You Need a Budget App Review: Manage Your Money on a Zero-Based Budget

Quick Answer

You Need a Budget, YNAB for short, offers a robust budgeting platform with the idea that you should give every dollar you earn a job. The service isn't cheap, but the envelope-style approach can save you big time.

A man looks at his phone while holding an apple in his other hand.

Budgeting apps can make it easier to manage your money. You Need a Budget, YNAB for short, excels in many areas, including direct importing of your transactions, goal tracking, spending and net worth reports, and more.

But compared with some other budgeting apps, YNAB has a steep learning curve when you get started, and the subscription fee may be more than you want to pay.

If you're considering YNAB for your money management plans, here's what you should know before you give it a try.

How YNAB Works

Every budgeting app works differently, even if they all have similar goals. Here's what you should know about how YNAB works and how it can help you.

The Four Rules

YNAB is built on four rules to help you succeed in your budgeting and provides a variety of features to support those rules:

  1. Give every dollar a job. YNAB makes it easy to categorize every dollar you earn, whether for spending or saving, so you know where your money is going at any given time.
  2. Embrace your true expenses. YNAB helps you anticipate expenses that aren't recurring, such as holiday and birthday gifts, car insurance premiums and vacations—and budget for these expenses on a monthly basis using a target.
  3. Roll with the punches. If you overspend in one category, don't fret. You can easily move money from another category to cover the shortfall.
  4. Age your money. YNAB will track the age of your money and show you the average amount of time it takes you to spend money you've earned. The goal is to spend money that you earned at least 30 days ago, giving you a buffer in the current month.

Helpful Tools

Here are some other features YNAB provides to help you achieve your money management goals:

  • Direct import: You can connect your financial accounts and request that YNAB import your transactions so you don't have to log in to each account to update your transactions and balances. The app will even automatically assign certain transactions to a specific category if they occur often. You can also opt to update manually.
  • Customizable categories: Every budget is going to look a little different. The app allows you to customize your expense categories, giving you the ability to make your budget as simple or complex as you want.
  • Split transactions: Some transactions, such as a trip to Costco to buy groceries, clothing and toiletries, may belong in multiple categories. You can easily split your transactions to make sure you're accurately tracking how you spend your cash.
  • Shared budget: If you're budgeting with someone else, both of you can access the app to see how you're spending and make adjustments as necessary.
  • Reports: YNAB offers reports for your spending, net worth and income vs. expenses, which you can adjust for different time periods to spot trends in how you're managing your money.
  • Budgeting resources: Outside of the app, YNAB offers live classes to help you learn how to set up your budget, manage your debt, build savings and more.


YNAB offers options for a monthly or an annual subscription. If you choose to pay annually, it'll cost you $98.99 per year, which comes out to about $8.25 per month. However, if you opt to be billed monthly, you'll pay a premium at $14.99 per month.

The app offers a 34-day free trial to give you some time to try it out and determine if it's worth the cost for you.


YNAB doesn't access your budget information unless you specifically request it or it's required by law. However, it does analyze anonymous, aggregate data for its own purposes. The company also uses best practices to safeguard your password, making it difficult for hackers to steal your credentials even if they access the password database.

All of your personal data is encrypted on the company's servers, and if you decide to delete your account, YNAB destroys your account data, so it cannot be used again. For direct importing, the company partners with financial data aggregation companies, all of which use industry-leading practices to protect your login credentials and account information. YNAB does not view or store your financial account data.

Pros and Cons

It's important to note both the benefits and the drawbacks of a budgeting app to determine if it's a good fit for you. Here's our assessment of YNAB's perks and pitfalls:

Offers direct importing for transactions.Costs up to $14.99 per month.
Allows multiple budgets.No bill tracking or bill pay features.
Easy to customize, create spending goals and track expenses.Steep learning curve compared with other budgeting apps.
Syncs with multiple devices.No investment tracking features.
Free trial for 34 days.

Availability and Ratings

The YNAB app is available on your desktop browser, as well as for iOS and Android devices, including Apple Watch. Additionally, you can add YNAB to your Amazon Echo, Amazon Dot or Fire TV Stick as an Alexa skill, allowing you to check category balances and record new spending.

For mobile, the YNAB app has 4.8 stars across more than 38,000 reviews in the Apple App Store and 4.4 stars across almost 9,000 reviews in the Google Play Store.

Is YNAB Right for You?

YNAB takes budgeting seriously, so it may be a good fit if you're interested in its philosophy or you want a more detailed approach to managing your money. Because it costs money and can take some time to get used to, it may not be a good fit for casual budgeters or people who have never budgeted before and are daunted by the process.

If you're not sure, don't be afraid to give YNAB a try with its free trial. Just make sure you give it a good enough test drive in the allotted 34 days so you don't have to pay the subscription fee without knowing it's the right fit.

The Bottom Line

Budgeting is a crucial part of a strong financial plan, and keeping an eye on your credit and overall financial picture can help you stay on budget. Experian's free credit monitoring service can help you with your credit by offering access to your Experian credit report and credit score powered by Experian data.

The tool also provides real-time alerts when changes are made to your credit report. Equipped with this information, you'll be able to protect your personal information, address potential issues as they arise, strengthen your credit with Experian Boost®ø and more.