Budgeting With Variable Income

When you don't have a regular income, budgeting can feel out of reach—a bit like fitting a square peg into a round hole. Here at YNAB, not only is it possible to budget with variable income, it’s the secret to having total control over your money, even when you’re not always sure when you’ll get paid again. The Four Rules of the YNAB Method will help you plan for the future and keep funds available during the leaner months of income.

How to start budgeting with a variable income

Not knowing how much your next paycheck will be or when it will come in injects uncertainty into your financial life. What's the antidote? Aging your money.

The longer your money sits in your account before you spend it, the more secure you are. You're reducing uncertainty. Here are some tips for how to do that:

  • Set up a Budget Template. Knowing exactly when each bill is due and how much it will be (exactly or approximately) will give you back some certainty. Those are things you know.
  • Weigh your priorities over more than just one month. Should you assign less to Fun Money this month and more for next month's Rent category? Maybe–consider assigning money to necessary bills in future months before you add it to less necessary categories this month.
  • Rely on Scheduled Transactions and Targets. Yellow alerts in the budget will remind you if you need to assign more to have enough set aside for those.
  • Keep your budget accurate by making budgeting part of your daily life. I know, it sounds like something your grandma might have told you, along with "eat your vegetables," and "don't forget to floss," but it's going to be much more fun to spend about five minutes a day in the budget than a whole morning once a month. Trust me, I've done both. 😅
  • Never hesitate to reach out to us at the YNAB team! We're ready to answer your questions and help you with your particular situation.

Rule One, For the Win

Above all, remember, only assign the money you have. How long does your cash on hand need to last you? You might not know for sure, so you can stretch it as far as possible now that you have a plan.


Deep Dive

We have an eight-part blog series called Mastering a Variable Income. You don't have to read all of these before starting your budget! However, each article offers valuable insight into budgeting with variable income. (You'll notice some verbiage changes since these were written, but The Method remains the same!)

  1. How to Budget with Irregular Income
  2. How to Make Spending Decisions When Your Income is Unpredictable
  3. The Dangers of Forecasting on an Irregular Income
  4. Planning for Non-Monthly Expenses on an Irregular Income
  5. How to Expect the Unexpected When Your Income Is Unpredictable
  6. Change Your Mind, Change Your Budget
  7. The Importance of Aging Your Money When Your Income is Unpredictable
  8. No More Excuses
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