Financial App Review: YNAB

Often our team is asked how you track your expenses in an attempt to maintain a household budget. Admittedly we all have biases and apps we tend to gravitate to. However, that doesn’t mean we’re using the best tools for our individual clients or maybe even for ourselves. In an attempt to understand more of the market offering for budgeting apps we’ve launched this mini series. We’re trying out some of the more common tracking/budgeting apps and reviewing them, so you don’t have to.

Each review will consist of the same thirteen yes/no questions, broken into three categories. In addition, three of our team members will provide a short answers to three subjective questions. Lastly, we will each give the app a score, 1-10 with a short paragraph for score justification.

But first, let’s get some disclaimers out of the way. Most of the apps we’re choosing to review are free. Think back to your very first economics class. We all know there’s “no such thing as a free lunch.” Just know these apps, like any other free offerings are using your data. They might be selling it to partners, using it to send targeted messages, etc. There’s always a cost. For this series our team only tested apps we were comfortable sharing our data with. If a platform makes you uncomfortable, don’t use it. 

Let’s get to it.

YNAB (You Need A Budget)

How is your information protected? 
  • YNAB uses 3rd party auditors to ensure servers, coding, and staff are maintaining privacy.  
  • YNAB pays “good guy” hackers to find vulnerabilities in their systems 
  • Traffic between your computer and YNAB is encrypted with “bank-grade or better” encryption 
  • https://www.youneedabudget.com/security/

Functionality:
  • Can transactions be split across multiple budget categories?Yes
  • Are there plan vs actual reports for past periods?No (Doesn’t make sense with the way YNAB works)
  • Can target goals be set for categories?Yes
  • Are multiple sources of money (checking, savings, lines of credit) available to include in the budget?Yes
  • Can multiple versions of a budget be maintained and can past versions be accessed? —  Yes
  • Can budget categories be added/deleted/named/modified? Grouped together — Yes
  • Are credit card transactions categorized into budget categories?Yes/Can be set up
  • Is there forecasting for future income and spending?Spending only
  • Are there trend reports showing spending over multiple periods?Yes
  • Cost: $7/month

Connectivity/Integration:
  • Can the app sync with checking, savings, credit card, loan, PayPal, and other financial products?Yes
  • Is there mobile access and synchronization?Yes

Behavior Correction:
  • Are notifications provided when close or over budget? — No, only color coded

Subjective:

— Is the app easy to use – intuitive?

Damian — This is a bit of a toss up. YNAB really functions well, but asks users to think of their budget in a slightly different way than some previously have. If things aren’t set up and maintained correctly, that mistake or oversight will have a ripple effect going forward until it’s addressed. I will say this, YNAB provides TONS of support and their communication to the customer is fantastic.  


Gayle
— Yes and no. Basic budgeting set up is straightforward but other aspects aren’t necessarily intuitive, like how credit card payments are handled. Organizing a budget, tracking spending, and reconciling accounts are easy tasks. 


Kristen
— Personally, I found YNAB to be a bit overwhelming. There is a learning curve more apparent than with other products I’ve used in the past.

 

— Does the app encourage good behavior?

Damian — Not overtly. For some people, all they need to see are the numbers and spend a few minutes maintaining everything to be motivated. If you’re one of those people then you’ll love YNAB.


Gayle — Not necessarily. If you follow the YNAB guidelines and best practices, and stick to your budget, YNAB will help you be better at managing money.


Kristen — Only if a user is actively using YNAB and finds encouragement in numbers. If you’re logging in to the app daily or a few times/week you’ll be aware of your spending. It’s still up to the user to find these numbers motivating.

 

Aesthetically pleasing?

Damian — I think so.

Gayle — Yes. 

Kristen — Yes.

 

Scoring and Final Thoughts: 
Damian — 8/10 for budget nerds (whom I love).  3/10 for us commoners. 

I’m absolutely torn on this. YNAB is a fantastic solution if you want to keep your fingers in the details. Plenty would argue that this is the best way to maintain a budget, and that’s hard to argue. However, I’ve always thought that YNAB is an “all or nothing” type of option. Either you’re going to be committed to budgeting your entire income all the time, or you’re going to find another solution because YNAB doesn’t play well any other way. If you’re “in it”, then YNAB is a strong contender to be the champ and the monthly fee is well worth it. If you’re looking for a way to dial in an area or two of your financial life without needing to buy into an entire methodology, you’re going to be frustrated, maybe overwhelmed, and almost certainly disappointed. 

 

Gayle — 8/10

Full disclosure: I’ve been using YNAB for over 4 years. It took me some time to adjust to YNAB’s methodology but I’ve become quite a fan over the years. I like how easy it is to set up budget categories, split transactions across categories, plan for upcoming and/or irregular expenses, and track on and off accounts. A bonus is that it connects to all my banks unlike many other budgeting apps. I love all the details and I admit to being one of those nutty numbers people who manages to the penny. However, YNAB does have some downfalls. I personally have struggled with YNAB’s approach of only budgeting the money you have because I like forecasting for the entire month. I wish YNAB had simpler reporting features. I agree with my colleagues that YNAB isn’t for everyone. Once you’re in, you have to be disciplined and stay on top of things because mistakes will haunt you until you correct them.

 

Kristen — 5/10 

I hate to say it, but I wasn’t sold. I really looked forward to creating my YNAB account. I’m a spreadsheet fan and default to Excel or Google Sheets for my personal budget. I found YNAB difficult to learn how to use. As a result, I didn’t regularly check in on my budget. When I came back to my budget I felt out of touch with the categories due to the time spent away from the platform. I liked many components, like the ability to adjust categories of spending with ease, but for me they didn’t outweigh the learning curve. Compound my initial frustrations to the fact that I have to pay to use the platform, and I’ll pass on YNAB.

To learn more about the experts who wrote this review, please visit YourMoneyLine.com.

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