Handling Gift Cards in YNAB

In the interest of #simplifying, our recommendation is to leave gift cards out of your budget.

However, we understand that maybe you just can’t get your fill of budgeting with your regular accounts(!) or if you buy gift cards intentionally for certain kinds of spending you might want to add them to your budget. Technically, it can be done!

You have two options to handle gift cards in your budget.

The one you choose depends on honest answers to two questions: How much cash do you spend? And how willing (or excited!) are you to record every penny of spending, no matter how small?

If you received the gift card from someone else, or bought it with an off-budget account, you’ll need to go the account route below.

If you’re purchasing the gift card for yourself (for example, because they’re on sale or you have a reloadable gift card to a coffee shop) you can handle the gift card in two ways just like cash - either as an account or a category.

  • The more spending you anticipate doing on a gift card, and the more willing you are to track it, the more you should set it up as an account.
  • The less you anticipate using this gift card (maybe you’ll use the full balance in one purchase 💸), and/or the less you are willing to track purchases, the more you should treat the gift card as a category.

Here’s how each of those options works.

Option 1: Use a Category

The simplest way to handle a reloadable card is to enter the purchase when you reload the card and categorize it to the applicable category in your budget (for example Coffee). The money leaves your budget but you’ve accounted for the dollars you know you’re going to spend on this category.

Option 2: Use an Account

If someone else gives you a gift card, or if you don’t yet know what category that money will be spent on, you can add the gift card to your budget as a cash account. When you purchase the card (or reload it) you’ll enter a transfer to that account. You will then assign the inflow in Ready to Assign to a category in your budget (you could even create a holding pen category for Gift Cards until you’re ready to spend).

It's important to note:

  • Because this gift card’s dollars are pouring into your budget you'll need to reconcile the account frequently to be sure it’s accurate. That means you’ll need to be able to get the balance on the gift card by calling the number on the card or logging into your online account.
  • If you plan to buy or reload the gift card with a credit card to the gift card account, that will throw off your Credit Card Payment category and act like a cash advance. You can read all the details in that cash advance help doc but in summary you will need to actively assign the gift card amount directly to the Assigned column of the Credit Card Payment category if you're planning on paying your card in full. Keep in mind that even once you do this, the overspending bubble in the account register won't go away until the month rolls over.
  • When you're finished with the gift card account and it has a zero balance, you'll be able to close the account (but not delete it).
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