You Need a Budget Review: Is it the Best Budgeting App?

You Need a Budget Review: Is it the Best Budgeting App?

YNAB is one of the most well known budgeting apps, but is it the best one?

You Need a Budget Review: Is it the Best Budgeting App?

    If you're looking to take control of your finances, creating a budget is one of the most basic and effective things you can do. Setting your budget and tracking expenses will help you to take control of your finances. You'll know where your money is going and be able to adjust how you spend based on your priorities.

    There are several different ways you can create a budget, including pencil and paper or a spreadsheet, but using an app is a common choice. Budget apps can add a lot of convenience to your life. In this You Need a Budget review, we'll take a detailed look at one of the leading apps for budgeting.

    What is You Need a Budget?

    You Need a Budget (YNAB) allows you to create a personalized budget based on your financial situation. It's completely flexible, so you can set up the budget categories you need, assign specific amounts to each category, and adjust your budget as life changes.

    With a history dating back to its launch in 2002, YNAB has helped thousands of people control their finances. While some other budget apps are more reactive and focus on monitoring your expenses and categorizing them, YNAB takes a more active or aggressive approach. It helps you create your ideal budget, so you're in charge of how your money is spent instead of simply looking at the ways you're already spending money.

    Four Rules of Budgeting

    You Need a Budget uses four basic rules:

    1. Give every dollar a job. This helps you take complete control over your money rather than spending on a whim or living without a plan.
    2. Embrace your true expenses. Set money aside each month towards your higher costs that don't occur every month (like car repairs or Christmas gifts).
    3. Roll with the punches. You'll have the flexibility to adjust your budget if you overspend in a particular category.
    4. Age your money. You should be spending money that is at least 30 days old. As the age of your money grows, so does your overall financial situation.

    How Does YNAB Work?

    You Need a Budget syncs with your financial accounts (banks, credit cards, investment accounts) for convenience. When you get started, you'll connect your accounts and then start building your budget. The app provides you with some suggested categories, but it doesn't restrict you to those categories. Instead, you can create your categories based on your expenses or eliminate those you don't need.

    Note: For those who don't want to connect YNAB to financial accounts, manual use is also an option. Linking the app to your accounts adds convenience since your expenses sync to the app, but you can also enter everything manually if you prefer.

    Of course, you'll be able to set a dollar amount for each category in the budget. The proactive approach is an essential aspect of YNAB because you'll be assigning a use for every dollar of income (also known as "zero-based budgeting"). You'll set budgets for each category or expense as well as for saving and investing. The less you spend, the more you have to save and invest.

    If you link the app to your checking and credit card accounts, most of your expenses will be automatically pulled in and categorized. You can check periodically to ensure that payments are categorized correctly, and you can also add expenses manually as needed, for example, if you paid with cash.

    YNAB provides you with some helpful reports to visualize how you're spending money. A net worth report is also available.

    The key to YNAB's effectiveness lies in the proactive approach. Rather than simply looking at how you've historically spent your money and using that to dictate your budget, YNAB helps you take control. You'll set the budget based on your ideal scenario, which helps to minimize unnecessary spending and allows you to allocate more for savings.

    The proactive approach helps you be more aware of your finances and provides tremendous motivation to stick with your budget and improve your financial situation. When you take an intentional approach to budgeting, you'll find that you get more out of your money.

    Your budget is never completely static. Spending changes each month the details of your life are constantly evolving as well. YNAB is highly flexible, allowing you to adjust and tweak your budget as needed. For example, if you've overspent in a category, you can reduce the budget for another category to account for the difference. You can also change the budget going forward as needed.

    YNAB Pricing

    You Need a Budget offers two different pricing options. You can pay $11.99 per month or $84 per year, representing a savings of $59. Both plans give you the same features and access. It's simply a matter of how you prefer to pay.

    Although there is no free version of the app available, YNAB does offer a 34-day free trial, so you can check it out before making a financial commitment. They also offer a no-risk money-back guarantee. If for some reason, you're not satisfied with YNAB, you can contact customer support for a full refund.

    Is YNAB Safe?

    It's as safe as bank account logins and other financial apps. YNAB takes all the necessary safety precautions, but using any online financial platform does come with some level of security risk. In general, if you feel safe using online banking or other financial apps, you should feel safe with YNAB.

    If security is a significant concern, you can opt to use the app without connecting it to your financial accounts. This adds a slight inconvenience but may provide peace of mind.

    Pros and Cons of You Need a Budget

    Like any other app or service, there are pros and cons to YNAB.


    • Complete focus on budgeting. Many financial apps allow you to do several different things, including managing a budget. YNAB is different because it focuses exclusively on budgeting, and it does a better job than the apps that try to do several other things.
    • Active approach. You'll give each dollar a purpose before you spend any money.
    • Flexibility. YNAB is entirely customizable for your own life and your financial situation. You'll create and adjust a budget that's customized for you, rather than being forced into a cookie-cutter budget.
    • Automatically upload your transactions. YNAB syncs with more than 12,000 banks, so you can easily upload your transactions, which means you don't need to enter them manually.
    • Goal setting. YNAB helps you to improve your financial situation by setting goals that provide motivation.
    • Use it on multiple devices. You can access YNAB from your desktop, tablet, or mobile device.
    • Educational resources. From the blog to the forums, there are plenty of resources to learn more about budgeting and money management.
    • Free trial. You can get started with YNAB and see if it's a good fit for your needs.
    • Continued improvement. YNAB has evolved and improved since it launched. The platform keeps getting better, which is great for users.


    • Cost. You may not want to spend $11.99 per month on a budgeting app, especially when there are some free alternatives out there.
    • Learning curve. There's a lot that YNAB can do, and it might take a little while to learn how to do everything. The basics are fairly simple, but there is a learning curve for new users.
    • Limited support options. Currently, customer service is only available via live chat. It would be nice to be able to get support by email or phone as well.

    You Need a Budget Alternatives

    Of course, YNAB isn't the only app of its kind. Here are some others, along with brief details about how they compare.


    Mint is a very popular budgeting app, and unlike YNAB, it's free. The most significant difference is that Mint is better for tracking how you're spending money, and YNAB is better for proactively creating an ideal budget to manage your money better. If you want to improve the way you're spending your money, YNAB offers more potential.


    Pocketsmith takes a different approach than most budgeting apps. It allows you to look at your past, manage the present, and peek at what's in store for the future. It can help you make better financial decisions, but if budgeting is your primary concern, YNAB offers more robust budgeting functionality.

    Personal Capital

    Personal Capital offers a free financial dashboard that syncs to your accounts, tracks your net worth, and provides detailed reporting. Unfortunately, while Personal Capital is a great tool, its budgeting capabilities are pretty limited.


    While there are many budgeting apps out there, YNAB takes a more proactive approach to manage your money. Rather than simply observing how you're spending, YNAB encourages you to take control of your money. For most people, this leads to the best results.

    While the app does cost some money, YNAB may be the ideal choice for you if you're looking to improve the way you manage and spend your money.

    The opinions expressed in this article are for general information purposes only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations about any investment product or security. This information is provided strictly as a means of education regarding the financial industry.

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    Tina S. Rhodes

    27 posts

    Tina is a personal finance writer who is passionate about ensuring that financial literacy is accessible to anyone who is interested! In her free time, she enjoys hiking, tacos, and cats.