Where's the money, Lebowski?
December 3, 2012 7:27 AM   Subscribe

My husband and I have a bunch of money leftover at the end of each month after bills have come out, but we don't know where it is.

My husband and I have a joint checking account that both of our pays get deposited into each month. I get a paycheck every two weeks, he gets a paycheck on the 1st and the 15th, respectively. This has been wreaking havoc on our finances. We are using a budgeting software called You Need A Budget, and it's awesome, but we're still having trouble finding this extra money that we apparently have. We've inputed every single solitary thing into the budget software and into our joint checking account ledger; both the checkbook and the software say we have extra money. So where is it? Logic would dictate that it's in our joint checking account, but we can't seem to find it.

The bottom line is that we are paying for everything else (our newborn son, cars, mortgage, house bills, animals, dining out, etc.), but we have not paid ourselves. We are financially secure but we live like it's paycheck to paycheck, hand to mouth. Ideally I would like a measly $100 dollars from each paycheck that gets deposited into my personal checking account. This has not been happening since we started having our paychecks deposit into our joint. I currently have $12 dollars in my personal checking account. We haven't been depositing anything into our savings, which we need to be doing, regardless of whether we have a son.

My husband controls the finances (by control, I mean he balances the physical checkbook). I don't feel as though he's not giving either of us money out of spite or for malicious reasons, or that he has a secret double life - I assure you he doesn't - but I'm starting to resent our collective lack of money. It kills me because I know it's there. He and I are making more money than we've ever had as a couple and we have zero to show for it. We still live like broke grad students living paycheck to paycheck. Christmas shopping has become extremely hard. We talk about our money issues all the time and he will be reading this question and its responses, so let us have it.

TL; DR: We have extra money each month in our budget, yet we can't seem to pay ourselves. I don't want to pay any body to look at our checkbook because we can't even find the damn money to pay them with. :( Sorry if this rambles a bit.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith to Work & Money (57 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Is your budget software consistent with your accounts? That is, you should be able to ask it "how much money do I have in account X on day Y?", and cross-check that with the banks. If you have an initial disagreement you can take that into account by subtracting it at the end.

I assume not, in which case you can binary search for the discrepancy. It should certainly be consistent as of the first day you set it up; then check a month after that, two months, etcetera and then split the difference when you find where they disagree.
posted by katrielalex at 7:35 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hi -- I'd be happy to help. I also use YNAB and had trouble in the beginning.

Can you clarify what you mean by extra money? YNAB's system with a buffer can be confusing. Did you start with a full buffer? Feel free to memail me.
posted by hrj at 7:35 AM on December 3, 2012

You may have to give us extra information. Are you saying the budget agrees with the paper exercise of balancing the checkbook, and both of those say you have extra money, but that money is not actually in your account? My first guess would be that maybe you are spending something from the account that your somehow not recording - ATM cash maybe?

I don't see how you can correctly have balanced the checkbook and budget, but not physically have the money.
posted by crocomancer at 7:37 AM on December 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

The problem with software and other "Help" like this is that it is very, very easy for a person to forget to enter something. Hell, I even forget to enter things into my own paper-version checkbook sometimes. So I have two suggestions for how to get to the bottom of what the hell is going on.

1. If your bank lets you download activity for your account, do that - go back a month and download a spreadsheet of what you actually DID spend money on. Then compare that to what you have recorded in You Need A Budget, and see if there's something you forgot to account for. Input that into You Need A Budget and see if that explains the difference. Or go back two months and do that much.

2. If things still aren't clear, both of you try spending the month of January writing down on pen and paper EVERY SINGLE LAST THING YOU SPEND MONEY ON, on top of inputting all that into You Need A Budget. Even if it's just a quarter for gum. Then at the end of January, compare that to your YNAB records and see if your pen-and-paper things tell you anything that the software didn't.

My hunch is that either a) you're forgetting to input a couple things into the YNAB every month, or you forgot a couple of particularly big-ticket things a while back and you need to balance that out still, in which case the bank records will help sort that out; or b) you've got some small, but regular, expense - like a couple bucks for the newspaper that you're just not thinking to record because it's so small, but you're doing it more than you think you are and it's adding up.

Whenever my budget seems really off I do one or the other of these and that usually clears things right up for me. Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:37 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you look really hard, I suspect you will find that your newborn son has the money.

Expenses have a way of expanding to consume disposable income. If you do not have any "extra" in your account every month assuming no fraud is occurring, then you clearly are spending the money. If paying yourselves is important to you, then you need to do exactly that, but be aware that this will mean cutting back someplace else.

You don't need a budgeting program to see this, just start with a piece of paper and a pencil. Write down your monthly incomes and monthly payments. Doing this by hand will make things clear - it's always surprising to me how the small things add up so quickly...
posted by NoDef at 7:38 AM on December 3, 2012 [5 favorites]

Are you using software such as quicken? That's the easiest way to see exactly where all of your money is going, since you can sort to see it any way you'd like.

One possible solution is to setup your paycheck to direct deposit a small amount into your checking every time (such as $50, if you want $100 per month). That way, you've got the money ahead of time, and the two of you can adjust your spending to make sure you don't run out of money in your joint account.

The fact that you are concerned about this is great, but the next step is not just the budget, but actually tracking what you've really spent. It's easy to lose a couple of hundred dollars eating out, or buying extra stuff at the grocery store, or buying music, or other things that you may not budget for, but you end up spending money on. If you can get 3 months worth of your actual spending recorded, you'll know exactly where your money has gone.

As for getting paid 2 times per month vs. every 2 weeks, if you budget so that you assume each of you is getting only 2 paychecks a month, than two times a year you will get an "extra" paycheck that isn't accounted for in your budget. As soon as this comes in, put it in savings, so you don't just end up slowly spending the excess money in your account. it's a little difficult to do at first, since you need to have really account for things in that month, but is definitely doable.
posted by markblasco at 7:41 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Crocomancer - that is precisely what I mean. Everything agrees and checks out, the money is there. It doesn't make sense to us either. Your ending comment is what I've been repeating to myself all morning. I think it might be because my husband doesn't want to see the money? This might be a personal issue.

Markblasco - We're just using YNAB.

Hrj - YNAB is telling us that we have nearly $1000 extra after bills.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 7:48 AM on December 3, 2012

This may be a stupid comment, but are you sure you are calculating budgets based on net pay and not gross pay? Because $1000 a month could easily be what you lose to tax withholding and insurance premiums that are deducted from your paychecks.
posted by COD at 7:51 AM on December 3, 2012 [5 favorites]

Yeah, I'm not really clear on what exactly is going on either, whether you're having a balancing-the-checkbook problem or a spending problem, but I found that it's too hard to keep track of things when you just have one big pot of money that EVERYTHING comes out of.

For us, our little everyday habits were killing us -- we had no idea what we were spending for groceries, for instance, we would just... go to the store and buy stuff. Same with other spheres of life. We tried doing money-in-an-envelope ala Dave Ramsey but that was really inconvenient; if I wanted to, say, stop on the way home and get a few groceries, I would have to go all the way home, get the cash, and back to the store.

What finally worked for us was to set up two extra checking accounts with attached debit cards: one for groceries, one for "expenses" or walking-around money. $100 goes into the groceries account every week, and $75 goes into expenses (via automatic ACH transfers from our main checking account; our financial software is set up to reflect the recurring debits). That is literally all we have to spend. We each have our own debit cards for the accounts (and the credit union kindly gave us different-looking cards to distinguish between the two) and the awesome text-banking function means we can text at any time to find out how much money we have at that moment, so we don't have to write anything down (we turned off automatic overdraft). And if we run out of money... it gets replenished every week, so we can't screw ourselves over that badly.

It's really nice to be forced to live on a reasonable amount of money, so that we can stick to our savings goals (that's an automatic debit to a different account with no cards or checks attached to it, so it's harder to get at the savings) and pay all our bills without any stress or misunderstandings.

(Variation: we thought about having one joint grocery account and two separate expenses accounts -- his and hers walking-around money, nobody has a surprise when the other has spent a big chunk -- and that might be a better option for you. We've been fine with just the one expenses account though.)
posted by rabbitrabbit at 7:51 AM on December 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

Why don't you just use mint.com, which would track your monthly spending patterns, not approximate them?
posted by oceanjesse at 7:51 AM on December 3, 2012 [8 favorites]

I wonder if this is because of the "extra paycheck" as mentioned above. Take a look at how you are recording your 2 different methods of pay - is the software calculating those extra paychecks as if they are spread over each period of the year or is it calculating it as twice a month with a few bigger months?
posted by CathyG at 7:53 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

What does your bank statement from the last month say? Are all the debits from your statement consistent with YNAB? Does YNAB allow you to print out reports? I would assume it would, as most budgeting software does. So compare that with your statement to figure it out. There could be some hidden expenses somewhere that you're not accounting for in the software. Buying lunch out, or using extra gas on the weekends -- things you would just be using cash for.
posted by bluefly at 7:54 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Consider separating finances if it makes you feel more in control. We went back and forth between sharing more and being separate based on what worked for us emotionally and practically. I couldn't stand not to have significant amounts of my own money to save after having a baby and although I trust his father to be honest that wasn't enough. I wasn't working so I had him automatically deposit my share of our income and I paid my own bills with it. The independence of having an income I could control was very important to me even though it often went to baby expenses or food. Since you're working, this process should be even easier.

If you'd like to talk to me privately, feel free to email or mefimail me at any time.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:58 AM on December 3, 2012

To add to my previous answer, I tried YNAB but couldn't stand it, because it asked me to _plan_ a budget out of the blue. I much much prefer setting up software that tracks what I've already been spending, and then deciding e.g. "that's too much on groceries, stick to lists".

The problem manifests itself for me as exactly this: if I try to invent a budget off the top of my head, I forget about all sorts of expenses and then it looks way too healthy.
posted by katrielalex at 7:59 AM on December 3, 2012

We're just using YNAB.

Then YNAB is poorly-made software.

There is no such thing as "my husband doesn't want to see the money." You either have money or you don't. If you think you should have money, but you don't, that means it is being spent somewhere.

Print out a copy of your last few monthly bank statements and go through it line by line to reconcile your expenses with what YNAB is calculating.
posted by deanc at 8:01 AM on December 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

I agree with others that you should try tracking your actual expenses with software like Mint. YNAB is great for PLANNING, but if you are trying to diagnose your actual spending habits, you need to track it - no way around that.
posted by permiechickie at 8:07 AM on December 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

Seconding oceanjesse's idea of using mint.com; if your bank offers online banking, then Mint can use your login to actually track what you're spending and what you're earning.
posted by RainyJay at 8:07 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

If your bank offers online banking you may not need Mint. I can go through and categorize every individual debit and credit online with my bank, then see reports on how much I'm spending by category. I've quit using Mint because the bank service does a better job of categorizing than Mint does.
posted by COD at 8:10 AM on December 3, 2012

It sounds like the issue you are having may be that your budget isn't correct. Your budget needs to go hand in hand with your actual spending, and if you are using a service for budgeting that isn't also being used to balance your paycheck, than you are missing out.

mint.com may be a good solution, I haven't used it myself, but I know people who have and like it.

Also, CathyG makes a good point, your budgeting software may be accounting for a certain amount of money every month, but since your paychecks aren't coming in on the same day every month, you may actually be bringing in less than what your software tells you on most months.

The best solution to the problem you've described is to actually track what you are spending, thoroughly analyze that information, and create your budget from that. Quicken or mint.com or possibly even your bank software should be able to do this.

Once your budget and your checkbook reconciliation are done in the same place, there's no way you'll have this problem, because all of your information is readily available. You'll be able to see exactly where all of your money went, and how it compared to your budget.
posted by markblasco at 8:16 AM on December 3, 2012

YNAB does take some getting used to. The numbers that are in its "envelopes" (ie. the amount you have budgeted for each category) are virtual - the actual money allotted to the envelopes may be in any number of accounts.

If YNAB is not helping you feel secure about your finances, you may want to try something else. It's a system that requires a bit of rethinking, and works super-well for some (I love it, for example), but I can see how it might not work for others.

I'm seconding the recommendation to get back to super basics and track every penny for a couple months to see what's happening. Mint.com is pretty good for tracking. So is paper or a spreadsheet.
posted by agentmitten at 8:17 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you 'should' have 100 at the end of the month, try putting that 100 into a savings account at the beginning of the month. You can set it up so that any overdraft is pulled from savings. It's so much easier to not spend the money if it's already in savings.
posted by theora55 at 8:26 AM on December 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Can you download / or go into a branch and get a print out of say the last 6 months of activity and Balances and then cross check that against the Budgeting software. If you have lower balance that your forecasts / budget then clearly you are not accounting for something.

Until you do verify every single item there is not much one can say.

Actually since you say this is happening every month then it seems like your Opening Balance could be incorrect in the Budgeting software. Did you actually have an overdraft when you started using the software?
posted by mary8nne at 8:32 AM on December 3, 2012

Response by poster: Husband here.

I guess I will first address a few of the questions.

I do track every single dollar...much to my wife's chagrin. I meticulously balance the checkbook and reconcile it with the bank. I do this about once a week. I go through after I have recorded all of my receipts and mark which ones have posted and which ones haven't and tally up the difference. I'm only off by about $60 (which happens here and there, and I think we have less than the bank). ***we use PNC Virtual Wallet, fwiw***

The problem is that our net Income for the month of November was about $1000 MORE Than our total expenses. And by total, I mean every. single. thing. Yes, even that .99 bag of m&ms at walgreens before thanksgiving.

YNAB showed me that $1000 (actually, $985) after I input every single November transaction in and categorized all of them (on December 1st). I started with our balance as of Nov 1 and recorded everything: transfers, payments, paychecks. Because of that, I know that we spent about $300 more on groceries than normal in November. I know we spent a little less than budgeted on gas. We also spent less on our electric bill and child care.

I know where all of the money was spent. I know that. What I don't know is where is the $1000 difference? I didn't miss something, I didn't forget to record a transaction. I think there is something fundamentally wrong with the budget and I don't know what it is.

Right now, I tallied up all of our monthly bills (mortgage, student loans, car payment, insurance, avg natural gas, avg electric, avg trash, cable, phone etc) and got a number. I then divided this number by 4, which is how many paychecks we get in a month, and I transfer that amount to our "Reserve" account every paycheck. When I go to pay bills, I transfer the exact amount of money needed to the active checking and write checks or schedule online bill pay.

All of our bills are paid. We have money for food and gas and eating out. YNAB told me exactly how much we spent on all of those things in November and it was great to see that visualized.

I'm still confused, though, about why we had a net GAIN of $1000 in november, but when I went to order some contacts last night, I noticed that we won't have enough money to pay ourselves before we get paid again on the 14th.

One question that my wife missed is that at this point, I am willing to talk to a professional about our budget and money issues. I am comfortable with math and numbers, but I am not in any way trained for this sort of stuff. Until this point, I was able to kind of figure it out on my own, but I am now officially out of my element. I want to take our bank statements and checkbook register to someone and say, "Help! I have no idea what I'm doing anymore, will you please fix this for us." I want to take these documents to someone and leave with a detailed description of what to do with each dollar from each paycheck. Who is this person I need to talk to? I understand it will likely cost money, but I think that if I can have the sense of financial security that I should have making the money we do, it will be well worth it.

TL;DR- Who can we talk to that will figure out a budget for us and tell us where all of our money should be going? Is that a banker? An accountant? A financial advisor?
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 8:41 AM on December 3, 2012

Response by poster: I almost never overdraw our accounts, and the starting balance was correct.

If you add up JUST the paychecks we received in November, it's still about $1000 more than the amount of money we spent in November. But at the beginning of December, I don't see and extra $1000 just laying around anywhere. I'm sure I'm missing something, but I don't enough to find it.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 8:43 AM on December 3, 2012

It seems like you're saying that your virtual wallet and your online system both say you have the same income and the same expenses - they balance out. So what is telling you there should be this extra money? If you aren't seeing the GAIN in your actual bank account, where are you seeing it?
posted by dpx.mfx at 9:00 AM on December 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

November was a 3 paycheck month for me as a bi-weekly paycheque receiver. Was it for you, also?

If so, that $985 might have shown up as "extra" income, but was really used to smooth out the smaller amounts of monthly incoming that you got in September and October.

Basically, the problem is that you're getting 26 paycheques a year, which doesn't fit in well with actual months.

Let's say you make $12,000 a year. That's $1,000 per month, but most months you will get less than $1,000 (about $923), and on magical 3 paycheque months you are getting $1384. This can make your budgeting look weird if you are budgeting $1,000 per month because you're going into the red most months, but bouncing back up again twice a year.

This is why I am still bitter about my company switching from monthly paycheques to biweekly six years ago.

As for who can fix this for you, I'd recommend a financial advisor. An accountant could work out as well, but the advisor could also help you manage your long term goals - retirement, etc.
posted by sparklemotion at 9:00 AM on December 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

Theoretically, this should be a simple math problem, so I doubt you're setting it up wrong. Take what was in your account at the beginning of the month, subtract what you spent, add what you got paid, and you should have your current balance. Take a look at each of those numbers individually and make sure you're not making any bad assumptions. Try calculating each of them yourself if you're relying on the software to calculate one of them. It may be doing something unexpected.

If you're getting the numbers for your income from YNAB, the suggestion upthread that it may be calculating monthly pay as an average rather than by the calendar[1] seems like a possibility. That may be the source of the discrepancy. Take a look at the paystubs for the paychecks both of you received, and add up the Net Pay to verify it.

[1]: To clarify "calculating monthly pay as an average rather than by the calendar": Since one of your paychecks is every two weeks rather than twice a month, there will actually be 25 paychecks for that one and 24 for the other over the course of a year. YNAB might be adding up all of those paychecks then dividing by 12, making the months more consistent, but incorrect. Really, you'll get paid the same thing for 11 months and more for the other one.

posted by duien at 9:02 AM on December 3, 2012

Is this happening every month, or just this past month?

Because if the latter, it occurs to me that the folks who say you're overestimating on the paycheck end could be right.

Especially considering the long holiday weekend. I'm not sure about your wife (who gets paid bi-weekly rather than on fixed dates), but in my work pay day is Thursday. Which can make pay day around Thanksgiving a bit of a shit show. If your wife nets about a thousand dollars per paycheck, it sounds like that could be what happened -- YNAB assumed she'd be getting a check on the 22nd, but she did not get a check on the 22nd, because it was a holiday.

This is another reason mint is great: not only does it do the expenses side for you, it also does the income side. A paycheck shows up in your account (any account), it goes into the system. A paycheck does not show up in your account, it does not assume a paycheck happened just because the 15th of the month came and went.

It seems weird to me that you guys are willing to talk to a person about this, but not willing to use mint or another piece of software that tracks income and expenses for you.
posted by Sara C. at 9:04 AM on December 3, 2012

So, you're saying that:
1. at the beginning of November, you thought your bank balance was $N, and the bank agreed.
2. During the month of November you kept careful tally of all your expenses, and cleared them all with the bank, and were never off by more than $60
3. At the end of november, You added all those numbers to $N and got $M; the bank added those same numbers to $N and got $M-1000?

Can you figure out at what point your idea of your bank balance began to differ from the bank's?
posted by aimedwander at 9:04 AM on December 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Forget about the checkbook and the budgeting software for a moment. Get the statement from your bank. If you should give you a starting balance and every transaction should be listed. If the balance at the end of the statement is $1,000 less than the starting balance - debits + credits then you need to have words with the bank. If the figures on the statement add up correctly then either you've missed something or you've incorrectly calculated your income. Most likely the income, you're most likely making assumptions about how much you got paid rather than looking at exactly how much ended up in your account.

I then divided this number by 4, which is how many paychecks we get in a month

This may be your problem. One of you gets 2 paychecks per month but the other gets paid every 2 weeks which is not the same as getting paid twice every month. Most months are 2-3 days more than 4 weeks.
posted by missmagenta at 9:06 AM on December 3, 2012 [11 favorites]

Hi Mr. ThaBombShelterSmith...

You want a financial planner, in the abstract. Your specific question (about the missing $1000) has a bit too tight of a scope to have someone you would go to for just that service (though your bank may offer some fee-based service to help you reconcile your accounts, a sort o "financial planner lite")

That said... You reconcile your budget against the bank statement. Wonderful! You should intimately know eight numbers then, and some combination of those will answer you question!

Group them into two columns:
(Y)ou need a budget, and (B)ank account

and then into rows,
(O)pening (starting) balance for November.
(C)losing (ending) balance for November.
(I)ncome for November.
(E)xpenses for November.

Now, check each of the following:
  1. BC = BO + (BI - BE)
  2. YC = YO + (YI - YE)
  3. YO = BO
  4. YC = BC
  5. YI = BI
  6. YE = BE
If the first test fails, you have real missing money. If the second test fails, throw away YNAB. If any of the last four fail (and if the first two passed, at least two of the last four will need to fail), YNAB has most likely made some assumptions that do not hold true. sparklemotion's idea about a three-check month seems like a likely candidate in that situation.
posted by pla at 9:14 AM on December 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

You might have a 'time synchronization problem' in that maybe some of your Nov income was used to pay for expenses incurred in Oct or maybe some of the Nov income (or expenses) that you've booked in YNAB haven't actually hit your bank account yet. Like was one of the bi-weekly paychecks paid last Friday? And if so, has it hit your bank account yet? It's really too early to be closing out November, because you don't have the complete records. This can happen doubly when income and expenses come at irregular interval rather than exactly monthly, as yours seem to do.

Related, a possible source of error is in what you mean by "extra $1000 laying around"? Are you comparing Oct month-end with Nov month-end? What basis are you using to make that comparison? The bank account balance? The YNAB balance? Or just exactly what? You can only decide if you have an extra $1000 by comparing what you have at one certain point with what you had at another certain point and using the exact same basis for calculating your position at both points in time. If those points are not actually comparable, or the method you used to calculate them is not comparable, then you really don't know whether you have an extra $1000 or not.

Just for example, one way they could be incomparable is if you're looking at bank account balance on Oct 31st when there was a check written for $950 on Oct 30th that hadn't cleared yet, and comparing that Oct 31st bank balance with the Nov 30th bank balance which happens to have no such large payment outstanding. So you're thinking, OMG we had $1000 in the account at the end of October and STILL only $1000 at the end of November! How come we're not ahead by $1000!!!!! When in reality you had only $50 on Oct 31st ($1000 balance - $950 outstanding check).

Another way they could be incomparable is by comparing the bank balance at the end of Oct with the YNAD balance shown at the end of Nov. Another way (mentioned above) is if end of Oct number was accrual basis while end of Nov was cash basis. And so on.

Also, if you want to 'pay yourselves' by transferring money into savings and so on, by far the best way is to set up automatic transfers up front from each paycheck to the relevant accounts for savings, retirement, college, or whatever it is you're putting money aside for. Money automatically deducted will be set aside each and every month without fail whereas "we'll save whatever is left over at the end of each month" money will rarely happen at all. That's just human nature.
posted by flug at 9:18 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: OP again: I am more than willing to use additional software and mint to keep track offer finances. Will that tell us where the hell out money is?
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 9:21 AM on December 3, 2012

OP again: I am more than willing to use additional software and mint to keep track offer finances. Will that tell us where the hell out money is?

That's the entire point of mint. It tells you what went into your bank account(s), what went out, and when each happened.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:24 AM on December 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

If you add up JUST the paychecks we received in November, it's still about $1000 more than the amount of money we spent in November. But at the beginning of December, I don't see and extra $1000 just laying around anywhere. I'm sure I'm missing something, but I don't enough to find it.

This is sounding more and more like my "option 2", spending all of January writing down each and every single blessed thing you do spend money on, is what you want to do.

Because it's one thing to add your paychecks together in one column, and then subtract all the regular rent/mortgage-phone-cable-etc. expenses from that, and get a figure; it's another to look back over what you actually did and realize, "Wait, really, my [daily Starbucks/weekly lotto tickets/daily stupid thing I forgot to account for] adds up to a total of $350 in a month? Okay, that changes things."

I would be willing to bet a lunch that this is what's going on, is that there's some stupid thing that you just have been getting into the habit of buying every day or every other day that you don't even think of because it's such a small number, but that stuff adds up. It sounds like you've been looking at what SHOULD be going on, but right now you need to focus on what ACTUALLY IS going on.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:29 AM on December 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Will that tell us where the hell out money is

If your bank statements say its not in your accounts then it isn't anywhere, either you spent it or never had it to begin with. These are the most plausible scenarios, the only other one is an error at the bank but that should be obvious from your statements.
posted by missmagenta at 9:29 AM on December 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

mint.com will absolutely help you figure out where your money is. It's a free service, and very intuitive.
posted by RainyJay at 9:29 AM on December 3, 2012

There are really only two reasonable answers.

1. They are over estimating income.
2. They are under estimating expenses.

Bank error is possible, but highly unlikely. I guess spousal malfeasance is also possible, but since they are both involved here I'll trust that ain't it either.

However, the vibe I'm getting from the OP follow up is more " I want my $1000 dollars." What we are trying to tell you is that the $1000 is not there. Either it was never there, or you spent it. Double check your income calculations and triple check your actual spending and you'll find the error.

And when I typed "I want my $1000 dollars" I totally heard it in my head in the voice of the paperboy from Better Off Dead.
posted by COD at 9:35 AM on December 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

This sounds like maybe it's a quirk of learning YNAB. Which is not accounting software, per se, it's budgeting software. It's a very critical difference and takes a bunch of time to get into your head. (Or at least it did with me.)

This is just a guess, but perhaps you are in a similar situation to us when we started using YNAB?

When we started using YNAB, we thought we were a month ahead of our income. However, what we discovered was that we were not - we were actually a month behind ourselves. To tell a bit of a simplified version: we had been putting many of our expenses on Amex, and paying it off the following month when it came due. So it felt like things were pretty well under control. Never missed paying that balance off. But in actuality, we were just crossing our fingers that the money to pay the balance would turn up the following month. When we realized we were way closer to hand-to-mouth than we thought, we were stunned. Shocked. Scared, too.

Now that we've been using YNAB a while, we've been able to save some money and now we actually are ahead - we have the money in hand to pay the Amex bill a month in advance. We're not just hoping the money turns up.

So. Maybe you're just not as solid as you thought you were? Or maybe just a little less solid? If you're not spending more than you're making, you are in a good spot, but maybe not as good as you thought. If that's where you are, maybe this will help:

YNAB really, really wants you to use the money you make in November to pay bills in December. That is its raison d'etre - to get you spending money you *have in hand*, not money you are promised in the future. So that $1000 may be showing in the next month's column.

So in YNAB, in the column for November, at the very top, you've got:

Not budgeted for October
Overspent in October
Income for November
Budgeted in November

and then a big
Available to Budget

Is the Available to Budget line where you're seeing the extra $1000?

If so, look ahead to December. In that same top area, it will show that amount as Not Budgeted in November. And that means that you already have $1000 in hand to expend on things in December.

And that is exactly the situation YNAB wants you to be in. All the money you budget to spend in December should have already come in in November. That's what they're calling having a 'buffer.'

This is where the whole business of marking your income as "Income for November" (current month) vs. "Income for December" (next month). The $1000 that you didn't budget/spend in November should be marked as Income for December. And then in December, you mark your income as Income for January. In theory, this is how you build that buffer - so in January, you're spending money you made in December, and in February, you're spending money you made in January, etc.

It does feel super good when you get to that point. So much happier now.
posted by agentmitten at 9:49 AM on December 3, 2012

November was a 3 paycheck month for me as a bi-weekly paycheque receiver. Was it for you, also?

If so, that $985 might have shown up as "extra" income, but was really used to smooth out the smaller amounts of monthly incoming that you got in September and October.

I had this thought as well... This is why budgeting monthly kind of sucks. Things inevitably vary in this way.
posted by two lights above the sea at 9:51 AM on December 3, 2012

I tallied up all of our monthly bills (mortgage, student loans, car payment, insurance, avg natural gas, avg electric, avg trash, cable, phone etc) and got a number. I then divided this number by 4, which is how many paychecks we get in a month

That's where you made your mistake. You do not get 4 paychecks in a month. You get as many paychecks as you get in a month.

And like agentmitten says, when you first start out putting together a budget, in the first month, you will realize that you're paying expenses from the previous month, which eat into money you thought you had but don't. And then given that November/December is usually a 3-paycheck month for most people, you're probably over-assuming income.

It really does take 3 months or so for your budget and finances to get on track where you can accurately calculated money in vs. money out.
posted by deanc at 9:54 AM on December 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: OP again: I did get an extra paycheck for November, which is screwing with Novermber's budget in YNAB. Still, even without the extra paycheck, there's extra money in our account. The chorus of joining mint.com has been heard and I've made an account. Thanks for all your help, Mefites!
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 10:20 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

As with everyone else, I find this all a bit hard to follow. But I'll suggest one place to consider.

You bank account balance (what you checked regarding the contacts) shows your current DAILY cash balance. Your monthly budget shows what is expected to occur on a MONTHLY basis.

One of the consequences of having a month like November with an "extra" paycheck is that the next month's first paycheck does not come until much later in the month. For example, if you are paid every two weeks, got paid on November 30th, you have to wait until December 14th for your first check. But for many of us, we have large expenses that come due at the beginning of the month (e.g. the mortgage is due on the 1st). Is it possible you had $1,000 more in income than expenses in November, but you have already spent that surplus in December? After all, if you have not been paid in December, you have only expenses.

Or to put it still another way, where you talk about your "reserve" account, are you using this month's paychecks to pay this month's bills or next month's bills? Because if you've paid anything already this month, you probably haven't earned the money yet to have made those payments.

TLDR: Could you have had $100 in the bank on November 1st, $1,100 in the bank on November 30th, and spent $1,000 already in December without yet receiving any income?
posted by dpaul at 10:39 AM on December 3, 2012

I'm guessing at this point, if you've thought of all over solutions, that you may have reversed two numbers somewhere. Your brain is surprisingly good at ignoring those mistakes or just pretending that it knows what you mean. I've done this before on a similar thing and it took me forever to find the mistake. Maybe you entered 3285 instead of 2385 or 972 instead of 927? Try control+F and enter the values you SHOULD have.
posted by two lights above the sea at 11:11 AM on December 3, 2012

two lights above the sea - if you have an error because of reversed numbers, the difference will be divisible by 9. $985 isn't divisible by 9, but maybe it's that plus another small mistake somewhere.
posted by artychoke at 11:24 AM on December 3, 2012 [20 favorites]

if you have an error because of reversed numbers, the difference will be divisible by 9

mind = blown
posted by sparklemotion at 11:37 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seriously... holy crap, that's amazing artychoke. Thank you.
posted by two lights above the sea at 11:41 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I see you've already made a Mint account, but honestly I don't see how this will help you.

Mint is useful because it takes all your financial inputs and outputs and shows them to you in the same place. For example, 2 different bank accounts, your retirement accounts, your student loan account, etc. You only have one account! (except that one with 12 bucks in it that's not making a difference either way right now)

Because you only have one account, your Mint account should look exactly like your bank statement, and the outcome of creating a Mint account should be the same as looking at your bank statement (perhaps additional bells and whistles if your bank has a poor online interface that doesn't show you a nice breakdown of your statement or categorize the expenses). But... I hope you find it helpful anyway. Consider getting a bank with a better online interface...

I've noticed despite multiple follow ups you haven't mentioned making a line by line comparison of your actual bank statement for November with what is in the software. You have only discussed what you did to manipulate the numbers in the software. Those are theoretical numbers. Look at the real numbers!

p.s. also because it is unclear if this is the case, could you make sure that your wife has access to log in to the online account to view your bank statements and your balance at any time? It sounds like she is getting frustrated with her lack of knowledge about your money and where it is going. I suggest both giving her access for total transparency that she can use at any time, and scheduling to sit down with her once per month to review the finances so that you are both on the same page.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:52 AM on December 3, 2012 [5 favorites]

Mrs. cnc likes YNAB, but I find it incredibly confusing, and I'm the more finance-oriented of the two of us. If I remember right, it wants you to budget for absolutely everything, and borrow from one budget category to pay for overage in other categories, while carrying over month-t-month, or something. I've probably mangled it, and different tools work for different people, but if you can't tell where your money went, I'd really suggest trying a different tool.

Take the complexity out and start with how much you made and how much you spent.

Get three months of bank statements and go through them line-by-line. Add your payments to a spreadsheet if necessary. Do the same for your paychecks. Break these down into one month chunks. "In September, we made x and spent y." Same for October and November. That gives you a dead simple view of how much you spent versus how much you made over three months, which gives you a place to start looking.
posted by cnc at 12:36 PM on December 3, 2012

Pla gave some sound advice. You need to do a very basic check of:
starting balance + income - expenses = ending balance
If this equation doesn't hold true, you are actually missing money. Don't go on budgeted and recorded numbers, go by each withdrawal and paycheck. If you've done that check, and found that you haven't been robbed, you'll likely find that the money went somewhere, or you were paid less than you expected. (And check your pockets! Did you get $100 from the ATM, but only spent $10?)

And I'd also make sure you don't have one of these "keep the change" or "way to save" accounts where fractions of each transaction are given to a savings account.
posted by fontophilic at 12:54 PM on December 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

A few possibilities:

1. Groceries and daily expenses are more of a weekly expense, so my extra paycheck never feels too much like an extra paycheck. Conversely, I was always a bit tight those months when I was paid on the 1st/15th. Does childcare get billed by the month or week?

2. Direct deposit usually shows up two days early with one bank, and right on time with another. This will mess with my 'monthly budget', but evens out in the end. The same will happen with Rent. Sometimes the check gets cashed around the 8th. Sometimes a bit earlier than the 1st. This means free rent some months, and double rent in others.

3. Irregular bills. Mint forces me to put aside each month for my rental insurance, but I actually pay it all up front each year.
posted by politikitty at 1:14 PM on December 3, 2012

Mint is useful because...

The main reason folks are suggesting it in OP's case is that Mint is helpful because it tracks what actually happened, not what you reported.

You can use it to make budgets for things, and you can also use it to see where your money actually went. It's the latter aspect that makes it so powerful for people who find it challenging to stick to a budget, because you can't fall into the trap OP has fallen into.
posted by Sara C. at 1:28 PM on December 3, 2012

nthing Mint. Here's the other thing that works for me - our entire pay doesn't go into checking. We used Mint to determine on average how much money we need for bills / groceries etc, then we split that average between us.
My employer lets me designate up to 3 bank accounts to deposit portions of my paycheck to. So my share of our monthly average goes into joint checking, and the additional goes directly into savings.
My husbands paycheck goes first into his savings account. From there, he transfers (automatically) his share of our monthly average. Some months, we need a little extra (big celebration, house expense, whatever), and we deliberately move that extra from savings into the joint checking. Some months, we're a little under, and the surplus sits in checking for the next month.
But here's the thing - we pay ourselves first by having pay go directly to savings, and then transferring if/when needed.
YMMV , of course, and there is an extra step involved, but it's one that's worth it for us
posted by darsh at 1:46 PM on December 3, 2012

When there are "where did the money go?" or (more rarely, alas) "where did the money come from?" mysteries, I feel best about reconciling accounts on paper, by hand, line by line. I cross things off in reconciled pairs as I go to make sure I don't count a line twice. If my check register and bank statement agreed on Nov. 1 but disagreed on Dec. 1 I'd print out the bank statement and go through it line by line with the checkbook. If that didn't immediately clear up the mystery, I'd double check my own math and the bank's math, once by hand and once with a calculator, if necessary.

You say that you've meticulously tracked your credits and debits in your check register and reconciled it week by week with the bank statement, but at the end of the month, your register shows $1000 more than the bank statement. You should be able to do the math line by line and figure out where your totals diverged from the bank's.

artychoke already mentioned one trick for catching errors in arithmetic. Another one is, if the discrepancy is an even number, divide it by two and see if the result matches any of your line items; if so, you may have counted it as a positive when it should have been a negative, or vice versa. For example, if the discrepancy between your sum total and the bank's is $985.00 even, scan your register for a transaction in the amount of $492.50. If you accidentally credit that amount while the bank debits it, your math will total $985 more than the bank's.
posted by Orinda at 4:36 PM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

This seems to be pretty much answered, but I wanted to share what we did to figure this out when we were in a similar boat (2 paychecks, one bi monthly, one bi-weekly).

1. We made our mortgage bi-weekly so that it would be drawn at the same time as the bi-weekly paycheck.
2. We got a rewards visa card and put absolutely every thing we could on it. It gave us some free flights and tracked spending without us having to do manual inputs.
3. Any money taken out of the bank was listed as "entertainment" to get us to remember, otherwise the $100 I took out for groceries was listed as bar money and I was over budget for that month.
4. Remember that the visa gets paid off on time every month.

Pretty simple, and it may not solve your tracking problem, but it worked for us.
posted by sauril at 5:12 PM on December 3, 2012

Also, I hate to say it because you're both here, and because you insist that it's not true, but oftentimes when one person is in charge of the money/bank accounts and money is missing, it's due to something like gambling, drugs, drinking, an affair, or financial abuse. Especially when the person who isn't in control of the money is not getting any to spend independently. That is another reason why I suggested separating accounts, because as a woman with a child who is sharing all of your money with a spouse, you are vulnerable to being taken advantage of financially and/or left in poverty due to a spouse mismanaging your finances.

Also, frankly, the person who is managing this doesn't seem to be the best at managing it. I kinda don't get why he's in charge (no offense) if when you were in charge of your own money you were having no trouble. Even being off by $60 is quite a lot.

Sorry if that's totally off the rails, but I've seen women get screwed by joint accounts and letting their husband manage the money too many times not to mention it.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:58 PM on December 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

something like gambling, drugs, drinking, an affair, or financial abuse

Or something a lot less dramatic like, "hey you know those shoes I said I got on sale...?"
posted by Sara C. at 7:26 PM on December 3, 2012

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