I wrote the following interview as an example of a customer spotlight, a unique form of content writing that helps businesses sell more of their products online.
This spotlight features Ryan, who is an avid fan of YNAB (“You Need a Budget”). YNAB is the popular budgeting app that has helped countless people take control of their finances.
As you can see, Ryan was enthusiastic about sharing his love for the software!
(*YNAB is not a client of mine, nor was I paid to write this article. I’m just showing it as an example of how to use customer spotlights / testimonials as part of your anti-marketing strategy.)
“YNAB Keeps You Honest”
At age 30, Ryan has been using YNAB’s budgeting app for just over 2 years, and he’s a true fan.
He and his wife have three kids. They’re constantly looking for ways to improve their budgeting, and get the most out of their dollars, while keeping themselves honest and accountable.
YNAB helps them achieve their goal. With the ability to budget, see your money in visual graphs, and set goals, YNAB offers anyone a simple way to take control of their money each month. The company produces plenty of educational content (which doubles as anti-marketing content).
The “four rules,” created by founder Jesse Mecham, are the backbone of the app.
I asked Ryan to share his experience as a customer using the app, and he generously agreed to do so.
Michelle Lopez (ML) #1: How did you first hear about YNAB?
Ryan: I used to spend a lot of time on the r/frugal and r/personalfinance subreddits.
As far as I know, my first interaction with YNAB was in late 2014 when someone on r/frugal linked to this blog post: https://www.youneedabudget.com/dont-hide-behind-my-rules-you-have-one-priority/.
I was a big Dave Ramsey fan back then, and the idea of ruthless budgeting was (and still is) very appealing. I loved it so much that I shared it with friends.
ML #2: What do you do for a living?
Ryan: I’m a training administrator right now for a mid-sized cybersecurity company. Most of my work history is in sales and business ops and analysis.
ML #3: Which YNAB content did you read/listen to, and what did you like about it? — especially anything that made a positive difference for you.
Ryan: YNAB does a great job of presenting content in different modalities to reach different audiences. I have watched quite a few Whiteboard Wednesday YouTube videos and like those quite a bit.
I’m not as big a fan of the YNAB podcast, because they’re usually only a few minutes long. But Jesse Mecham did interview Mr. Money Mustache a few years ago and I found that impactful (though only after I started reading MMM’s blog).
I’d say that the Four Rules article that I linked to in question 1 is still my all-time favorite. The blog is generally good and they have a lot of different people submitting material, but the ones written by (or at least attributed to) Jesse, especially the earlier ones like that Four Rules post, are my favorites.
ML #4: What similar apps, software, or budgeting methods were you using (if any) before you discovered YNAB?
Ryan: I created my own budget in Excel before YNAB. The categories were based on Dave Ramsey’s sample budget from The Total Money Makeover, and I just added a bunch of formulas and conditional formatting to sum up expenses and track our debt reduction.
I used to read and listen to Dave’s radio show and Howard Dayton’s podcasts, and they influenced my budgeting mentality a lot.
We follow a hybrid of Howard Dayton’s Money Map and Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps as our long-term planning philosophy, with YNAB being the tool for execution of that philosophy. Currently I also use Personal Capital to track my net worth, but I’ve never used Mint or EveryDollar or any of the other apps out there.
ML #5: What made you finally decide to purchase the YNAB software?
Ryan: There is a lot of love for YNAB in the personal finance blogosphere and forums and such. It’s pretty hard to ignore. I love Excel, I’ve been a sales analyst for years, but after three years of occasionally cheating the numbers and finding that it couldn’t do everything I wanted the way that I wanted, I decided to try out the software.
The 34-day trial is great, and I appreciate that they check in but don’t get spammy during it. Also, my wife and I were approaching the end of our non-mortgage debt, having paid off our student loans and consumer debt, so there was a little bit of wiggle room in the budget for an inexpensive software subscription.
ML #6: How has YNAB’s budgeting app changed your life (if applicable)?
Ryan: I would say that the budgeting app has helped reduce the stress that budgeting caused by making it easier to budget ahead. It’s also great to have the budget available on my phone or any computer with an internet connection, because I might just be someone who looks at the budget every day and occasionally more often than that.
ML #7: One of YNAB’s core principles is to age your money, so that you can “live on last month’s income.” Did you ever experience any challenges with this?
Ryan: I’d imagine that for a lot of people the difficulty is building up the savings without spending it. That part was easy for me because at the time, I worked a job where a big chunk of my salary was in quarterly bonuses, so I just saved one bonus once and made that my buffer.
In my opinion, once you shift the mindset from spending everything now to saving for the future, it’s not really that hard. When my current month paycheck comes in I don’t even think of it as being applicable for current month expenses, I get excited that I can start budgeting for next month! But I get that I’m kind of weird in how much I like budgeting.
And seeing the compounding return of budgeting into the future is really gratifying. The “Age of Money” feature in YNAB is cool, because it allows you to see (by one calculation, at least) how long money sits in your accounts before you spend it. Theoretically I’m spending money now that I made four months ago.
ML #8: How has using YNAB’s budgeting software made you feel about your finances?
Ryan: With Excel I’d get to maybe day 20 of the month and say, “Okay, these numbers aren’t working out like I expected, let’s just stop tracking and I’ll do better next month.”
I did that more times than I’d want to admit over three years.
YNAB keeps you honest because it’s all coming directly from the bank — the accounting just doesn’t work if you ignore a week! So I’d say having that honesty, “rolling with the punches” in YNAB speak, is actually much more empowering than cowering in fear of your shortcomings for 10 days at the end of each month and then guiltily pretending that nothing was wrong when the first day of the next month rolled around. So again, it’s the marriage of methodology and technology that makes YNAB so powerful and empowering.
ML #9: What cool financial goals have you reached, thanks to using YNAB?
Ryan: My wife began law school after we started using the software and, in spite of scholarships, she still pays several thousand dollars a semester for that. YNAB has helped to smooth out those costs by amortizing the expenses, which has been a lifesaver.
The biggest goal we’ve achieved has been steadily increasing our savings rate as we look to financial independence at some point in the future. We just got up to putting 20% of our gross salary in 401k in addition to saving in 529s for our three kids, and those goals were much easier to achieve by budgeting with YNAB. We were also able to amass four month’s living expenses in an emergency fund, thanks to YNAB.
ML #10: What’s your favorite part about YNAB’s budgeting software, and WHY?
Ryan: Why don’t you just ask me to pick my favorite child!?! I think the biggest benefit of the YNAB software is how effectively it allows you to live out the four rules, which are extremely sound budgeting principles. You really can’t disassociate using YNAB from adopting the rules.
But if you want me to be more specific, I’d have to go with time-based goal setting. It allows you to pick a point in the future, set the amount of dollars you want in a particular category, and breaks down how much you need to save each month for that. It’s a simple amortization concept and you could obviously do the math on your own very easily. But I find that having the category in there, along with the visual aid that the category turns orange when it’s underbudgeted, is a really good reminder to think long-term.
It’s truly budgeting vs. just expense tracking (like with Mint or Personal Capital), and it keeps me more honest than when I was just using my big fancy Excel spreadsheet. And I love that it smooths out the bumps caused by those big, infrequent expenses like car insurance (I pay every 6 months) or tuition.
ML #11: What are your hobbies?
Ryan: I have three kids – what are these hobbies you speak of? The closest thing I have to a hobby is that, during those few hours that I’m awake and the kids aren’t, I like to read as much as I can. History, economics, childrearing, religion, are all interesting to me. The last fiction book I read was over a year ago, but it was Dune and it was excellent! I also play music from time to time but not as much as I’d like.
ML #12: Anything else you’d like to add?
I’d say that about covers it. YNAB is a great software and I think their mission is even greater. Their most recent April Fools’ was about them being acquired, and I really hope that never happens. Venture Capital has ruined too many great software companies.
Learn more about how to create great content (including spotlights) by reading Chapter 6 of my book, “The Anti-Marketing Manifesto: How to Sell Without Being a Sellout.”
Are you a business owner looking for help with your marketing strategy? Check out about my Anti-Marketing Jumpstart Kit here… or feel free to reach out to me to schedule a quick 10-minute Zoom call to discuss your business.