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Managing Budget With YNAB On A Laptop

YNAB Vs nYNAB Vs Excel: A Helpful Budgeting Tool reviewed

Last Updated on April 4, 2021 by Mr. FightToFIRE

Disclaimer: This post contains a referral code to YNAB.

The aptly named budgeting tool YNAB, short for You Need A Budget, stopped supporting their legacy tool YNAB4 on 31 October 2019. I’ve been an avid user of the tool for over 7 years, so seeing their support completely disappear made me question if a change was needed.

So using the end of support, I decided to do a review of my YNAB-usage and see what I should do:

  • Do the effort of moving to the new YNAB (aka nYNAB), and pay a subscription fee -the horror!-
  • Or move to a good old Excel spreadsheet

As a retail customer, the lack of support shouldn’t really hinder the use of YNAB4 till Windows, for some reason, changes in such a way that it breaks YNAB4 (highly unlikely!).

No, the real issue for me was the lack of new features. It might seem strange given a budgeting tool shouldn’t be that complicated but bear with me.

YNAB4 vs new YNAB (nYNAB) features

new YNAB is what we call the YouNeedABudget tool that was released after YNAB4 in 2019. It’s the same personal budgeting tool but now as a subscription that is accessible from everywhere. It’s still based on the envelope method.

When nYNAB came out, they actually made a transition guide in which they explain the differences between the old YNAB4 and the new tool. While some of these features are less interesting, there are some things that I was interested in.

Main changes

  • Goals — This is a big one. It takes a lot of work out of my head and puts it in the software, making it easier to actually budget. It helps to budget forward, instead of using it as an after-the-fact tool to spending that was already done. It helps visualize and monitor your progress.
  • Improved credit card payments — Another change that I find positive. There is now a dedicated Credit Card Payment section automatically added when you add a card. Thanks to this, whenever you purchase something using your credit card, the budgeted amount automatically moves from the selected category to your credit card outflow. On top of that, the money stream is clearly visible on the right side of your budgeting screen.
  • No longer being able to budget 3 months at a time — This a downside to the new tool I should mention. This one is actually a big negative for me. I enjoyed being able to plan ahead multiple months. My Income is relatively stable and using future planning I had a clear picture of what was going where. That isn’t possible anymore! It’s understandable since YNAB is a zero-sum game and you can only budget you currently have.
    Additionally, linked to this is future transactions. The amount will not be automatically deducted from your budget if you add them. They are no in a greyed out part of your expenses. They will not be reflected in your budget and thus your remaining money.
  • Reports — These largely stayed the same though, from my point-of-view, are now less useful. It has all become a bit less clear. YNAB4 had a very useful trend view. You can see the difference below. It also is really basic in the end (especially compared to the absolute freedom Excel provides).
Old Hover Tool Tip In Trends Overview Of YNAB4New Hover Tool Tip In Trends Overview Of NYNAB

The following features or changes are what I would consider as nice to have but not what did it for me.

Other notable changes

  • Better syncing: By moving away from dedicated software to an online tool. No dependency on Dropbox and no cross-platform compatibility issues. Though there could now be cross-browser issues -looking at you Internet Explorer!- when implementing new features.
  • Direct Import: Not really useful for Europeans since only recently with the introduction of PSD2, will other non-banking software be able to retrieve banking data.
  • Use of colors: This helps see at a glance if a category is funded or underfunded: It’s a nice extra and it helps visually see at a glance where you need to pay attention to.

Support

  • YNAB blog — YouNeedABudget has a blog where they share all their insights on both budgeting and personal finance. The posts cover how to make the most out of the tool but also how you can change your way of saving and budgeting.
  • YNAB Forum — Besides an up to date blog, YNAB also has a thriving community of users that share all their experiences, both good and bad, with others to push the tool forward.
  • Podcast and videos — YouNeedABudget has a solid list of videos helping you get the most out of YNAB in an easy and understandable way. If you don’t have time to watch a video you can always listen to their podcasts.

To Excel or not to Excel

After checking the new features I still had a mixed feeling about it. Sure, there were improvements, but were they worth the subscription model? Let us be honest, they do this get a more stable income stream instead of having to continuously find new users. So, next was to look at my main alternatives. I checked the likes of:

  • TillerHQ
  • Mint
  • EveryDollar

However, none were really what I was looking for:

  • A clean, no-nonsense interface
  • Small to no learning curve
  • No ads
  • Not purely US-focused

Given all of the above -and a bit of bias- I didn’t go with any of the other tools. With none of them catching my attention, I decided to try good old Excel as an alternative.

Example of excel spreadsheet for budgeting
An example of a relatively simple and straight forward spreadsheet to keep track of income, expenses, assets and liabilities.

(Excel) spreadsheet galore

I downloaded and used numerous pre-made (basic) sheets. There are a ton out there so I figured one should work for me, right? Well…

They “worked”, but the main thing that hindered me was that it was cumbersome. Having to write and tweak your own sheet might seem fun for others, but, at least at the moment, it is something I’m struggling with. It gives me a feeling of dread instead of enjoyment. While this feeling isn’t helping me looking at the  Excel as a viable option, it’s clear there are benefits.

Freedom!

The benefits are known of course. You can change the spreadsheet however you want, add or remove specific formulas, etc. You are not bound by the schedule of a third party. If you feel the need to change something you can. You can take this in the broader sense as well. YNAB might not have the features you want or the features don’t work as you expect. Just go to YNAB’s support forum to look at recent examples of this. In Excel you can easily add your assets such as investments and property but also your liabilities. Additionally, you don’t spend Over 70 EUR per year on a tool to help you save money.

Basically, with excel you have complete freedom. This can be a problem of course. It’s one of the main reasons I’m still leaning towards YNAB. There are quite some limitations of Excel.

Collaboration

Tracking accounts in my new YNAB app
This an overview of my tracking accounts. These accounts can be investment accounts but also a mortgage.

When talking about limitations it can be good to compare to YNAB. It takes most of the work of your hands allowing you to purely focus on budgeting. It saves time and energy. It’s a system that doesn’t need maintenance and it’s constantly improving. It provides a better, more efficient interface than Excel.

Think about the following: your partner might want to pitch in from time to time, or sooner or later the person managing the budget will change. If that happens it’s much easier to help them be engaged from the beginning thanks to a dedicated budgeting tool. You might actually keep a true budget instead of a ledger.

Reviewing Your (shared) transactions and resolving any discrepancies, aka budget reconciliation, is also very simple. YNAB walks you through the process of reconciling your account. When you roll your own spreadsheet, it’s surprisingly complex to allow for cleared and uncleared transactions.

My decision

Having reviewed everything I came to a number of observations:

  • I don’t need budgeting functionality that much, I keep strict control over my finances.
  • While the nYNAB features are cool, they don’t tip the scale a whole lot in favor of nYNAB, but it is tipped towards it.
  • I prefer having a clean record of my income and expenses, as well as my assets and liabilities.
  • The interface of YNAB provides clean tracking. Even as I’m fighting towards FIRE I can use this app to track my different portfolios.
  • I like to watch my budget from both desktop and mobile.

For these reasons, I got a subscription to YNAB.

Before subscribing I checked out their cancellation policy to see what was possible if I decided to focus on my own excel spreadsheet after all. I’m happy that they have a “Don’t Pay for Stuff You Won’t Use policy” (“Cancellation,” 2019). This will allow me to switch once I have set my mind to put some time and effort into a spreadsheet.

nYNAB Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Clear budgeting focus but advanced possibilities like investment accounts.
  • Shallow learning curve making it a tool that you’ll want to use and will be able to use right away.
  • Clean to use interface which helps keep the learning curve shallow.
  • Fair cancelation policy that allows you to cancel at any time.
  • Cheap (monthly) price for all the things you get.
  • Extensive support library through Videos, podcasts, blog, and forums.

Cons

  • Recurring monthly price (ironic given it’s a budgeting tool)
  • Not as advanced as other tools like Mint and TillerHQ.
  • No phone or email support, only chat (but are present on social media).

Is YNAB worth the subscription?

Finally, would I recommend others to go for nYNAB? Is YNAB worth your 80 dollars a year?

After evaluating everything, I would recommend nYNAB (over Excel) in the following cases:

  • If there is too much month left at the end of your paycheck.
  • You don’t know where your money is going.
  • When you spend all your money on things and don’t have enough to buy food.

If any of the above apply to you, then I highly recommend you give the new YNAB a try using their 34-day free trial.

However, do you already have your things in order budget-wise? A simple Excel could be all you need and there are a plethora of excellent templates available.

So, I’m sticking with the new YNAB, for now. But what about you? Do you use a specific budgeting app? Or are you an Excel wizard that knows everything there is to know about budgeting with an Excel or google spreadsheet?

Share your experience in the comments below!

If you are interested in YNAB after reading this post, please consider trying it through this link.
We both get a free month of YNAB!

Sources:

I'm a developer for a major financial institution in Belgium that is present in over 40 countries. I have over 8 years of working experience in the development of customer applications focussing on all aspects of banking. This helped me gain a deep understanding of the inner workings of a commercial bank. All of this experience in both banking and life culminates in this blog about personal finance and my fight towards FIRE.

Budgeting
1. My remarkable budgeting ways to reach the illusive Financial Independence
2. The Most Important FIRE Ratio: FIRE Savings Rate
3. How I achieve a +80% Savings Rate and is it the Key to Financial Independence?
4. Cafeteria plan: improving wants & needs for your convencience
5. Frugal with a twist
6. My cafeteria plan: like a kid in a candy store
7. My monthly Savings Rate report: October 2019
8. My monthly Savings Rate report: November 2019
9. My monthly Savings Rate report: December 2019
10. My monthly Savings Rate report: January 2020
11. My monthly Savings Rate report: February 2020
12. My monthly Savings Rate report: March 2020
13. My monthly Savings Rate report: April 2020
14. YNAB Vs nYNAB Vs Excel: A Helpful Budgeting Tool reviewed
15. My monthly Savings Rate report: May 2020
16. My monthly Savings Rate report: June 2020
17. My monthly Savings Rate report: July 2020
18. My monthly Savings Rate report: August 2020
19. My monthly Savings Rate report: September 2020
20. My monthly Savings Rate report: October 2020
21. My monthly Savings Rate report: November 2020
22. My monthly Savings Rate report: December 2020
23. My monthly Savings Rate report: January 2021
24. My monthly Savings Rate report: February 2021
25. My monthly Savings Rate report: March 2021
26. My monthly Savings Rate report: April 2021
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Amir

I had the same issue (selecting an app) and I was using a very ancient Win-based tool for like 10 years (open-source) but over time move to an IPAD-based Debit&Credit (not saying is best, just an example).

It was not possible to move across platforms which means previous 10 years of graphs/expenses, etc are lost for me. Since then I still have same phobia with online tools – these small startups come and go, and when they go, all your data or at least export will be probably gone… I still haven’t found an ultimate tool – I am looking for a totally offline tool which will not have cloud storage (backup is ok) or subscription (I am okay to pay once of course) and which will also allow export in some readable format.. In my case Debit&Credit is offline version which allows me at least to keep my DB with me in case developer ceases to exist (been there, done that)…

Amber Tree

The core of my budgetting tool is actually Google sheet, combined with a freemium budgetting tool on my mobile phone.
I track in the spreadsheet the big lines and fix expenses (like utilities, electricity, pro rata saving for yearly costs,…) and my household and entertainment budget is done in the app. I grant myself each month my allowance+meal vouchers. And I track every expense I make. I have no credit card or debit card automation in place. In the end, it became a habit to log each time when I pay for something. It is a 60 sec action

E

i am trying to switch from ynab to aspire budgeting which is a Google sheet built to feel like ynab.

Mark

Like E mentioned above, I’m also a very happy Aspire Budget user! I enjoy spreadsheets for my money management.

Kjell kay-gell

Held! Bedankt!

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