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Guilt-free budgeting: Using YNAB to shift your money mindset and make peace with your finances

Updated: May 29

You Need a Budget - YNAB - logo

Money & food: What do they have in common?

Yes, I'm an Intuitive Eating Counselor, writing about money.

Partially because I love numbers. But also because...

I’ve heard countless remarks from people about how their relationship with money resembles their relationship with food.

People describe their relationships with food and money using words like "restrictive, out of control, full of guilt, mindless, impulsive, lack of self-trust, trying system after system/program after program, fear of judgment.

But looking at your bank account doesn't have to make your heart sink.

Spending money on something that lights up your heart doesn't have to illicit guilt.

And deciding how, where, and when you want to spend money doesn't have to lead to overwhelm.

I support you in making peace with food AND money.

And the way we do this is by changing our relationship TO/WITH money.

❌ It’s not by “getting control of our finances.”

❌ It’s not by “finally sticking to this restrictive budget.”

❌ It's not by “making sacrifices and following all of society’s rules for success.”

Are there elements of structure, boundaries, and compromise in the way that I teach and work with money? Yes. But all of that is a result of shifting the way you think and talk about money FIRST.

So how do we do that? Where do we begin?


My journey with money

I first discovered You Need A Budget (YNAB) 4 years ago when an eating-disorder-therapist-friend-of-mine started telling me about how wonderful it is. I asked her if using an app to monitor her finances felt similar to tracking or counting calories. She assured me that there was nothing about YNAB that felt similar to being on a diet. 🎉

This piqued my interest because, at the time, I didn’t have the greatest relationship with money.

I wasn’t making much of it and had no system in place for helping me determine how to spend it (because I thought that would feel like a diet) so I ended up living paycheck to paycheck.

I had no method or intention behind my spending which often led to feeling guilty or like I spent money on the "wrong" things.

I did some research on YNAB and decided to give it a try. I was hooked from day 1.

Every part of me resonates with YNAB, its method, and the language they use, and my relationship with money began to shift immediately.



What is YNAB?

YNAB is a method for managing money and software that helps you implement that method.

  • The YNAB method consists of four rules.

  • The YNAB software does all your math for you and keeps track of your data in an organized way.


The Four Rules of the YNAB Method

There are 4 rules that comprise the "YNAB Method." You can take this method and apply it to your relationship with money without ever using the YNAB software if you're already content with another program.

The method in and of itself provides a refreshing perspective on how you can interact with and think about money.


Rule #1 - Give every dollar a job

You've probably heard of the envelope method where you use paper envelopes, label them with specific categories (rent, groceries, pet food, etc), and place cash in them.

You use the envelopes as a way to organize your money, be intentional with your spending, and visually see how much you have left for different categories.

YNAB is the online version of the envelope method…with extra bells and whistles (A LOT of bells and whistles)!

This first rule - give every dollar a job - means that whenever you have an inflow of money, you assign a job/purpose to each of those dollars before spending them.


Rule #2 - Embrace your true expenses

Not only do you want to create categories (similar to envelopes) for the obvious things like rent and groceries, but you also want to create categories and assign money for “true expenses.”

👉 True expenses are predictable expenses that come infrequently.

Things like car repairs, Christmas gifts, annual subscriptions, vet bills, etc. You can count on all of these expenses showing up at some point over the course of a year and yet we rarely plan for them.

With YNAB, you plan for these expenses and set aside money for them monthly. That way when a flat tire strikes, you’ve been adding money to your car repair category all year and you have a chunk of change accumulated and ready to spend.

Basically, YNAB encourages you to treat all bills & expenses like monthly bills.

This helps you prepare for rather than react to these events from a place of panic/emergency (and prevents going into more debt along the way)


Rule #3 - Roll with the punches

This rule is all about being flexible with your budget (yay for NOT feeling like a diet!!!) Your budget is a living, breathing reflection of your life and your values.

It’s okay and smart to revise and edit your budget. Priorities and life circumstances change.

You can let go of rigid rules about what you think you “should” be spending money on and allow your budget to be a fluid representation of what’s most important to YOU.

Screenshot of the YNAB budget showing a Broadway category of money
This is just one of many ways YNAB helps me celebrate my passions without guilt!


Rule #4 - Age your money

This rule is about breaking the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle.

With the YNAB method, you'll start to increase the time between when you make money and when you spend money.

Rather than getting a paycheck and needing all of that money immediately for this month’s bills, you strive to get a month ahead so this month’s paycheck is funding next month’s expenses.

This rule is less about something you “do” and more about a result you create and strive for when using the YNAB method. It's one of the guiding principles of YNAB and a key component to staying out of debt and decreasing stress around money.


Here's a snapshot of a demo budget in YNAB.

How does this compare to previous budgeting apps you've used?

Screenshot of the YNAB budget showing different spending categories, loan accounts, credit card accounts, and checking accounts



What YNAB and Intuitive Eating have in common

As I’ve mentioned, YNAB doesn’t feel like a diet. There are no "shoulds," no shame, and no rigid rules to follow.

👉In fact, YNAB and Intuitive Eating have a lot in common.

YNAB is about shifting your relationship with money just like Intuitive Eating is about shifting your relationship with food.

Both of them involve concrete tips and techniques to help you make these shifts, but ultimately the first step is to open yourself up to approaching money and food in a totally new way.



Rather than having a fixed and rigid budget that stresses you out and sucks all the fun out of life, YNAB promotes fluidity with your money and spending decisions. If you over-or-under-budgeted a specific category, you can easily move money from one category to another and roll with the punches.

Getting a sense of how much, when, and where you spend your money takes time! You're not trying to get things "right." Instead, you're trying to gain awareness of your habits, priorities, and current financial situation.

Using YNAB is an ongoing process of honing in on what’s important to you, observing how that’s reflected (or not) in your spending, and making tweaks and adjustments as needed.



All of YNAB's staff, teachers, coaches, and promotional materials use language that discourages feelings of guilt and shame.

Instead, YNAB empowers you in your spending decisions and encourages you to respond to your choices and financial situation with compassion and understanding when things feel bumpy or hard.

There’s no right or wrong way to spend money and there’s no assumption that we should all be eating, I mean spending 😜, as little as possible.

You are allowed (and encouraged) to enjoy life - seeking out and investing in things that make you happy and tapping into pleasure and joy.


Honors you for being YOU!

YNAB and Intuitive Eating both honor your uniqueness and resist outside pressures to spend money or look a certain way.

Your budget should reflect what’s important to YOU. Not what society values or what your mom values or what you’ve internalized as what you “should” value.

In YNAB you have total freedom when creating your budget categories (emojis included 🥳) and deciding how you want to allocate your money. Your spending gets to be a reflection of you and that’s a beautiful thing!!

You like to buy fancy dresses? Cool. You saved up your life’s savings for an espresso machine? Cool. You want to have a category devoted solely to Broadway shows (me 🙋‍♀️). COOL. You. Do. You.

We all have different priorities and values. It’s unrealistic to think that your spending habits are going to be identical to someone else’s so let's stop comparing ourselves to each other.


Mindfulness & intention

Any time you make money, you give those dollars a job. Meaning, you decide in advance what the purpose is for every dollar (with lots of flexibility as previously mentioned.)

For instance, if I make $1,000, I might say that $500 is for rent, $200 is for groceries, $200 is for Broadway, and $100 is for my baby's diaper fund. All of my money has now been "assigned."

By giving every dollar a job, you are being proactive as opposed to reactive with your spending. This process allows you to be intentional with how and where you allocate your dollars and, thus, spend your money.


As you can see, there is much to love about YNAB.

Chelsea Hester wearing a YNAB t-shirt as a Certified YNAB Budget coach
To say my life has been changed by YNAB's method and software is an honest and accurate statement.

Intuitive Eating and YNAB are both tools I used to drastically shift the way I relate to food and money to increase peace and decrease guilt.

If you're interested in exploring how YNAB could support you YNAB offers a free trial and tons of free resources on its website. This might be a great starting place for you.

Many have said that YNAB has a steep learning curve which is why YNAB created its Coach Certification program.

This certification program, which I completed in 2022, equips me to provide 1:1 coaching to support you on your journey with YNAB. If your brain works best with individual attention and accountability, my coaching may be a great fit for you.

Whether you use the software or not, I encourage you to turn towards your finances with compassion and understanding, just as you would your body and food. There is no amount of guilt and shame that's going to create a more peaceful and joyful life.

Sending you lots of love on your financial journey! Reach out to me anytime if you want to geek out on YNAB together!


P.S. Do you have ADHD? I do!

I was interviewed on the official YNAB podcast about how YNAB is ADHD-friendly and how it aligns with Intuitive Eating principles!

Logo for the YNAB podcast about budgeting with ADHD


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