YNAB Review [2024]: Make Your Money Work for You

MANAGE MONEY - BUDGETING
You Need a Budget, or YNAB, is an app and system for tracking your money by giving every dollar a job.
Updated April 3, 2023
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You Need A Budget (YNAB) is a budgeting app that helps people get a handle on their finances. It offers users tools to create an in-depth budget and helps them give every dollar that comes in a job. Although it’s not free, and it’s more expensive than many competitors, it offers several features that could help you save money, pay down debt, or budget for the future.

We like its flexibility, educational tools (including webinars), and its approach to managing credit cards.

If you’re looking for a new budgeting app, this YNAB review will help you determine if it's right for you before signing up.

Key takeaways

  • Every dollar you bring in has a purpose: paying monthly expenses, saving, or paying off debt.
  • YNAB costs more than most competitors after the free 34-day trial period — $14.99 a month or $99 a year.
  • It’s easy to customize and track expenses and create goals, but you may need to set aside dedicated time to keep everything updated.
  • YNAB does not have bill tracking or bill-paying features.
  • You can link your investment accounts, but tracking them through the app is not intuitive and may require additional work.
In this article

YNAB: Is it worth it?

YNAB (You Need A Budget)
Pros Cons
  • A free 34-day trial lets you try out the app and its features before committing.
  • Create multiple budgets, including shared budgets with family members.
  • Automatic syncing through multiple platforms, including iOS, Android, and Alexa.
  • Easy access to customer support.
  • No in-app ads.
  • It’s more expensive than other budgeting apps.
  • It can be difficult to learn and time-consuming to maintain.
  • Investment tracking is possible but not easy to do.
  • No bill tracking or direct bill pay through YNAB.
Our verdict: YNAB offers great budgeting features and requires a hands-on approach to managing your money. It is relatively expensive compared to other apps on the market and can have a steep learning curve. Since YNAB offers a free 34-day trial, it’s worth checking out and seeing if this budgeting app is right for you.

What is YNAB?

Service YNAB
Price $14.99 a month or $99 a year, plus taxes where applicable
Features
  • Create and maintain multiple budgets
  • Automatic account syncing to your bank accounts
  • Real-time expense tracking and updates
  • Goal tracking
  • Responsive customer support
  • Split transactions across budgets
  • Pay off debt by setting goals
  • Spending and net worth reports
  • Loan calculator
  • Share budgets with up to six people through YNAB Together
  • Continuing education through videos, workshops, blog articles, and online support

YNAB was founded in 2004 by Jesse Mecham and is a digital version of the popular zero-sum method for managing your money. With this method, every dollar you bring in gets directed to a goal, like paying monthly expenses, saving for the future, or paying off debt.

Users can create budgets, run reports, measure their progress toward goals, and monitor their net worth. Transactions and bank information will automatically sync to the app and any devices where it's installed. YNAB offers multiple tools that can be difficult to find in other apps, like splitting transactions and sharing a budget.

YNAB is popular, scoring a 4.8 out of 5-star rating on the Apple App Store and 4.6 out of 5 stars on the Google Play Store, with more than 55,000 reviews between the two platforms. It’s available as a mobile app for both Apple and Android phones, including the Apple Watch, on a desktop browser and through an Alexa system.

YNAB screenshot

What you can do with YNAB

YNAB takes a much more hands-on approach to budgeting than other personal finance apps. Users are actively involved in maintaining their budgets, and to get the most out of the app will need to spend time reviewing and categorizing their finances through the platform.

To better manage your money, the YNAB budgeting tool follow four rules:

Rule 1 — Give every dollar a job: YNAB will help you set aside every dollar you bring into a corresponding budget category. By giving every dollar a purpose, you determine how you’ll use it before it's spent, which can help you stick to your financial goals and avoid impulse spending.

Rule 2 — Embrace your true expenses: YNAB allows you to budget for costs that happen less frequently, like birthday or holiday gifts or unexpected repairs. It helps you create multiple targeted savings categories within the app that are funded a little bit each month to avoid going into debt.

Rule 3 — Roll with the punches: You will likely overspend your set budget limits as you learn how to manage your money. If you go over budget in one category, YNAB lets you move funds from another to help you cover the costs.

Rule 4 — Age your money: If you stick with YNAB long enough, the app says that you’ll break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle and be able to spend last month’s income on this month’s expenses.

In addition to the budgeting method YNAB uses, it also has multiple features that make managing your money easier.

Real-time syncing: YNAB will securely sync with your bank accounts and credit cards and automatically update your transactions across devices. It can also sync with your investment accounts, but if you link them to YNAB, you’ll have to make manual adjustments within the app.

Goal Tracking: Using the goals feature can help you save for multiple targets at once, and the app will show your progress toward a specific goal.

Run reports: YNAB features various reports to help you compare your spending over time, review your net worth, or see how your income compares to your expenses.

Review your spending: Use progress bars to help you check how much is left in a budgeting category or track a goal. You can turn the colorful progress bars off if you find them distracting or leave them on for at-a-glance budget updates.

Split transactions: Some stores make it easy to get groceries, clothing, and electronics in one place, but you may need to split one extensive shopping trip among several budgeting categories. YNAB lets you allocate specific dollar amounts to better track your spending.

Share your budget: Partners or families can create and share budgets under the YNAB Together feature. You can choose which budgets your partner sees and even which member has permission to edit or remove budgets or bank accounts.

Continuing education: YNAB also has guides, live Q&As; and workshops, a blog, and YouTube videos with tips and instructions on making the most of the app. You can learn about app-specific features and how-to's and find answers to general personal finance questions.

Who is YNAB best for?

YNAB is best for people who like to dive deep into their money and keep a close eye on their monthly expenses.

Although YNAB’s main strength is its customizable budgeting features, getting set up on the platform can take some work. You can start with the default budget categories, or you can create your own.

You’ll have to spend time creating and maintaining your budget and filing your transactions, especially in the beginning. Once you’ve categorized monthly expenses a couple of times, the app can learn and automatically file recurring transactions.

If you’re a new budgeter or want a hands-off approach to your money management, a different app may work better. Since YNAB offers a free 34-day trial and doesn’t require a credit card to sign up, it can be worth checking out to see if it's a good fit.

How can you save with YNAB?

YNAB says they have helped users save an average of $600 by their second month of using the method and app and around $6,000 their first year.

Although every person is different, one of the benefits of YNAB is that it does require you to be very hands-on with your money. Ideally, you would use the app to check in on your budget categories before you hand over your debit card, making you more conscious of your spending.

You can also use credit cards within YNAB if you prefer so you can accumulate rewards points or cash back. It automatically moves money from your budget to your credit card account payment category.

For example, if you spend $30 at a grocery store on a credit card, YNAB will move $30 from your grocery category to your credit card payment category. When it’s time to make a credit card payment, you pay the amount in your credit card payment category, assuming your goal is not to accumulate more debt.

Setting goals within your budget allows you to focus on your priorities and understand how your spending habits affect them. If you give in to an impulse purchase, you won't have enough for your savings or debt repayment, slowing down your progress.

Using the spending target within a budget category can help you see your progress toward your goal. You can focus on savings you’ll need for spending in the future, like vacations, yearly fees, down payments, or your emergency fund. You can also create a monthly savings builder and accumulate a set amount each month to grow until it's needed.

Tip
Note that those dedicated savings accounts are only within the app, and YNAB doesn’t actually move your money from your bank into specific accounts.

How to get started with YNAB

Getting signed up with YNAB is easy, but it can take at least 20 to 30 minutes to complete your budgets and import transactions, so be prepared.

1. Sign up for the YNAB 34-day free trial.

YNAB screenshot

2. Create an account using your email address, Apple, or Google login and accept the terms of service.

YNAB screenshot

YNAB screenshot

3. Select a monthly or yearly subscription option, and then hit Try Free & Subscribe.

YNAB screenshot

4. Start to build and customize your budgets and add your checking accounts, savings accounts, credit card accounts, and loan accounts for automatic syncing. YNAB uses Plaid to securely connect with financial institutions for direct importing.

YNAB screenshot

YNAB screenshot

Other budgeting apps to consider

If YNAB doesn’t sound like the right app for you, or you’re wondering how it compares to other available budgeting apps, check out a couple of its competitors.

Rocket Money

Rocket Money, previously called Truebill, is a personal finance app that helps users negotiate bills, track their spending, monitor their credit score, automate savings, and create a budget.

Rocket Money is free, but it does offer a premium service that costs between $3 and $12 per month on a pay-what-you-want or can-afford basis. Premium features include automated subscription cancellations, expanded budgeting features, net worth calculations, real-time account syncing, and refunded overdrafts and late fees.

Learn more about Rocket Money.

Empower (formerly Personal Capital)

Empower (formerly known as Personal Capital) is a helpful option if your primary goal is to track your investment accounts. The app offers free investment management and financial tools, including a net worth calculator, a savings planner, and a retirement planner that can help you run different scenarios and create a spending plan for your golden years.

If you want to invest money through Empower and gain access to financial advisors, you’ll have to sign up and pay a fee based on your total account balance. Empower charges 0.89% on the first million you invest with them, and they have a $100,000 account minimum, which is higher than some competitors.

Learn more in our Empower review.

Service YNAB Rocket Money Empower
Price $14.99 a month or $99 a year Free to use but premium features cost between $3 and $12 a month Free financial tools but charges an annual fee of 0.89% on your first million dollars managed
App or desktop App and desktop App and desktop App and desktop
Free features
  • Free 34-day trial, but then you have to pay to access your budget
  • Videos, guides, and articles are available free of charge
  • Track spending
  • Negotiate bills
  • Credit score review
  • Account alerts
  • Two budgeting categories
  • Automate savings
  • Investment checkup
  • Retirement planner
  • Savings planner
  • Fee analysis
  • Net worth tracker
  • Cash flow and budgeting
  • Trends or changes in your budget over time
  • Bill reminders
Premium features
  • Create and maintain multiple budgets
  • Automatic account syncing to your financial accounts
  • Real-time expense tracking and updates
  • Goal tracking
  • Robust customer support
  • Split transactions
  • Goal setting
  • Spending and net worth reports
  • Loan calculator
  • Share budgets through YNAB Together
  • Access to customer service
  • Cancel unwanted subscriptions
  • Overdraft and late fee refunds
  • Unlimited budgeting categories
  • Smart savings
  • Net worth calculations
  • Chat with experts
  • Credit reports
  • Real-time account sync
For those with more than $100,000 in assets:
  • Access to live financial planners
  • Professionally managed ETF portfolio with reviews

For those with $200K to $1M in investment assets:

  • Two dedicated financial advisors
  • A customized portfolio
  • Tax optimization based on individual stock investments

FAQs about YNAB

Is it worth paying for YNAB?

It may be worth paying for YNAB if you want to dive deeply into your finances and are committed to using your budget daily. Although YNAB is more expensive than several competitors, if the YNAB system works for you, it may help you save more than the yearly subscription fee of $99.

What is YNAB’s customer service like?

YNAB has a robust help section that can help you answer most questions about app features. If you need to contact YNAB, you can reach them using the chat feature in the app or via their support form online. You can also email help@ynab.com, and YNAB says they will respond within 48 hours, but usually much faster.

Is YNAB a scam?

YNAB is not a scam. It’s a personal finance app based on the zero-sum budgeting technique and rates 4.4 out of 5 stars on Trustpilot. YNAB uses various security measures, including 2FA data encryption, accredited data centers, and industry best practices to protect customers’ information.

YNAB review: Bottom line

Although YNAB takes time to set up and can have a steep learning curve if you aren’t familiar with the general concept, spending time with your budget will likely help you improve your finances.

YNAB might be a good fit for you, even with the subscription fee, especially if you like using a zero-based budgeting system and knowing where every cent goes and how it's working for you. Whatever personal finance app you choose, spend some time thinking about what you need from your budgeting software and how you can best manage your money.

YNAB (You Need A Budget) Benefits

  • Manage your money easily, simply, and conveniently
  • Tools to help you pay off debt, save more, and budget better
  • Use a simple 4-step method to organize your finances
  • New users save $600 on average in their first two months
  • Try it free for 34 days

Author Details

Kate Daugherty Kate Daugherty is a professional writer with a passion for providing others the head start they deserve on their financial journeys. Largely self-taught, Kate relied on books, blogs, and trial-and-error to learn how to budget and save for the future, all while working to pay back about $15,000 in student loans.

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