You Need a Budget (YNAB) is the brainchild of Jesse Mecham (CEO) and his wife, Julie, who co-founded YNAB in 2004 while they were still students. Their proprietary approach to budgeting centers around 4 simple rules that can help you take control of your finances. The YNAB principals are: Give every dollar a job, Embrace your true expenses, Roll with the punches, Age your money.
The secret of this common sense, rules-based budgeting process centers around giving every dollar a “job” and then making sure YNAB helps you finish that job.
All the while, the tool helps you stay on top of your expenses and also offers flexibility to deal with the unforeseen, such as an unexpected illness or other unplanned expenses. That’s what makes this simple budgeting tool so effective for money management.
- Anyone who wants to get their finances in order
- Those using their first budgeting app
- Robust platform
- Commonsense approach, starting with “give every dollar a job”
- Offers bank-grade security
- Can easily pull in your financial information
- Offers free workshops and other educational opportunities
- Looks somewhat like a spreadsheet
- $80+ price point is expensive
Ready to take the proverbial bull by the horns and get your finances in shape once and for all? After all, no matter where you are in your life, whether you’re newly graduated from college, just married, on your third baby or nearing retirement, you can make a budget work for their advantage. YNAB to the rescue.
YNAB’s intuitive design (albeit pricey) platform allows you to connect directly with your bank/financial institution to securely import your transactions. You’ll never miss a step with YNAB, and it’s website tagline simply sums up what YNAB offers: “Stop living paycheck-to-paycheck, get out of debt and save more money.”
At first glance, YNAB’s website offers everything you need to know: Stop living paycheck to paycheck, get out of debt and save more money. Even using rudimentary budget spreadsheets is better than not having a budget at all, but why not upgrade to a 21st-century approach to money management? Read the rest of this YNAB review for a deep dive into this budgeting app.
Who’s YNAB For?
Maybe you struggle with managing your money or aren’t sure what it takes to get your spending under control. Maybe you and your spouse or partner jointly manage your money but are always at odds over how you should tackle debt. Either way, you’ll certainly find YNAB a great tool that facilitates joint management of your finances.
If you’ve used budget apps before, YNAB might be for you.
YNAB's Platform and Features
The co-founders of YNAB created it out of a need for a simple yet flexible approach to managing their finances. And those are the exact features that they incorporated into both YNAB’s desktop software and the latest web-based budgeting tool. YNAB’s platform offers some tangible benefits, which we’ve outlined below.
YNAB is a budgeting app that supports a broad array of devices across a number of operating environments.
What started as a simple budgeting tool largely inspired by spreadsheets has come a long way since YNAB 3 was launched in 2009 using the Adobe Air platform, and subsequently upgraded to YNAB 4 in 2012. The company’s flagship app, YNAB for Web, has now evolved into a multi-platform for personal budgeting.
YNAB is now available for Mac users, as an iPhone app and on the iPad. The app even integrates with your Apple watch and can talk to you through Alexa. The YNAB app opens up the platform to third-party developers to build add-on features that extend the power of the core app.
The platform’s clean design is still reminiscent of a spreadsheet, but one that has a lot more power and intelligence behind it. Over the years, the company has cultivated a sizable ecosystem of “trusted developers” whose tools can be used as optional add-ons to deliver a unique set of features to the platform, such as integrating debt calculators and adding multi-currency capability.
Typically, the interface will have options listed in the left sidebar that allow you to perform various functions, such as drilling down into the details of your month’s budget. Inflows, outflows and balances are readily summarized for an at-a-glance view, with the details logically categorized. The app lets you quickly expand or collapse views to offer more or less detail.
You don’t need to mess with security settings on your device to protect your data. YNAB offers built-in end-to-end data protection with bank-grade 128-bit encryption. YNAB uses industry-renowned infrastructure based on Amazon Web Services (AWS) technology. Believe it or not, that means that YNAB users have access to the same level of physical and data security as many government agencies, including the CIA.
YNAB servers, source code and staff are subject to regular third-party security audits. The company employs “good-guy” hackers to find weaknesses in the system and then fixes them quickly so your data is never vulnerable.
Your YNAB account password is one-way salted and hashed using multiple iterations of a key derivation function for passwords, according to YNAB’s website. YNAB prevents thieves from attempting to guess the password for an account many times in a row and helps you choose stronger passwords. Your data is also encrypted at rest when stored on YNAB’s servers.
Though YNAB uses industry-standard privacy and security standards and it is committed to never selling your data, the company does share your data with third-party contractors. Making a request or deleting an account is simple through options in the Settings menu, but YNAB could hold onto your data for anywhere between 18 months and up to 3 years following that request.
Real-Time Access to Your Finances
Link your accounts at your financial institutions and get real-time access to income and spending data. As you set up login credentials to access your banking data, YNAB does not store your personal account details on YNAB’s infrastructure.
Financial Data Sharing
Cooperate on budgeting and never risk “overspending” by mistake. You’ll get multi-platform support with any device, and data stays automatically and consistently synced between devices. These include web, iPhone, Android, iPad and Apple Watch. YNAB also works with Amazon’s Alexa for more advanced users who wish to integrate budgeting with voice activation.
Data downloads. You can connect directly with your bank/financial institution to automatically (and securely!) import your transactions. However, if you still aren’t comfortable linking accounts with the web app, you can use YNAB’s file-based import function and mobile app for transaction updates.
Data exports. The YNAB app allows you to save your data as a CSV (comma separated variable) file, making it available for import into Excel or other accounting applications that support CSV data uploads.
Wellness Program. YNAB’s Wellness Program is a great feature aimed at corporate clients and their employees. This program encourages employers to support budgeting and money-management among their teams, leading to less money stress and more productivity.
One feature that seems slightly inadequate is YNAB’s 34-day free trial period. This doesn’t provide nearly enough time for anyone — especially someone new to budgeting online — to assess whether the tool is worth using for the long run.
YNAB's Ease of Use
New to budgeting? YNAB uses a simple and easy-to-understand approach that revolves around the 4 rules it has set in place. To start off, you’ll have multiple ways to log in and can even use your social media login credentials.
You don’t need to log into your bank account each time you want data imported into your budget. YNAB makes it quick and easy to directly import your financial transactions. The new YNAB app also supports over 12,000 banks, so linking your financial institution to the app is definitely possible.
Right off the bat, you’ll become more aware of your spending habits because the YNAB API will give you text alerts about how you’re doing with your budget. Great reporting tools, such as graphs and pie charts, make it easier to see in a quick snapshot of how you’re doing relative to your goals. If you need help warding off “temptation,” YNAB allows you to easily block access to sites (like Amazon) when you’ve eaten through your monthly “fun money” budget.
The “Manage Payees” function is a neat way to quickly and effortlessly combine non-descriptive payee names and categorize them into the appropriate budget category.
YNAB also easily accommodates non-periodic income. YNAB will work for you even if you don’t receive a monthly paycheck. It easily handles irregular and non-monthly pay cycles as well.
Finally, you can even easily “gift” someone a subscription to the tool. This makes perfect sense if you know someone who could use a little help with their personal finances but isn’t sure how to get it.
The latest version of YNAB is available to existing customers as an upgrade with a 10% discount. While new users will pay $83.99 per year, existing users can upgrade for a lifetime discounted subscription price of $75.59 per year. Still, with other free budgeting tools available, an $80+ price point is expensive.
Did you happen to purchase YNAB 4, the desktop version, in 2016? You can upgrade to the new web app and get a 6-month free subscription. Whether you’re new to YNAB or upgrading from an older version to the latest release, you’ll still receive the 34-day free trial.
YNAB also makes it easy for students to get into the spirit of budgeting. The software is free for students for a whole year.
YNAB's Customer Support
YNAB offers free workshops that last just 20 minutes at a time. You’ll also get a support forum with access to first-line assistance where you can search community posts or ask questions from other users about any issues you’re having with the platform. You can even report bugs or request new features through this portal.
YNAB also offers standard email support, unlimited live support from team members and plenty of free learning resources on YouTube.
When it comes to making the best use of the tool, YNAB’s customer support team is a reliable resource. You don’t even need to buy the software to attend YNAB’s free online classes.
The best way to save money is to watch how you spend it, so YNAB could be your best bet. It’s a personal budgeting tool grounded in sound financial planning principles. Its simple design and clean user interface make it ideal for anyone new to budget management. But while the tool does implement many security best practices, it’s still missing a key safeguard: multi-factor authentication.
And while the price point for its annual subscription does seem a bit steep (compared to similar-featured free tools), YNAB does deliver value for money once you decide you want to take control of your finances.
Bottom line: With all that YNAB has to offer, it’s worth creating a 34-day free account to explore the tool.
Sandi Heilman Gettle
Took a little time to learn but once discovered we are able to plan our finances with no surprise events adding stress. I love this system as it is more thorough than any other I have tried. You may have to spend some time to follow the instructions.