Latest update 1/17/17
For many years, my husband and I budgeted with a homemade spreadsheet, some cash envelopes, and a bunch of savings accounts. I knew it was a clunky system, but I didn’t know of any viable alternatives. For the last few years, I’d heard about the software called You Need a Budget (YNAB) and last fall, I decided to give it a try. It was a lot of work to set up, but once it was running, it was incredible! I felt like someone had created a tool to help me do what I’d been trying to do on my own, but it was SO MUCH BETTER!
A side effect of using YNAB was that it allowed my husband to be more involved with the budget. With the phone app, he could easily check how much money we had available and enter all of his own transactions, without me being involved. Our previous homemade system was too complicated and I had to manage it all myself.
Although I adore YNAB, it’s not perfect or free, so I decided to check out other options. Two major competitors to YNAB are Mint and Dave Ramsey’s Every Dollar. All three options have their pros and cons:
- Great reports showing spending history
- Free credit score
- Easy-to-use net worth calculations
- Excellent goals calculators
- Free to use
- Budgeting is not zero-based
- Budget tools make it too easy to just track spending after-the-fact instead of planning ahead with a real budget
- Lacks customer support
- Nothing is really free and Mint is paid for by plenty of advertising for credit cards, investments, and other financial products
- Very simple to set up
- Free for basic version
- Paid version offers connection with banks for drag-and-drop categorizing of transactions
- Keeps track of your progress on Dave Ramsey’s baby steps (if you’re following that program)
- Looks very similar to the budget forms from Financial Peace University (so easy to transfer if you’re already using those)
- Lacks any support for account registers so another tracking method is needed to keep track of bank accounts
- Can’t work on budgets for future months (only current month)
- Does not connect to American Express and some other banking institutions
- Very clunky to use for transaction entry with no memory of payees
- Paid version is very expensive at $99/year
- Advertises Dave Ramsey’s network of local providers
- Robust account register system including recurring transactions
- Automatic matching of manual entries with bank import
- Easy bank account reconciliation to make sure your budget matches reality
- Works seamlessly with credit cards and almost all banking institutions
- Budgeting goals are flexible and helpful for tracking long-term progress
- Category tracking features allow you to see average spent in each category
- Quick budget options make monthly budget set-up easy
- Allows multiple budgets on one account (for example, home and business)
- Mobile app has GPS capabilities so it remembers your favorite stores’ locations and saves time on transaction entry
- Extensive support available including live online classes, videos, message boards, and an excellent support staff
- Completely ad-free
- There is no free version after the 34-day trial period – cost is
$5/month or$50/year UPDATE 1/12/17: The monthly payment option is no longer available. Current version lacks reports, which were present in older versions, but developers say they’re coming soonUPDATE 10/24/16: Reports have finally been added and they’re great!
- Does not do as good of a job at calculating debt payoffs and other goals as Mint
- Requires more effort and involvement than Mint (but I think that’s actually a good thing)
- Has it’s own “budgeting philosophy” which can be a little hard to adjust to if you’re coming from a different system like Dave Ramsey’s plan (but the two are compatible with each other)
Bottom Line: Mint vs Every Dollar vs YNAB
I think it’s pretty obvious that I’m still a huge fan of YNAB and don’t plan on switching my budgeting software. I will leave my account open with Mint, though, as I found the reports interesting as a way to look at my overall financial picture. Every Dollar has almost nothing going for it compared to the other two, in my opinion. If you want free and easy, Mint has a lot of great tools. If you want robust, fully-featured budgeting software, YNAB is the way to go. I think the only reason Every Dollar has any popularity is because it has Dave Ramsey’s name on it.
For someone just beginning to budget for the first time, I’d recommend starting by signing up for a Mint account and playing around with the reports. If you use your debit or credit card for most purchases, it’ll be easy to get an idea of where your money is being spent every month. You can also get an overall picture of your debts and total net worth. Next, I’d take that information about your spending habits and use it as a starting point for a budget in YNAB. Once you get through setting it up and understanding how it works, YNAB makes everyday budgeting a breeze. It’s so easy and fun that I often find myself wishing I had more things I could play around with in YNAB! Don’t believe me? Give it a try and you’ll see!
Do you use these tools? Did I miss any pros and cons? Comment below or join the discussion in the Smart Family Money Facebook Discussion Group.