Zeroing out the budget

There may be times you need to start your month over without going so far as erasing transactions in the register and previous months budgeted numbers via a full Fresh Start. This can prove useful in a number of different situations or budget approaches.

  • You don't have a full buffer in place yet and need to budget with every income.
    Budgeting paycheck-to-paycheck? This one's for you.
  • You've gotten behind with the budget and want to get back at it easily.
    We've all done it and it's okay! Getting back to budgeting is the right thing to do!
  • You've made some changes in past months that have drastically changed the current month.
    Changed your mind on what to categorize some older purchases as? This can help.
  • You imported a large amount of historical data and need to clean things up.
    Whether you brought transactions in from a bank or some other software, clean up is needed.
  • You prefer to not allow any category balances to roll forward, positive, or negative.
    It's your budget and if you want every month to end all tidied up and clean then here's how.

Before you start please be sure to go to File>Save a Version which will save your budget as it is now if you're not happy with the end results. To get back to the budget as it was before you started use File>Load Another Version and load the version you previously saved based on the time and date from the list of budgets.

Each of the situations above take advantage of the Quick Budget tool built into YNAB. You can activate it by clicking on the lightning bolt in the header at the top of the month. Once it pops down you'll be presented with a series of choices. The ones that matter here are the 2 near the bottom of the list.

Balance to 0.00

This automatically budgets an amount needed into each empty budget cell only in the month below to effectively zero out each category balance in that month. If the category balance was a positive amount then the excess will be moved to the "Available to Budget" at the top of the budget in that month. If the category balance was negative then it will budget more to it effectively reducing any money that may have been in the "Available to Budget"to begin with.

Once you click on it in the list you will see the warning below. Using it will only affect EMPTY budget cells in the current month.

0.00 (Zero all budgeted amounts for this month)

This will replace all budgeted amounts only in the month below with zero (deleting any amounts already in place in that month alone) sending any excess money into the "Available to Budget"at the top of the budget in that month. The results of this action will cause the cetgory balances to change if there was a number already budgeted in that category.

Once you click on it in the list you will see the warning below. Using it will affect ALL budget cells in the current month regardless of what may or may not be in them now.

Note: Both of these selections will first warn you that the action you are about to take cannot be undone but this only refers to the lack of a direct undo feature. As long as you used File>Save a Version prior to getting started then you will be able to undo it by way of File>Load Another Version and picking the time stamped budget from the list that you first saved if you don't like the results.

Also, you'll find these two tools in the order listed above on the Quick Budget list but you'll often need to use them in the opposite order to accomplish the task at hand. For simplicity we'll refer to them as "Balance to Zero" and "Zero all budgeted amounts" in the specific approaches below.

Zero out the entire month at hand

The following 2 steps will wipe your current month's budget clean placing all of the money into the "Available to Budget" at the top of the budget column allowing you to then budget that money to the jobs you need it to do for you.

  1. First "Zero all budgeted amounts"
  2. Then "Balance to Zero"

How these affect the "Available to Budget" number

Each of these tools may send money to the "Available to Budget" at the top of that month or take money out of it depending upon whether the category balance was positive or negative to begin with and whether or not the number budgeted to the budget cell was positive or negative to begin with.

Ultimately though if you choose to not budget the money from the "Available to Budget" after completing the 2 steps above to zero out the entire month at hand then that number will automatically roll forward to the next month where you can see it at the top of the budget month next to "Not Budgeted in [name of previous month]".

Zero out only the empty budget cells

This approach requires you to first step down through your budget to only delete the categories you'd like to zero out instead of all of them. Once you've deleted the budget amounts you want to affect then you can just use "Balance to Zero" to clean those category balances up.

Fix categories you didn't intend to "Balance to Zero"

If you accidently zeroed out a category that you wanted to stay in place, such as a rainy day fund you were building up, you can just delete the negative budgeted number that the "Balance to Zero" tool put in the budget cell. Doing so will allow the category balance to go back to the amount it reached in the previous month.

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