Cracking the Code on Budgeting
September 20, 2017 12:17 PM   Subscribe

I'm an independent contractor who is struggling to get a grip on my money. I struggle with coding my bank transactions in a timely way, coding transactions from different sources (PayPal/Amazon/checks), and having to code transactions repeatedly in different applications (Mint/Quickbooks SE/YNAB).

I want to know how much I make and what I spend it on each month, to start budgeting to achieve my goals, and to have the process of filing my taxes be less effortful than it is now.

What I think I want is a single program that will let me code all my transactions ONCE on my phone as they come in, to see budget reminders on my phone when I'm approaching or exceeding budget limits, and to generate weekly and monthly income and spending reports. Why is this so hard?

Right now I'm using Mint to categorize transactions, which is a laborious process that I am always, always behind in.

This task involves looking up and individually categorizing checks, PayPal transactions, and Amazon payments, each of which has its own special laborious workflow. Mint's UI is not particularly sophisticated, though the Mojito Chrome extension at least lets me filter transactions by date.

At the end of the tax year, I go through a huge grind to catch up with categorizing several months worth of back transactions.

Once I've worked through the backlog and have the totals for tax-related categories like business expenses and other deductibles, I use them to file my taxes using TurboTax. The actual tax filing process is pretty easy—it's the task of coding back transactions that makes it such a pain.

I tried to use YNAB, but I felt like I was always trying to catch up with my back transactions rather than actually budgeting. This was exacerbated by having to code all my transactions AGAIN in YNAB, since my Mint categories don't transfer to YNAB.

Plus, YNAB's approach of budgeting every category seems like overkill, since I only really have a handful of categories that are discretionary.

I thought Quickbooks might be the solution, since Intuit (maker of QB and TurboTax) acquired Mint, but it actually made the problem worse by creating a new, separate Intuit account for Mint, rather than adding it to my existing TurboTax account.

So now I have one Intuit account with all my Mint history, and one with TurboTax and Quickbooks, with no way to unify them. Plus, Quickbooks SE made me code my transactions AGAIN as tax-related.

I suspect I am seriously overcomplicating this. Please help me find a way to simplify my financial workflow!

P.S. If YNAB is the answer (and I know many folks feel that it is), how do I actually... get started budgeting with it? I've looked at videos and stuff on their website, yet for several months I felt like I was always trying to get started, rather than budgeting. Are there YNAB coaches? Or can you point me to a specific resource that breaks it down?
posted by ottereroticist to Work & Money (4 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Could you elaborate on why you find the categorization process in mint laborious? I think it's relatively easy but I'm wondering if you have more complicated transactions or categories?
posted by jouir at 3:43 PM on September 20, 2017


Are you using classic YNAB or web based YNAB?
posted by foxfirefey at 4:57 PM on September 20, 2017


I'm a bit surprised the Mint data entry has been so onerous for you. Are you aware that you can set up rules, so that Mint will automatically categorize transactions containing certain key words? If not, using that function might help some.
posted by reren at 6:15 PM on September 20, 2017


Just chiming in to support the OP (whom I admire for his/her work at the Occupy event a few years ago).

YNAB ... I felt like I was always trying to catch up with my back transactions rather than actually budgeting. ... how do I actually... get started budgeting with it? I've looked at videos and stuff on their website, yet for several months I felt like I was always trying to get started, rather than budgeting.

This is me exactly. I feel as if I can't have decent budgets until I have accurate records of my past spending. So I enter a lot of expense data, and then in comes a cryptic Paypal bill for some unremembered purchase, or an Amazon bill with multiple items in different categories, or I go on vacation for a week, and I'm behind again.

The answer, I'm told, is just do it. Set your initial budgets even if you're not sure they're 100% realistic. Then, as each expense comes in, you'll be alerted if you appear to be over budget, which will prompt you to check into the offending transaction, and in response, adjust the budget if needed. So the corrections to the budget will be item-by-item, not a big overwhelming soup.

Now, tell me when I'm going to have time to just "set my initial budgets." And why has YNAB stopped downloading from Citibank? ...
posted by JimN2TAW at 7:22 AM on September 23, 2017


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