YNAB-Style Planning for the Future. You Can Do It

How do you really plan for the future? I grew up with a generation that isn’t exactly known for its planning. It took me a few good decades to realize that not only is planning possible, it is essential.

And when we talk planning, well, the biggie is planning when it comes to money. A year ago, my wife and I discovered the terrific budgeting software called YNAB (You Need A Budget). We had already been trying a few financial tracking methods over the past few years, and we felt that we were getting nowhere. It took me so long to figure out that we didn’t just need to record all our expenses, we needed to budget for the future as well.

It’s understandable to have an aversion to this kind of thinking. I mean, we’re just these teeny-tiny human beings – how can we possibly plan for what the future may hold? Let’s eat and drink for tomorrow we die, right?

Seriously? This kind of thinking just causes us to live day-to-day It hinders us from seeing the results we want to see in life – our dreams coming true. Over the years, I’ve learned it best to plan as much as possible, but to understand that this is just my planning, and it is limited. But taking that initial step and planning what I can plan causes my life, my surroundings, to change significantly.

So we made the resolve to plan for our financial future. It’s – not – easy. But YNAB was the best tool we could find. Why? Because it has what all the best tools have – a philosophy behind it.

YNAB – it’s got a philosophy.

Here’s the YNAB philosophy summed up in four rules:

  1. Give every dollar a job.
  2. Save for a rainy day.
  3. Roll with the punches.
  4. Live on last month’s income.

Each rule is a seminar in itself, so please forgive the brevity with which I list them here.

Now, I realized that using YNAB and embracing the YNAB philosophy is an effort to manage our resources. Great. But this got me thinking about what other resources we have, and how we could manage – and plan for the future – for them.

So I decided to look at the limits of the physical realm. I mean, really, what are we bound by? I came up with these:

  1. Time
  2. Space
  3. Quantity (this last category is pretty broad, but for now we’ll use it to refer to resources like money)

And YNAB has been a great help in dealing with Quantity. But let’s take a look at that first category – Time. That’s a biggie. I mean, if I’m supposed to be so responsible with my money, aren’t I supposed to be responsible with my time as well?

So, we came up with a philosophy for Time, inspired by the YNAB philosophy, and it goes like this:

  1. Give every hour a job.
  2. Allot time according to our values.
  3. Roll with the punches.
  4. Have a week planned as far as to-dos, a month planned as far as projects, and a year planned as far as significant dates.

Now, please note that we are not even close to having this philosophy fully implemented, but it’s a start. A good one, I think.

Give every hour a job.

There’s a great fellow planner and family dude named Ben Crawford. He once said that all he needed to do was check out for five minutes for his home to descend into chaos. Try it guys – go check your email when you should be sitting at the dinner table. How about a round of Call of Duty online when you should be tucking in the kids? Is it too early in the day for a glass of wine?

We know that we need to meticulously structure our work time to be productive, etc. But even our home time needs to be properly earmarked as well.

Allot time according to our values.

It’s great that you have a full schedule – but is it full with the things you should really be doing? Values work in a family when they are known and embraced by the members of the family. When you take the time to articulate and review your values, you will begin to see life – your future – accordingly. So, when you plan to spend more hours working on your website, your values might remind you that you need to be pursuing clients. And when you want to sneak in another session at the skatepark, your values may remind you that that time is better spent on the weekends. And yes, it is essential that you allot time for rest. (Y’all heard of the Sabbath?)

Roll with the punches.

A word-for-word grab from the YNAB philosophy. Take a breath and realize that you’re not in charge of the world. And when you start planning intentionally, the world decides that it’s time to express its resistance. But having values that work, and planning accordingly, are such a powerful force that the world has to take note. When the heat is on… A child gets sick and you need to pick him up from school. The car breaks down. Some funky travelers decide to use an ambiguous invitation you gave them five years ago to crash at your house (you know who you are and I love all of you). You need to be flexible, quick on your feet, and rearrange your schedule accordingly.

Have a week planned as far as to-dos, a month planned as far as projects, and a year planned as far as significant dates.

Sounds hard, right? It’s about the hardest thing I do in life, and the more I do it, the more fulfillment I experience in the day-to-day. I cannot rightly say that my calendar fully reflects this, but we’re working on it. My wife and I spend about an hour on Friday mornings to plan the next week down to the details. We have found that if the next week isn’t planned before you go into it, you spend much of it just trying to plan it as it goes along. So spending that hour on Friday, as hard as it is, is a big timesaver.

Also, this allows us to keep our eye on upcoming biggies like birthdays, anniversaries, and school vacations.

So, in closing:

  1. YNAB is awesome. I highly recommend using it. Feel free to visit here and start a free trial. (This mushy endorsement has nothing to do with any business affiliation, I’m just stoked on YNAB.)
  2. Create your own philosophies for managing Time, Space, and Quantity – and watch how the world itself changes.

…and now off to hang out with my kiddos.

Cool lego photo courtesy of Brickset’s photostream.