20
Parking 8
Toddler purchases 40
Rainy Day Savings 100
Savings Goals 500
Debt Payments 1796
Total  $6193

 

Some notes:

  • Gift-Giving included a going away gift basket (post coming soon), the purchase of some mother’s day cards, and another baby present (I’ll be sending a baby present this month too…I think this makes 3 months in a row. I’m definitely at “that” stage in life, lol).
  • Restaurants was a little over my typical $100 budget due to all the get-togethers this month (one for a dissertation defense and two for going-away celebrations).
  • Entertainment included a couple songs on itunes and some supplies we bought for when we went camping (I consider camping to be entertainment, and therefore, it was included in this category).
  • Household goods was a little high this month. I finally got some gardening supplies (soil, a new pot, some herbs), and I got Costco-sized packages of toilet paper and laundry soap.
  • Clothing included purchase of two $10 pair of water shoes for the girls. Their preschool class goes to the splash park twice a week and water shoes are required. I got the shoes (which were some of the cheapest I found, but still of good quality) online from Target. I use a Target card because I get 5% off and free shipping to my house! (I pay the card in full whenever used)
  • Toddler Purchase is a C0stco sized box of diapers.
  • Rainy Day Savings represents $50 each, toward my health fund (including dental/vision/health) and my annual fees fund. I use Capital One 360 to easily separate my money for these different savings goals (<<refer a friend link).
  • Savings Goals represents $400 toward Cruise 2016 and $100 toward a Roth IRA.
  • Debts. This figure is broken down here (and in my most recent debt update post):
    • $100 PenFed car payment
    • $453 student loan payments (that’s ACS and Navient payments)
    • $1119 for our very last license fee(!!!)
    • $124 toward medical debt

So there you have it. I’ve got to run. Hope your week is off to a great start!


Weekly Debt Update #10- Moving Forward

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Thank you everybody for your thoughts on my emotional post from last week concerning what I felt I was lacking in my life while paying off debt (read it here). After all the comments and some thought, I’ve decided that starting in May, I’m revising my budget to reflect a few items:

1) I want to send my sister a small gift every month to help out their young family- I’m thinking a $25 gift card to Baby’s R Us. I’m going to contribute $25 a month into a 529 plan for my nephew.

2) $50-$100 in misc money to use if and when I want to go have some fun with friends, family and/or GF. Looking for some input on this one- too high/too little?

I’m still fighting an internal battle between paying off my student loans as fast as humanly possible and not alienating everybody in life while I do so, so I’m hoping this is a stepping stone to finding a balance between the 2 options. To be completely honest- it’s a little unnerving to see my my debt reduction schedule slip a couple a months, but it should all be worth it after it’s all said and done. And for some more honestly- I never thought I’d see myself in this position. After years of reading debt blogs, I’ve been determined to do what so many seem to struggle to do (cut theirs expenses) that I swung all the way to the opposite side of the spectrum that I’m hurting myself in much different ways than financial. Like so many said last week- I need to find balance, and this is my (attempt at a) solution to it.

Edit (Because I just thought of this story): This isn’t actually the most determined I’ve been to get out of debt. Back in September, despite already working 50-55 hours a week, I sent out a bunch of resumes for part-time work. I got an interview to deliver pizzas at night and on weekends for a local pizzeria. I was upfront with them and told them I was only looking for a job to help get out of debt while I worked full-time. Thankfully (THANKFULLY!) I never got a call back. I stopped pursuing part-time work after this interview. I couldn’t imagine how out of balance my work/life situation would be had I worked part-time over the winter. Two words come to mind- not. good.

There’s something I want to do that are not budget related- I want to start talking with my friends and family more. I’ve been in rut for some years while paying off debt that I would love to get out of, hopefully completely out of, by time I’m debt free. A lot of you told me to give my time vs. going out and I thought that was a great idea, and that is what I’m going to strive to do, a little bit at a time. There’s quite a few people I haven’t touched base with in years, so it’s going to take some effort and patience as I don’t see this being an overnight deal.

Also on the subject of what I will be starting in May:

I’m going to re-start my contributions into my companies 401K plan!

I have my sights set on 4% of my income which will allow me to get the maximum match (they match .5% for every 1% up to 2%). Even though I’m not currently in the company plan, the company gives 2% in profit sharing to every employee regardless of their contribution status. I don’t feel right about missing out on the 4% I could be saving and the 2% in match now that I’m passed the 50% marker in debt payoff.

In my day-to-day life:

On Monday 3/30, my girlfriend turned the big 2-7!!! So…this meant birthday plans and birthday gifts.

Taking a page from her handbook from my birthday celebration (see here), I made a goody bag of all her favorite things and I baked her a cake! I NEVER bake, and as you can see by the results, the effort was there, but the skill, unfortunately, was not. LOL.

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But I have to say- she loved it! Maybe not the cake, so much, but the time and effort I put in to making it. And she also loved her goody bag, which was filled with things I’ve remembered over the years that she loves: grape tomatoes, Tim Horton’s gift card ($5), a gift card for pop at the corner store ($5), salted popcorn, salsa, various varieties of salt. Overall, it cost me about $70, including the all the ingredients to make the cake (which were also in her bag). I also gave her a bunch of “love” coupons- for back rubs, uninterrupted naps, a night in with a movie of her choice, etc… which was her favorite part of the day! In previous years, I’ve bought flowers, chocolates, spa gift certificates as birthday gifts but this year I got the best response. I’m so glad I was able to make her birthday really special this year.

As for my debt reduction update, here are my current tallies:

Loan NameInterest RateOriginal Balance- May '09Current BalanceTotal Paid Off
Sallie Mae 015.25$27,837.24$24,224.78$3,612.46
Sallie Mae 024.75$22,197.02$19,006.27$3,190.75
Sallie Mae 037.75$20,692.10$0.00
$20,692.10
Sallie Mae 045.75$10,350.18$7,570.60$2,779.58
Sallie Mae 055.25$6,096.03$3,192.92
$2,903.11
Sallie Mae 06 and 074.75$6,415.09$0.00$6,415.09
Sallie Mae- DOE 015.25$5,000.00$0.00$5,000.00
Sallie Mae- DOE 025.25$3,000.00$0.00$3,000.00
AES6.8$9,000.00$0.00$9,000.00
TOTALS$110,587.66$53,994.57$56,593.09

Since my last update 2 weeks ago, I’ve been able to bring my total on Sallie Mae 05 down $1,100.

I hope everyone has a great week!


March Budget Update

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We had a lot less income to work with in the month of March than in our typical months. Because of this, I had to get a bit creative. Some things (like some savings) were eliminated; other things (like debt payments) were reduced.

There’s always room for improvement and this month is no exception. But at the end of the month we had a balanced budget (meaning, we didn’t spend more than we made – using YNAB has really helped me in that regard), so I’ve got to be happy with the end result. April will have a bit more wiggle room, so I’m excited about the new month.

Here’s how March shaped up:

Place Amount Spent
Rent 1055
Electricity 116
Water 69
Natural gas 26
Sprint (2 lines) 114
Cable/Internet 99
Car Insurance 58
Health Insurance 394
Trash 35
Preschool 1030
Gift-Giving 40
Personal Maintenance 62
Restaurants 108
Entertainment 10
Groceries 388
Gasoline 38
Household Goods 7
Toddler purchases 53
Postage 10
Work Stuff 62
Rainy Day Savings 0
Savings Goals 300
Debt Payments 603
Total $4677

 Most of these items are in-line with expectations. But I do have a couple comments…

  • Preschool ($1030 spent): This month was a normal charge, but I referred a friend to our preschool facility, so I’m excited that next month I should have a referral credit. I’m not sure how much of a discount I get, but any amount saved will be great!
  • Gift Giving ($40 spent): This was a $20 gift for two separate people (both baby presents).
  • Personal Maintenance ($62 spent): This was $35 for a hair cut and eyebrow wax, $12 for attending a yoga class, and $15 for new eye cream and face lotion (I got cheap grocery store stuff…not sure if more expensive stuff works better? I’d love to hear others’ opinions on quality versus budget eye cream and face lotion – that stuff is $$$!)
  • Gasoline ($38 spent): Gas was so cheap this month because my husband ended up filling up the car for me while I was on my not-an-interview trip. I generally only have to fill up twice per month, but this month I only filled up once!
  • Work Stuff ($62 spent): I made a new category called “work stuff” for expenses that are related to work and can be 100% tax deductible. This month these expenses stem from my not-an-interview trip, including food the night I got into town, gasoline in the rental car, and parking costs. I’ve saved all the receipts for everything, but having work expenses as their own category in my budget will make things easier for tracking and tax purposes, too.
  • Rainy Day Savings ($0 spent): With the tighter month, I didn’t put any money aside for any of our rainy day funds (which include: 3-6 month expenses, car repairs, toddler birthday, travel/Christmas, dental/vision, annual expenses, and vet expenses). This is not ideal since many of these categories are non-negotiable anticipated expenses (like my annual expenses for car registration), but skipping one month won’t kill us either.
  • Savings Goals ($300 spent): I put $100 toward my Roth IRA fund (and then I promptly withdrew all the money I’d saved to actually open a Roth), and $200 toward my Cruise 2016 fund.
  • Debt Payments ($603 spent): Discussed more in my latest debt post. This figure represents $50 toward my car payment, $453 toward student loans, $75 toward license fees, and $25 toward medical debt. One side-note about medical debt (and the reason for the discrepancy between this figure and the one I reported in my debt update)…I was supposed to also have a $50 medical bill to pay, but I never received the bill this month. When I called the office to inquire about it, it turns out they’d processed my last payment late, so it looked like I’d skipped a February payment and already paid the March payment. It was a clerical error on their end so nothing negative was reported to my credit and no late fines or fees were assessed, but it means that my next bill is not due until April (also…my April bill will be my LAST bill for the $50/month payment! Eeeeek!!!!)

Overall thoughts on March budget

Honestly, March was tough on me psychologically. I feel like I’ve just been making tiny little baby steps lately, where I’m used to the “rush’ that I felt when I first started the debt repayment process and was making huge strides monthly. I still stand by my previous statements that I think having a lean month from time-to-time can be good for us, force us to examine how every single penny is being spent and use the opportunity to try to reflect on true necessities versus extras.

That being said….I’m ready to have some more income to toss at debt. I’m not going to lie. It hurt to only put $603 toward debt when I’m used to paying between $1500-$2500/month!! Six hundred dollars doesn’t even move the needle of what I owe – its like just treading water because it only covers interest without any extra! It made the month feel long as it draaaaagged on with its relentless 31 days (and coming on the heels of a 28-day month!)

And I wish I could say that April was going to be an awesome month, but it won’t be (we live on last month’s income, so the money we have to spend in April is from income earned in March). It will be better than last month, as we have almost an extra $1500 in the budget, but it’s not as high as I’d like (for comparison’s sake, our income this March is down nearly $2,500 compared to March of last year). Oh the joys of small business ownership. The good news is that the business has, overall, been flourishing and even when there are leaner months, we can be sure that fatter months are ahead. (Fingers crossed!)

How did you do with your budget last month? Do you have any areas you’re working on improving?


Dental Deal

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Remember last summer when I had some dental stuff pop up?

I never gave details before, but I went in for a routine cleaning and was told I’d need a new front tooth because my root was dead. The dentist recommended getting 6 porcelain veneers to remedy the situation. (Note: this was the first time I’d ever gone to that dentist, and I had selected them because they had a new patient special).

Well, I thought that was total crap. Instead, I decided to seek a second opinion. But, before going in, I chipped a back tooth. I’m so glad I went for the second opinion because the new dentist was awesome! He did an exam and x-rays for free and suggested that for the front tooth we take the “wait and see” approach because, although the root was dead, there was no sign of decay. He also said that IF further action needed to be taken, that the best thing to do would be a root canal and a single cap (a far cry from the 6 porcelain veneers the last dentist recommended!)

Anywho, I did need to get a filling on my chipped tooth to protect it from potential cavities but that was it, and cost a grand total of $171 (we don’t have dental insurance and pay out-of-pocket).

It’s now been 7 months and is time for another teeth cleaning.

This time around, I started by checking out a bunch of the dental discount plans in my area. Only….I wasn’t really thrilled with any of them.

The one that sounded best “on paper” I found out had TERRIBLE patient-reviews. Like, an average of 1 star out of 5. Plus it was clear across town.

Then I looked up one that’s nearby with better reviews, but the prices really didn’t seem that great and they don’t have a pediatric dentist for the girls (they really need to start going to the dentist soon!)

The dental discount plan is 100% worth the money if I can get hubs to go, but this month has been insane with his schedule. And its really not that great of a deal if it’s just me and I’m going just for a cleaning. After talking about it with hubs, we decided that I’ll pay out-of-pocket for a cleaning this month, and we’ll look back at dental discount programs next month. Hubs promises to make it a priority to get to the dentist next month. (He’s one of those people who needs some time to wrap his mind around the idea of going to the dentist – he’s never been a big fan.) Stay tuned next month for my “Year of Becoming Adults:  April Update” >>>hopefully I can report on hubs having completed some much needed dental work!

Anyway, given my pleasant experience last time with dentist #2, I decided just to go back there. I figured most teeth cleanings are in the $100-$150ish range so I anticipated an expense of that size (and right now we have plenty of dental savings to cover it). But when I called and scheduled the appointment, I decided to ask the receptionist about it just so I would know up-front what to expect.

And guess what….

Apparently they have a deal going on right now for an x-ray, exam, and cleaning for $50 for new patients. Now, I’m not new, and they’ve already given me an x-ray and exam (for free last time!!!), but they said they’d honor the discount and give me the cleaning for only $50!! Can you believe it?! Oh, how I wish this dentist participated in a dental discount program because they are awesome – from the dentist to the staff – they are all so friendly and accommodating!

At least I’ll be getting my cleaning this time around for a reasonable price. Who knows what’ll happen next time around (dental discount plan? Out-of-pocket?)

But it just goes to show – never hurts to ask about prices!

Have you ever saved money by simply asking for a better price? If you pay out-of-pocket, about how much did you spend on dental care last year?


Review of YNAB

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I’ve now been using the You Need A Budget (YNAB) software for two full months and have to say that it has been a game changer.

Although I really liked the idea of YNAB (and wrote about it way back last summer), I wasn’t initially psyched with the idea of ditching my old budgeting software (ahem, a modest excel spreadsheet) in favor of their fancy-pants software. I watched a few of the getting started videos and understood all the concepts but was held back for a couple reasons.

  1. First and foremost (and what I wrote about it here) is the fact that I found it challenging until I was living on last month’s income. I know you can start at any time, and there are tips and techniques for budgeting when you have a variable income (like hubs and I have), but I just didn’t love it.
  2. The second reason was simply because I hadn’t really “committed” yet to the idea of it. It was very different from my previous budgeting method (which had been much more rigid and “set”), and since I hadn’t committed yet to YNAB (meaning, I was just doing the trial and unsure if I’d buy), I didn’t want to abandon my old budgeting techniques yet. That means I was basically committing myself to completing TWO completely different budgeting spreadsheets simultaneously (my old excel one AND the new YNAB one). It was, frankly, overwhelming. So I quit my trial early and didn’t look back for months.

In January I decided it would be a good time to give it a second try. I re-watched some of the beginner videos and emailed customer support to see if they’d give me another free month trial (They did. For the record they were super helpful and friendly).

Well, folks, I’m two months deep and I’m never looking back!!!

So what’s so different about YNAB? (again, I’m comparing to a simple excel spreadsheet)

  •  The constant back-and-forth between screens. I was used to having everything in a single excel sheet (I had a different page for each month), so initially it felt cumbersome to have to switch back and forth between the budget screen and the accounts screen (where you actually log all income and expenditures). It took some getting used to and was something I didn’t like initially. But now that I’ve got the hang of it, I love that I can easily see just the budget and compare between recent months (you can easily move forward or backward to look at your current month, past months, future months, etc.) It’s a nice and easy little comparison.
  • YNAB allows you to set up savings goals inside of the program. I’m not quite ready to give up my Capital One 360 accounts….but YNAB sure makes them seem pretty pointless. One of the features in YNAB allows you to set up savings goals. Basically you can allocate money toward each of your savings goals (e.g., savings for Roth IRA, saving for cruise 2016, etc.) and your rainy day funds (e.g., savings for emergency fund, dental/vision, annual fees), so you can really easily see how much you’ve got in each category. I’ve used Capital One 360 in the past because I like to be able to have my money saved in multiple different categories, but with YNAB you don’t need to literally have the money separated into separate accounts. You can have it all in one account and, as long as you reference your budget, you know what all the money is for (so it doesn’t just seem like a pile of money; you already know every dollar has a job or a purpose.
  • YNAB’s flexibility. This is probably the biggest game-changer, so far. YNAB allows for such fluidity between budget categories. I used to have very rigidly set categories that were identical from month-to-month. With YNAB my categories change based on my monthly needs. Need new clothes? Allocate money to the clothes category (I used to have one “catch all” category named miscellaneous that clothing would fall under). Spend too much money on household goods? Take away some money from the restaurant fund. Have money leftover from a lower-than-expected electric bill? Add more money toward debt payments! So extremely easy-peasy and really lets things be fluid and flexible between and within months.

I also know there are some really cool features I still haven’t even gotten into yet! You can run reports and make graphs from excel, but the reports feature in YNAB is just so seamless and easy! You don’t have to program any commands or know computer-lingo – you just press the reports tab and click on the type of chart you want to see (spending by category, by payee, spending trend, etc. etc. etc.)

Everything about it is so user-friendly and incredibly well planned and thought-out. One of my best friends is a designer (she does architectural design, specifically), and the YNAB program just seems like something a designer would have had a hand in. It’s not just created by some finance geeks (term “geeks” used affectionately). It serves a family’s personal finance needs, but is done so in a way that is elegant and efficient in design. I love efficiency. And who doesn’t love a little elegance? ; )

There are some cons though…

From my own experience, I would say that YNAB is not really something you can pick up overnight. It can be a bit overwhelming (this is coming from someone who already had a pretty decent budget, and I imagine it’d be even harder for someone starting with absolutely no budget). I would also bet that I’m not the only person who required a couple different tries for the program to really “stick.” In fact, I would say that if you’re interested, you might as well go into it expecting to have some growing pains and a little bit of a learning curve as you get used to the software.

But in spite of all that, I can honestly say I would recommend the program. Even with the cost (and BELIEVE ME, I was reluctant to shell over the money for the program and YES I did pay for it. In no way is this a sponsored post), I think it’s money well spent.

You can try the program free for a month (see here).

And if you’re a college student, you can even get the program 100% free!!! (see here). Can’t beat free!

Or, if you’re not a college student but are ready to invest in the YNAB program, maybe consider purchasing through my referral link here. You get $6 off the program (10% off the $60 price tag), and I get $6 for referring you. It’s a win-win!

If you’re going to invest in the program, I highly encourage you check into some of the free online classes. They even give away an activation code for free at the end of every live class (so you can try to win one for free….I’m never that lucky!)

If you’ve used YNAB, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the program! What is your favorite part of the software? What took some getting use to?


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