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You Need a Budget – YNAB Review and a Chat with the CEO

The importance of budgeting can’t be overstated. Today we talk to the king of budgeting tools, Jesse Mecham the CEO of You Need a Budget and give you an honest YNAB review.

We talk about budgeting with Mint a lot and it’s a great tool. But there is always talk of You Need A Budget within the personal finance community so we wanted to check it out. And because we provide only the best for you, we brought on the founder to discuss the tools so we can provide an in depth YNAB review.

YNAB was originally a spreadsheet that Jesse and his wife used to budget their money when they were newly married and expecting a baby. He had just intended to sell it to make a little extra income on top of his accounting job, but it soon proved so successful that it become his career.

Zero-Based Budgeting

Zero-based budgeting forces you to “spend” every dollar. At the end of the month, the goal, as it is with any budget, is to have brought in more money than you spent. And that’s where most traditional methods of budgeting end. Great! You paid all of your bills and have an extra $600 left over. For a lot of people, that leftover money is “fun” money, to be spent on things like clothes, dinners out, movies.

Zero-based budgeting gives those dollars a job, rule one of YNAB. It’s like the difference between your unemployed friends and your friends who have a job. The unemployed dollars are sitting around all day smoking weed while the dollars with a job are contributing. In this case, contributing to your financial goals.

And that’s what YNAB is, zero-based budgeting. If you’ve tried budgeting before and not had success, it’s probably not you! It’s like dieting. Sometimes you just need to find a different method that will work for you.

Four Principles

There are four principles behind YNAB:

Give Every Dollar A Job

Not one dollar just gets to sit on its dead ass, not pulling its weight. Every dollar is working, working for you. Some jobs are more fun than others. Some jobs are paying your bills but some jobs are buying you drinks! Just because a dollar has a job, doesn’t mean it’s job is to be spent. Your holiday money might sit dormant for ten months of the year, but when the shopping season arrives, it leaps into action.

Save For A Rainy Day

If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, you don’t have anything left over for a rainy day.This rule is for large but not regular expenses like holidays, vacations, school tuition. Look ahead to these large, less frequent expenses and break them down per month. That monthly amount is added into each month’s budget. Rule two makes sure that you are planning for these expenses well before they come due and budgeting for them each month.

Roll With The Punches

You’re going to make mistakes, the unexpected will happen. That’s okay. If you overspend in one area, you’ll find money from another and move it over to the category you came up short in.

Live On Last Month’s Income

When you use YNAB, you will save enough of last month’s income to pay for this month’s expenses. What you earn in January, you spend in February. Depending on your current bank balance, this might take a few months to achieve. That’s okay, you’ll get there. This rule is especially helpful for those who have variable incomes, freelancers, and realtors for instance. This system puts an end to living on money you don’t yet have.

Getting Started

Step One

There is a free 34 day trial for YNAB. You download and install the program which runs on both Windows and Mac.

YNAB Review Getting Started

 Step Two

You can choose to use Cloud Sync so your information is updated across your multiple devices and is backed up. To back the data up, you’ll need Dropbox.

Step Three

Set up your budget categories. You can use the YNAB default categories, create your own, and edit category names. You can organize the categories too, “Fixed Expenses,” “Variable Expenses,” “Non-Essential Expenses,” for example.

YNAB Review Budget Set Up

Step Four

Create your accounts. These are the accounts you spend money from, checking, savings, and credit cards.

Step Five

Budget your money. This is the part where you assign each dollar a job. Remember, we are working only with the money we have, not money we are expecting to have. At the end of this, under “Available to Budget,” we want to see a nice big $0 because every dollar is doing its job.
YNAB Review Setting Up Budget

Step Six

Record and track your spending. This step in YNAB may be different than what you are familiar with from past attempts to budget. But remember, you gave those other methods up and came here for a reason because those other methods weren’t working for you.

You will decide if you can spend money or not based on your budget and not on your bank balance. The budget number makes the decision for you.

Step Seven

Rinse and repeat! The next time money comes in, you enter it, budget it, and then follow the budget.

The whole process took me about an hour, but I was carefully reading the getting started tutorials and I don’t have numerous monthly expenses. I recommend going through the tutorials, they’re helpful but if you just want to get things started and don’t have a lot of monthly expenses, you can be ready to go pretty quickly.

Features

All Currency

Unlike some budgeting platforms, YNAB works virtually anywhere in the world because you can use almost any currency. Pounds? Yep. Euros? Yep. Yuans? Yep.

Mobile App

YNAB is available for Android, iPhone, and iPad. This makes it easy to check your budget before making a purchase and to record transactions in real time.

Community

YNAB has a vibrant community where you can ask questions and get advice on everything from using the software to the best way to attack debt.

YNAB Review Forums

Education

There are lots of tutorials, both video and written to help you get started or to learn how to optimize your use of the program. There are even live classes you can participate in on subjects like learning to prioritize, how to deal with debt, how to “age” your money, and the newest version of YNAB.

YNAB Review Classes

Support

There is lots of help and information available in the forums and via tutorials but if you can’t find the answer you’re looking for, you can get live chat support.

Payment Scheduler

We suggest setting up auto payments anytime you can. That way you never have to worry about a late payment and the resulting penalty charge. You will need to set up the payments through your bank or the vendor’s site. All transactions that you set as auto pay can then be set as scheduled transactions in YNAB which will save you having to manually enter recurring transactions.

Transaction Splits

This is great when you’re shopping at a place like Target where you can buy groceries and lots of other stuff like towels and bedding. Those things are at least two different categories. YNAB allows you to categorize that spending separately.

Notes

If you were alive in pre-historic times, you may have written checks and used that little memo line on the bottom to make a note about the bill you were paying. That tiny line doesn’t allow for much detail but in YNAB, you can write a War and Peace length note for each transaction if you’re feeling creative.

Search Function

YNAB has a handy search feature that helps you find transactions within your accounts. Choose the account you want to search and then select the search box. You can search by a word like “cable,” by dollar amount, or by date.

Autosave

One of the features of YNAB is that by entering transactions in my hand, you are more aware of your spending. That doesn’t mean you want to be made aware twice because there was some kind of glitch that caused you to lose entries.

You won’t have to worry about that with the latest version of YNAB. It will save everything automatically. The most you will lose is the last five seconds of entries. You probably can’t type that fast so won’t lose anything.

Reports

There are three types of reports you can access in YNAB; spending, net income, and net worth.

The spending reports can give you information based on category or payee. Looking at these reports can help you to find leaks in your spending so you can address them.

The income versus expense report shows you how much is coming in and how much is going out. Making sure the amount coming in is higher than the amount going out is the entire point of budgeting.

The net worth account shows your asset accounts versus your debt accounts. This report will only use the information from the accounts you have set up in YNAB. Investment accounts will not be represented because they are not a part of the month to month budgeting process.

Account Reconciliation

Reconciliation means making sure that the transactions you entered into your YNAB account match the transactions that your bank has in their records. When a transaction you have recorded in YNAB also appears in your bank’s records (which you can verify through your bank’s website or a paper statement), that transaction is described as “cleared”. When all of your transactions match, your account is said to be “reconciled.”

Active Tracking

YNAB incorporates manual entering of transactions although some information can be directly imported. The company has found, though, that when people are more hands-on when dealing with their budget, it helps to change negative behaviors.

Instead of analyzing what went wrong after the fact, manually entering transactions enables the user to see where the spending is going off plan and to stop it before it becomes unmanageable.

Is YNAB For You?

I’ve just started my account and am still testing out the program. I’ve used Mint in the past but I have variable income and a short attention span when it comes to dealing with money so Mint basically showed me my eff ups after they had happened. YNAB is made for people like me because it forces me to focus on money and budget money that I already have, not money that I have yet to earn.

If you live paycheck to paycheck, have variable income, and are more successful when a project is hands-on, YNAB is just what you’re looking for. If you know you don’t have the patience to record your transactions or your income and expenses don’t vary much, there are other programs, Mint, for example, that may be better suited to you.

As for my review- I’m excited to start YNAB, I’ll come back and update everyone after I’m a few months in.

Show Notes

You Need a Budget:  Easy to use budgeting software.

Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg:  BJ teaches you how to ingrain good habits.

Betterment:  The simple way to invest.

LMM Community: Join the money revolution!

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  • Angela

    Just wanted to point out that I recently found a new personal finance app (for PC) named Geltbox Money (www.geltbox.com) that eliminates the need for third party aggregation services.

    Geltbox is a personal financial aggregator designed for homes and small businesses. Geltbox gives you a clear overview of your expenses, investments, loans and assets. It aims to help you plan your monthly savings and your investments. The ultimate goal is to help you reach financial security.

    What makes Geltbox Money special and unique?

    Geltbox Money lets you sync to any financial website in the world.

    No need to use online financial aggregators, which are limited to certain financial institutions.

    Record your own downloaders and have them run automatically in your device.

    Can work in most countries in the world.

    Data and credentials are stored and encrypted locally.

    No need to give away your user names and passwords.

    No need to store your personal financial information online.

    many more features…