YNAB, You Need A Budget! Personal Budget Software

by Silicon Valley Blogger on 2009-01-1356

If you’re shopping for a personal budget software application for your desktop, YNAB or “You Need A Budget” is one to consider.

If you’re looking for an easy-to-use, effective home budget software product for your desktop, I would like to recommend one that has become popular among many savers I know. While many people are very familiar with Quicken, they’ve got a rival that’s fast grabbing market share due to its top features and great customer and technical support.

YNAB Pro, You Need A Budget software

You Need A Budget (YNAB): Try It Out For Free

YNAB or You Need A Budget is a personal budgeting software application that is an awesome alternative to other budget planners. It’s a highly rated money management desktop application that helps you with tracking your expenses, budgeting, and eliminating your debts. It has roots in Excel, and is based on a forward-thinking savings and debt reduction paradigm that you’re not bound to see in many other budgeting tools.

Try out You Need A Budget for free.
YNAB (You Need A Budget) Review Free Trial

You can visit the YNAB store for additional selections on educational materials and products (beyond the software) by visiting this link. Specifically, you’ll find YNAB software available for your computer or smartphone, a one-on-one budget coaching session and the You Need A Budget book, which covers this very successful budgeting methodology.If you have an older version of YNAB and want to upgrade to the latest version, check their site to see if you can qualify for a discount.

YNAB (You Need A Budget) Personal Budget Software Review

YNAB is one of our favorite tools for expense management and budgeting, and is known to be pretty effective with helping you reduce your debt. In the semi-crowded field of money management and budgeting tools, You Need A Budget is one of those applications that I found interesting for a few reasons.

  • I am not big on checkbook balancing — I am very lazy when it comes to this task.
  • I don’t budget much. I get a big picture snapshot and work with loose parameters. But with lowered incomes in recent years, we could use a better budgeting approach!
  • I use my own customized money management system using everyone’s favorite spreadsheet, Excel. I built it myself, hairy formulas and all!
  • I am paranoid about security. The safety of my money away from prying eyes and potential hackers is paramount to me — not that this hasn’t been addressed to some degree by online money management tools already. Still, with online tools, your info remains in someone else’s server.
  • I don’t like complicated applications dripping with bells and whistles that I don’t need. If the application is too heavyweight, then I may not use it for long.
  • I have variable income. Now that I’m self-employed, my income is fairly erratic.
  • I do my family’s finances mostly, but I’d like for me and my spouse to have the same easy access to our financial information.

And so it would come naturally to me to be interested in a product that may — on the surface — look like it may actually fit my particular needs. In the interest of disclosure, I already own Quicken though I like using my familiar self-generated spreadsheets for most of my money management work. I’ve also tried Mint for a bit and found it quite helpful, though I’ve only got it linked to a few of my accounts. As it is, I’m continually on the prowl for financial planning and expense tracking applications that have effective “paradigms” and offer efficient approaches.

YNAB (You Need A Budget) Features

Here are a few things about the YNAB application:

Jesse Mecham is the guy behind YNAB. Just like me (and many of you!), he worked with Excel spreadsheets to manage his finances. Eventually, that Excel spreadsheet evolved into today’s YNAB.

The goal of You Need A Budget is to change the way you manage your money by enforcing a strategy that’s supported by the software. In other words, YNAB is based on solid money management principles and a methodology that helps you develop good financial habits and helps you keep your finances under control. By using the software, you’ll be compelled to change the way you handle your finances by following a few rules:

Rule #1: Stop Living Paycheck to Paycheck

This rule introduces the concept of living on last month’s income, which enforces a more proactive and forward thinking approach to budgeting. It’s a tool with features that support short and long term budget planning. How? It’ll force you to create a savings buffer to allow you to promote your current month’s income for use in the next month. Your future budget is therefore based on reality, not on an estimate! The benefits include:

  • allowing variable income budgeting to occur more smoothly
  • “forcing” you to save up for a money buffer that gives you breathing room to pay for potential unexpected expenses
  • enabling you to pay for your bills as they come in, without surprises.

As far as I know, other well-known software applications aren’t built to support this approach. Instead, they take snapshots of past spending and have you make estimations of your future budget.

Rule #2: Give Every Dollar a Job

The goal when setting up a budget in YNAB is to have nothing left over. Every penny should be allocated to one category or another, whether it be for major expenses, infrequent expenses or even a savings or emergency fund. With YNAB, you’ll be able to account for every dollar you have.

Rule #3: Prepare for Rain

YNAB lets you budget money for “rainy day” categories, those infrequent expenditures like property taxes, insurance premiums, etc, so that you’re ready for anything. This is especially helpful with building your emergency fund. You’ll get a good picture of your savings through this tool.

Rule #4: Roll with the Punches

YNAB is a flexible tool that allows you to adjust your budget whenever necessary. If you ever overspend, YNAB’s forward planning system won’t let you get away with it. It will make the necessary adjustments to next month’s budget so that your overspending can be acknowledged. At the same time, it does this in such a way that you’re able to absorb the adjustments easily. I find this feature awesome! As Mechem puts it, “it keeps you honest”.

The result is that you’ll soon find yourself able to pay cash on your purchases (instead of resorting to credit), to live below your means, and to have the ability to share financial information with others in your household (e.g. your spouse or partner).

Sample Features. You can expect YNAB to perform the following tasks:

  • Automatically import your data from various bank accounts into YNAB.
  • Categorize your savings into buckets using features that support envelope budgeting.
  • Schedule recurring transactions easily.
  • The tool allows you to keep an eye out on your spending, particularly your unexpected expenses.

Final Points on YNAB

Other positive points?

  • It has awesome ratings on Amazon. It blows Quicken out of the water.
  • You actually don’t need to have prior experience of Excel.
  • They don’t charge for upgrades (unlike Quicken or other products).
  • They have a 30-day return guarantee.
  • The claim that the average YNAB user pays off $500 in debt and saves $235 in the first 31 days of use.
  • Check out how the YNAB methodology actually works to help you manage your money more successfully.
  • There’s a community that’s built around the use of this tool. Just check their user forums.
  • YNAB.com, the comprehensive web site dedicated to the product, is chockful of information including online video tutorials, an online community, webinars, free live coaching classes, a Quick Start Guide, a User Manual, a blog, an e-course, you name it. They’ve also got support via email.
  • You can check out what this tool can do for you by going through this tour.

YNAB, You Need A Budget, budgeting softwareYNAB doesn’t come across to me like another Quicken or Microsoft Money because it goes beyond being a money management tool. It also strongly promotes a methodology for true saving. Their book called “You Need A Budget” explains the methodology in more detail.

If you want to control your money, instead of just track it, this thing is an awesome tool for the job. But you’ll have to use it as intended. By the way, YNAB will now run on both Windows and Mac platforms which have Adobe AIR installed and operational.

If you want to continue checking out other software packages, check out our list of budgeting tools and personal financial software.

Copyright © 2009 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 56 comments… read them below or add one }

saver January 13, 2009 at 6:24 pm

have you ever heard of mint.com? its free. and does a way better job than this software that costs money. i thought we were trying to save.

Silicon Valley Blogger January 13, 2009 at 6:37 pm

Yes, I worked for Mint.com actually (not so long ago). I think that YNAB may work for some people; it may not work for others. It depends on what you are looking for. The software is based on a different paradigm in budgeting. I have a Mint account and it’s pretty cool — I have some accounts downloading automatically into my Mint account, though I want to keep most of my info on my desktop. I actually believe that the demographic who uses online financial tools is different from those who use desktop tools.

I wrote about Mint and Wesabe too, if you’re interested in reading more about browser-based tools.

I’m equal opportunity here. I like reviewing all tools and seeing how well each one works. I like YNAB because it’s different and based on this “forward thinking” concept. I took the time to study its features and I liked what I saw.

YNAB is best for those who already prefer to use desktop software. If you have MSN Money or Quicken, and are in the process of shifting gears, this software could be a consideration. It’s unlikely that a Quicken-head would want to switch to Mint.com (despite it being free). And if you love Mint, it’ll be harder for you to appreciate the Quickens of the world.

I’m not going to say that one is superior to another, as I go by “different strokes for different folks”.

Mogden January 14, 2009 at 12:22 am

There’s no chance I’m going to use a web service to aggregate my financial information and suggest improvements. I just don’t trust external services enough to give them the “keys to the kingdom”. Mint.com desktop edition might be a possibility as long as I’d be assured that my financial information wasn’t leaving the house. So YNAB sounds interesting since Quicken is really showing its age, especially on the Mac.

JVG Consult January 14, 2009 at 6:41 am

I use a scratch pad – it’s cheaper!

CJM January 14, 2009 at 7:47 am

Mint.com does not have access to any (3) of the banks my accounts are in. So to me it is worthless.

Miss M January 14, 2009 at 9:48 am

I’ve yet to find budget software that equals my really simple excel spreadsheet. I have my own system that works well for me but when I try to mimic it with quicken or money, it becomes overly complicated.

Silicon Valley Blogger January 14, 2009 at 10:06 am

I am also very fond of my Excel spreadsheets, but I have been trying Quicken of late. The thing about personal finance software is that many of us have developed our own “ways” of doing things and so it may be a challenge to switch to a different system. Though I think that those who are looking for a “fresh start” or really want to get a serious handle on their finances may find that getting new software can signal a commitment to change.

In my case, my status has changed from employee to business owner, and as mentioned, my earnings are all over the place. Same with my husband’s. So we need something that offers the flexibility to handle variable income. An Excel type application would help in that regard (as the one I developed for us to use).

Ricardo January 15, 2009 at 3:05 am

That’s an interesting software package.

Elisa@Thrive January 15, 2009 at 3:39 pm

What about Thrive (www.justthrive.com)? Our service is free and is designed to be empower users by simplifying financial planning. We crunch all the numbers and categorize your spending for you, so that you can easily track how you spend your money. We also help you keep spending targets and help you to plan for the future.

And our service is completely free. Founded on the principal that all people deserve free and accurate, personal financial advice.

We would love to hear your thoughts on our company.

Best,
Elisa@Thrive

Silicon Valley Blogger January 15, 2009 at 3:46 pm

Thanks for the info, Elisa! I haven’t checked out your tool yet, but I should carve out some time to do that. I’m curious to find out how different your service is from Mint or Wesabe.

selena January 16, 2009 at 3:41 am

Looks like a very interesting software package. It looks like an especially good one for those who use and prefer financial desktop software.

Don January 18, 2009 at 6:24 pm

Using something is better than using nothing.

The majority of people don’t even budget and they wonder why they’re in so much financial trouble.

folk weler January 20, 2009 at 2:39 pm

Thanks for the code, very useful for me!

Zebov January 23, 2009 at 3:34 pm

I’ve been using YNAB Pro for a year or so now and I wouldn’t go back. While looking around for a budgeting program, it surprised me how many backwards-looking programs there were. I was looking for a budgeting program, not a reactionary program and that’s exactly what I found in YNAB Pro.

If you’re looking for forward-looking budgeting software to keep your finances in order, I think YNAB Pro could be for you. Well worth the $50 (and even better w/ 10% off). Just my 2 cents.

Silicon Valley Blogger January 23, 2009 at 3:44 pm

Zebov,

Thanks for the vote of confidence for YNAB. That’s what stood out for me with this budgeting package — the forward-thinking that is ingrained in the tool itself allows you to develop better saving habits. I can imagine how the techniques offered by the tool, along with the YNAB savings paradigm, can improve the way we view and use our money. Over at Amazon, I read a lot of comments about how it’s positively changed the financial lives of a lot of users.

Isabelle March 4, 2009 at 5:40 am

I am intrigued by the need for a special – paid for – budgeting system. When we did our financial makeover we got rid of non-essential spending, found where we could get what we needed cheaper, put aside the amount we wanted to save and lived on what we had left.

We have used money from savings when we needed to replace our car and for the rare times we needed to pay out for something not on the monthly essentials. We have still managed to knock up a clear 25% of our gross income in savings.

I understand this might not be for everyone, but we did try to use a system for budgeting on a financial website – it didn’t work for us. We have a spreadsheet with payments which we keep updated, and we do keep an eye on what we pay out as it is easy to get ‘needs’ creeping in, which need booting out.

The one thing needed for any financial plan is determination and the ability to accept that living below your means – or how is the money going to be there to pay debts or save – will not be the same as debt fuelled living. It takes a change in the way of looking at life!

Grace Williams August 25, 2009 at 8:16 pm

Hello there! Just wanted to say that yours is a really great product and I am interested in purchasing it very soon. Just wondering if it’s possible to change the currency sign? Since your users are becoming more and more spread worldwide (I am in the Philippines) it would be nice to make it flexible to different currency signs…thanks a lot! More power to YNAB!

Silicon Valley Blogger August 25, 2009 at 8:44 pm

Thanks Grace. I shall report your feedback to YNAB and see whether they can incorporate your suggested feature into their product. I agree, YNAB is a great budgeting tool!

Jane August 30, 2009 at 1:26 am

An interesting recommendation. It’s the original entering of all the details that has me intimidated on any program. But I guess that’s just the nature of the “getting organized” beast.

Marko September 1, 2009 at 3:08 am

I can imagine how the techniques offered by the tool, along with the YNAB savings paradigm, can improve the way we view and use our money. Over at Amazon, I read a lot of comments about how it’s positively changed the financial lives of a lot of users.

George October 6, 2009 at 7:21 pm

Excel spreadsheet budget / checkbook registers may also suit the needs of some people.

Rue Lynn November 16, 2009 at 10:31 am

I’m a mess and need the assist! I would love to use this as a get started tool.

Jimmy November 16, 2009 at 11:07 am

I can’t wait to try out YNAB! Every year I tell myself that I am going to get my finances organized by Jan 1 with some sort of money management software so that when tax-time comes I will have all the info I need.

Joe November 16, 2009 at 3:09 pm

I am looking forward to using YNAB on my Mac.

Matt November 16, 2009 at 7:13 pm

I have heard good things about YNAB, I bet its better than my Excel file.

Eric McKinley King November 19, 2009 at 7:34 am

Ironic that I discovered your blog today and just downloaded YNAB yesterday (after much procrastination). I have a question – that if you use E*Trade (which I do, as a brokerage and online banking), then you cannot export your financial data into .ofx or .qfx formats. And the .csv export to excel was unpopulated (blank) when I downloaded it. Has anyone found a safe way to mitigate this?

Troy Carls November 21, 2009 at 2:53 pm

Hi, I am currently using Mvelopes, but I am dying to try out the new YNAB 3 when it comes out!

Bryan Mangum January 15, 2010 at 6:46 am

I’ve tried most of the financial software out there and I really enjoyed the YNAB trial. It seems very easy to use and understand.

Anthony January 15, 2010 at 8:02 am

So far, so good with YNAB3. There are a lot of great features with the tool.

Matt January 15, 2010 at 8:28 am

If you haven’t checked out the new Adobe AIR version of YNAB, it is a must! The software looks even better now and it is so easy to use. It is a great alternative to Mint and allows you to take care of the security of your information and have better control of what information is going in to the budget.

Christene January 15, 2010 at 12:49 pm

I’ve tried the trial and I simply love it. The interface is just awesome and I like how you can use it even if you don’t sync with your bank.

Christene January 15, 2010 at 2:50 pm

I am in serious debt and am learning the hard way and slowly to help myself get out from under this debt. It actually feels like I can really do this! I am so thankful for all of the advice here. I don’t want to feel so hopeless anymore. I made my own budget but it’s been hard to maintain on an excel spreadsheet. Can software really make things easier?

Heidi Kratzke January 15, 2010 at 4:18 pm

My husband and I just started our own business out of our home. We need to get more organized! This looks like something we’d need.

lucy January 16, 2010 at 7:20 am

I expect YNAB 3 to help me manage my finances. I need to budget my spending carefully in these tough times. I downloaded the trial and it’s suuuuper user friendly–awesome.

Mickelle January 16, 2010 at 3:35 pm

My husband and I have been living on an extremely limited income, but we’re hoping his first REAL job offer will be coming next week, and now we have no idea how to budget! Thanks for steering us in the right direction. Hopefully we can afford it soon! ;)

Tammy January 18, 2010 at 10:31 am

I’m going to be honest, I am crappy at budgeting. I pay my bills on time but it’s because of my trusty calendar but as far as savings and budgeting goes I’m at a loss. I did download the demo and so far am loving it. I am trying to get out of debt and believe this software will come in handy. I truly need budgeting help.

At any rate, keep the up the great and informative writing.

Gtjoie January 21, 2010 at 7:18 am

Hey
Please add a feature that able to deal with several currencies! The idea and the software is great, but not very convenient when you need to handle several currencies (i am expatriated).

Maureen Ruble January 24, 2010 at 8:42 am

The old fashioned pen and paper budgeting system I have been using is exhausting… this tool helps free up time.

Michelle January 25, 2010 at 7:05 pm

YNAB is SUPER easy to use. I know at any given moment how we are doing and where every penny is going and has already gone. I love the charts and graphics in YNAB. The bonus is that it is very user friendly and you can set up your budget and customize the categories in one quick sitting.

We have been using free tools on Dave Ramsey to budget for our family and our membership is expiring in 23 days. I have tried YNAB and have been wanting to buy it but unfortunately every penny is spoken for right now. We WILL get get it but probably not for a couple months.

Elizabeth S. February 13, 2010 at 2:39 am

I clicked on the links you provided to order YNAB. Unfortunately, there was no space to enter “digerati” to receive the 15% discount and I was billed the full $60 price.

Silicon Valley Blogger February 13, 2010 at 8:37 am

@Elizabeth,
My apologies. I just received word from YNAB today that they are reworking their coupon code system. I will have to do some changes here to make sure your coupon is accommodated properly. Meantime, please send me your contact info through my Contact page and let me intervene for you. I can pass your contact info to YNAB to see if they can apply the discount to your purchase.

Thanks for your patience and understanding during this transition — they just implemented this new system yesterday.

Silicon Valley Blogger February 14, 2010 at 12:33 am

The coupon codes are now built into the order links I’ve provided in this article. Check it out and you’ll see the discount immediately applied.

For those who ordered from the links above and have not receive a discount, let me know so we can address your issue.

mimi February 16, 2010 at 6:40 pm

I am so unhappy with my new Quicken 2010 Home & Office b/c of the lack of support for this program. I have been a Quicken user since 1998 but purchased this new one and I have spent countless hours since January of this year and still do not have the answers to make it operate. My question is how does this program compare to the Quicken 2010 Home & Office? I have just spent a bundle for this program and honestly spending more dollars for another program is my last resort but now convinced from feedback on Quicken users that I am not the only person with these issues.

Silicon Valley Blogger February 16, 2010 at 7:12 pm

YNAB has really great customer service and support, based on my experience. They strive hard to make sure their customers are satisfied. Also, there’s a 30 day return guarantee and 7 day free trial if you want to check it out. Just download the product and test it for yourself. Their web site has tons of support and educational information. Have you checked out their web site? It’s packed with information and even offers coaching sessions, etc. But I would leave it up to you to review what they have.

I don’t know anyone who’s been unhappy with it. Again, if you have any issues with this program, you can always return it within 30 days of purchase, no questions asked.

ram February 23, 2010 at 9:50 am

Here’s another one that I liked better – simpler and cheaper: InnoSlice.

Silicon Valley Blogger February 23, 2010 at 10:03 am

Don’t think I ever heard of InnoSlice, and I don’t see much of a website from them either? Maybe it’s because I haven’t looked into this much, but from what I’ve seen of it, I don’t feel comfortable with it.

Phil March 14, 2010 at 3:54 pm

I have been using the free trial offer and plan on purchasing YNAB. Do have another coupon code? This one is no longer working.

Thanks

Silicon Valley Blogger March 14, 2010 at 5:33 pm

@Phil,
I’ll request a new coupon code from YNAB shortly. I hope to install one shortly. Thanks for letting me know about this!

Ed March 14, 2010 at 7:35 pm

My wife and I are looking for a decent budgeting program. YNAB sounds like one of the better solutions out there. We also have investments, which it sounds like YNAB isn’t the best at helping to track. But, I figure if we can get our day-to-day expenses in order, then we’ll have money left over for investments. Do you know if a copy of YNAB is purchased, and I upgrade computers later, do I have to repurchase YNAB, or can I just transfer it to the newer computer? Please let me know when a new coupon code is available! Thanks!

Silicon Valley Blogger March 16, 2010 at 12:03 pm

I’ve checked with the folks behind YNAB and unfortunately, YNAB is not on sale at this time. But when they do go on sale, we’ll definitely be letting you know through this page! Here’s a reminder of why YNAB 3 has been picking up traction:

  • You can import information from your bank into YNAB 3. You can reconcile the information you have in your budget with the data you have in various financial accounts.
  • The application supports envelope budgeting.
  • Get rid of your debt more quickly by using YNAB’s budgeting strategies.
  • You can schedule recurring transactions.
  • You can identify and plug spending leaks that you find in your budget.
  • There’s a feature called “Quickbudget” that allows you to work with your monthly numbers more easily.
  • The application also incorporates a great saving methodology that is based on YNAB’s 4 rules.

Thanks,
SVB

ram May 12, 2010 at 10:39 pm

Been using Innoslice for a few months, super simple to use is all I can say. Innoslice has a website — Google for Innoslice. They definitely need to add more documentation and more features though. However, it works great for me for what I’m using it for — simple, day to day expense logging. Hope they add more features. In any case, for the price, it offers a lot of value.

YNAB is good too, but it has grown into a complicated application (IMO) over the years. It might have all the features, but I don’t need so many!

Holly February 18, 2011 at 6:48 am

Hi, Ed-

I was able to transfer my purchase to a second computer using the code given at the time of the initial purchase (I think that’s how I did it…it was over a year ago.). Anyway, yes you should be able to do that…

I have been using YNAB since Fall 2008 due to DH’s loss of overtime pay which was a major pay decrease. The program really helped us to stay on track and I love that I get automatic updates when there are revisions. I really do love using it!

Ryan February 22, 2012 at 9:16 am

For the last couple of years I’ve tried almost all types of available budgeting tools, from “pen and paper” budgeting to Excel spreadsheets, offline applications and several online budget planning programs. I can’t say that I’ve found an ideal tool that would satisfy all of my financial needs, however each approach definitely has its own advantages. I’ve personally settled for inexfinance.com/ since it supports multi-currency transactions, and this is something I need badly since I travel a lot and often handle cash transactions in various currencies. Moreover I feel kind of uncomfortable when I’m asked to share my private banking information online and conveniently this site allows to input manual transactions or upload financial statements via import tool.

Jen March 21, 2012 at 5:39 pm

Here’s my .02 about this tool. There are lots of free budgeting tools available, but if you prefer to manage your money in your own secure desktop environment, then you’ll appreciate YNAB, which has proven to be a great alternative to the more popular Quicken and the now defunct MS Money.

Silicon Valley Blogger March 22, 2012 at 2:13 pm

I particularly appreciate the fact that there are a lot of supporting materials for YNAB users — some are free while others are available for a price.

Note that the YNAB site also offers additional items through their online store, including:

  • YNAB 3 software
  • YNAB for iPhone (mobile version)
  • YNAB for Android (again, mobile)
  • The YNAB book, which provides a lot of wisdom for savers (ebook is free, hard copy is for $10)
  • The YNAB Audiobook
  • A YNAB 3 Gift Certificate for a friend or loved one
  • A one hour, one-on-one budget coaching session
  • All the items above can be found in the YNAB Online Store.

Boise March 22, 2012 at 3:57 pm

That looks like a great piece of software. I couldn’t agree more that creating and actually living by a budget is the only real way to take control of your financial situation. I’m going to take a look at the software you’ve recommended and see how it works for me.

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