What is YNAB?
YNAB (why-nab) is the acronym for You Need A Budget. Jesse Mecham, personal finance professional, author, and former CPA, created the first version of the application in 2004. He also wrote, “You Need a Budget: The Proven System for Breaking the Paycheck-to-Paycheck Cycle, Getting Out of Debt, and Living the Life You Want“. I read this book last year mentioning it in several of my net worth posts including Net Worth: 2018.11.01.
At its core, YNAB is a computer and mobile web application that you use to budget money you earn. As you will soon read, though, it is so much more. In our opinion, it is life-changing.
The Four Simple Rules of Budgeting
YNAB has four simple rules for budgeting. Following these four rules enables you take control of your finances like never before. It turned our “reactive” Mint budget into a “proactive” YNAB budget. You must think a little differently about money. It requires you to be forward-looking and intentional about every dollar; it requires you to be aware, but in return you’ll be in total control of your finances, and in so doing, your life. It begins with these four simple rules.
Rule One: Give Every Dollar a Job
The biggest difference with YNAB is that you do not actually budget dollars until you earn them. You first add money paid to you into a “To be Budgeted” category. Then you allocate these dollars to categories you specify. Finally, you spend money from the plan that you created.
This step is crucial because rather than spending money that you do not have, you only allocate the dollars earned. This first step stops the accumulation of debt and ensures you have the money to pay your bills.
Rule Two: Embrace Your True Expenses
This may be the rule that made us decide to ditch Mint. I think Mint is a great application. My biggest complaint is that you have to tie a goal to a specific account. We used it to successfully pay off $24,000 in debt in seven months in our Big Audacious Debt Payoff Plan. However, using it to save for future goals is a joke. Who wants to create a separate savings account for each savings goal?
YNAB is different because it does not care where your money lives. Set goals based on each expense category. YNAB tracks how much money you have left to spend or to save for each and every goal. Gone are the days of forgetting to save for our annual HOA dues, license renewals, and property taxes. Set each goal and the application automatically tells you how much to save every month to hit your goals.
Rule Three: Roll with the Punches
Most people detest budgets because they find them restrictive. The third rule brings to light the fact that you set your budget, but it is forever changing and morphing. Since you are working with only the dollars you earned, you can easily move the money between categories.
This rule reminds me of a story from my favorite personal finance book. A student of Arkad, the Richest Man in Babylon, balked at a budget because he felt it too restrictive.
Hereupon one of the students, wearing a robe of red and gold, arose and said, “I am a free man. I believe that it is my right to enjoy the good things of life. Therefore, do I rebel against the slavery of a budget which determines just how much I may spend and for what. I feel it would take much pleasure from my life and make me little more than a pack-ass to carry a burden.” To him Arkad replied, “Who, my friend, would determine thy budget?” “I would make it for myself,” responded the protesting one. “In that case were a pack-ass to budget his burden would he include therein jewels and rugs and heavy bars of gold? Not so. He would include hay and grain and a bag of water for the desert trail.George S. Clason, “The Richest Man in Babylon”
YNAB uses a boxing analogy. Boxers move their body in the same direction as a punch to minimize the impact. The same is true with budgeting. Spend more than you intended going out with friends, move the money from your food or other budget to compensate.
When you spend less than you earn, you cannot go wrong with reallocating your spending from one category to another. Set goals for each category, and stick with your budget as a whole. Do not feel bad about moving money when circumstances change. Remember, you are the one that determines your budget.
Rule Four: Age Your Money
All of the rules are powerful, but this is the rule that is game changing. After allocating your dollars, and spending less than you earn, you have the opportunity to age your money.
After you have 10 transactions in a cash account, YNAB automatically calculates the age of your money. On the computer, it appears in the upper right corner of your budget. On the mobile app, it appears under Reports.
The age of your money is how many days go by, on average, between earning your money and spending it. The goal is to spend money that is at least 30 days old. When you reach that point you have more time to make decisions and adjust. You are more secure and your finances are more predictable. Not to mention that your stress begins to disappear.
YNAB is free for the first 34 days. After that, it is $11.99 per month or $84 per year ($7 per month) saving $59. They offer a No-Risk, 100% Money-Back Guarantee. If you do not feel you have more control over your money with YNAB, they give a full refund.
In addition, they offer all students a free 12-month trial after their first 34 days for free. You can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with proof of enrollment. This includes student ID card, transcript, or tuition statement. Make sure the documentation shows you are currently enrolled, includes your name, school name, and the date. After your first year, they offer an additional one-time 10% discount.
They also have a referral program. After subscribing, the tool provides you with a referral code. Your friend gets their 34 days for free. When they subscribe, you receive a free month of YNAB.
YNAB has the usual FAQs page, but also has a library of help topics at their Help Center. They have a community Support Forum where members can help one another. There is also a very active YNAB Fans Facebook group with over 45,000 members. Ask any questions you have, and multiple people will respond with answers, explanations, and helpful links.
Additionally, YNAB has a team of trainers and developers. They provide regular Free Online Workshops where you can learn something specific and have your questions answered by expert teachers.
YNAB recently released a series of instructional videos on the You Need A Budget (YNAB) YouTube channel. Begin with YNAB’s Four Rules, which is just over 10 minutes to cover each of them in depth. Watch the Getting Started with YNAB series before or even after you begin using YNAB. This is currently 39 videos totaling nearly 2.5 hours of great training content. They also provide previously recorded YNAB Workshops. These allow you to watch recordings of the Free Online Workshops whenever you want. They also host live training videos on the YNAB Facebook page.
If you want even more YNAB, read the YNAB Blog or subscribe to the YNAB Podcasts Library. They have tons of blog posts and hundreds of podcasts on nearly everything imaginable regarding personal finance.
I initially targeted YNAB for our oldest son who needs to be better with his money. We watched the videos for YNAB’s Four Rules and he immediately saw the benefits. Then, we binge-watched all the Getting Started with YNAB videos. After watching them, I decided that Dr. SoS and I needed to ditch our 7-year Mint relationship for YNAB. We were going to wait until the end of the month to begin our 34-day free trial. After watching all those videos, I was reading a personal finance blog. A sidebar ad offered a 64-day free trial, so I went ahead and started immediately.
Admittedly, it is a big change from Mint. YNAB is very flexible and powerful accounting software masquerading as a budgeting tool. This makes sense because Jesse Mecham was an accountant. This can make it daunting for some, but worth the time to learn how to use it. The best thing is that the YNAB team continually innovates to make the application even better. Read their Release Notes to see the cool features they are working on and added in the past.
We felt very retroactive with our budget in Mint. With YNAB and the Four Rules, we are now in control of our money and see the benefits. I already recommended it to friends and family and would recommend it to anyone. Before our free trial ends, we plan to purchase the annual plan. I know we will have the money, too. I added YNAB to our Annual Expenses category with a goal allocating money for that expense by January 2020.