Jesse, our founder, likes to give me a hard time about how much I like discussing (arguing?) semantics. I blame my mother, who liked nothing better than to discuss shades of difference between words. And grammar, she didn’t mind grammar, either.
So, for the word nerds who are still with me, let’s talk about the difference between “budget” and “budgeting.”
I promise you, this isn’t just semantics—this goes right to the core of what makes YNAB different (and more effective) than any other budgeting system you’ll find.
Budget vs. Budgeting
We usually think of a thing as a noun. This is my budget. You need a budget.
The second is an action or an activity. A verb. (Technically, it’s a gerund.)
But the exercise actually works, comparing Budget as a noun (A Budget) against Budget as an activity (To Budget). And as it turns out, there is a very big difference between the two.
Budget As A Noun
When you think about a Budget, as a noun, it’s a thing that maybe someone gives you, or that you can go and get. Whole and complete and all ready for you. Or it’s something that tells you what to do, something that’s restrictive, like a tie you have to wear (or stockings, I’m told). It’s a piece of paper, or, if you’re a YNABer, some screens on your laptop or Android.
It is more passive than powerful. And it isn’t really YNAB.
Budgeting As An Action Word
Budgeting, on the other hand? Budgeting is an activity. It’s something you do to take control of your financial life, to shape it the way you want it to be. It’s a conversation with your partner communicating about the priorities that are yours, mine, and ours. Budgeting means you’re equipped to make changes when life throws you for a loop because you are actively budgeting. You’re a budgeter. Budgeting, as a verb, is a set of behaviors and decisions that you evaluate and put into place—because no one else knows your life and your priorities like you do.
That is empowering. That’s YNAB.
Action Requires Effort
There’s another implication here. A budget that’s a thing, that someone just hands to you, or just sits there? It doesn’t require much of you. Maybe some numbers get plugged in at paycheck time, sure, but you can kind of set-it-and-forget-it. A budget suggests looking back passively; to budget suggests actively making your way to the future.
That’s not a YNAB budget, and we’re proud of that. The interaction you have with your budget—your awareness, your activity, your adjustments—is what makes the difference. The effort and attention are what actually changes your llife—and that is not hyperbole.
You Need To Budget
Sometimes, people ask us if YNAB will just automate everything for them—assign budget amounts based on some set of percentages or magically forecast out three months based on a random set of transactions. They ask if they can just log in once a month, see how their spending compared (to that auto-generated budget), and move on.
Nope. That’s not budgeting. Maybe we named the method and the company wrong. You don’t need A budget. You need To budget.