Keeping Afloat with a Budget


Walking into this guy’s office, I just knew I owed him money.

The floor was bare concrete. He stood behind a large, old metal desk. A sinking feeling of guilt mingled with dread dropped into my chest. A bit apprehensive, I approached him pretending I could pay it, without an inkling how much the bill would be.

He slid the small piece of recycled paper across the desk. The amount seemed to transform before my eyes, first $220.00 then the blurry scribbles became clear– $420.00.

How could this be? The image of my check register with a balance of only $220.00 flashed before my eyes.

“Can I see it?” I asked. Trying to reconcile the guilt of sinking my bank account. I secretly thought. “Hopefully it’s wonderful, and worth the havoc I just brought on myself.”

“Sure,” he answered quickly, “It all came together really nice. You’re really getting a bargain.”

I followed him into a back room where he proudly pointed to the contraption fashioned into sort of a cage. An open top and sides revealed a duck sitting on a perch. Under it was several colorful flat glass ovals: one blue, one red and the third a dull yellow. They were all staggered in hight and lit up when the duck pecked at it–which he was doing quite musically. The sounds reminded me of a large deep toned wind chimes.

Flowing out of his cage was a large waterside, with water that ran like a stream along the span of the wall. Obviously, for the duck to float down for his pleasure.

“A duck?” I just spent $420.00, and sunk my bank account for a duck?

“Is he as smart as a parrot?” I asked. Remembering how much we loved Demetri, our African Grey.

No answer.

Mercifully, I woke up. Resisting the urge to psychoanalyze myself, I started hunting for new budgeting software.

Although you’re probably wanting to launch into disturbing interpretations of that dream, as tempting as it is… first help me sort through a couple of the programs I found.

We live in Dave Ramsey country: passing his Finacial Peace plaza on a regular basis, attending church with several of his employees, and his radio show has held the prime-time talk radio spot since I’ve lived in Tennessee. Obviously, his work has impacted our life and the culture where we live. It goes without saying that I’ve read Financial Peace years ago and more recently the audio version of More Than Enough. All of which, I credit to the fact that we didn’t go completely under last September.

However, an all-cash system is not an option for us. With the majority of our children living in another state, we are often traveling separately. Paying bills online, and each of us having a working knowledge of our budget and expenses is critical.

Here’s what I’m currently looking at. (No I haven’t actually started one–which explains the duck.)

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1. You Need a Budget–YNAB

Their concept is much the same as Ramsey, the key difference is that it’s based on an electronic envelope system with the added goal of Rule #4 “Live on Last Month’s Income.” The focus here seems to be: Squeezing every dollar, savings, building in flexibility, and stopping the cycle of living paycheck to paycheck.


  • One time purchase.
  • They offer a 34 day free trial.
  • The budget is created on the computer, then you have the option of phone apps you can sync with it.
  • You can have more than one phone linked, so everyone knows the where the money is going supposed to go.
  • YNAB offers free online live courses on budgeting.


  • It’s not free.
  • Everything must be entered manually.
  • Nothing is connected to an actual account. (This could be a pro.)
  • You can only budget money that is currently in your account, no projecting.

2. Mvelopes

Several years ago I tried Mvelopes. It has changed quite a bit since then. Now they offer a free program along side their paid “premium” use. Mvelopes, obviously, is also an electronic version of the envelope system. The focus here  1) get out of debt 2) track all spending. Now they added on financial coaching, for which they are offering a free one time counseling call.


  • It has a free element.
  • It is linked to your actual accounts. (This could be a con.)
  • It traces all electronic debits from your account, and automatically takes it out of your “envelope.”
  • Has iPhone and Android apps.


  • There’s a real commercial feel to the interface with ads.
  • You’re entering all your pass codes into the site to connect your accounts.

A program embedded into my head, sending an electric surge through my skull if I fail to adhere to my budget would probably work best. 

Until that’s available –what do you suggest?