YNAB 2016 Budget App Review

YNAB Logo

YNAB (You Need a Budget) is the best budgeting system I’ve ever used. But – I won’t be subscribing. This is clearly not a sponsored post.

I am a personal finance and budget geek. I’ve kept track of my spending for over 20 years. Until recently, I had alternated between Quicken and Microsoft Money for PC, buying updates every couple of years. I finally settled on the last edition of Microsoft Money, the Sunset edition. It no longer makes sense to be tied to a desktop or laptop software product. I wanted to choose an app.

I rejected Mint because you have to allow it to access your bank accounts. This contravenes your agreement with your bank not to share your password. Therefore, your bank will not cover you if your account is breached. So, I needed an app that would allow me to input my data manually. YNAB allows the choice of accessing your bank accounts or entering your data manually. I signed up for a 34-day free trial. After that, the cost is $5/month or $50/year USD.

The most spectacular feature of YNAB is its comprehensive training program about household budgeting for beginners. It covers every aspect, and is very motivating. You can read the material on their website or watch their videos. All the info is available even if you don’t use their products. I have probably internalized their methods, which are not unlike any successful family budget, just better written 🙂

The goal of using the YNAB system is to bank a month’s income and to pay monthly bills with income earned last month. That way you never have to wait until payday or month end to pay a regular bill.

It took me two hours to set up my own budget on YNAB. They offer some pre-selected budget categories and lines, such as “Immediate Obligations – Groceries” and “True Expenses – Home Maintenance.” You can add, delete or modify them. You set up bank accounts (automatically or manually) and then allocate all the money in them to expenses or savings goals so that every dollar is budgeted. As new money comes in, you allocate every nickel of that too.

YNAB Colours

Both the online version and the app have wonderful displays. You can see your budget status at a glance. It uses a traffic-light colour scheme to show areas that are going well, OK or poorly.

YNAB Overspend

YNAB doesn’t use shaming – if you overspend in a category, they encourage you to take it from another so your budget balances every month.  That’s realistic – not every category limit is cast in stone.

The only thing that confused me in YNAB is that when you save toward a goal, it leaves the money in your bank account, so it looks like the money is still there and your balance is high. You need to check your Goals Progress to see that some of your bank balance has been “reserved” for special purposes.

I think YNAB is an excellent program for learning to budget and seeing your budget status when you are “out and about” making purchase decisions.

What I don’t like? The product was recently upgraded from Version 4 and not all of the features are functional. Because I’m a new user on a trial subscription, I don’t know what has been eliminated since the previous app. The trial has no reports available such as spending over time or net worth. There is no ability to print anything, and no way to save or export your data outside the program. I believe these features were available in YNAB4 and may be available to current paying subscribers. However, when I contacted tech support, they said they were “working on” the ability to print and they “thanked me for my feedback” about exporting data.

As it stands, I won’t be subscribing, because without the ability to export or print, my data is captive. I can only access my current or historical data as long as I pay the monthly fee, and when I stop, I lose access to my own data. Unless or until all of these features are restored, I won’t be using the product.

Interestingly, the documentation discourages users from doing too much analysis of past budget performance, and it wants you to focus on the near future instead. Maybe because that fits their business model better? I realize most users, especially if they are new to budgeting, are not interested in these features. I am probably not their target audience.

If anyone out there has a paid subscription to the newest version of YNAB, or has found another good app that meets “my” criteria, I would love to hear about it!

9 comments

  1. Fiona

    This really got me thinking about how valuable an automated budgeting system would be. Captive data is a huge issue. It’s funny, isn’t it, that with all the apps and online features of most banks these days, none have a dedicated in-house budgeting software system. Would have to be a gold-mine for banks if they could deliver that.

    I do like the YNAB approach and here in Australia, you have to export data (e.g. as a csv file) then inport it, so the issue with bank authorisation isn’t a problem. But there’s still the captive data issue. Considering how little I successfully track now though, captive data might not be a problem. Better to have tracked and saved than to have never tracked at all!

    • I think the credit unions in Canada offer a budgeting program for their members. Seems like it would be a good (and safe) way to build customer loyalty!

      “Better to have tracked and saved than to have never tracked at all!” – that is what YNAB is all about – they just want to get you going, get in the budget habit and have some success with saving. They don’t want people to get hung up on over-tracking, reports, analysis or history. But I want to know how much I paid for electricity two years ago versus last year (for example), or how much I shelled out for home repairs over a 5-year period. I think YNAB is more about the education and getting-going process.

  2. Thanks for the review. I keep seeing YNAB and everyone keeps talking about it but I have never really seen a full review.

  3. PK

    Thanks for this, I have been looking to expand my budgeting to something outside excel and I am still failing, at least now I know what to use. Since I am a beginner at detailed expense tracking, I will probably stick to excel for now.

  4. Ben

    Thanks! Helpful article. I just signed up for YNAB and it looks like they have added the ability to export since you wrote it. Still not super printer-friendly, although the spreadsheet prints fine.

  5. Pingback: 500 | An Exacting Life

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