You Need a Budget (YNAB) takes an unusual approach to personal budgeting. This online personal finance service is built on the philosophy that every dollar you’re projected to earn needs a job, so you assign it to either be spent or saved. The site connects directly to your financial accounts to pull in balances and transactions that flow directly into your budget, so you can instantly see where you stand with your spending. YNAB can be a bit difficult to master, but it provides a lot of educational material, both tutorial and philosophical in nature. Used conscientiously, YNAB improves your chances of making a budget work by helping you understand your own saving and spending habits better.

On top of its learning curve, YNAB costs $11.99 per month. Other top personal finance applications, such as Editors’ Choice Mint and Credit Karma, are free. Editors’ Choice Quicken Deluxe is only $49.99 annually. Still, if you want a more innovative method of budgeting that helps you balance your monthly budget rather than just comparing budgeted amounts to actual income and spending, then YNAB is an excellent choice. In fact, it can be a good adjunct to Mint or Quicken Deluxe if you’re serious about controlling your budget.

What Does YNAB Cost?

As mentioned, YNAB costs $11.99 per month or $84 per year. There’s a 34-day free trial. Why 34 days? After one month, you’ll have just started to understand your budget and spending. So, YNAB gives you a few extra days to think it over. There’s no credit card required to try it, and students can apply to have the fee waived on their account for one year.

Many other personal finance applications are free. Mint, for example, is totally free, supported by compensation from financial product providers who buy coverage and pay a referral bonus when a user signs up for a credit card or car loan, for example. Credit Karma, NerdWallet, and WalletHub follow a similar business model. In its favor, YNAB spares you the ads.

Excellent Security

YNAB, like the other services I’ve reviewed in the personal finance space, promises to keep your information encrypted and secure and makes its full security policy publicly available. The policy is strong, especially the part about completely deleting your account should you choose to leave the service (some personal finance sites let your data hang around for a time even after you’ve stopped using them). It uses bank-grade or better encryption, and it does not store your bank credentials. YNAB is not a fly-by-night company; it’s been around since 2004. In addition, the company has multiple security types, including two-step verification.

Making Your Money Work

YNAB starts with your income and asks you to give every dollar a job. Every dollar should be assigned to either a spending category or savings. In the first few days, you invest a lot of time thinking through what categories you’ll need, though a few dozen are provided to help you get started. YNAB even gives you a default “Stuff I Forgot to Budget For” category, which is handy. It could take you a few months to get your categories finalized, and they’re likely to continue to evolve over time.

The idea is to truly balance your budget, making sure that necessary expenses are met and you aren’t overspending in any category. YNAB tries to help people who live paycheck-to-paycheck understand where their money goes so they’ll become more aware of income and expenses. Ideally, its developers want people to subsist on their monthly income without dipping into extra funds, and hopefully even begin to save.

Using YNAB

YNAB offers a terrific user experience, which helps with usability and just makes your experience more pleasant. Its mechanics are not particularly complicated—once you understand them. I strongly recommend that you check out some of the many tutorials available before you enter anything, though there’s plenty of assistance available once you get started (more on support later). YNAB is different from any other budgeting application I’ve ever seen. It is highly, highly unlikely that you’d be able to understand its system just by clicking around.


After you’ve created an account and signed in, you’re asked to select the reason(s) you came to the site, such as paying off debt or saving toward a goal). It’ll ask a few questions, too: Are you budgeting alone or with a partner? Is your income regular or variable? The site then opens a budget template containing all zeroes for each category. The main categories are divided into several areas: Credit Card Payments, Immediate Obligations, True Expenses, Debt Payments, Quality of Life Goals, and Just for Fun. When you click a category, such as Rent/Mortgage, the right vertical pane displays related information (more on that later).

Your budget template, which looks like a spreadsheet, contains four columns. The first is the item’s category. To the right of that is a field (labeled Assigned) where you eventually enter your budgeted amounts. When a transaction is imported and categorized (or entered manually), its amount appears in the third column (Activity). The fourth column shows how much you have spent on that category in the current pay period. As you create your targeted amounts for your categories, another column appears to the right of each category name indicating its status. It might say something like “Funded” or “$50 needed by the 26th.”

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