Review: “You Need a Budget” Software

YNAB 4 vs. Mint.com

My first successful foray into tracking expenses and real honest budgeting can be credited to Mint.com – a few years back my wallet was hemorrhaging cash, and I hated it. Up until that point I had been lazy & basically relied on my frugal upbringing to save me from mindless spending.  Unfortunately, as we all know, life’s expenses have a way of “inflating” if we let them, and I let them for a short time. Successfully freeing myself from some of my social anxiety issues was great for all aspects of my life except my finances: I was suddenly socializing, meeting up with friends, going on vacations, and having fun, but not really tracking any of the costs.

I quickly wised up, and after struggling to formulate a useful and feature-rich budget using a spreadsheet, I hit up Google for solutions and stumbled across Mint.com – I’ve been using it ever since. I adore Mint mostly for two reasons: it grabs transactions from all my accounts so I can see them in one place, and it gives me an awesome big-picture view over time. While I have used Mint’s budgeting feature over the past few years, I have never been satisfied with it, and I’ve treated it more as a guideline for my expense tracking than a real budget.

Mint also has two major flaws:

  • every few months it will stop grabbing transactions from one of my critical use-all-the-time accounts, and sometimes it will remain dysfunctional for days – this is horrible if you need to know how much money I have budgeted for tonight’s potential adventure? Additionally, because it’s a free service, the customer support is slow and generally bad.
  • new transactions remain “pending” for far too long (at least for me), and if I categorize them before they are done “pending”, the category won’t stick – this is also horrible for knowing my real time budget amounts, because budgets are based on categories.

After hearing persistent whispered praise for some software called “You Need a Budget” (YNAB), I finally decided to try out the free trial and really dedicated myself to budgeting for a month. That was 4 months ago, and I’ve been using it happily ever since.

I know many of you will argue against using a budget, but for me it’s solid gold. After climbing YNAB’s slightly steep learning curve, I quickly adopted it for my everyday expense tracking and budgeting, and I no longer have to deal with Mint’s downfalls. I haven’t abandoned Mint entirely, because I still love to use it as my repository for ALL THE TRANSACTIONS. Using Mint in conjunction with YNAB is like peanut butter & chocolate, they just belong together.

“You Need a Budget” Review

I don’t want to bore you with a full software review, so instead I’ll make two lists.

I love:

  • The easy to use & well polished user interface in YNAB
  • The granularity & control I have over the data, despite the manual input
  • The singular focus of the software (do 1 thing, and do it well)

I don’t love:

  • The fact that YNAB is software that must be installed – I have been spoiled by web apps
  • Some of the quirks related to the budgeting “methodology” that goes along with the software (although, a few of their “rules” have helped shape how I think about my budgets)

Overall I really like YNAB, and because I am a budgeter, I feel as though this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. I believe it was worth the $54 price tag (normally $60, I bought it with a 10% referral deal). I would definitely recommend YNAB to my friends, family, and internet strangers who think they will benefit from keeping a budget. For me it’s important to set a spending expectation for myself, and YNAB enables me to do that, and then track the results, beautifully.

Of course, the only way to really tell if you’ll like the software or benefit from it’s use is to give it a try – they offer a free trial, and I suggest you take advantage of it. Feel free to let me know what you think about budgeting, Mint vs. YNAB, YNAB’s features, or anything else you’d like to chat about in the comments below!

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