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Today I’m going to take a closer look at two popular budgeting apps, You Need A Budget (YNAB), and EveryDollar. There are plenty more, but we’ll start with these two for now. If you know you need a budget but aren’t sure where to start, look no further.
If you’ve been budgeting with an app, website, or Excel spreadsheet for a while, read on. Maybe you’ll discover you’ve already found the perfect one for you. Maybe you’ll realize there’s an even better option out there for your life!
Both YNAB and
You Need A Budget (YNAB)
I started the YNAB free trial (34 days) for the purposes of this article. Once I got the hang of it, I LOVE it. Good news: it doesn’t take very long to get the hang of, so no worries there.
We like it so much we switched to YNAB for good. Since we’ve been using the free version of
It’s easy to get started
This may seem obvious, but after you sign up for your account (and free trial), you’ll get a welcome email. It says, “To succeed with YNAB, you just need to read our Quick Start Guide. And we do mean quick—you’ll be budgeting in minutes!” I highly recommend you read through the quick start guide.
It really will only take you a few minutes, and, as a good quick start guide should, it takes all the guesswork out of getting started. The guide will familiarize you with the buttonology and methodology quickly, saving you a bunch of trial and error time trying to figure it out. See my once you get the hang of it… comment above and rest easy knowing “once you get the hang of it” will only be a few minutes.
There is a bit of a learning curve (just a bit) with YNAB, but the way its set up makes a lot of sense. The really good news:
Great resources and customer support
Since you’re paying for the software, I’d expect good back end support, help topic articles, and the like. Even so, what’s available goes farther than I would have expected. A lovely surprise.
Connect your accounts to YNAB to ensure you have an accurate picture of your finances all the time. You can manually add transactions into your budget, and if you purchased something with a credit card, YNAB will automatically link the transaction with the one you manually entered when it posts to your credit card. The only ones you have to enter manually to ensure they’re accounted for are things you bought with cash.
Set savings goals for categories to help you keep your eye on the prize and watch your progress (and do a happy dance when you get there, of course). YNAB allows you to set a monthly funding goal (think retirement contributions), a target balance goal (think emergency fund, large purchase), or a target balance goal by date (vacation or Christmas gifts anyone?).
We don’t use YNAB as our overall net worth tracker, and therefore don’t have our investment accounts connected to YNAB. You certainly could choose to do that. Personal Capital is our net worth tracker of choice, but we’ll get to that later.
Why YNAB is different
YNAB highlights “the age of money”, which I’ve never heard it called before. The point is that you’re paying this month’s bills with last month’s income, instead of this month’s. You also only budget the money you have right now, not what you anticipate getting this month. You’ve broken the cycle and are not living paycheck to paycheck. Even if you’re already not living paycheck to paycheck and you just know how much you bring in each month and spend less than that, it’s a good habit to get into when you’re looking at your overall budget.
I think this approach would be especially helpful for people whose income isn’t completely predictable. Freelancers, independent contractors, salespeople. Chris’ paycheck is very predictable and that’s what we live off of. Sometimes he or I have
Looking at the age of our money and living this month on money we earned last month or even earlier evens things out a bit. I’d imagine if your income is all from freelancing or a less consistent/predictable source, such as 100% commission jobs, 1099s, real estate agents, you get the idea… this approach will make budgeting even easier for you since you may not be totally sure what’s coming, but you know for certain what you’ve already earned/been paid.
The reports tab
I think my favorite part of YNAB is the Reports tab. Here you can find a graphic depiction of your spending and net-worth by month and overall trends, and an income vs expenses report. YNAB’s income vs expenses automatically shows your month by month, annual totals, and overall averages for each category. It shows you where your money is coming in from and where it’s leaving you for.
I have a similar, although much less detailed, version of this in excel from the last few years so I can look at overall trends for our family. EveryDollar doesn’t have a feature like this at all (don’t worry, I’ve requested it), so I kept a basic version of it for my own use. YNAB’s income vs expenses report now does it for me, does it better with more detail, and saves me a ton of time.
YNAB big picture
Overall, if you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a big YNAB fan. I love the zero-sum budget approach. After having to manually put in every transaction for the last few years, the account connections and automatic imports are a luxury.
One aspect of having accounts linked I didn’t realize we were missing is you don’t miss recurring transactions to your cards you may not remember to add manually, and our account balances are always accurate. Knowing exactly how much is in your checking and savings accounts when budgeting is very important. It’s also
The $6.99 per month (billed annually) is well worth the cost in our opinion, for convenience, education, and support you get with it. Good news is you’ve got a great budgeting software to allow you to budget for the cost! There are extensive education articles, videos, and webinars. Their customer service is great. I haven’t had any technical issues but I did reach out to ask a few questions and they’re responses and response time was fantastic.
All that being said, if you’re trying to attack debt or a savings goal as aggressively as possible, there are several great options that are free. Only you can decide if the cost of the software is money well spent.
I think this is worth noting, according to their website:
On average, new budgeters save $600 by month two and more than $6,000 the first year! Pretty solid return on investment.-You Need A Budget
EveryDollar is what the Lyons have been using to budget since 2016. Before that, we had an Excel spreadsheet that Chris or I would load all of our expenses into broken down by category at the end of the month.
At the end of the month, as in, after the money had already been spent. Not exactly helpful at that point…
Not only were we not actually budgeting (that’s really just tracking your spending) it was extremely tedious and annoying and we both hated doing it. We did that for several months and then saw the light. Smarter, not harder, people.
The zero-sum game
Similar to YNAB, EveryDollar takes the zero-sum approach. That’s where the name comes from: giving every dollar a job.
EveryDollar has a paid version, EveryDollar Plus, for $10.75/mo billed annually, which allows you to connect your bank accounts and credit cards which then imports your transactions. EveryDollar Plus has a free 15-day trial.
Similar to YNAB, even though the transactions are automatically imported, you still must go in and classify them to each category. This is intentional because it makes you aware of what you’re spending so you can’t gloss over it.
EveryDollar also has a free version, which is free forever. You can’t connect your accounts to it, so you have to manually enter each transaction you make, but free is free and it’s still much easier than a spreadsheet, in my opinion. We’ve been doing this for years, and as long as you put the money spent into the app immediately, it’s actually pretty easy to keep up with and sustainable. It takes about 9 seconds to open the app and enter a transaction.
I suppose with the advent of Google Sheets you could do something similar and stick to a spreadsheet. That’s why there are 31 flavors,
As with YNAB, you can set savings goals and keep track of your progress. When a category is set to a savings goal, the amount you budget to be added to that savings goal each month is added to the overall running total visible right there. This can be a powerful motivator to keep you on track and remember why you’re squirreling away that money
Highly functional budgeting software
There are recommended products and professionals in your local area, but they’re all in a separate tab which I mostly ignore. The premise of these recommendations is that they’re local (if necessary, think real estate agent) professionals who have been vetted and recommended in their industry. I personally haven’t used any of these so I can’t vouch for them either way.
Despite Dave Ramsey being
Props to him for sticking to his guns. However, as a family that does the vast majority of our spending on our AmEx (paid off in full each month…gotta take advantage of those points!), Plus doesn’t offer us much. So, we never even considered going down that path.
My favorite feature of EveryDollar is the breakdown of each category in both dollars spent and a percentage relative to your total income for that month. It tells you exactly what percentage of your income you’re spending on food, housing, etc. Those are the “totals” numbers that I put into my spreadsheet for my annual overview. It does the math for me and makes entering the data into my super nerdy tracker much easier.
I do wish there were annual overview reports or graphs that show your overall trends. I’ve submitted feedback asking for that but they haven’t granted my wish yet. Enter my DIY spreadsheet that has answered the mail for the last few years.
I think it’s just as important to pay attention to your macro trends as it is to watch the month to month and day to day stuff as well. Otherwise, how do you know if you’re ultimately marching down the path you think you are? Plus, actually seeing the progress tangibly can be a big motivator to keep going.
EveryDollar big picture
EveryDollar is a great budgeting app. You can manage everything from the desktop website or the mobile app with ease. The free version allows you to take control of your finances effectively without spending more money, forever! The paid version allows you to automate importing transactions, making it a little easier. The paid version also offers more extensive customer support, which I personally have not had experience with.
EveryDollar is a budgeting app only. It will help you get control of your finances in an easy, manageable way. It’s not going to track your net worth or investment performance. That being said, it’s been my experience that software either focuses on budgeting; and net worth and investment tracking, when available, takes a back seat; or the opposite is true. In an app that focuses on net worth and investments, the budgeting aspect is an afterthought. That’s precisely why we use a combination of YNAB and Personal Capital to cover all the bases and make our lives easier.
It’s my opinion that if you’re going to pay for
The EveryDollar free version may be just what you need and has served our family wonderfully for over two years. Free is free, it’s highly functional, and you’re not punched in the face with ads, which is lovely.
How are you budgeting? Do you use either of these apps already?
Leave your comments below, or send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). I’d love to hear from you!