You Need a Budget (YNAB) Canada Review
- Mobile App
- Customer Service
You Need a Budget Review Summary:
You Need a Budget (YNAB) is one of Canada’s top budgeting apps. It’s one of the most expensive, but hundreds of thousands of fans agree that it’s worth it.
The price is a downer, but we love YNAB’s extensive support and educational resources, as well as the excellent customer service. We also appreciate the lengthy 34 days free trial, which means you can really get to know it before you commit!
If you want a new way to approach your budget (and particularly if you want one that doesn’t make you feel like a failure for overspending on takeout), YNAB is an excellent choice.
- Easy to set up and connect your accounts (if you want to)
- Interface is easy to navigate
- Default template is easy to customize (add categories, rename existing ones, whatever you need)
- Account syncing makes your budget easy to track
- Monthly reports help you monitor your spending
- Customer service and support are excellent
- The zero-dollar mindset takes some getting used to if you’re unfamiliar with it
- There’s a significant learning curve
- Requires regular upkeep (especially if you choose to enter transactions manually)
- Account syncing can void your bank’s terms of service
- No bill payment feature
- Unable to sync most investment accounts
What’s one guaranteed way to kill a party?
Bring up budgeting.
It’s tedious and difficult to maintain and just… it’s a one-way trip to the no fun zone.
But it doesn’t have to be that dreadful.
Apps like You Need a Budget promise to keep you on track and make budgeting fun-ish.
That feels like a tall order, but with hundreds of thousands of raving fans, it’s possible that YNAB actually delivers.
In this You Need a Budget review (or YNAB, pronounced why-nab), we’ll walk you through YNAB’s philosophy and features. We’ll look at the pros and cons, and we’ll compare YNAB with Mint, another top-rated budgeting platform.
By the time you’re finished reading, you’ll have an idea of whether YNAB is the budgeting app you’ve been waiting for. Let’s dig in.
How You Need a Budget Works
You Need a Budget is based on the envelope system—a cash-based system where any incoming money is doled out into labelled envelopes (gas, groceries, rent, etc) so that it’s there when you need it. Obviously this system is much more convenient when your envelopes are digital as opposed to the paper kind!
Their entire system is built on 4 key principles:
1. Give Every Dollar a Job
This is basically the envelope system in a nutshell: when money comes in, you give every single dollar a role.
Even if that role is a category called “Things I Forgot to Budget For” (which is totally valid – it’s YOUR budget!).
You make a plan when the money comes in, and then all you have to do is follow the plan. You’ll know whether you should get takeout tonight—because you’ll be able to tell if you have money in your “Takeout” fund (or whatever you choose to call it—more on customization later!
2. Embrace Your True Expenses
We, meaning humans in general, are very, very good at remembering our weekly and monthly expenses and then forgetting the rest. It’s why property taxes can be a shock to the system or how we somehow forget the month where 6 of our friends have birthdays until it’s staring us in the face.
YNAB coaches users to make categories for everything from car breakdowns to holiday gifts to home maintenance so that you never have to worry about where the money will come from – it’s there.
3. Roll With the Punches
Life happens, and YNAB doesn’t want you to be stressed out when it does. They encourage users to be flexible with their budgeting. If you overspend in one category, you can move money from another category to cover it. It means that you can carry on guilt-free (just with maybe fewer movie tickets in your future if that’s the category you raided for extra grocery money).
4. Age Your Money
YNAB’s goal is to have you spending money that’s at least a month old – basically, to always have at least a full month’s income in savings. This breaks the paycheque-to-paycheque cycle and allows you to breathe a little easier.
What The YNAB 4 Principles Look Like In Action
To start with, you create a budget template with every category you need. This is personal to you, depending on factors such as:
- Whether you rent or own
- If you have a car
- If you have pets
- If you have kids
- If you happen to be a raging K-pop fan who needs to buy a monthly album (no judgement)
- If you have expensive taste in coffee (also no judgement)
And so on.
You start with YNAB’s default template and make it your own, creating as many “envelopes” as you need and labeling them in a way that makes sense for you (but seriously, don’t forget sporadic expenses like car repairs or property taxes). When you get paid, you enter that amount in your budget worksheet and then dole it out to the various categories until every dollar is accounted for.
As you move through your days, if you find you need to spend more than you expected in one area, you move money into that category to cover the extra expense. YNAB labels overspent categories in red and categories with extra in green to make it easy to see which areas need money and where you can find it.
YNAB claims that new users save an average of $600 in the first 2 months and $6,000 in their first year. If you follow the program, they say, it won’t be long before you have more than a month’s income sitting in your various categories. The more months you accumulate, the better.
The idea of aging your money gamifies the process – you’re motivated to keep saving because you keep getting closer and closer to month-old money. Then two months…then three. You can read our other article to find other ways to save money each month.
YNAB Canada Review: Price
YNAB is one of the priciest budget apps out there. As of Dec 1, 2021, it costs $14.99 USD/month (up from $11.99 USD), or $98.99 annually (up from $84). The annual option is a significant discount, clocking in at $8.25/month, so if you can swing the full year, it’s worth it.
YNAB gives you a 34-day free trial, so by the time you’re asked to buy, you’ll know whether it works for you or not. But just in case, they also have a 100% money-back guarantee. You know, just to cover your bases.
YNAB Canada Review: Features
One thing we can say about YNAB is that you do get a load of excellent features for your money.
Personal Support and Education
YNAB’s customer service and education are second to none. They have 100+ free, online, live Q&As, plus a massive video library. Their customer support email promises a quick turnaround (and delivers!). And a huge and growing community of YNABers is delighted to answer questions in their forums or on their subreddit (which has over 130K users).
If you want a budget app that makes sure you know the ropes and get the help you need, when you need it, this is the one.
Online Portal and Mobile App
YNAB has an online portal with a smooth, intuitive interface. It’s easy to find your way around (and if you do get lost, it’s easy to find all the help you need).
It also has a well-designed and fully-featured app that allows you to check and update your budget on the go, as well as manually enter transactions (if that’s your thing). The app has a 4.7/5 rating on the app store, with overwhelmingly positive reviews.
Bank Account Syncing
YNAB gives you 3 options for keeping transactions up to date:
- Sync bank accounts and import directly
If you don’t mind giving a third-party program access to your financial data (and potentially breaking your bank’s terms of service), you can link YNAB to all of your bank accounts and have it keep track of transactions and balances automatically. Note: this can violate your bank’s fraud policy, so just be aware, but most online banks in Canada do allow this.
- Import files
You can download transaction files from your bank and upload them to YNAB all at once.
- Manually enter transactions
If you would rather not give YNAB any direct access to your financial information, you can enter each transaction manually. This is the most time-consuming option, but it’s also the safest.
YNAB gives users access to a series of reports that help you see your income and expenses clearly. If you’re into number-crunching, you can filter your report by categories, timeframe, and accounts. These sharp-looking graphs and tables can help you get a new perspective on your budget.
YNAB’s goal feature helps users to save for specific large purchases or amounts of savings. This can help you reach your goals faster by keeping your eye on the prize every pay period. YNAB has three general goal types, plus two credit-card-specific goals.
Target Category Balance Goal:
You put money into a specific category until you reach your desired amount, with no timeline in mind.
Target Category Balance Goal with Date:
Ditto, but with a timeline: you put money into a specific category, but with an end date in mind.
Monthly Funding Goal:
You set a goal amount to pay into the category each month
Specific Credit Card Goal tracking:
YNAB takes credit card debt seriously. So seriously that they have a couple of goal settings specifically for credit card repayment.
Pay Off Balance by Specific Date lets you set a deadline for that zero balance and tracks your progress as the months pass.
Pay Specific Amount Each Month doesn’t give you a set timeline but keeps track of your monthly payments to make sure you’re making progress towards your debt-free goals.
YNAB Canada vs Mint: Comparison Chart
nother major player in the budgeting field is Mint (aka Intuit Mint, since Mint was acquired by financial software giant, Intuit, in 2009). We’ve summarized their main characteristics in the chart below:
$14.99 USD a month or Annual billing $98.99 USD
Yes, although may go against your bank’s terms of service
Yes, although may go against your bank’s terms of service
Bank-grade (or better) encryption
Data is encrypted, but (anonymized) user data is aggregated and sold
Ease Of Use
Easy once you’re past the learning curve
In-App Bill Payment
Yes, but frequently incorrect
Works for variable income (freelancers etc)
Yes, YNAB has specific resources walking freelancers, etc. through how to budget with variable income
Not ideal for variable income
Excellent, personalized service
Significantly less responsive
Mint is one of the most popular budgeting apps in Canada. Upon investigation, it appears less robust and fully featured as YNAB is, and their customer service is nowhere near as responsive.
Their connectivity for bank account syncing is known to be spotty. They also do that thing that “free” apps do: they make their money from selling your (anonymized, aggregated) data. But as budgeting apps go, it’s free and it does the job you want it to – just with the occasional hassle.
Aside from the differences in pricing and features, the big contrast between the two platforms is in their core approach to budgeting:
Mint is a traditional budgeting program. It tracks your expenses and helps you use your spending history to predict how much money you should budget for each category. It then lets you know when you go over your spending limit so that you can curb your spending in that particular category.
YNAB is a more future-focused approach to budgeting. You take your money and divvy it up into categories before you start spending it, and then move forward with that plan in mind. If you need to adjust a category, you adjust it (with no shame attached).
YNAB may take longer to get the hang of because you’re not only learning a new kind of software, for many people you’re learning a new way of budgeting. But the volume of resources available to you certainly helps.
YNAB Canada FAQ
YNAB Canada Review: Is YNAB Worth It?
We’re not going to lie – YNAB’s annual fee is steep being this close to $100 US. Depending on your finances, you may need to tweak your budget to be able to afford You Need a Budget!
But if you can swing the price and wrap your mind around the zero-based budgeting method, it can really be a gamechanger. We appreciate the massive amount of user resources and support they offer, plus the user-friendliness of the app once you get past the learning curve.
Speaking of learning curves, the 34-day free trial gives you a solid chance to work out the kinks and really understand what the app has to offer. Maybe try making a “YNAB subscription” category in your budget so you never have to worry about where that $98.99 US is coming from.