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YNAB Review (2020): The Perfect Budgeting App?

*This post may contain affiliate links, please see my disclosure

YNAB

4.85

Features

5.0/5

Cost

4.5/5

Budget Experience

5.0/5

Mobile App

4.8/5

Security

5.0/5

Pros

  • Complete control over your budget
  • Automatic Transaction Import
  • Robust support docs, tutorials and user forum
  • Built-in budget accountability
  • Generous Free Trial
  • Fair Pricing

Cons

  • Credit card transactions are funky
  • Mobile app reporting is lacking
  • Some syncing issues with financial institutions

With a cult-like following, YNAB (stands for “You Need A Budget“), which started as a custom spreadsheet, has turned into a complete budgeting solution, helping users “save over $6,000 in their first year using the software!

But is all the hype true?

I’ve been using YNAB for over a year, and wanted to give a fair and honest review, so keep reading to see if YNAB is the best budgeting app for you!

What Is YNAB?

YNAB is the brain-child of Jesse Mecham, a spreadsheet nerd (like myself) who built his budgeting spreadsheet in 2003, and started selling it. After 3 years, he partnered with a developer and created the first stand-alone software version of YNAB.

It grew quickly, and based on their 4 Rules of Budgeting, has helped thousands and thousands of people take back control of their money.

How Does YNAB Work?

YNAB is a zero-based budgeting software that gives you (almost) complete control of your budget, and is probably my favorite budgeting software on the market today.

It requires you to ONLY budget money you actually have, and to give every dollar a job. And it is built on the principle of “living on last month’s income”, which is exactly what I teach others to do in my Personal Finance 101 Guide.

YNAB is designed to follow the Four Rules Of Budgeting

Rule # 1 – Give Every Dollar A Job

This rule is simple. Every dollar you bring in has a job.

Most of this will be toward your expenses (bills, spending, debt, etc.). The rest goes toward your Savings Buckets and Goals.

This is what it means to create a “Zero-Based Budget”, since your “To Be Budgeted” amount should equal ZERO after giving all dollars a job.

And speaking of Savings Buckets…

Rule # 2 – Embrace Your True Expenses

This rule is the idea of budgeting ahead for infrequent expenses. Things like Christmas, Vacations, Car Maintenance and other non-monthly expenses can be real budget busters, but if you save for them ahead of time, the money is always there when you need it.

Here’s how it works:

  • Pick an irregular expense (like Christmas) and figure out how much you need monthly to save for it
  • Create a Goal to fund it monthly
  • When the expense arrives, simply pay for it (the money is already there)

You can read more about how I fund Savings Buckets HERE

Rule # 3 – Roll With The Punches

This is where I find YNAB is the MOST useful. They let you budget how REAL LIFE works.

When you overspend in any category, you can simply adjust your budget, and grab the funds from somewhere else in the budget. We’ll cover this in more detail later, but YNAB makes this SUPER simple, simply allowing you move money from one budget to another.

Here’s the bottom line: No budget is perfect, you can’t predict the future, so roll with it, adjust, and move on!

Rule #4 – Age Your Money

This concept seems a bit abstract, but it simply means you want to live on last month’s money.

I preach this ALL. THE. TIME., as the first taste of Financial Freedom comes when you no longer live Paycheck to Paycheck, and can get ahead of your money!

They built this feature into the software, and you can see your current “Age of Money” in the upper right corner of the web app (or “Reports” section of the mobile app).

35 days 
Age of Morpy

YNAB Features

YNAB is a robust budgeting software, and allows you to customize almost anything you want. It is the budgeting system that most closely mirrors how your transactions and money ACTUALLY work in real life. Here’s an overview of the features and how they all work together.

Budget

This is the heart and soul of YNAB. It is a VERY well organize budgeting system, that works the way your money works in REAL LIFE.

YNAB does NOT allow you to budget money that you don’t have, and is a “Zero-Based” budgeting system that is built to assign every dollar to a category.

You can set your budget up on the Mobile App, but I find it far easier (and quicker) to do this on the desktop currently.

Once your budget is set up, you can do most everything through the YNAB App (I don’t use the desktop for months at a time, the app is really THAT powerful).

Here’s a sample of what it looks like:

80.3 
JAN 2020 
$ 5 , 57 
一 $ 1 , 000.00 
Giving - 1 h 
口 
Cu Pay—t• 1 
$ 4 , 57 & 
0 
口 
, 10E 
$ 5 · 85 65 
: 2 
Cen n 17th 
$ : 5 CO 
口 
~ n 丨 to - 25th

One great feature of YNAB is that it will NOT let you overspend. Here’s what it looks like if you do:

C' Daily Spending 
Groceries 
Gas 
Restaurants 
Enetertainment 
Spe Cash 
Pets 
Clothing 
Stuff I Forgot to Budget 
S25000 
Szco_oo 
stoooo 
s50D0 
sicnoo 
-Sl.ooo.oo 
Cover this overspending With: 
Bu dget Cat egories 
it Card pay-men tS: 
Card 
Card 
soco

YNAB turns red when you overspend in any category, and then forces you to cover that overspending from somewhere else in the budget. This is a POWERFUL feature that I have not seen in any other app yet.

Reports

YNAB doesn’t have as robust a reporting section as Mint, but the web app definitely has improved over the years.

You can see your spending totals & trends and track your net worth over time. The most powerful feature (in my opinion) is the “Income v Expense” section where you can see your income and spending in EACH CATEGORY over a specified period of time. This allows you to see a breakdown of your year in detail, and see how your expenses fluctuate month-to-month in every category.

"Ens- 
tostss- 
6 tot 
tessts- 
u os.-s- 
'tot H" 
Etc % - 
st oss- 
'tot

The mobile app only shows you your “Age of Money” and “Net Worth”, which is kind of worthless in my opinion.

Accounts

YNAB used to require you enter all your transactions manually. But the move to YNAB 5 and the web-based budget also added the ability to sync with your bank accounts.

Adding accounts is simple, and you can sync with most major financial institutions. Simply find your account, enter the online login info, and YNAB will sign in and pull in your account data.

Add Account 
X 
UNKED 
UNLINKED 
Start with —t a M take 
control by entering 
Add Linked Account 
to a 
AMERICAN 
EXPRESS 
CHASE O 
PNC 
re USAA• 
DISCOVER

You can choose from “Linked” or “Unlinked”, but if you’re paying for this app, I don’t see why you would bother not linking your accounts.

YNAB also gives you the option of adding accounts for “Tracking” purposes only, like investment accounts or a mortgage. This is to help keep track of your net worth, but I use Personal Capital and Mint to track my investments and net worth, as they give a MUCH better picture on how I am tracking toward retirement.

Goals

YNAB does not have a separate section to track your goals, they are built into every budget category. I like this method, as it allows you to create a goal amount for everything in your budget.

YNAB has two type of goals, “Spending” and “Savings” goals.

For infrequent expenses such as Christmas, Vacations, and Property Taxes, you would use “Spending” goals, because the money will be spent during the year.

For larger goals like buying a new car, a house down payment or maxing out a Roth IRA, use the “Savings” goals feature.

To set up a goal, simply click on a category, and on the right side select “Create (category) Goal”. Then input the total amount you want to save, and select a method to track and input the date you want to save by.

This will automatically tell you how much you need to save each month to hit the goal!

Example Spending Goal:

GOAL 
Create Vacation Goal 
NOTES 
Enter a note„ 
GOAL 
Amount 
2,000.00 
gy Date 
March 
Delete Cancel 
SPENDING GOAL 
Step 1 
Step 2 
2021 
Save Goal 
Step 3 
Fund $2,000.00 by March 1st 2021 
Complete 
Started January 2020 
Budget $33.34 more this month to stay on track.

As you can see, YNAB will tell you exactly how much more you need to budget each month to stay on track for hitting the goal.

This is a great tool for helping you hit those short and long-term goals, by breaking them down into smaller chunks that you can save for each month.

Investments

YNAB does not help with your investments at all. The most they can do is track the transactions and balance of your investment accounts, but give no other information here.

And this is OK, because YNAB is designed for one thing; To be the best budgeting tool around.

This is why I always recommend Personal Capital as a great companion app for YNAB (or any other budgeting app). It’s a free service that give LEGIT helpful insights into your investments, and helps you see if you are on track toward retirement.

Personal Capital is free, give it a shot!

Making A Fresh Start

There’s not a lot to set up, YNAB is pretty focused on making this a great budgeting experience. But one tool in the settings that can help is the “Make A Fresh Start” option.

New Budget 
Open Budget 
Make a Fresh Start 
Budget Settings 
Manage Payees 
Manage Connections 
Export Budget 
My Account 
Join a Workshop 
Log Out

If you select this option, it will save an archived version of your current budget (which you can open later if you need to), and then opens a new budget. This new budget keeps many of your old settings:

  • Account Names
  • Scheduled Transactions
  • Goals
  • Notes
  • Payees
  • Categories
  • Account connections

But transaction data and budgeted amount will disappear.

I’ve used this feature on the old YNAB software (YNAB 4) when I would get behind on transactions, but since my financial accounts are now synced, things pretty much stay up to date.

I recommend using this feature if your life and priorities are drastically different than before, and you just need to start anew.

How Does The YNAB App Work?

The YNAB App got a HUGE upgrade when YNAB released their web-based platform update in 2018. Since then, I have almost NEVER needed to log into the website on my laptop for anything to keep my budget up to date and on track.

rm&il 
with Google 
LOG IN 
FORGOT PASSWORD?

Once you download the App (available for iOS and Android), simply log in to your account, and open your budget. If you haven’t created one with your account yet, check out my full tutorial on How To Set Up A Budget In YNAB.

You can also create a NEW budget right within the App if you want (though I prefer setting up your first budget on the website).

There are 5 Main Sections within the App.

Budget

This section is where you will see the actual budget, and is the main homepage of the app.

Jan 2020 
TO EE auDGETEO 
Category 
Ene: rtäinment 
$513.65 
VIEW 
2745.00 
$1,200.00 
00 
$25, 00 
9:11 a * 
Jan 2020 
BE BUDGET 
Dally Spending 
c,cdil c,ud 
- 1st 
Giving 1 Etänd 15th 
5th 
ts 
2745.00 
gsoooo 
32500 
o 
ClctSng 
Forgot tc 
Savin gs 
$2,00000 
8800.00 
810000 
SIOOOO 
8200.00 
S60000 
00 
310000 
8200.00 
s20u 00 
SSOOOD

You can quickly get a pulse on your money, and see how much you have available in each category. YNAB is also great about HUGE INVASIVE NOTIFICATIONS when something is wrong in your budget.

As you can see above, I accidently overspent somewhere, and YNAB will not stop bothering me until I do something about it.

I. LOVE. THIS.

This is how YNAB helps you change your behavior and deal with overspending in REAL TIME without going further into debt. You simply tap the notification, then on the overspent category, and pull money from somewhere else in the budget.

9:25 
1 Overspent Category 
Groceries 
-$700T'.r: 
Overspent Category 
Groceriæ 
Cover vnth money from 
earch Categories 
INFLOW 
To be Budgeted 
Rent/Mortgage - 1st 
Giving 1st and 15th 
Car Payment - 1st 
Electric 5th 
Trash - 5th 
Water - 10th 
o 
-$200.00 
$513_65 
31,200.oo 
$500.00 
8350.00 
$60.00 
$25.00 
$50.00 
nn

MAGIC!

Accounts

This is a list of your accounts that you have connected to YNAB. You can easily edit or add more accounts on this page. It’s also a quick snapshot of you total financial picture, and if you have EVERYTHING connected, will show your Net Worth as well.

9:25 a 
Accounts 
NET WORTH 
-5,786.10 
All Accounts 
Budget 
Main Checking 
ASSETS 
DEBTS 
Jake's Credit Card 
Michelle's Credit Card 
Manage 
ADD ACCOUNTS 
Budget 
Accounts 
111 
Reports 
$4,858.65 
-S6,644.75 
-$1,786.10 
-$1,786.10 
$4,858.65 
-$3,929.17 
-$2,715.58 
Help 
Transaction 
o

This is also where you troubleshoot issues with LINKED accounts, and reconnect to your financial institution if needed (notice the yellow Triangle next to my credit card…)

Transaction

This tab is the “add a new transaction” section, and is the most frequently used button in YNAB (IMO).

9:34 
Add Transaction 
Payee 
Category 
Account 
Date 
Repeat 
OPTIONAL 
Enter a memo 
Cleared 
Flag 
-$150.00 
Trader Joes 
Groceries 
Jake's Credit Card 
27 January 2020 
Never 
0000000 
Save Transaction 
o

To successfully add a transaction, you need the following info:

  • Amount (hit the upper-left toggle to switch between expense and income)
  • Payee (where you spent money)
  • Category
  • Account (what card did you swipe?)
  • Date
  • Repeat? (for recurring transactions)

You can also input some notes, and for you visual learners, you can color-code each transaction as well!

YNAB saves every place you input under “Payee”, so you can select from a list once you shop there again. We frequent many of the same places, so it’s a time saver to have that list.

It also remembers categories for those places, so it will auto-categorize the next transaction when you shop at the same place.

YNAB also lets you “Split” Transactions, meaning you can take a single transaction and split it between multiple categories. This helps keep things organized in the budget, instead of holding up the checkout line while splitting your items into 3 separate purchases (…. anyone else…. no?…..just me then….)

Split Categories 
Search Categories 
SPENDING 
Groceries 
Household 
Restaurants 
EneTertainmenT 
Spending Cash 
pets 
ICIOL -31 
Clothing 
Stuff I Forgot to Budget For 
SAVINGS EucKETS 
o 
NEKT 
$0.00 
$250.00 
$100.00 
$200.00 
$100.00 
$200.00 
$so.oo 
$200.00 
x 
Target 
Splits 
e 
e 
e 
Groceries 
Household 
Spending Cash 
Add a category 
Add a transfer 
7 
4 
8 
5 
2 
-$25.00 
-$25.00 
-$50.00 
R&MAININE: $0.00 
9 
6 
3

You can add as many categories as you’d like, and even multiple transfers (though I cannot imagine the insanely complicated singular purchase that would require this….).

Reports

This section only shows you 2 things. “Age of Money” and “Net Worth”.

9:34 a 
Reports 
Age Of Money 
Not Enough Transactions 
Add at least 10 transactions to see your Age of Money. 
Net Worth 
Debts: -$6,644.75 
Feb 20 
-$1,786.10 
1 Assets: $4,858.65 
Budget 
Accounts 
0 
Transaction 
111 
Reports 
$749k 
$0.00 
-$263k 
Help

I think this section is mostly worthless, and the only value I see is tracking your “Age of Money” to get yourself a month ahead of your expenses.

But you can also just set a Goal in the app for a month worth of expenses, and track it there too.

Help

This section connects you to the YNAB documentation. YNAB has a pretty robust database of Help docs, and they are very user friendly.

Help 
Quick lips 
Getting Started 
Quick Start Guide 
Learn hove to sct up your budget 
Common Questlons 
find ansv.•ers to frequently asked questions 
Bener Budgeting 
Help 
Better Budgeting 
Master V NAB Method 
Learn our four rules for budqetlng 
Onllne Wo*shops 
Join & 20-mir,ute session nith our expert 
teachers 
Get the YNAB Book 
A proven system to make your money nork 
CommM-1 Financial Goals 
Wjhotevcryour goal. YNAB can help make It 
happen 
Have a Question? 
Message Us 
Get help trorn our support team 
Help

But if you need HUMAN help, you can select “Message Us” and you can chat directly with YNAB support staff.

The YNAB staff is limited, and will only reply when available (read: not 24/7), but they are YNAB experts and happy to help find the answers needed if you ever get stuck.

I’ve only ever contacted them once, but no one was available, and I got an email reply with the answers needed, so it was a pleasant experience.

App Summary

Overall, the YNAB App is really impressive, and powerful to keep you on track with your budget. There are a few worthless features (ahem…. reporting), but it does its main job (Budgeting) EXCEPTIONALLY WELL.

This is why I still personally use YNAB today for my day-to-day budgeting, and highly recommend trying it out to anyone who wants a budgeting system that works.

8 STEPS TO START A BUDGET IN YNAB (FOR BEGINNERS)

Now it’s time to roll up your sleeves and create your very first budget!

I’ve been using it for over a year, and wanted to put together a step-by-step guide for beginners on how to start a budget in YNAB.

Ready? Let’s go!

STEP 1: CREATE A NEW BUDGET

Once you sign in, you can open a new budget, and YNAB gives you a budget template to work with right off the bat.

YNAB Budget

Your main menu is on the left side of the screen. Month and budget summary are at the top. This is also where YNAB gives you a standing balance on money available “To Be Budgeted.”

On the right side you’ll see the details of any budget category you click on, including totals, last month’s numbers, and goal progress.

Now it’s time to get started!

STEP 2: ADD BANK ACCOUNTS

The next step is to select “Add Account” (on the left), and I recommend starting with your main checking account, as that is the account you will budget from for the month. Select whether you want a LINKED or UNLINKED account. I recommend selecting LINKED to have YNAB automatically import your transactions to make sure you don’t miss anything.

Then simply connect to your bank account using your online login info (yes, it’s safe, we’ll get to that later).

YNAB Linked Account

YNAB will then import your starting balance of that account (but NOT your previous transactions), which will be the amount you can start budgeting today.

STEP 3: ADD CREDIT CARDS

Next, if you have one, add your credit card. This will make sure YNAB helps track you credit card usage and keeps everything in the budget. If you are able to pay off your balance every month, you can select that when adding yours. If not, it’s best to set a goal for paying off the credit card, so select that option instead. Or you can simply skip this and add the goal later!

YNAB Add Account

Continue adding accounts, like credit cards and savings accounts, until you have everything connected that you will be using for your budget.

Note: You can also add non-budget accounts called “Tracking” accounts. This is simply to help you see your total financial picture and calculate your “Net Worth”. This would be things like investments, your mortgage, or other accounts that don’t affect your monthly budget. I use the FREE tool Personal Capital to track my investments and net worth, as they give a MUCH better picture on how I am tracking toward retirement.

STEP 4: CREATE YOUR BUDGET SECTIONS

Once you have all your accounts connected, you can start setting up your budget. This is the sole purpose of YNAB, so let’s jump right in!

The YNAB starting template will give you some sample categories, and different sections you can fill in. I recommend simplifying it a bit, so here’s how I would set it up.

I personally like to break down my budget into 5 different sections:

  1. Income
  2. Bills
  3. Daily Spending
  4. Savings Buckets
  5. Goals

The “Income” section of YNAB is at the top of the app automatically and only shows what you ACTUALLY have available (not future income, but current money in the bank). For expenses, delete the other sections, and replace them with BillsDaily SpendingSavings Buckets, and Goals.

Note: If you added a Credit Card, you can’t edit the “Credit Card” section that automatically gets added at the top (this is by design)

It should look something like this now:

YNAB Sections

Now it’s time to add in your budget categories.

**REMEMBER – YOU CAN ONLY BUDGET FOR MONEY YOU ACTUALLY HAVE IN THE BANK. IF YOU DON’T HAVE ALL THE MONEY FOR THE MONTH, YOU WILL NEED TO ONLY FUND WHAT NEEDS TO BE PAID NOW**

STEP 5: ADD YOUR BILLS

This is where you insert your monthly bills. Put in every recurring expense, things like Mortgage/Rent, Utilities, Insurance, Phone/Internet and Subscriptions.

Budget Hack: Put in your billing DUE DATE next to the name of the bill, then sort them in order of due date (you can drag & drop categories to re-order them). This will allow you to easily see when your money is coming out for the month, and help you plan your spending

Here’s what it might look like:

YNAB Category Bills

If you have gone through the Past Spending Exercise, then you should have a good idea what your monthly bills are. If not, just go through your banks and credit card statements to find ALL recurring charges and add them to your budget.

Related -> Lower your monthly bills automatically with Ask Trim.

STEP 6: ADD DAILY SPENDING CATEGORIES

Next, you’ll want in to add in your daily spending categories. These are the things you spend on day-to-day, such as Groceries, Restaurants, Gas, Clothing, Online Shopping, and Spending Cash.

Also, pull out your calendar and make sure to put in any one-time expenses, like events, parties, or occasions here. This will help you have LESS stuff in the “Forgot To Budget” section!

p.s. I like that YNAB adds the category “Stuff I Forgot To Budget For”. Keep this category here, as NO BUDGET IS PERFECT, and sometimes stuff comes up (like….every month). So put some money in this category to help smooth the bumps in the road and help you not worry when life happens.

Here’s an example of what this category might look like:

YNAB Category Daily Spending

I prefer putting the most common expenses at the top, things like Groceries and Gas happen multiple times a week.

Related -> lower your grocery bill and stop meal planning by trying out eMeals FREE for 14 days!

STEP 7: ADD SAVINGS BUCKETS

This is where I recommend putting expenses that don’t happen every month, but you WILL spend money on. Things like Christmas, Car Maintenance, Medical, and Vacations be saved up for each month, so the money is there when you need it.

I highly recommend saving this money in a separate savings account labeled for each category. We use CapitalOne 360 for our Savings Buckets:

CapitalOne 360 Savings Accounts

To set up your YNAB budget for these, simply take the total amount needed and divide by the number of months to get there.

Example: If you need $1,200 for Christmas and it is 12 months away, budget $100 per month!

Fill in what you need to save monthly and budget that amount. You can input the total needed in the name of the category for saving up money. Here’s an example of what it could look like:

YNAB Category Savings Buckets

A better way to do this is to use the YNAB Goals feature and let the software do it for you! For Savings Buckets with a total balance you need to reach by a certain date (Christmas, Vacation, etc.), use the GOALS feature to calculate what you need to budget each month.

To do this, click on each category, and on the right side select “Create (category) Goal“. Then input the total amount you want to save, and select “Date” and input the date you want to save by.

This will automatically tell you how much you need to save each month to hit the goal!

GOAL 
Create Vacation Goal 
NOTES 
Enter a note„ 
GOAL 
Amount 
2,000.00 
gy Date 
March 
Delete Cancel 
SPENDING GOAL 
Step 1 
Step 2 
2021 
Save Goal 
Step 3 
Fund $2,000.00 by March 1st 2021 
Complete 
Started January 2020 
Budget $33.34 more this month to stay on track.

As you can see in the example, $100 per month will NOT get us to a $2,000 vacation in March 2021. You can now lower the total goal amount, or save an extra $33.34 per month to hit the current goal.

Here’s an example of what this might look like completed in YNAB:

YNAB Category

This is POWERFUL stuff, and helps you keep it REAL with your money, and make sure you don’t go into DEBT for vacations or Christmas or any other infrequent expense ever again!

Set up all your Savings Buckets using this method to keep yourself on track.

Related -> You can read more about Savings Buckets and how they should fit into a budget HERE

STEP 8: ADD GOALS

Goals are those larger expenses, like debt payoff, new cars and maxing out investments that typically will take a longer time to reach.

Related -> You can read all about setting S.M.A.R.T. Goals for your budget HERE

To set up your Goals in YNAB, it will function similar to Savings Buckets, as you will be saving money each month and letting it rollover as you contribute toward that goal.

Instead of simply budgeting for these monthly, let’s start with the “Goals” function within YNAB to see what you need to save to hit those goals on time.

Example: I want to MAX out my Roth IRA by the end of the year. The total I can put in a Roth IRA is $6,000 (for 2020), so I simply set that as my “Target Balance” by December, and YNAB tells me how much I need to save.

YNAB Goals

Do this for each big GOAL you have, and then figure out which ones you want to fund first.

I highly recommend this order of operations for your money if you’re not saving just yet:

  1. Emergency Fund
  2. 401k Match & Pay Off Debt
  3. Roth IRA

You can read ALL the details on how much you need, where to put it and WHY in my Personal Finance 101 post.

HOW TO USE THE BUDGET DAY TO DAY

PHEW! The Budget is now set up and ready to be put into use on the daily.

YNAB works differently than other budget apps. It requires you to be involved with your daily spending, and keep an eye on what is coming in and out of your accounts.

There are two ways to manage your budget with YNAB:

  1. Manually enter all your spending
  2. Have YNAB auto-track your spending (Linked Accounts)

No matter what method you use, make sure you are looking at your budget BEFORE spending the money to make sure you have some available.

Example: You are going to go to the grocery store. You open up YNAB, see there is $200 left in the Groceries budget. You make sure you do NOT spend more than $200 until you get paid next and can add more money to the Groceries budget.

Simple!

ADDING TRANSACTIONS

YNAB lets you quickly add transactions, assign a category and tell it what account you used.

ACCOUNT 
Jake's Credit 
DATE 
01/27/2020 • 
PAY E E 
Trader Joes 
CATEGORY 
Daily Spending: Groceries 
MEMO 
Food for the week 
Cancel 
OUTFLOW 
20D.CD 
INFLOW 
Save and add another

It will then update your categories and show what you still have available in the budget for the month.

If you elect to have transactions import automatically, I still recommend inputting them manually, and then when the transaction clears, YNAB links the transactions together! This will help you budget stay up to date (instead of waiting a few days for transactions to clear your account).

Either way, YNAB asks you to approve each and every transaction, helping you become fully aware of your money and helping you Make Better Money Decisions!

I also recommend adding transactions right when they happen. For this, I use the YNAB App (since your phone is always with you). The app looks like this:

YNAB App Transactions

As you can see, it’s fairly simple, just input the amount, place (payee), category, and account. If one transactions covers multiple categories, you can also “split” the transaction for more accurate budgeting:

YNAB App Split Transactions

DEALING WITH OVERSPENDING

Another powerful feature of YNAB is that it will turn RED when you overspend a category. And when you click on the category, it asks you to move money from somewhere else in the budget to cover the overage.

YNAB Overspending

Simply select where you want to transfer money from, and BOOM, the overspending is taken care of.

On the phone app, it looks like this:

YNAB App Overspending

YNAB is the only app I have seen with this functionality, and it is a POWERFUL tool to keep you from spending money you don’t have (a.k.a. debt).

Yes, it automatically imports your transactions using the “Linked Account” feature, but it will then put a HUGE notification at the top of the budget, asking you to “Import, Approve or Categorize“.

This is fantastic, because it still makes you look at EVERYTHING you spend money on, and clear it with YNAB before it’s added to your budget.

IMPORTING TRANSACTIONS

If you find that you miss too many days of tracking your spending, or if your accounts are not linked, there is also an “Import” feature to get you up to date.

I do NOT personally use this, as I have my accounts linked, but if you want to get your spending in there to help you set a baseline budget, you can import your past transactions straight from your financial accounts.

YNAB Import Transactions

Simply download your transactions as an OFX, QFX, QIF or CSV file, and them import them into YNAB.

You will then need to organize, categorize, and approve each transaction before they are added to the budget.

WHAT IF I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH MONEY?

YNAB is designed for you to budget ONLY what you have in your bank account. If you are currently living Paycheck to Paycheck and don’t have ALL your money at the start of the month, you will need to only budget what you have UNTIL the next paycheck.

Related: Learn how to budget paycheck to paycheck with the Paycheck Budgeting Method.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say it’s the 1st of the month, and you only have $3,500 in your account. You don’t get paid ahead until the 15th, so you need to ONLY budget for your bills that are due BEFORE your next paycheck.

a Bills O 
Rent/Mortgage - 1st 
Giving- Istand 15th 
Car Payment - 1st 
Electric - 5th 
Trash - 5th 
Water - 10th 
Car Insurance - 12th 
Internet - 15th 
Cell Phone - 17th 
Nettlix- 18th 
Student Loans - 25th 
$2,335.00 
Sl,200.oo 
$500.00 
$350.00 
$60.00 
$25.00 
$50.00 
$150.00 
$0.00 
$0.00 
$0.00 
$0.00 
$0.00 
$0.00 
$0.00 
$0.00 
$0.00 
$0.00 
$0.00 
$0.00 
$0.00 
$0.00 
$0.00 
$0.00 
2335.00 
$1,200.00 
ssoo.oo 
$350.00 
$25.00 
sso.oo 
$150.00 
$0.00 
$0.00 
$0.00 
$0.00

As you can see, you will budget the money for things like your mortgage, car payment, utilities, but everything due on the 15th or later will get funded with your next paycheck.

Now let’s look at your Daily Spending categories.

In this example, you get paid on the 1st and the 15th of the month, so you simply budget for HALF of your normal budget in each of the Daily Spending categories.

Budget Hack: To keep track of what you need in each category, just add the budget total amount to the NAME of the category. This way you can see what you need TOTAL for the month and divide it in half.

Here’s how it would look:

D CATEGORY 
Cl Daily Spending 
Groceries - $800 
Gas - $250 
Household - $100 
Restaurants - $200 
Entertainment - $100 
Spending Cash - $200 
Pets - SSO 
Clothing - $100 
Stuff I Forgot to Budget For 
- $200 
BUDGETED 
$1,225.00 
$400.00 
$125.00 
$50.00 
$100.00 
$100.00 
$200.00 
$50.00 
$100.00 
$100.00 
ACTIVITY 
$0.00 
$0.00 
$0.00 
$0.00 
$0.00 
$0.00 
$0.00 
$0.00 
$0.00 
$0.00 
AVAILABLE 
s 1,225.00 
$400.00 
s 125.00 
$50.00 
s 100.00 
s 100.00 
$200.00 
sso.oo 
s 100.00 
s 100.00

You take the total amount you need for the month, divide by 2, and that’s what you add to the budget until the next paycheck arrives. Once that paycheck DOES arrive, simply add in the second half of the money to spend for the rest of the month.

YNAB Tip: If you can’t do the math dividing each budget in half (or just don’t want to), you can click the little calculator icon and do the math (hit the DIVIDE symbol and input “2“, and press “Enter”). BOOM, math done for you!

For the Savings Buckets and Goals sections, just fund what you can at the END of the month. Because you are living paycheck to paycheck, it’s best to keep any extra for the 2nd half of the month as a buffer between you and LIFE.

Then when you are nearing the end of the month, you can fund your savings accounts and goals for the month (as much as you are able).

Honestly, I would first try saving enough to get yourself 1 month ahead of your expenses. This follows YNAB’s Rule # 4: Age Your Money. The goal is to live on last month’s income, and this will also help you stop living paycheck to paycheck, and start hitting bigger and BIGGER goals!

You will know when you are 1 month ahead with YNAB’s “Age of Money” tracker says 30 Days (or more).

YNAB Age of Money

FINAL THOUGHTS ON BUDGETING IN YNAB

YNAB is currently my FAVORITE budgeting app, and for good reason. It is designed to help you start making better money decisions, it won’t let you spend money you don’t have, and it is built on money principles I believe in. Especially “living on last month’s income”, which is my 1st step to Financial Freedom.

Day to day, YNAB keeps me on track. I can quickly check where I’m at within seconds, and it will set off ALL KINDS OF NOTIFICATIONS when I go over budget. It’s packed with features to make sure you stop overspending, get out of debt, and really take back control of YOUR money.

If you’re ready to get your first budget started today, grab your first 34 days FREE and follow the steps above!

How Much Does YNAB Cost Per Month?

YNAB is currently offers a 34-day free trial for users to get started. No credit card needed.

After the 34-Day Free Trial, YNAB offers two billing options.

  • Pay Monthly. There is NO discount if you select to pay monthly, and YNAB costs $11.99 per month ($143.99 yearly)
  • Pay Yearly. There is a $59 Discount if you select to pay yearly. Total cost for YNAB is $84 per year ($7.00 per month)
Monthly Plan 
$ 11.99/month 
Billed monthly. Cancel anytime 
$59 Savings' 
Annual Plan 
$84/year 
One-time payment, billed annually. 
Cancel anytime.

Is There A Free Version Of YNAB?

YNAB offers a 34-Day free trial to new users, just enough time to setup and test out the software for a full monthly budget cycle.

There is ONE WAY to get YNAB for free…..using their referral program.

When you refer a friend to YNAB, they get a month free, and you get a month free. Refer more friends? Get more free months.

1 
Subscribed sep 22.2017 
Tnielson87@hotmail.com 
2 
Subscribed sep 24. 2017 
fhqwhgads@msn.com 
3 
Subscr&d Sep 27, 2017 
4 
Invite sent Oct 2, 2017 
susan-elliot@yahoo.com 
5 
Trial Started sep 12, 2017 
Here's How It Works 
REWARD 
Free Month of YNAB 
Free Month of YNAB 
Free Month of YNAB 
When you refer a friend or family member, and they subscribe with your referral 
link, you both get a free month ofYNAB! We'll keep track as friends sign-up and 
subscribe so that it's easy to see your free months multiply!

YNAB Support

YNAB puts out a LOT of great tutorials, videos, and even LIVE workshops to help their users. And their documentation is super simple to digest…. (sometimes too simple).

They also have a forum of SUPER FANS who love the software and help each other out as a community of budget nerds (wow…..sounds like my kinda hangout!)

YNAB has a been building up their LIVE support staff, and now offers chat support (when available) in addition to email support.

YNAB still does NOT have a support phone number to call.

Is YNAB Safe?

Short answer:

Yes.

Long Answer:

YNAB does not access or interact with customer data unless given explicit customer approval (or where required by law). YNAB account passwords are using industry best practices (one-way salted and hashed, using multiple iterations of a key derivation function for passwords).

All YNAB data is encrypted and on Heroku on an AWS (Amazon) stack, the same technology used by the CIA. All data is completely wiped when accounts are deleted, or expired (120 days after trial or 3 years after subscription).

If your brain isn’t spinning yet, and you enjoy this sort of talk….you can read more about their security policy here.

YNAB Pros

  • Complete control over your budget. YNAB give you the ability to budget exactly how you want, and create a template that works for you. From custom sections and categories, to color coding and splitting transactions, you can truly make this App your own.
  • Automatic Transaction Import. Finally! YNAB was a manual process for its first 4 iterations, and has added auto-import to make it easier to stay up to date on your spending.
  • Robust support docs, tutorials and user forum. YNAB goes beyond a simple “how to get started” doc and offers a VAST number of supporting docs and trainings to help you get your money right.
  • Generous Free Trial. YNAB gives you over a month (34 days) to try the software out, and won’t even ask for a credit card to charge.
  • Keeps you on track. YNAB is serious about budgeting, and won’t let you overspend or overextend yourself without all kinds of red flags and warnings. This accountability sets it apart from the competition.
  • Price. I know I know…. paying for something means it’s not free…. but honestly for the functionality, support and budgeting prowess provided by YNAB, $7 per month (on the annual plan) is nothing. Really. YNAB users typically save THOUSANDS in their first year, so it’s an investment well made.

YNAB Cons

  • Credit Cards Are Weird. Actually, it’s not that weird once you get used to it (I actually prefer it now), but spending on a credit card shows up in a  funky way on the app. Essentially the money is moved from the category, over to the “Available” section of the card you used. Then you spend that money to pay off the card. (ok, it’s even weird explaining it….)
  • Mobile App Reports are lacking. I mean, the web app seems to be getting better and better reporting, such as Spending Trends and Income v Expenses breakdown, but the mobile app can’t even show me a simple Pie Graph of my spending. I’m hoping this gets added soon.
  • Syncing Issues. This is more on the banks than the app, but users of budgeting apps suffer when their accounts don’t sync. YNAB forces me to get a text message pin code every time I want to sync my Credit Card. Mint seems to be the only app that doesn’t have frequent disconnects for CapitalOne, the main account I use.

YNAB Alternatives

If YNAB isn’t your cup o’ tea, there are a few alternatives out there you may consider for budgeting.

Every Dollar

This is Dave Ramsey’s brain-child for his budgeting system based on the 7 Baby Steps. It’s a straight-forward budgeting app, that allows you to give “Every Dollar” an assignment. It also incorporates his 7 Baby Steps into the app, allowing you to track your Financial Progress, which is kind of cool!

You can manually track using the FREE version, or sync your accounts for $129.99 per year.

Mint

Mint.com is a FREE money management tool that helps you create a budget, track your spending, track your bills, set money goals and see a full snapshot of your finances. It is owned by Intuit, the same company that brought you Quicken and TurboTax. It is ad-supported, so there is no monthly cost to use it.

You can read my full review on Mint here.

Is YNAB Worth The Money?

If you are struggling to find a budgeting system that works, or if you are trying to work your way out of debt, YNAB is the GOLD STANDARD to budgeting apps. Period.

But you have to actually use the thing to get any value out of it. If you simply want an app that tracks what you spend so you can check on it a few times a month, Personal Capital and Mint are Free and can do that for you.

I have been budgeting for over a decade, and consistently my favorite app over the past few years to use has been YNAB. And now that they’ve added in auto-import and a more powerful phone app, there’s no question, YNAB is my budgeting app of choice.

I will always be testing the latest and greatest budgeting apps, but currently YNAB is what I use on the daily.

Yes, it’s worth the cost, many times over, and if you don’t believe me, try it yourself Free for 34 days…. like, ACTUALLY TRY IT, and tell me if I’m wrong!

Jacob Wade

Jacob Wade

Jacob Wade has been a nationally-recognized personal finance expert for the past decade. He has written professionally for The Balance, The Spruce, LendingTree, Investing Answers, and other widely-followed sites. 
He’s also been a featured expert on CBS News, MSN Money, Forbes, Nasdaq, Yahoo! Finance, Go Banking Rates, and AOL Finance.

In 2018, Jacob quit his job and his family decided to sell everything (including their home) to take off on an adventure. They traveled the country in an RV for nearly 3 years, visiting over 38 states, 20+ national parks and eventually settling in the sunshine state!

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