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.

In This Article

Quick Start for 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:

  • You can still use the same steps to get started that most YNABers use! 
  • 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.
  • Make 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 5 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 8-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!)


Even if it feels impossible to get started or if you've tried other methods that didn't work, the YNAB Method helps you develop a plan that’s as flexible as your lifestyle.


Part 2: How to Make Spending Decisions When Your Income is Unpredictable

This article helps you answer the critical question, “Can I afford it?” by teaching you how to budget using your priorities, making sure that your most important expenses are covered first.


Part 3: The Dangers of Forecasting on an Irregular Income

It can be tempting to forecast different scenarios based on dollars you'll probably-almost-likely have by a certain time, but we're not big fans of probably-almost-likely, so when it comes to forecasting, our answer is simple—just don't do it.


Part 4: Planning for Non-Monthly Expenses on an Irregular Income

“Embrace Your True Expenses” is Rule Two of the YNAB Method. This article shows you how to put that Rule to work and plan for those expenses that happen less often. Setting aside a little bit every month towards those expenses can make things like insurance premiums and holidays feel like less of an emergency.


Part 5: How to Expect the Unexpected When Your Income Is Unpredictable

Take planning for true expenses to the next level! This article teaches you to prepare for expenses that you’re not sure will happen, but will certainly have an impact on your budget if they do. 


Part 6: Change Your Mind, Change Your Budget

Your budget is a living and breathing thing. Your priorities may change, and when that happens, your budget will change. Learn more about Rule Three: Roll With the Punches, where change is not only expected but encouraged.


Part 7: The Importance of Aging Your Money When Your Income is Unpredictable

Age of Money is the average number of days between when you receive income and when it's spent. The older your money is, the more stable your budget.


Part 8: No More Excuses

It’s time to apply the information you’ve learned so far. There’s a lot to take in, but we know you can do it!

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