About a month back, a close friend of mine posed this question to me: “For all your rants on materialism, have you ever introspected on how much you unnecessarily spend on stuff you don’t need?” It seemed like a relatively innocuous question, but it made me ponder deeply on my spending habits. Soon I realised that I do indeed spend too much on things I never end up using, had an epiphany and decided: “I need a budget!”
This was a problem because I had never budgeted before in my entire life. So I did what any self-respecting millennial would do and searched the web for “How do I budget?” And that landed me on this book, the review of which you are reading right now.
You Need a Budget’s first chapter wasted no time and described the approaches people usually take when they budget, highlighting their pitfalls. This chapter resonated with me because it highlighted why some of my previous efforts to track my spending were doomed to fail. In particular, Jesse Mecham, the author, highlighted the difference between budgeting and forecasting, and understanding this proved to be key for me in the later chapters.
The next four chapters were devoted to YNAB’s “Four Rules”, which is the core of this system. Jesse not only explained the application of these rules but also the thought process that went into coming up with them. As a reader, this helped me understand why they exist and why they should be applied in this particular order.
Knowing that simply laying out these rules may not resonate with readers, Jesse has also sought out success stories from people who follow YNAB and sprinkled them throughout these chapters. I liked this approach because these stories are from people of various backgrounds who found themselves in difficult situations and used YNAB to dig themselves out of them. And not stopping there, Jesse made these people part of the narrative of the book, since they kept reappearing in later chapters as I learned newer concepts. This provided a nice personal touch as I understood where YNAB had got them in their lives.
There are two things I especially liked about this book: One is how Jesse kept repeating the Four Rules again and again. For example, in one of the later chapters, I was reading about how to deal with debt, and Jesse took me all the way back to Rule No. 1. This was true of many of the book’s later chapters. The other is how Jesse kept highlighting that having to change my budget does not mean I failed. This is first mentioned at the very beginning, but it is a sentiment he kept evoking in nearly every chapter.
Both of these effectively meant that by the time I completed the book, I knew “The Four Rules” by-heart, understood their importance, and knew that changing my budget on the fly was a good thing and not something to beat myself up about. That is a good success criterion to judge this book by.
One thing this book does not pretend to be is a cookbook for a good budget. There is no chapter devoted to walking the reader through the process of putting together a budget in a tool like YNAB or Excel. This is a good thing. From this book, I understood how to think about money and change my lifestyle as per my goals, rather than following a series of steps that may not have worked out for my situation.
Other than that, You Need a Budget was pretty comprehensive in its explanation of the system. There were chapters devoted to budgeting as a couple, teaching your children to budget (I enjoyed this even though I’m not a parent), and even a final chapter devoted to what to do when you feel like quitting.
If like me, you find yourselves in a situation where you need to take control of your money situation, I can highly recommend this book.