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Review of YNAB


I’ve now been using the You Need A Budget (YNAB) software for two full months and have to say that it has been a game changer.

Although I really liked the idea of YNAB (and wrote about it way back last summer), I wasn’t initially psyched with the idea of ditching my old budgeting software (ahem, a modest excel spreadsheet) in favor of their fancy-pants software. I watched a few of the getting started videos and understood all the concepts but was held back for a couple reasons.

  1. First and foremost (and what I wrote about it here) is the fact that I found it challenging until I was living on last month’s income. I know you can start at any time, and there are tips and techniques for budgeting when you have a variable income (like hubs and I have), but I just didn’t love it.
  2. The second reason was simply because I hadn’t really “committed” yet to the idea of it. It was very different from my previous budgeting method (which had been much more rigid and “set”), and since I hadn’t committed yet to YNAB (meaning, I was just doing the trial and unsure if I’d buy), I didn’t want to abandon my old budgeting techniques yet. That means I was basically committing myself to completing TWO completely different budgeting spreadsheets simultaneously (my old excel one AND the new YNAB one). It was, frankly, overwhelming. So I quit my trial early and didn’t look back for months.

In January I decided it would be a good time to give it a second try. I re-watched some of the beginner videos and emailed customer support to see if they’d give me another free month trial (They did. For the record they were super helpful and friendly).

Well, folks, I’m two months deep and I’m never looking back!!!

So what’s so different about YNAB? (again, I’m comparing to a simple excel spreadsheet)

  •  The constant back-and-forth between screens. I was used to having everything in a single excel sheet (I had a different page for each month), so initially it felt cumbersome to have to switch back and forth between the budget screen and the accounts screen (where you actually log all income and expenditures). It took some getting used to and was something I didn’t like initially. But now that I’ve got the hang of it, I love that I can easily see just the budget and compare between recent months (you can easily move forward or backward to look at your current month, past months, future months, etc.) It’s a nice and easy little comparison.
  • YNAB allows you to set up savings goals inside of the program. I’m not quite ready to give up my Capital One 360 accounts….but YNAB sure makes them seem pretty pointless. One of the features in YNAB allows you to set up savings goals. Basically you can allocate money toward each of your savings goals (e.g., savings for Roth IRA, saving for cruise 2016, etc.) and your rainy day funds (e.g., savings for emergency fund, dental/vision, annual fees), so you can really easily see how much you’ve got in each category. I’ve used Capital One 360 in the past because I like to be able to have my money saved in multiple different categories, but with YNAB you don’t need to literally have the money separated into separate accounts. You can have it all in one account and, as long as you reference your budget, you know what all the money is for (so it doesn’t just seem like a pile of money; you already know every dollar has a job or a purpose.
  • YNAB’s flexibility. This is probably the biggest game-changer, so far. YNAB allows for such fluidity between budget categories. I used to have very rigidly set categories that were identical from month-to-month. With YNAB my categories change based on my monthly needs. Need new clothes? Allocate money to the clothes category (I used to have one “catch all” category named miscellaneous that clothing would fall under). Spend too much money on household goods? Take away some money from the restaurant fund. Have money leftover from a lower-than-expected electric bill? Add more money toward debt payments! So extremely easy-peasy and really lets things be fluid and flexible between and within months.

I also know there are some really cool features I still haven’t even gotten into yet! You can run reports and make graphs from excel, but the reports feature in YNAB is just so seamless and easy! You don’t have to program any commands or know computer-lingo – you just press the reports tab and click on the type of chart you want to see (spending by category, by payee, spending trend, etc. etc. etc.)

Everything about it is so user-friendly and incredibly well planned and thought-out. One of my best friends is a designer (she does architectural design, specifically), and the YNAB program just seems like something a designer would have had a hand in. It’s not just created by some finance geeks (term “geeks” used affectionately). It serves a family’s personal finance needs, but is done so in a way that is elegant and efficient in design. I love efficiency. And who doesn’t love a little elegance? ; )

There are some cons though…

From my own experience, I would say that YNAB is not really something you can pick up overnight. It can be a bit overwhelming (this is coming from someone who already had a pretty decent budget, and I imagine it’d be even harder for someone starting with absolutely no budget). I would also bet that I’m not the only person who required a couple different tries for the program to really “stick.” In fact, I would say that if you’re interested, you might as well go into it expecting to have some growing pains and a little bit of a learning curve as you get used to the software.

But in spite of all that, I can honestly say I would recommend the program. Even with the cost (and BELIEVE ME, I was reluctant to shell over the money for the program and YES I did pay for it. In no way is this a sponsored post), I think it’s money well spent.

You can try the program free for a month (see here).

And if you’re a college student, you can even get the program 100% free!!! (see here). Can’t beat free!

Or, if you’re not a college student but are ready to invest in the YNAB program, maybe consider purchasing through my referral link here. You get $6 off the program (10% off the $60 price tag), and I get $6 for referring you. It’s a win-win!

If you’re going to invest in the program, I highly encourage you check into some of the free online classes. They even give away an activation code for free at the end of every live class (so you can try to win one for free….I’m never that lucky!)

If you’ve used YNAB, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the program! What is your favorite part of the software? What took some getting use to?


Texan at heart; Arizonan on paper. Lover of running, cheese, camping, and family (fur-family included!). Blogger, motivated to get out of debt YESTERDAY! Follow along with my journey!

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  • Reply Anon |

    Isn’t paying for a budget counterintuitive to getting out of debt? Has your budgeting really improved with the new system? Do you spend less at the grocery store because you have better software? I think the money could better be spent elsewhere.

    • Reply Anglea |

      Yes, this program does cost you money. I personally have been using YNAB for about a year. I am an accountant of 20 years and have never really used a budget. I always figured out everything in my head or on a spreadsheet as was mentioned above. The only problem with those methods was the information was not readily in front of me. Of course, I had everything at home on my spreadsheet but not with me when I was in the grocery store. With YNAB’s mobile app you are able too look up and see how much money you have available in each category instantly. Too me that is totally worth the amount of the program. For example, if you were to find a great deal on a particular item at the store you could look at your budget to see if you have money in place to purchase that item. This will save you money in the long run do to getting that item on sale and also save you from overspending if you are guessing how much might have been in that category on your spreadsheet at home. Sometimes the worth of a program is not always monetary it is peace of mind.

  • Reply Janelle B |

    I’ve been using YNAB for years, so long that before YNAB my budget consisted of paying bills and then using whatever was leftover for our monthly expenses, which conveniently swelled to absorb every available dollar. At that time we were nearly out of credit card debt and had a very modest ($500) savings. Once I started with YNAB, my whole mindset toward budgeting changed. I was appalled by our habits and resolved to get some control. it took awhile – almost a year as I recall – before I finally felt like I was actually budgeting versus just tracking expenses.

    YNAB has shown me clearly how we are spending our money, where the trouble spots lie (eating out was a biggie for us), and lets me see clearly how our daily spending habits impact our long-term goals. Right now we are having major landscaping done – like 4000 sf of concrete poured – and I’m not really stressing because I know we had the money saved for this project and it is affordable. Actually transferring it from savings to pay for it has been another story, but that’s part of my own complicated relationship with money talking.

    I don’t think you will regret spending the money on the software, Ashley. You might also check out the forums – it’s chock full of friendly, supportive people who are eager to help.

  • Reply Alyssa |

    I love, love, LOVE YNAB!!! I have been using it for over a year now, and it is amazing how much money I have saved. Now I’m 25, debt-free, with a 3-month e-fund, contributing 15% of my income into retirement, and currently saving money for a new-to-me car.

    For those cynical about spending money on budgeting software, trust me when I say that it is WORTH IT. You will make that money up in your first month, I promise. No other program has made me more mindful of my spending, and I can honestly say (and I’m not an employee either!) that I will be able to retire early thanks to YNAB.

    Glad to hear you’re using it! It is a total life changer!

    • Reply Ashley |

      That’s awesome about you knocking out your debt, building savings, retirement, etc. Great job! I totally agree about YNAB being a huge life changer. I was so reluctant to shell over the money initially (maybe part of the reason I’ve just sat on the idea for nearly a year), but I honestly think it’s been worth every penny!

  • Reply April |

    Another YNAB-lover here! And another upside/downside: the Forum! Upside because there are so many great people there, and you can learn so much from one another! Downside because it can be a huge time-suck 🙂 But seriously, join us there! I’m @aprilabtbalance on the forum.
    And to the person who questioned paying for budgeting software: I hear you, I totally do. And I resisted for quite a few months. But it easily pays for itself within weeks.
    Oh, and did I forget to mention? I’m now credit card debt FREE!

    • Reply Ashley |

      Wooo!!! What a great milestone to be credit card debt free!!!! I’ll check out the forums, thanks for the heads up!

  • Reply Alexandria |

    I haven’t used YNAB but I am an accountant and do use Quicken. I can’t imagine running my personal finances without software since I am so used to those tools at work. Anyway, the cost is comparable but I guarantee that I save more money than I would ever spend on the program. I have no idea how you could ever make a mistake in your check register, forget a bill, forget a bank account, etc. & the beauty is that I probably spend less time than most keeping track of it all.

    I think people are very love/hate with these programs. They love them or it just doesn’t jive with them. I see a lot of penny-wise pound-foolish too. I’ve met many people who think I am a moron that I would pay for this. Their loss.

  • Reply Kerstin |

    I LOVE YNAB!!! There were certainly some growing pains but we’ve been using for a year and a half now and it is a gamechanger. (I was also one of the lucky ones to win an a free activation code during an online class-but I also know that if you can’t afford to pay the fee and let them know that they will let you keep using it for free until you are able to afford the fee. They are great like that. I spend FAR more then $60 (which is the cost) on random crap that it has been well worth it, even if I hadn’t won it for free. 🙂 The YNAB forums are a wealth of information and support as well. Go YNAB!

  • Reply paris013 |

    Hi Ashley,

    when you first started talking about YNAB I checked out the site, then the next time I signed up for the trial. similarly to you, it took me a couple chances to figure it out and understand the concept. It just requires a total mindset adjustment but I think I’m finally getting it.
    First suggestion, absolutely watch the getting started videos first, otherwise you’ll be overwhelmed and can’t appreciate the functionality of the software.

    I’ve tried for years to budget using Mint, but it just never happened the way it should. I had a hard time getting categories organized and there’d always be monies that were spent trailing at the end and not in the budget. It doesn’t have a zero based system so I’d have to look in 3 different places to see my overall income (minus) budgeted.

    Before getting into YNAB, I considered the lack of “bank connectivity” to be a real downside. Then I realized, that’s what gives you the control and accountability for your budget.

    Just a couple weeks in and I’m considering it a win. 🙂

So, what do you think ?