The ADHD Homestead

Building a good life with ADHD.

Tag: reviews

You have ADHD. You Need a Budget. (YNAB review)

Many adults with ADHD struggle with money. It makes sense. We’re impulsive, we’re forgetful, we hate delaying gratification, and we have a lot of trouble making plans and thinking things through. Growing up, I was fortunate to learn fiscal responsibility from my parents. Not everyone gets that education. Without it, people with ADHD can face lifelong financial insecurity and stress.

Despite thinking I knew everything there was to know about money, I decided to try You Need a Budget (YNAB), the money management app everyone’s been talking about. I’ve been using it for almost three months now. Turns out, I didn’t know everything, and YNAB is great for people with ADHD. It’s simple, easy, and automated, which saves time and energy most ADHD’ers aren’t going to put into their budget anyway. If you’ve failed in the past, YNAB may put effective budgeting within reach.

Setup and maintenance is easy peasy

YNAB took me around 25 minutes to set up. I connected my relevant bank accounts and credit cards, added a line or two to the pre-fabbed budget, and was off and running. Post-setup, I check the app regularly because it has a clean, attractive, and simple user interface.

When I log in, helpful tips pop up just often enough to keep me moving. When I overspend a category, YNAB asks me to move money from somewhere else. The mobile app places new transactions at the top to prompt me to approve and categorize them. In other words, the app doesn’t let me slack off, nor does it get in its own way.

For the phone fidgeters among us, YNAB offers a full-featured mobile app. This is great for people who struggle to sit down at a desk, but often look for ways to kill time with a smartphone. It’s easy to see when new transactions come in, and it only takes a minute to categorize and approve them.

YNAB can do a lot of work for you

Reluctant budgeters will love YNAB’s automated features. Transactions import automatically, which helps if you frequently lose or forget to ask for receipts. The app also puts money into your budget for credit card payments as credit transactions import. That means no surprises when the bill comes, even if you did lose all your receipts.

After you have a month or two under your belt, YNAB learns your spending habits. It can suggest a “quick budget” for each category based on previous spending, or you can easily view last month’s spending or average spending, right from the main screen. My budget used to be based on guesses or wishful thinking. YNAB has helped me get more realistic.

Of all the convenience features, YNAB won me over with goals. I’m notorious for living below my means and assuming I’ll have enough money for anything that comes along. This works fine, until I hit a month with multiple big expenses I haven’t prepared for.

With goals, you can set a category’s target balance, in general or by a certain date, or establish a target monthly contribution. I’ve exclusively used the balance-by-date goals so far. They make our short-term financial picture crystal clear. I took five minutes to go through my list of budget categories, and I came up with several I usually forget until the last minute: a car insurance payment, R.’s week-long ski camp in January, and preschool tuition due in super-distant August 2018. And while August seems far away, YNAB pointed out that I need to set aside almost $650 every month if I want to write that check with zero stress. It sounded like a lot, but not as much as if I started thinking about it next June.

YNAB makes your budget simple, real-time, and easy to understand

When I think of a budget, I think of a big spreadsheet you make at the beginning of the year. YNAB makes budgeting constant, real-time, and interactive. Every time I open the app, I see my budget categories and goals. If I haven’t put enough aside for a goal, that category’s balance turns orange. Happy categories show up in green. Overspent categories become angry red, and the app prompts me to allocate funds to cover the deficit.

This creates excellent habits, and encourages me to change course mid-month. When I overspend my budget in one category, I have to fix it as soon as YNAB imports the transaction. The act of taking away from one thing, like a new cell phone, to pay for another — maybe that beer that cost $40 for a 4-pack — brings the future into the Right Now. Because ADHD’ers live primarily in the Right Now, we need to view our spending choices this way if we want to meet our goals.

It’s not all about correcting mistakes, either. I gave my husband’s office cafeteria its own line in our budget because I wanted to keep an eye on it, but I also helped him start taking his own lunch. When he impulsively purchased supplies for his electronics hobby, I moved money from his cafeteria budget,  which had a surplus thanks to the bagged lunches. Instead of getting mad, I felt okay. I could see it right there. I didn’t worry that I was losing track and justifying three $50 expenses with one $50 savings somewhere else. I can’t stress enough the value of seeing it all in front of you for someone with ADHD. We don’t hold much in our heads at once, so we need a system like YNAB to lay it out for us.

If you’re struggling despite all this, have no fear. YNAB sends regular emails with tips and reminders to check out their online knowledge base.

Potential pitfalls

YNAB won’t 100% protect us from ourselves, nor will it work miracles the very next day. In fact, I recommend viewing your whole first month with YNAB as a throw-away. The app is collecting data, you’re taking a wild guess at your budget, and you’re not used to observing your spending this closely. I didn’t start loving YNAB until the 30-day mark, when I had a complete picture of my monthly cash flow. Until then, you’ll need to stick with it even if you feel confused or skeptical. Fortunately, YNAB offers all users their first month for free.

I also felt the lack of one of my lifelong budget standbys: the emergency buffer. Even as a teenager, I had a minimum balance in my head, and I didn’t let my savings account dip below it. YNAB expects you to budget to zero, meaning you’ve assigned a task to every dollar you have. Now, for sure, you can set a target balance for home and auto maintenance, or medical costs, and that can serve as an emergency buffer. That’s not how I operate. I had to add a line for “emergency buffer” to my budget, and set a target balance.

It’s a good thing, too. I use the emergency buffer to round everything out at the beginning of the month, before payday rolls around. People who get paid every week or two probably don’t get the same sense of scarcity when creating their monthly budget in YNAB. Freelancers and folks who get paid less often will need to build this into their use of the app, which I think is fine. We shouldn’t budget money we don’t have yet, after all.

Lastly, I wish the mobile app offered push notifications. For people inclined to forget about the app, notifications would offer a helpful nudge.

YNAB: the ADHDer’s path to budgeting happiness?

YNAB has transformed budgeting into an active process for our household in a way I never thought possible. A budget had always felt too restrictive for some folks in our family, and I stopped making one because I knew it wouldn’t be followed. With YNAB, I can course-correct on a daily basis, managing our money and making sure we have enough to cover our future expenses. Rather than guessing at whether we can afford a big-ticket purchase, I can throw it into the budget and see for sure.

Not only is the system itself usable, the app has a clean, simple interface that will appeal to almost everybody. It sounds nit-picky, but user experience is a big deal for people with ADHD. If the process is already intimidating, and making a budget usually is, we won’t force ourselves to do it with an app that’s hard to use.

Overall, I highly recommend YNAB. If you’re struggling to get a grip on your finances, give it a try! Use this link and you and I will both get a bonus free month.

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Review: HelloFresh meal delivery

Home-cooked meals nourish our bodies, our minds, and our budget. I have a pretty solid meal planning routine, but this summer I welcomed a little help from meal delivery service HelloFresh.

For the purpose of this review, I used HelloFresh for around six weeks. I received one free box , but all opinions are (as always) my own. This review is based on the veggie box. I tried to keep it concise, but I welcome your questions in the comments.

adhd-in-the-kitchen

Flavors

I enjoyed every HelloFresh meal. The flavors were on point for summer: fresh, light, and seasonal. Many meals were based on our household favorites — beans and rice, quesadillas, stir fry, etc. — but offered a new twist.

ADHD sabotages impulse control, so pre-portioned meals were a plus, especially after overeating on several vacations this summer. However, meals with greens had too many, and some salad-based meals felt too light to stand alone for dinner. I enjoy vegetarian meals, but that doesn’t mean I’m on a diet.

Families with allergies or extreme pickiness should know, HelloFresh doesn’t offer meal preferences unless you order the 3-meal Classic Box. My husband is mildly allergic to tree nuts, but I could usually leave the nuts off his portion.  I don’t recall receiving anything with peanuts, but many meals contained tree nuts, gluten, soy, and/or dairy.

Ease of preparation

HelloFresh boxes are stocked with everything you need to prepare your meals. Expect to stock staples like salt, pepper, and olive oil, but that’s about it. None of the recipes require a microwave (good, because we don’t have one), and all clean up easily without a dishwasher (don’t have one of those, either).

The meals were so easy to prepare, I took HelloFresh on vacation.  There’s no contract and it’s easy to change your delivery address week to week. Changing or pausing the service is no big deal (great for ADHD-affected families, where these details are often overlooked). I had a box delivered to our beach house and combined meals to make a two-course feast for friends.

While I thought preparation was a breeze, my husband found meal preparation “so stressful.” He’s my cooking opposite: he’s a novice, he’s fastidious, and his ADHD makes multi-tasking almost impossible. The recipes were easy, but some required multi-tasking: having two pots on a flame at once, broiling veggies while sauteeing onions, etc. That said, he successfully cooked 2.5 of the 3 meals I assigned him to cook without my help.


HelloFresh changed the way I think about meal preparation. Since the birth of our son, I’ve relied on big batches. I’ll make meat sauce for spaghetti in the crock pot, then freeze it in three-cup portions to use later. My rotation of big batch recipes is big enough to eliminate from-scratch cooking on weeknights.

With HelloFresh, I learned to simplify from-scratch meals and get them underway quickly. Each meal has its own labeled box with ready-to-use ingredients: tiny jars of honey, vinegar, or other condiments; peeled, wrapped cloves of garlic; a single carrot. I had no idea how much time I was spending collecting ingredients, putting containers away, and measuring tablespoons of oil! I plan to save some of those little jars and build my own meal boxes for non-HelloFresh nights.

Freshness

We had a few nasty heat waves last month, and some of our produce arrived in poor shape. On a particularly punishing afternoon, I opened my box to find the food inside already rotting. I’m glad I never ordered a box with meat inside. As long as temperatures didn’t exceed the low 90s, everything arrived fresh.

HelloFresh provided excellent support when I emailed a complaint about this. The representative who wrote back was prompt, friendly, and quite apologetic. She applied a credit to my account for the full cost of my box, even though many of the ingredients had been usable. However, I continued to receive distinctly un-fresh perishables on hot days. Throwing away food makes me sad, and I ended up pausing the service for a week because of the heat. (For reference, our delivery carrier in Baltimore is LaserShip — others’ experience may vary.)

The verdict

Overall, I think I’m hooked. HelloFresh adheres well enough to my pre-existing dietary preferences: simple meals, whole foods, no synthetic dyes, etc. Although I’d love more organics and whole grains, I’m willing to compromise because HelloFresh is so delicious, convenient, and economical.

Though it won’t magically transform a non-cook into the family chef, HelloFresh is a snap compared to a service like Blue Apron. It’s perfect for folks with ADHD who enjoy cooking because meal planning demands so much of our executive functioning.

Interested in trying HelloFresh for yourself? Use the code JACLYNP35 to get $35 off your first box. Tell me what you think (or ask me anything about my HelloFresh experience) in the comments!

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