How to Make Your Money Work for You (instead of the other way around)

Rarely do I feel like life is working unless my budget is also working. While I write a lot about the pursuit of meaning and making an impact— I don’t as often talk about the large and anxiety producing topic of money.

Money can feel like a dirty word in this conversation, but it can also be the elephant in the room. I want to make sure that is not the case.

Here’s the thing we all know: you have to make money. You have to find a way to meet the needs of you and your family.

So let’s get something else out in the open: money is not bad. It’s not bad to make money. It’s not bad to have plenty of money. One of the many stories that I have to fight against is the idea that asking to be paid for the things I make is conning people. It may sound crazy to hear, but that’s how I felt. It’s one of the many stories that I’ve had to unpack and redefine for myself.

Making money isn’t bad. Having money isn’t bad.

  • If you can get paid to do the work that you’re made to do, it frees you up to do more of it.
  • If you can get paid for your art, you may get to be a full time artist.
  • If you can get paid to create the vulnerable and amazing things that you feel connected to, then you get the privilege of giving more of your time and more of yourself to making them.

But then there’s always the question of how much is enough? When can I make the leap from the job that pays the bills to the work that really fuels me?

Money is usually hard. Both hard and scary. For most of my life my budget has been, "spend as little as possible". Though it keeps me from making unnecessary purchases, it also keeps me feeling poor, and feeling as though my money ruled my life.

My wife and I would set up budgets to project our income and expenses and hope that all goes according to plan, but the money always felt too unknown.

Last year I discovered a new tool that has changed this, so much so that I can’t help but share it with you. It’s a philosophy and a piece of software that follows suit.

It’s called, You Need A Budget.

I know, the name gets confusing when you’re trying to talk about it, people call it YNAB for short. Here’s the real proof for me: I actually enjoy working on my budget! (Those are words that I never imagined myself saying!)

Here’s the basis of it, you can use these ideas for your own budget method, or check out the software (and this link gets you your first month free).

There are four rules:

  1. Every dollar needs a job to do. Every single dollar you earn will go toward a specific category. The categories are like mini-bank accounts. What you spend comes from them, and anything extra stays in the account for the future.

    Next month, you divvy up what you have into the categories and do it again. (more on that in a moment)

  2. Save for surprise expenses. Life is not predictable. Emergencies and urgent expenditures need to be paid for somehow. If you save for them they hurt a lot less.

  3. Roll with the punches. If you overspend here and there, it’s not the end of the world. The difference is deducted from what you have available to budget next month.

  4. Live on last month’s income. This is the one that really changed things for us. What we make this month is what we’re going to be spending next month. The reason this is so helpful is because both our income and expenses can change so much month to month. Some months I have more clients and more speaking engagements. Other months don’t.

    Since I don’t know how much money I’ll make this month, it’s always been hard to know how much we can spend and how much to save. With YNAB and the YNAB method we live off of what came in last month— so we know exactly how much we have to work with. If we made a good amount last month, we’ll have some wiggle room and put more to savings this month. If last month was tight, we’ll be extra careful.

    This may be simple to some, but to us it’s been a game changer. We have money to spend on things we need to spend it on, and we know how much that is.

The YNAB software is simple, yet elegant. It syncs between our devices in real time so my wife and I always know how much is available in each of our categories.

Get your first month of the You Need A Budget system FREE


I’d love for you to check it out. If you click through this link you’ll get your first month free. You’ll see a message at the top of the window that says, “Your discount has been applied…”

I’ve been learning a lot about money, making money, saving money, and making a meaningful impact while getting paid. Though I have a lot to learn, some things are starting to come together for me— and budgeting has been an important part of that process.

One way or another, you have to deal with money.

I’ve gone from feeling like money is my boss— worrying about it constantly, and feeling anxious about most expenditures— to finding a budget that works for me— largely because of YNAB.

In the comments, I’d love to hear your money/budget struggles and successes. What’s worked and what hasn’t?

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11 Comments

  1. Elli April 28, 2015 at 10:22 am

    Thank you for this! I am self-employed and have often felt guilty about getting paid. I lowered my prices almost by 50% a few years ago, telling myself and clients, ” Well, I just love what I do!”
    I can’t articulate fully what made the switch for me. It was a few different things: Now I only do sub-contractor work, which allows the client to pay the business, and the business then pays me. Taking that direct “put MY name on the cheque” interaction with money helped me, and also placing more value on what I am doing, and that it is worthy.
    My Grandmother gave me a large sum of money over Christmas, which allowed me to finally get out of debt, and challenged me to use it in the best way possible- kick starting a budget of sorts. I’m far from a perfect money steward, but I’m way better than I used to be.
    AND being prayerful about money spending, generosity and saving has helped enormously.

    Reply
    1. Dan Cumberland April 29, 2015 at 4:15 pm

      Thanks for reading Elli! I get the difficulty of having people put your name on the check. I wonder if there are more stories there to explore? Thanks for sharing!

      Reply
  2. Jonathan Lonsway April 28, 2015 at 12:41 pm

    YNAB is some good stuff!

    Reply
  3. Michele April 29, 2015 at 10:01 pm

    It’s never too late to try a new approach to organizing a budget. YNAB looks very good. Thanks for the discount!

    Reply
    1. Dan Cumberland April 30, 2015 at 9:23 am

      You’re welcome! Let me know what you think of it!

      Reply
  4. Dennis May 17, 2015 at 6:20 pm

    We are in the retirement phase of life now so income is a thing of the past. As scary as that is, the thing that we have found to be indispensable is a trustworthy financial planner. We’ve had a relationship with our financial planner for over 20 years and attribute much of our comfortable retirement to his professional advice. I used the word relationship because that is what it takes to really trust someone to provide an objective view of your financial elephant in the room. It also needs to be considered an investment in your future not an expense to avoid. If you have the discipline to do your financial planning yourself, you are lucky but for those of us that aren’t, please consider a trustworthy financial planning professional. You won’t regret it. Dan, YNAB sounds like a simple approach that can bring some discipline to managing your financial future. Thanks for the post.

    Reply
    1. Dan Cumberland May 18, 2015 at 4:54 pm

      Great thoughts, Dennis! Planners can be a huge help. Thanks for mentioning that!

      Reply
  5. Deana August 8, 2015 at 11:58 am

    Thank you so much for point #4! My income also (largely) varies from month to month. All my attempts at a written budget have failed. I’ve been practicing the other three points, but living on last month’s income is the aha moment. It pulls it all together and makes it plausible (as well as super easy)!

    Reply
    1. Dan Cumberland August 8, 2015 at 12:14 pm

      It’s a game changer, Deana! Best of luck!

      Reply
  6. Gleb Tsipursky May 4, 2017 at 11:52 pm

    Yes you are write money matters for everyone, even today everyone work for money, busy to make money. its true our income and expenses can change so much month to month…
    because no one wants to follow same routine all time. thanks for such a meaningful post.

    Reply

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