Troubleshooting Your Budget

If things don't seem to be adding up in your budget, you've come to the right Help Doc! Below is a list of common scenarios; click the one that sounds most like your issue and this doc will teleport you directly to the solution.

If you're still running into trouble afterwards, you can always contact YNAB support as well—we're here to help!

Ready to Assign

Accounts

Credit Cards

Targets


Budget Checkup

A budget checkup is a great way to make sure that your budget is on track, especially if you're not sure whats wrong, but things just don't look right in your budget. Follow these steps to give your budget a checkup:

  1. Since you use your budget to make spending decisions, your account balances must match your balances in real life. It's a good idea to check for missing, duplicate, or incorrect transactions, and make adjustments to your balance if necessary. This process is called reconciliation.
  2. Do you have any red or yellow overspending in your budget? If you find those, click on them to move money from Ready to Assign or another category to get them back to zero or green again. Don't forget to check your hidden categories, as well!
  3. Also, you may have other accounts that are adding money to your budget. It's not just your main account, but any Budget Account (savings, checking, etc.) with a positive balance, that pours into Ready to Assign. If it's a savings account that's impacting Ready to Assign, assign those dollars to a savings category like New Car, House Downpayment, or whatever you're saving for. Once you assign that money the first time, it won't show up in Ready to Assign again.

    If your credit card has a positive balance, that money will be added to Ready to Assign as well, so be sure to learn about how Positive Credit Card Balances affect your budget.
  4. And last but not least, look for Closed Accounts. If any closed accounts have a balance other than zero, that could be impacting Ready to Assign. Reconcile those to zero by making a balance adjustment. 

We also have a feature called Money Moves for just these sorts of situations! It's possible you may find some information about how those funds got bumped into Ready to Assign.

Things Still Not Looking Right?

Once you've done all of the above, if you're still feeling a bit wary of your budget numbers, perform a budget audit to reassure yourself that all the cash in your budget is in line with the cash in your accounts!


Negative Assigned in a Future Month

If the amount in Ready to Assign is more in a future month than it is in the current month, then you've most likely pulled more money out of a category in a future month than was assigned to it in that month. You'll know if this is the case because that category will have a negative number in the Assigned column

Negative Assigned amounts are not generally a bad thing when they are in the present (or past) month, but negative assigned amounts in a future month can cause some wonky behavior in your budget. Its like time traveling to a point in the future and making changes in your budget - you don't really know what will happen between now and then, so it's best to avoid it. 

To fix this, you can move money from other categories that have a positive Assigned amount (don't let them go below zero!), or from Ready to Assign, until the negative numbers are gone from the Assigned column. If you do want to move money to another category, you can flip back to the current month and move the money there. 


Overspending vs. Stealing From the Future

Both of these can present the same way - this month's Ready to Assign is higher than last month. You may see a negative Ready to Assign next month but not this month, or you might have money in Ready to Assign this month, but when you try to assign it, next month's Ready to Assign goes negative (like a not-so-fun see-saw, back and forth 🤪).

Red (cash) overspending in your budget will be subtracted from the following month's Ready to Assign if it isn't covered in the month it happens, which is why that future month's Ready to Assign is lower, or even negative. Look for any red negative Available numbers in your budget categories.

Covering the overspending in the month it happens will balance both month's Ready to Assign and get your budget back on track. 👍

With stealing from the future, on the other hand, what usually happens is there is money assigned in a future month, and then all money is assigned in your budget. When you have money assigned in a future month, and you assign more money in the current month, YNAB will "steal" that money from the future to be used in this month's budget instead, which leaves more money assigned in that future month than you have in your accounts.

You may not see any red in this month at all, and this month's Ready to Assign will be zero, but you'll see a negative Ready to Assign in the future most month you have money assigned, as well as a handy red Assigned in the Future alert in the right sidebar of your budget (with no categories selected). 

Since there is overassigning, that future month will also try and steal back any money you add to Ready to Assign until it has balanced, which means you may add income and only see part of it (or none of it! 😱) show up in this month's Ready to Assign. 

The solution here is to assign less into your categories, in this month or any future month, until all month's Ready to Assign numbers are out of the negative. 


🙅 Budgeting in the Past 🙅

You can't change the past in life. As much as we sometimes wish we had a time machine to go back and "fix" decisions we've made, the past is the past and we can only work from the present, towards the future. Since your budget should reflect real life as much as possible, these same principles apply. And just like time, your budget works in a linear fashion, so any actions taken in a past month will affect all subsequent months of your budget, including this month! In short, do not make changes to a past month's budget.

A past month's budget becomes static (unless you make changes in the past), like a snapshot of what your budget looked like on the last day of that month. Keeping this in mind, a previous month's budget might not match the current month, because this month's budget will show any updates made after the last day of the month that the previous budget is for, and that's okay.

These will remove money from Ready to Assign relative to a previous month:

  • Assigning Money into categories
  • Making a balance adjustment in a cash account to a lower account balance
  • Outflow transactions categorized to Inflow: Ready to Assign

These will add money to Ready to Assign relative to a previous month:

  • Un-assigning money from categories
  • Making a balance adjustment in a cash account to a higher account balance
  • Inflow transactions categorized to Inflow: Ready to Assign (ie. income added to your budget)

Most of these don't need any intervention, but if you do have Outflow transactions categorized to Inflow: Ready to Assign, make sure to categorize those transactions to a spending category, and then assign the money in Ready to Assign to that category. Outflow transactions are not generally meant to be categorized to Inflow: Ready to Assign, and that can cause some wonky behavior in your budget. 


Too Much in the Credit Card Payment Category

If you pay your credit card in full, you should always have exactly the amount in the Available column of the Credit Card Payment category needed to pay that card off in full. In your budget, this will look like the positive Available amount matches the negative balance of the card, like this:

If you have more money in your Credit Card Payment category than you need to pay off the balance, here are the main reasons why that can happen:

  1. Overassigning. When you started, did you assign more to this category than the amount of your Starting Balance? Have you been assigning dollars for purchases in your spending categories (like groceries and clothing) and in this category? There isn't any need to do this, because YNAB automatically moves money for you from your spending categories to your Credit Card Payment category.
  2. Cash Back Rewards. Whenever you receive a cash back reward from your credit card company, categorize it as Inflow: Ready to Assign. This inflow will only reduce the balance of the card. It won’t take the extra step of moving money out of your Credit Card Payment category as well, so you’ll want to move the extra money out yourself.
  3. Returns/Refunds. In most cases, returns on credit cards can be categorized right back to their original spending category. Look for any returns you categorized as Inflow: Ready to Assign. Like Cash Back Rewards, returns categorized to Ready to Assign will reduce your account balance while leaving the same amount of money in your Credit Card Payment category.

If you've reconciled your credit card to the correct balance, and the Available amount in the corresponding Credit Card Payment category is more than you need to pay the full balance on that credit card, you can move the excess money out of that category and use it elsewhere in your budget! 

Note that re-assigning money from the Credit Card Payment category to another category will affect the Assigned column of the Credit Card Payment category. As long as the Available column matches the balance on the card (okay technically offsets, positive to negative), it's okay to see a negative number in the Assigned column. 


Target Troubleshooting

Needed for Spending Targets

Needed for Spending target types are designed to prompt you to have up to a certain amount available to spend in a category during a target period. For monthly targets, the target period resets each month. the "by Date" target period can extend over multiple months, but they're both designed to incorporate spending during the target period, and to restart the month after the last target period ends. 

Since you only need to have up to a certain amount with this target type, anything left in the category at the end of the target period will roll over and count towards the next target period. This means that any and all spending you want to happen needs to take place before the target period ends. Not doing so can cause the target to not behave the way we would expect, due to the way the target is designed.

If you have one of these targets (monthly or by Date) that is showing as met even though there is nothing Available in the category, it means that the money was most likely spent during the current target period, instead of the target period that the money was saved up in.

Monthly Needed for Spending - This often happens with expenses due at the beginning of the month. You save up the month prior, then pay the bill on the first (or close to it). The issue here is that the amount needed for spending is designed to be spent in the same month. Once the month rolls over, the (fully funded) amount also rolls over and counts towards (i.e. fully funds) the next month, because according to the target type, you only want so much available for spending each month, and each month is a new target period.

If you'd like to save up money for a monthly expense the month prior to the spending, a Monthly Savings Builder target will work better. That target type will prompt you to assign the same amount to the category each month, and it doesn't care how much has rolled over. 

Needed for Spending by Date - This target can span multiple months, and it is repeatable, so its a bit more of a challenge to diagnose an issue. If you know what month the current target period started, you can go straight to that month. If not, you'll want to go to the original start date of the target (shown in the right sidebar with the category selected), and follow the repeats to the previous target period end month. 

In this example, we have a repeating Annual Needed for Spending by Date target for our Insurance category. We need $500 for our November insurance payment every year. The end date, though, was set for October, the month before that payment is set to go out, and this is causing the target to reset in the month the payment is made, instead of the month after. Since the target period ends with money still in the Available column, that money rolls over and counts towards the new target period next month.

When we flip forward to November (and next target period), we'll see that all the money from the the (fully funded) target period that ended last month rolled over and counted towards the current target period, so that target was funded the very first month, since according to this target type, we only want up to so much available for spending each target period. When the last period ended, we still had $500 available. The next target period starts the month after the previous one ends, and we again have $500 that was available during the target period (before spending), so the target is showing as met. It won't prompt us to assign more until the start of the next target period, which depending on the target, could be a year away! 😱

The solution is to make sure that the spending takes place within the same target period that the "saving up" takes place in (this often means moving the most recent target end date by just one month, to encompass that spending.) When you change the target date to the month that the spending is in, the target will then repeat the next month, (starting with little or no money in the category) and should correctly prompt you to assign money again. 

A Funded "Underfunded" Target

If your target is still showing as underfunded even though there is more Available in the category than the amount of the target, the culprit is usually an inflow categorized directly to the category (like a refund or reimbursement). These transactions are not money assigned to the category - they are (as far as YNAB knows) just returning money to that category that was already there (and was already counted).

Most of the target types are only concerned with the Assigned amount during a target period, and since those transactions weren't assigned during the target period, they won't count towards the target period they were entered during. 

If you would like that money to count towards a target, you can either categorize the inflow to Inflow: Ready to Assign and assign it to the category, or if the target is a Needed for Spending target, you can simply wait until the next target period. Once the target period ends, those funds will roll over and count towards the next target period. 

If You Don't Want to Meet the Target This Month

Sometimes things change, and you may find that you don't need to fund a target for a single month, but you will need to fund it in future months. So what do you do about that yellow underfunded alert? The best thing to do is to ignore it - that alert is just letting you know that according to what you had originally told your budget, the category is not on track. If for whatever reason the situation has changed this month, then you can ignore the alert.

For those of us who risk going bonkers at the thought of seeing anything but green or grey in our budgets, there is a trick you can use for any weekly or monthly targets to get rid of that yellow alert in the current month only. To do this, flip forward to next month, and edit the target there. This will delete the target in the current month only, and it will start again next month. 

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