[Interview] with Mark Butler of YNAB

by Amy on June 19, 2014

I’m in love with the budgeting software You Need A Budget (YNAB). Since I started using it in October miracles – MIRACLES – have ensued. Like I completely wiped out my debt and haven’t put a single new thing on credit that I haven’t paid off the same month!

Then I hired YNAB coach Mark Butler in January to manage my biz books. He’s not just a bookkeeper… It’s like having a CFO. We meet each month to look at the budget (it’s really a plan) and strategize for things to come.

Check out the interview below to hear about all the great things I’ve been able to accomplish since!

And don’t miss the giveaway!

Mark is giving 3 copies of YNAB (a $60 value) to 3 lucky people who share in the comments section.

The giveaway question for the tribe:

How many times per week do you say, think, or express the idea of “I can/can’t afford it.” …? Why?

Can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

Also, check out YNAB’s free 9-day small business course “9 Days to Gain Total Control of Your Business Cash Flow” here.

Want a chance to talk to Mark about your financial goals for YOUR business? Send him an email: mark@youneedabudget.com

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{ 50 comments… read them below or add one }

Margaret Rignell June 19, 2014 at 12:24 pm

Bizarrely, although I don’t struggle with my finances, I often think I can’t afford something. But it’s more about whether I ‘deserve’ to spend that much on myself or whether it’s ‘worth’ it. I’m trying to buy a car at the moment and I want one that ticks all my boxes – at a price I can ‘justify’. It always seems easier to spend on several cheap things, rather than make an investment or get the best.

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Mark June 19, 2014 at 4:12 pm

Right on, Margaret – we tend to use vague, subjective definitions of “deserve” or “worth it” rather than objectively weighing the cost of the thing (and its benefits) against competing financial priorities and opportunities.

Personally I think most of us do this because of the shame and fear we carry around money, and I love budgeting because it gives me an opportunity to set aside shame and evaluate spending on its own merit.

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Louise Avery June 19, 2014 at 12:32 pm

Hey if I work out how to manage our unreliable incomes and actually save that would be revolutionary for mine and my husbands lives

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Mark June 19, 2014 at 4:14 pm

It’s possible! Variable income doesn’t have to mean a roller coaster of stress and being chronically in and out of debt. The key is to take a percentage of every paycheck and set it aside in a “deferred income” category. Easy? No way. BUT..the benefit is that you’ll eventually build up a full month of deferred income so you’re no longer having to play the bill-timing/credit card float game.

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Debee June 19, 2014 at 12:50 pm

How many times a week do I express in my words or thoughts that I can’t afford something? It’s interesting. Unlike Amy, I try to NOT spend my way through my problems. I think the results are the same. I’m still in unawareness, still not looking at my money. Amy, you expressed that you were afraid to see what you’d spent so you didn’t look. I’m afraid to see what I haven’t spent or done in my business. The most profound takeaway that I got from today’s interview was one question, “What are my highest value activities?” In my case, I can see the correlation between what I don’t spend and how I value my business and myself. Thanks to you and Mark for your insights and your time.

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Mark June 19, 2014 at 4:16 pm

Hi Debee –

Happy to help. Yes – understanding your high value activities is the power skill in business. Get yourself a budget and use it to remind yourself that a) all revenue comes from those high value activities, and b) all spending can facilitate an increase in those high value activities. Good luck in your business!

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Devi June 19, 2014 at 1:16 pm

I tend to prioritise stuff to make my business better or on personal development but skimp on some of the basics and simple pleasures. Basically I am confused about what feels ‘allowed’ and wonder why that is a valid way of seeing it at all!

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Mark June 19, 2014 at 4:25 pm

Hi Devi –

A business owner who lets her personal tank get to a big red E (for empty) is no good to herself or her clients/customers. If you broke your arm, you’d go to the emergency room and feel 100% justified in paying the cost of “self maintenance and repair.” One of your keys as a business owner is to realize that getting to mental and emotional zero is as bad (maybe worse!) than a broken arm!

I have (what I consider) a very expensive gym membership. I debate constantly whether I “should” (I hate the word “should”) drop the gym. I have to constantly remind myself how important it is to my work productivity.

Little secret? I wake up every morning just a little depressed about the mountains I’m trying to climb in my business and personal finances. “I should have started ten years ago, I’ve made too many mistakes, blah blah blah.” I go to the gym, work out hard with my friends, and that downer feeling goes away every single time.

If I “saved” the money spent on the gym, I have no doubt my work would suffer in a big way. For others it’s yoga, chocolate, running, reading, camping…whatever.

Bottom line: I see some of those simple pleasures as essential to your success and to your business’s sustainability. Yes, there’s a budget, and yes, weigh every expense carefully. But you ARE the primary machine in your business. Self care is essential.

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Lindsay Gomez June 19, 2014 at 1:27 pm

The thought of “I cannot afford….” (I rarely have the “I can afford…” thought) goes through my head about a half-dozen times a week. It usually comes up when faced with a large expense because 1.) I don’t think I deserve it (much like Margaret touched on) or 2.) I feel like I’m not making progress on my personal financial targets, which is to pay off all credit card debt and save at least 3 months of household expenses in an emergency fund (which isn’t true, it’s just not happening as quickly as I’d like). This thought comes up with my career direction too, as I am unhappy in my current job situation, but feel like I cannot afford to explore different avenues (I would really like to help people on a one-on-one basis, which is so different from my current job) because I don’t have my personal financial goals met yet.

On a side note – I loved how Mark described his process of open communication with his manager on attending the conference. How wonderful that sort of open dialogue must be – thanks for sharing!

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Mark June 19, 2014 at 4:30 pm

Hi Lindsay –

You’ve acknowledged that a sense of not-deserving holds you back. Now own it and move on. Use a budget to plan out how you’re going to pay off the CCs and build up that cash cushion. Use the momentum you’ll build in your personal finances to increase your confidence in pursuing the goal of helping people one-on-one (something I know Amy could help you with!).

Acknowledge where a sense of not deserving and not being good enough are holding you back, then use your budget to prove (and remind yourself) how you’re already kicking butt and you’re capable of doing and having anything you want.

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Mariamne Ingalls June 19, 2014 at 1:44 pm

I guess I do think beyond “I can’t / can afford it”, and ask myself questions about whether a particular spend is an investment in future income. Are you saying that the YNAP software is set up to help me ask those questions and record the answers, so that my thought-process is clear and in front of me, complete with the numbers?

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Mark June 19, 2014 at 4:33 pm

Hi Marianne –

YNAB will give you an opportunity to declare your priorities in the form of your budget categories. You’ll create the category, decide how many of your available dollars to give it, then track how much you’re actually spending in that area. As time passes and you persist in the practice, your spending will naturally evolve toward those things you value most.

A budget is a living, breathing tool for telling your money what you want it to do.

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Lesley June 19, 2014 at 2:11 pm

I definitely think “I can’t afford that” or make a decision because of some other fear driven thought around money…like quitting my job to start my business because my family depends on my paycheck from my full time job! And I know I subconsciously have the thought that “I don’t deserve it” because I tend to put everyone else’s needs before my own. My mom & husband have been helping (read “forcing”) me to do things for myself- so I am making progress!

I really like the idea of there being better questions to ask than can I afford it or not. I like the idea of looking at things as an investment and asking what the ROI will be, so I’m definitely going to start thinking about that more!

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Mark June 19, 2014 at 4:38 pm

Hi Lesley –

I’m glad to hear your loved ones are pushing you toward prioritizing yourself. In my opinion, prioritizing yourself benefits everyone around you – because they get a happier, more energized you. The beauty of a budget is how it will allow you to see that you can spend on yourself while still meeting the family’s needs, AND it can start helping you progress toward being able to start your own business.

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Allie June 19, 2014 at 2:52 pm

How often do I think can I/ I can’t afford this? My husband would say not often enough! How this question is showing up for me now is “Can I afford to build a business doing what I love?” or do I need to “Do what makes money”.

Most mind blowing, tweetable quote from the interview was “a budget is not like a diet”. Love it. I didn’t realize that is why I’ve been avoiding making a budget.

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Mark June 19, 2014 at 4:43 pm

Hey Allie –

Yeah – let’s set aside the weird, vague concept of “affording,” because what does it even mean?

For you, the power question is:

What has to happen in my finances to help me confident in pursuing a business I love?

You’ll iterate through lots of answers to that question, but just asking it will set you on a very productive course. You’ll simultaneously be improving your personal finances AND creating actionable plans for getting that business off the ground. If my experience holds, you’ll find it takes a lot longer than you hoped, and ends up following a path you didn’t anticipate. 🙂 But starting with the right question will point in the direction of your ideal outcome.

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Lisa June 19, 2014 at 4:00 pm

Yikes!! Yes I think that often, most especially when I consider purchasing additional flutes (as I a a flutist).
-Lisa

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Ruthie June 19, 2014 at 4:32 pm

My awareness has being rising over the last month or so since I sobbed for the whole hour at a coaching session when the topic was money. I downloaded an accounts app and then wiped my phone (self-sabotage of course) so have been looking for something new which I will enjoy and therefore not sabotage. I have an extremely long term habit of saying’/thinking ‘I can’t afford it’ .I am on automatic pilot when I think like this so looking forward to Mark’s 9 day course as a starter to the new money savvy me.
The funny thing is I have a gut feeling that once I get the new habit in place I’m going to be really good at this area of my life. 🙂
Many thanks for the video. I’m looking forward to seeing Amy’s joyful expression on my own face when this is conquered. X

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Dannell June 19, 2014 at 4:47 pm

Thanks to Amy’s referral we started working with Mark over the last month and our first monthly call was really liberating! I think working with Mark and YNAB is going to help relieve the stress around money and get us to where we want to be. I’m really excited to work with him!! Yahoo!

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Mark June 23, 2014 at 2:37 pm

And I’m excited to be working with you guys!

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Jenny Treiber June 19, 2014 at 4:53 pm

This is an ongoing problem for me, I am an artist and just working on product development brings up these issues. Want to try a new technique or material? Can I really afford to literally just “play” with expensive materials? But isn’t this why I’m an artist in the first place? Some things I struggle with on a weekly basis, it’s hard to pick an amount of money that is reasonable to spend. This just feeds the guilt I sometimes feel about spending time itself… Thanks for the insight, just changing the way I look at it helps.

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Lora June 19, 2014 at 5:29 pm

Reading all these comments as well as listening to the interview make me really excited to schedule a talk with Mark! Thanks for sharing your personal stories. Like Devi in the comments above I spend things on business items but also skimp on some of the basics. I also have a book buying habit that I am not sure I need, but it gives me joy 🙂

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Renya June 19, 2014 at 5:55 pm

I realized I really needed help with my budgeting. Numbers are not my thing and I have been feeling so limited and constricted for so long, I almost forget how I could feel otherwise. But then, promptly I decided that “I could not afford that”. What irony!

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Andrea June 19, 2014 at 6:52 pm

I feel like I’m in a constant state of weighing whether or not I can afford something. It’s not something I say out loud anymore, but I certainly still have the thoughts because most of the time I simply don’t know exactly where I am financially – maybe I can “afford” something today, but what will it cost me next month? My finances seem to always be in a feast or famine cycle. When I’m flush and money is flowing, I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to how much is there, but as soon as it dwindles and things start to get scary, I’m accounting for every penny and promising myself to “get on top of it” once and for all. Yet, the cycle continues. This is a HUGE personal hurdle I need to move beyond if I’m ever going to have a successful business, as I feel part of what holds me back is that I don’t trust myself with money. Sad but totally true.

So, thank you Amy for introducing YNAB and Mark to us! I perused the website and it looks so user friendly – and fun! – as you mentioned. Can’t wait to learn more about it!

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Mark June 23, 2014 at 2:40 pm

Hi Andrea –

We’ve surveyed our users and found…you’re completely normal. 🙂 Nearly all of us experience some sort of trigger event in our lives (marriage, divorce, new baby, new job, major medical event) that finally tips the stress scale to the point that we’re willing to sit down with our numbers.

Your key to success will be to ride the momentum of one of those scary low-cash moments into a true budgeting habit that eventually eliminates them. Let me know if I can help!

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Mona June 19, 2014 at 8:12 pm

Wow! What an amazing interview. I especially love that Amy hasn’t put (left) anything on a credit card since working with Mark, hasn’t created any new debt.

Daily, daily, daily do I think “I can’t afford it,” heck, every minute.

It is exhausting, tiring, and depressing. As Mark says, there are better things to think about. The thought (and its various ancillaries) take up a lot of energy and space in my head.

Imagine what amazing things I could think about, and possibly accomplish, if that drumbeat weren’t constantly droning on.

Thanks Amy and Mark!

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Mark June 23, 2014 at 2:40 pm

Happy to help!

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Julia June 19, 2014 at 8:31 pm

Thanks Amy you always lead me to such great info!!!!

My problem is I say it and think it EVERYDAY, I know it and then….. I charge it, close my eyes and hope there is still room on my card and that when the bill comes in next month there is enough income to pay for it. My income is determined on the 100% on the sales of myself and my team the more I sell and/or the more they sell the more I earn. For awhile I was trending up and up but that hasn’t been the case lately. So I have been working on starting a coaching practice “on the side” to fill the coaching slots my team (who gets coached for free) don’t take so that I can build extra income to fill in the gaps. I would LOVE to be on a budget and more AWARE and less stressed about my finances :O)

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Mark June 23, 2014 at 2:43 pm

Hi Julia –

You’ll find that budgeting helps you sell more because it keeps you focused on the real numbers. Looking over your comment, I think your budget might steer you toward more of that paid coaching.

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Maiyah June 19, 2014 at 9:24 pm

I have become a CEO of 2 companies in less than a year.

One company is my parents’ estate. Which I need to manage so that my niece gets her support and some can go to my brother.

Another is my private practice which has kicked up to 5 times busier and I want to be clear about organizing my finances as well as my time!

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Mark June 23, 2014 at 2:45 pm

Congrats on the uptick in your practice! That’s a good problem to have. As Amy and I talked about in the interview, increased earnings often don’t mean decreased stress. More money on hand means more choices – more good things competing for those dollars. A budget will keep your awareness high and improve your decision-making as you ride that wave in your business.

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Jennifer D June 19, 2014 at 10:56 pm

Thanks Amy! Awesome resource! I already signed up for the 9 day free course since I have been looking for a finance/money coach.

Hi Mark – I think I am doing a decent job of managing my money, cashflow etc, no interest on credit cards, money saved etc. However, my biggest problem is that my business is new and does not cover all of our living expenses each month so sometimes we use saved money to cover the deficit and the possibility of running out worries me. I don’t see any solution to that other than making more money or moving to a less expensive place. Do you have some ninja move that’s going to consistently produce more income or do we just have to face reality and either cut household expenses or find more consistent source of income? Would love to know if you have any advice on that and if that’s a problem you solve through your service. Thanks!

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Mark June 23, 2014 at 2:50 pm

Hi Jennifer –

Two thoughts:

First, starting to use an effective budget will automatically (as if by magic) improve your spending by reducing it less important areas and increasing it in more important areas. I think the amount you draw from savings will go down as your awareness of your dollars goes up.

Second, I’d make sure you have clear daily activity goals that actually drive revenue. Your budget will show you exactly how much you really need to be bringing in; let that drive you to make another sales call, set up another joint venture, or write another guest post.

As to whether my service can help – I like to think so. 🙂 You can get in touch with me at mark@youneedabudget.com if you’d like to chat about it.

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Nicole June 19, 2014 at 11:09 pm

Since losing my job in April and starting up a business, the thought “I can’t afford that” runs through my head at least a couple times daily. Shuffling bills that are due, prioritizing expenses and not losing track of what needs to be paid when, seems like all I do these days. As a midwife, I never made a great income, so I was well familiar with the “I can’t afford that” mentality for quite a while. Now it is just compounded, without income coming in yet, and money going out to keep things running, it is a financial drain every day. After spending some time looking at my money story, I am a spender/avoider, as money just was always there growing up, even when I was told we could’t afford things. Working nearly every day to change that story and first and foremost getting my finances in order would be huge help to myself and the money story I am passing down as a single mother to my children.

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Jen June 19, 2014 at 11:35 pm

I’d say it’s maybe once a week I say “I can’t afford X”. The funny thing is, in reality I usually CAN afford it, but I’m working on building up my savings so I have a cushion for when I quit my day job (date TBD), so rather than tell myself “I SHOULDN’T spend money on that” I say, “I can’t afford it.”

As I’ve been slowly getting my finances under control, though, it’s nice the past few weeks when I’ve said, “I CAN afford to pay someone to mow my lawn” or “I CAN afford to splurge just once to have someone come clean my house.”

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Mark June 23, 2014 at 2:56 pm

Hi Jen –

Sounds like you’re making it happen; I’d offer one re-frame on that self-talk:

For me, the word “afford” is useless, because it has no clear definition. In conversations I’ve had with people in person and through blog posts, I’ve found most people’s sense of being able to “afford” something is rooted in whether they feel they deserve it – or don’t. In other words, I find “afford” is usually rooted in entitlement or shame – and I don’t think either of those are useful states of mind.

I’d frame everything in terms of your primary goal: quitting the day job.

“I pay someone to mow my lawn because it frees me to focus on my primary goal by ____.”

“I pay someone to clean my house because it frees me mentally (and physically) to spend that time ______, which helps me achieve my primary goal.”

In my opinion, there’s no good or bad spending, only spending that facilitates or impedes your primary goal.

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Jenny June 20, 2014 at 12:44 pm

I think “we can’t afford that” many times a day. I recently started just looking at our account balances daily instead of dreading the monthly statement. That has helped, but working on a budget with my husband is something I avoid. We do fine but there is a sense of helplessness around money. Think I avoid doing it because I don’t want to be controlled or have conflict about what we are or are not spending money on.

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Mark June 23, 2014 at 3:02 pm

Checking account balances is a big step up from NOT checking those balances, so nice work!

Your fear of being controlled by or conflicted about your budget is so normal! The problem is when we avoid budgeting because we don’t to be controlled, we give up our chance of being in control of our money (as proven by the sense of helplessness).

Try a budgeting experiment. When the experiment fails (almost everyone “fails” in their first attempt at budgeting), ask yourself where it fell apart. You’ll learn important things about yourself and your relationship.

You won’t learn, by they way, that you can’t budget, or that you’re broken – because you can, and you’re not. You’ll just figure out where the friction is so you can start smoothing it out. Budget finally stuck for me in my third or fourth real attempt at it.

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Kim June 20, 2014 at 3:44 pm

I think daily on whether I can afford or not afford. I’m actually contemplating bankruptcy, only because my husband lost his job, I’m in so much debt. The last 2 months have been so overwhelming with all the collection this and collection that that I just STOPPED looking at my mail for the past 3 weeks. Today I have spent the morning paying what I can to everyone. I won’t claim bankruptcy. My credit is seriously damaged, but if I can get on a budget and stick with it, I am CERTAIN I can PAY all my debt in FULL. I’ve NEVER been on a budget. I’ve always kept blinders on when it comes to money. Earn some, spend some and put whatever else on credit cards, GASP. Yes it’s true. I’m ready to change.

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Mark June 23, 2014 at 3:05 pm

Hi Kim –

I wonder if you think the earn/spend/credit cards game is unusual. It’s not – it’s all too common, and I’m sorry for the stress I know it’s created in your life. The good news is you’re ready to break the pattern. It won’t be an easy transition, but your stress will go way, way down as you put yourself in charge of your decisions and your dollars. Hang in there!

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Anna Stephenson June 20, 2014 at 3:50 pm

Thanks, Amy, for sharing this great resource! Thanks, Mark, for sharing your wisdom!

I really resonated with Amy’s concept of constant “low-level anxiety” about money! I was raised with the “I/we can’t afford it” mantra, even though money wasn’t scarce. I have changed the “can’t afford it” mantra to “we choose to spend our money on something else” when I talk to my kids, but I’m always concerned that what I do spend on won’t bring me the desired outcome (health, family fun, business revenue, etc.) Every day I’m afraid “I can’t afford” being in business for myself. I let someone else manage my money because “I am not a numbers person,” but according to Mark there is a way of handling finances that isn’t just about figuring taxes. It’s a whole new world! It would be fantastic to operate from 100% awareness and control, a plan that gets me what I really do want, as well as releasing one more layer of stress!

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Mark June 23, 2014 at 3:07 pm

Hey Anna –

Yes! The “we choose” attitude shows that you’re the boss of your money. I hope you’ll reach out to me at mark@youneedabudget.com. I’m obviously a fan of having someone help you with your money (since that’s what I do) – I just hope your money manager is taking your stress way down and helping you feel real control and progress!

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Renae Whitacre June 20, 2014 at 4:10 pm

Wonderful tool that can help to adjust the mindset issues that are holding me and so many people back when it comes to their fear of taking control of the finances. Excellent tool and process to help implement with the kids, too. Thanks for sharing.

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MG June 20, 2014 at 4:39 pm

I don’t really think specifically about “can afford” and “cannot afford.” It’s more about nagging fear and guilt about spending or “oh, what the heck, I’m buying this because I like it.” This means I am not going on the great vacation I want to go on every year. It also means I’m super fearful and distraught when an unexpected expenditure comes up like a big car repair.

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Marguerite MacRobert June 20, 2014 at 5:28 pm

Please, please open a YNAB office in Cape Town (South Africa)! I think people would love this kind of financial coaching out here and we need a Mark clone!

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Mark June 23, 2014 at 3:09 pm

Good news, Marguerite – I’m on Skype, so I work with people all over the place. Trust me, South Africans aren’t the only ones stressing over their money. It’s happening to pretty much everyone, everywhere.

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Jan Bryant June 21, 2014 at 1:31 pm

In response to your question of if I can afford something, this very question came up last month with regard to getting new windows in my house. It is an old house and every year I had to put plastic on the windows. I am retired and thought I could never afford it. I met with a window company who looked at my debt to income ratio and decided I could afford it with a low monthly payment. digging deeper they had a 16 months same as cash plan. I plan on doing more sewing and spending less and I can make it work. So crunching the numbers is the definite way to go when making either a personal or business decision. Thank you for the interview it was very enlightening with Mark.

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Stephanie June 21, 2014 at 5:32 pm

I also don’t struggle with money, but I find myself thinking a lot in terms of whether I can “afford” something. I don’t like the feeling of scarcity that comes with that thought, so I’ve dug into what it’s about, and I think it’s mostly due to a limited mindset. I actually equate money with stress, because in my mind, in order to make more money I need to work more, which I guess is a common way to think of it, but as an aspiring entrepreneur that is SO limited and wrong!

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Mark June 23, 2014 at 3:11 pm

Hey Stephanie –

Yes – we all need to get past the vague, limited idea of “can’t afford it” and ask good questions about where those feelings come from. Thanks for the comment!

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Hunter June 22, 2014 at 2:57 pm

I am generally good with money. I started record keeping in my sketchbooks in art school. The whole back of it was finances. I always liked pen and paper. I still have a master planning book that is in a Moleskine.

And while I am good at it, I am not that stellar at budgeting when things really hit the fan. During the 1,000 year flood here in Colorado, I was displaced and a whole host of things happened that seemed out of control. My savings went, and I am back to digging out of the hole.

After that I’ve been looking at something to fill the gap. I’ve been playing with YNAB on the free trial, and I can say I am very happy you mentioned it.

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