Tracking irregular paycheque deductions in YNAB4

We use You Need A Budget (YNAB) for our budgeting needs. (Aside: we love it!)

There’s a particular way we decided to track my food spending at work that takes me a minute (or three) to remember every time I sit down to reconcile the budget, so I’m recording the steps for me, and the reasoning for anyone else who might want to follow this route.


If I buy food at work, the only way to pay is to have the amount taken off my next paycheque.

This used to cause a problem for us because my food spending was often being tracked against our budget line in the month after I bought the food, since we couldn’t track it until I received my paycheque/stub.

The problem was sometimes even a bit worse since my paycheques are counted as next month’s income in YNAB. This caused problems where I could have bought food in October, but the cheque would come in November, and only be counted towards our December budget.

Our ideal state was to continue counting income as being for the next month, but to count all food spending for the month in which I actually bought the meal.

To achieve this we added an on-budget Credit Card-type account for my cafeteria card at work, so that:

  • YNAB will emulate the “buy now pay later” nature of the cafeteria card
  • food spending is tracked for the month in which it is spent
  • paycheques can be easily counted as Next Month’s Income when they come in
  • when a paycheque comes in, a payment is made to the Cafeteria Card account to cover any food purchases deducted from that paycheque

What this looks like in practice:

  • I buy a delicious stir-fry at work on Nov 21 for $5.95
  • I swipe my physical cafeteria card in the cafeteria
  • I enter $5.95 into YNAB as an Eating Out transaction on Nov 21, paying with my Cafeteria Card account within YNAB
  • when my next paycheque comes out on Dec 4, it is for $994.05 instead of $1000, since the $5.95 has been deducted

When the cheque/paystub actually arrives, I enter it into YNAB:

  • enter the actual amount of the cheque in Inflow (994.05), as a Split transaction
  • first split: as a transfer to the Cafeteria Card account, enter the amount deducted from that cheque for food into Outflow (5.95)
  • second split: put the amount remaining to assign (1000) into Inflow as Next Month’s Income

Entering the cheque into YNAB

I go in this order because as soon as the $5.95 is entered YNAB tells me that $1000 is left, so I never have to actually do the calculation myself to determine what my pay would have been before the deductions.

Why this works for us:

  • spending is tracked in the month of the spend, so we always know how much we really have in our Eating Out line
  • income and spending is accurately reflected, instead of just counting the cheque amount as income when the cheque comes, which would ignore my food spending
    • this means YNAB is showing my true net income
  • I get to avoid the tedium of manually calculating the gross amount on my paystub every time, and figuring out how I’m going to accurately add that and the food amounts weeks after the fact

BTW, the first YNAB link above is a referral link — if you buy using it you get $6 off, and I get $6 from them as a thank you. They have a free 34-day trial you should check out first, though.

EDIT: 30 minutes after publishing this I found out a new version of YNAB is in the works. That new version will deprecate how YNAB currently deals with credit cards. Title now reflects that this is applicable for YNAB4 (and likely 3 — I can’t remember how it dealt with credit cards).

Financial Terms Translation Key (Canadian Edition)

Much of the financial investment and savings advice I come across is U.S.-centric, so I always have to ask myself things like “what’s the Canadian equivalent to a 401(k), again?”

Here’s my reference sheet. Making it public to hopefully help some other Canadians interested in personal financial management.

Note: This is an incredibly basic “equivalence” list. Different laws dictate how each investment vehicle works in each country (and even different states/provinces). This is just how the overall concept of each vehicle generally equates in my mind with many many caveats involved (see the TFSA vs Roth IRA, for instance).

U.S. term Canadian term Definition
IRA RRSP/RSP pre-tax vehicle can hold non-cash investments; annual limit carries over.
Roth IRA TFSA after-tax investment vehicle with annual contribution limit; in Canada it can hold cash and the annual limit carries over.
529 plan RESP pre-tax contributions that save toward education goals of recipient of the plan
401(k) defined contribution pension Wikipedia article
401(a) defined benefit pension Wikipedia article

Terms I have yet to match are left blank. If I miss or misstate something in this table, let me know in the comments and I’ll update it.