This was going to be a review of You Need A Budget (YNAB). You know, an unbiased look at the pros and cons of a very popular piece of personal finance software. And while I am going to talk about the pros and cons of YNAB, I can’t bury the lead.
You guys, I love YNAB so much.
I’m a YNAB evangelist and I don’t care who knows it. I can’t pretend to be unbiased about this at all. I’ve been using YNAB for a decade and use it with 100% of my clients. I’ve tried other tools and they just...fall short.
That said, YNAB isn’t for everyone (who said that?? Not me!). Here’s how to tell if it’s right for you.
YNAB is for you if:
You want to save more or pay down debt faster. YNAB helps you get crystal clear about how much money is really “extra” so that you can save or pay down debt with total confidence that the money isn’t really needed for something else.
You have variable income, like from being self employed, having a side hustle, or being in a commission based job. It is SO GOOD for variable income. Far better than anything else and that is a 100% grade A fact.
You want to change the future, not dwell on the past. YNAB is focused on changing your behavior today so that you automatically change your tomorrow. Most systems are only telling you what you did yesterday with the hope that you do something different going forward.
You want to change the way you feel about money - you’re tired of living in fear, shame, and guilt.
You want to change the way you think about money - using YNAB creates a profound perspective shift that I’ve seen time and time again start a ripple effect through your life. People start using YNAB as a way to start managing their finances better, and soon become the sort of people who might downsize their house, decide to become one-car families, or lose weight and spend more time with their families. Those last two were not typos. Changing the way you handle one important finite resource (money) changes the way you handle all your important finite resources (time, health, energy). The way you do one thing is the way you do everything.
That said, YNAB is not for you if:
You don’t want to change your finances. If your finances are going really well - you’re debt free, you’re regularly saving a significant (30%+) amount of your income, and you feel happy with how things are going, then YNAB might just be a layer of examining your money that doesn’t add value for you.
You like feeling restricted. YNAB isn’t a crash diet for your money. If that’s what gets you motivated, I’m sure there’s a tool or person out there who can help you. This isn’t it, and I’m not your gal.
You don’t want to know what’s really going on with your money. Full scale awareness of how much money you have (and how that differs from how much money you need) is an unavoidable side effect of using YNAB. That can be...tough, emotionally. If you’re not ready for that, don’t use YNAB. No judgement here if you’re just not there yet. It’s tough to know this stuff and then not be prepared to make the changes.
You’re not ready to put in the work. YNAB is significantly more hands-on than many other popular personal financial management tools and that’s by design. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes a day, but it is a tool that works best by using daily or every few days at most. It is designed that way because that’s how you make real, lasting change. If you’re not realistically able to add something to your plate even if it means making big changes in your finances, YNAB is not for you. It’s OK (good, even!) to recognize that changing the way you handle your finances is important to you but not important enough at this time to warrant adding more work to your plate, even if you recognize the benefits are large. Revisit later when things shift.
You’re looking for an all-in-one tool that handles budgeting, investment, credit scores, and long-term goal planning. YNAB just isn’t that tool. Layering YNAB with something like Betterment and Credit Karma, now there you go. YNAB works so well, in part, because it’s laser focused on one thing - changing the way you handle your cash flow. It’s great at that, and it leaves the other aspects of your financial life to the pros at those other things.
While I apparently can’t write an unbiased review of YNAB, I do recognize that while it's a fantastic program, it's got a bit of a steep learning curve. If you want to get some help setting it up, I can help. Want to learn more about what I do? Put some time on my calendar for a free call with me.
Wanna try it on your own? Rock on, DIYer. I see you. Go ahead and sign up for YNAB here (34 day free trial + that link will get you an extra month free after you subscribe).