You Need a Budget — And Here’s the App to Help You Stick to One

A family spend time in the living room. The son plays with the dog and the parents spend time on their phones.
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Budgeting can get a bad rap, but making a plan for how you spend your hard-earned cash is a good thing.

Instead of wondering where all your money is going, by budgeting you can find solace in knowing your bills are covered and you’re working toward various savings goals.

Having a tool to help you only makes the process easier. One such tool really spells it out directly: You Need A Budget.

Seriously, that’s the name of the budgeting app. The cool kids call it YNAB (“why-nab”) for short.

The YNAB app is part of a larger brand that includes a blog, podcast and book — but right now we’re just going to focus on the app. We’ve researched this personal finance tool to provide you with some insight into how it can improve the way you manage your money.

We’re laying out the pros and cons in this YNAB review so you can decide if this app is right for you.

What Is YNAB?

YNAB was created back in 2004 by Jesse Mecham, then a recently married accounting student looking for ways he and his new wife could better manage their finances.

In the last decade and a half, the money management system has grown and blossomed, but it remains rooted in four basic principles:

  1. To budget for every dollar of income (following the zero-based budget system).

  2. To plan for large, infrequent expenses by saving a little each month — essentially setting up sinking funds.

  3. To embrace flexibility when you overspend or something happens that causes you to go over budget.

  4. To pay this month’s bills and expenses using money earned at least a month ago.

The YNAB app prioritizes balancing your cash flow and setting up financial goals so you can save for future expenses and pay off debt. You can completely customize your budget so it aligns with the way you’d like to categorize your expenses. YNAB also keeps you on track of upcoming bills so you don’t encounter late fees.

How Does YNAB Work?

YNAB is compatible with a range of devices — you can use it on your desktop, your iPhone, your Android phone, your iPad, your Apple watch and even Alexa.

Basically, you can take your budget with you wherever you go, and it’s easy to share if you’re managing household finances with a spouse or partner.

There is, however, a cost to sign up. You can choose to pay a monthly fee of $11.99 or an annual charge of $84.

Though there isn’t a free version of the app, YNAB offers a free 34-day trial for you to test out the product. If you’re a college student, that free trial is extended for a whole year. If you’re not satisfied with your experience after paying for the app, YNAB will refund your money.

When you’re setting up your budget in the app, you can link your bank account so your spending is updated automatically. You can also import account information using the desktop version. Alternatively, you can choose to enter your information manually. YNAB uses a variety of security measures to keep all your data safe.

Aside from seeing your budget in list form, YNAB provides pie charts and graphs for you to gain further insight into how you spend your money.

If you come across any issues while budgeting or specifically with using the software, YNAB has a responsive support team, a community forum and dozens of helpful videos and articles.

The Pros and Cons of YNAB

If you’re looking to keep track of your cash flow down to the dollar in a customizable platform, YNAB is a good choice.

This app helps you focus on your immediate financial priorities but also emphasizes the need to plan for future expenses.

Its compatibility with multiple devices makes it easy to budget with a partner, and the ability to sync your accounts means you spend less time manually entering your daily transactions.

YNAB also stands apart from other financial tools in that it’s more than just an app. You can increase your financial literacy by tuning into the podcast or reading the book.

YNAB has a 4.2 rating from reviewers on Google Play and a 4.8 rating from reviewers on the App Store.

Still looking for the perfect app? Here’s our roundup of the best expense tracking apps.

One of the drawbacks with this app, however, is the price. If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, you may not have the money to invest in a money management tool. A free budgeting app, like Mint or Personal Capital, can be more attractive.

If you’re looking for an app where you can “set it and forget it,” YNAB probably isn’t the option for you. This app is specifically designed for you to interact with your budget on a regular basis rather than have a robot do all the work for you.

Another disadvantage: You can’t link or import information from bank accounts outside of the United States or Canada.

Who Is YNAB For?

You Need a Budget is a useful app for zero-based budgeters who want to get their spending aligned with their financial goals. It’s a tool for someone who is serious about improving their money management — so much that they’d pay for it.

If you’re a fan of other aspects of the YNAB brand, you’ll probably enjoy the YNAB app. But if you’re totally new to YNAB — the 34-day free trial gives you time to decide if this is the app for you.

Feeling overwhelmed? Create a budget that works for you with our budgeting bootcamp!

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.