When someone finds the world of personal finance, and FI, the first thing they will likely need to do is come up with some sort of budget. This can feel overwhelming if your system of budgeting in the past has simply been checking your account balance and doing some quick mental math.
That's where You Need A Budget, commonly referred to as YNAB, comes in. YNAB is a popular subscription budgeting software. It's specifically designed to help you stop living paycheck to paycheck, pay off debt, and save more money.
For someone on the path to financial independence, the YNAB budgeting philosophy should get along well with many of the concepts you already apply to your financial life.
The YNAB Budgeting Philosophy
The software revolves around four main budgeting rules.
Rule #1: You have to give every dollar a job. Essentially, YNAB believes that when every dollar is intentionally allocated to an expense or a goal, you make your financial life easier to manage. At the end of the exercise, you should have no money left over that needs to be budgeted.
Rule #2: You have to embrace your true expenses. YNAB realizes that not all expenses occur every month. Instead, there are some large expenses that happen throughout the year. Set goals for these large expenses and associate a time when the goal needs to be met. YNAB will let you know how much you need to save each month and keep you on track to reach your goal.
Rule #3: You have to roll with the punches. YNAB doesn’t think your budget should be unchangeable. If something pops up, you can adjust your budget in real-time. You can take money away from one category that still has money in it and allocates it to the overspent expense.
Rule #4: You should only be spending money you earned at least a month ago. This way, you’re never waiting for the next paycheck to pay a bill. Instead, you can live on last month’s income. You won’t have to worry about how to stretch money until your next paycheck or how to pay for expenses that are distributed unevenly throughout a month.
[Editor's note: I think this is the best feature of YNAB. Spending last month's income gives an amazing amount of flexibility and reduces stress. You always know how much money you have to budget and the timing of payments is never an issue.]
If you like their budgeting philosophy, you may be a good fit to use their software. However, if you don’t like how they believe budgeting should work, you might be better off using other options.
You can try out YNAB for free for the first 34 days. Thankfully, YNAB’s free trial is actually 100% free. You don’t have to submit payment information and remember to cancel before the free trial expires if you decide against continuing to use the software. However, that is only true for the desktop version of the software. If you sign up for a free trial through the phone app with iOS or Android, you do have to cancel or your card will be charged due to the way the app stores work.
YNAB currently costs just $6.99 per month according to their marketing. Despite the marketing of a monthly payment, YNAB actually bills you once a year with an $83.99 charge. This does come with a no questions asked money-back guarantee.
Unfortunately, YNAB is only offered using the “software as a service” model. This means you’ll have to pay the $83.99 fee each year you want to continue using the software. As someone working toward financial independence, subscription models probably aren’t your favorite types of products to purchase. If you don’t renew each year, you’ll lose access to YNAB and the data you’ve built up in the software.
That said, the software as a service model allows YNAB to continue innovating to make the product better. You’ll get the updates as they happen, so you’ll always be using the latest and greatest version.
YNAB is budgeting software. Its primary goal is to help you take control of your money. The software offers both desktop and mobile options so you can keep up with your budget wherever you go. In the past, YNAB relied entirely on user input for all transactions. Thankfully, the most recent version of the software allows bank syncing which can save you a ton of time over manually inputting every single transaction.
They offer the tools and knowledge you need to pay down your debt and track your other financial goals. They also offer reporting in the form of pie charts for spending, bar charts for net worth and multi-month income vs. expense reports.
YNAB offers support through a messaging system on their website and live workshops. They also have a forum, help documents, weekly videos, podcasts, weekly newsletters, and frequently asked questions to help you learn the software. Unfortunately, there isn’t a phone number to call for live support.
It’s important to note YNAB doesn’t try to be an all-in-one financial management tool. That means that you won’t be able to pay bills or check your credit score through their software. If you want to see if you are saving enough money for your retirement goals, you’ll need to use another program, too.
Outside of the software, YNAB offers some great classes and blog posts to help you further your financial education and optimize your finances. The blog posts and classes are probably a bit basic for those already well on their path to financial independence. However, they could be great information for someone just starting to turn their financial life in the right direction.
Getting started with YNAB is easy. Click “Sign Up” on the home page then enter your email address and a password. That’s all there is to it.
Next, YNAB will take you to their online software app. The first thing they have you do is set a goal for gifts. To set goals, you select a category. Then, on the right side scroll down to the goals section and click “+ Create a goal.” Next, select a goal amount and the date you wish to have the amount of money set aside by. Finally, click OK and the goal is set.
The second thing you do is add an account to the software. You can manually add accounts or link your bank accounts to import transactions automatically. You can add checking, savings, cash, credit card, line of credit, asset (investment) and liability (debt) accounts.
After you manually add or link your accounts to the software, it’s time to start budgeting your money by giving every dollar a job. All you have to do is add amounts in the budgeted column until your remaining amount to be budgeted is $0.00 at the top of the screen. As you spend money, the available column will decrease showing you how much money you have left to spend in each budget category for the month.
Next, YNAB asks you to schedule future transactions you know will happen. You can pick the date and frequency of each scheduled transactions to make your life easier. For instance, you can schedule a monthly transaction for your rent payment due on the 1st of each month rather than schedule 12 individual payments. When you schedule transactions, you input the payee, category and amount. You can also add a memo if you need it. If a category doesn’t have enough money to cover a scheduled transaction, the available column will turn orange during that month’s budget to let you know.
Finally, YNAB wants to teach you how to move money from one category to another. To get started, click on a green number in the available column that you want to move money out of. Next, select the amount of money you want to move and which category you want to move it to.
After you’ve completed the tutorial steps above, you have a good handle on how YNAB works. If you have any questions when using the software, click the question mark in the bottom right-hand corner for guidance.
Is YNAB Right for You?
Ultimately, you’ll have to decide if YNAB is the right budgeting software for your situation. The software works great if your idea of budgeting is in line with how YNAB works. However, if you budget using your own methodology, YNAB might not play nicely with your current system.
- Beginner's Guide To Reaching Financial Independence
- How To Make Your First Budget
- The Breakdown Of Our Budget–Why Following A Budget Doesn't Always Work