The Bottom Line
You Need A Budget (YNAB) is personal budgeting software that helps you to move toward a debt-free life with a financial buffer of income. With a such a strong focus on budgeting, it does not have enough features for everyone, but YNAB is the best software in its class.
YNAB runs on Windows, Mac and Linux, and can be used for small business or personal budgeting. The YNAB app for iPhone ($4.99) can be synced with the desktop software, with promises of an Android app on the horizon.
YNAB retails for around $60, and considering that it won the Best Windows Personal Finance Software category of the 2011 About.com Readers' Choice Awards, a lot of people think it's worth every penny. There's a no-questions-asked a 30-day money back guarantee, but use the free 7-day trial before you buy.
Score: 4.3 on a 1-5 scale / 4.8 out of 5 stars if you don't need personal tax or investing reports, or currency conversion.
- Fantastic learning and help resources for software use and money management.
- Allows for account reconciliation so YNAB balances match current account balances.
- iPhone and Android apps work with desktop software.
- Excellent budgeting tool for current finances and for growing long term savings.
- Automatically rolls unused budgeted funds into following month.
- Only partially auto-downloads transactions.
- A bit more labor-intensive to work with at first when compared to similar software.
- Screens load slowly at times, but speed is tolerable.
- Doesn't work smoothly with past spending. Use for today's finances going forward.
- Works with multiple currencies, but does not do currency conversions.
- Set transaction flags with notes to remind yourself to get back to a transaction for any reason, such as verifying an amount.
- YNAB supports scheduled transactions to reduce future data entry.
- Install YNAB on multiple computers that you own. Data files can be shared over a network.
- Fully customizable budget categories.
- Included reports: Cash flow, spending, budget, net worth. Hover over charts and graphs for detailed information.
Guide Review - You Need A Budget 3 Review
Navigation and Help Resources
You Need A Budget is pretty straight-forward to use. Tabs on the left give access to accounts, budget, and reports. File, Edit, View and Help menus reside at the top of the screen.
To be successful using YNAB to eliminate debt and create a cushion of savings, you need to follow the YNAB philosophy of money management, and YNAB's phenomenal help resources will see you through both implementing new choices and habits as well as using the software.
- YNAB walks you through each step of setting up accounts and working with the budget, with as much or as little help as you want.
- Well-written and understandable help documentation in the software.
- Online documentation with videos that show you how to use every feature.
- Real-time online classes teach you how to use the software, and online weekly meet ups are available for advanced user discussion.
- Online forum, where YNAB staff ensures that answers to questions are understood.
I did not find a way to set a password to keep others from accessing YNAB on your computer. If this is a concern for you, consider setting a password at start up on your computer. If you need to learn how to set up this type of password protection, visit About.com PC Support to learn how to set up a Windows password or for Mac Passwords, read Mac Security Preferences.
I always recommend using personal finance software that will export data in case you want to use other software in the future. YNAB exports CSV data from spending reports, net income/net worth reports, budgets and accounts so you can further analyze spending in a spreadsheet if you want to do so. Account data can also be exported as QIF, a format that can be opened by many other money management programs.
Transaction updates are not as fully automated in You Need A Budget as they are in Quicken and some other personal finance software. For each account tracked, transactions must be downloaded from financial institution web sites, a service offered by all banks today. To save some time, use the setting in YNAB to automatically open and import data from the downloaded bank statements. You'll need to approve imported transactions, which are matched to transactions you've entered, assign budget categories if needed, and edit the payee if desired. Transactions can be memorized to save time.
When YNAB is used as intended, transactions need not be downloaded more often than weekly since most receipts should be manually entered every day or two, up to weekly. Account downloads or transaction updates are used to check balances rather than to automate data entry.
Budgets and Reports
The reports included in YNAB are limited compared to some other desktop personal finance software, but sufficient for most people. Reports cover spending, budget and net worth and can be customized by date and other selections.
The Budget tool is YNAB's strongest point. Although you should not budget more than one month ahead, the Quick Budget feature lets you copy, per category, all budgeted amounts, or amounts spent from the previous months or sets all categories to zero so you can enter your own numbers.
YNAB uses two account types: On Budget accounts hold funds for day to day expenses, and Off Budget accounts might be used for long term savings or otherwise are not affected by daily spending. This is one part of YNAB I needed some help with understanding, but as noted earlier, the help resources are excellent.