You Need A Budget 4 review

Kat Orphanides
30 Oct 2013
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
inc VAT

A clear interface and a built-in financial planning philosophy make it easy to get even the most unruly finances in order


Your PC can be a powerful tool to help get your financial life in order, but you don’t have to create your own financial planning document from scratch in a spreadsheet. You Need A Budget (YNAB) is one of the most friendly accounting programs we’ve ever seen. It has its own financial planning philosophy that gives you a simple framework you can use to plan your budget. The goal is that you'll rearrange your finances so that you're able to live on the previous month's income rather than your latest pay cheque, giving you a buffer in case the unexpected should happen.

You can install YNAB on multiple computers, even if you buy it from Steam or the Mac App Store. This means your entire household can manage their budgets. YNAB encourages you to sync your budget with Dropbox. You give it the details of your Dropbox account and then it manages the synchronisation between different PCs and its mobile apps itself.

You Need A Budget 4 Screenshot Three

YNAB's report screen is handy if you want to see your spending split into categories

Initially, you must enter your current financial data. YNAB has a built-in tutorial that takes you through the basics of creating an entry for your bank account. It also helps you customise the fields in your budget sheet. Common fields are titled rent, mortgage, groceries and charitable giving, for example. It's all very simple, and you can manage everything from just a couple of screens.

You enter incoming and outgoing financial transactions in the Account screen. You can enter recurring payments, so regular transactions such as your rent going out or wages coming in can be automated. They're marked “uncleared” until you approve them, prompting you to keep an eye on routine outgoings. It's also easy to edit entries later if required. Scheduled transactions are displayed in their own frame at the bottom of the account window.

Each transaction you enter has to match a corresponding field on your budget sheet. This is where you plan your outgoings for the month and see how your planned budget tallies with your actual spending. There are separate columns for each month's planned budget, actual expenditure and the balance of the two, which shows whether or not you’ve spent more or less than you budgeted.

Conveniently, your budget sheet can be used to track exactly how much you spend on specific items. If you’re concerned about how much you spend on coffee each month, for example, you could create a field especially for it.

You Need A Budget 4 Screenshot One

Breakdown your spending by category or see it all on a big sheet

YNAB's tutorials also provide guidance on how to categorise things. Expenses are split into Master Categories such as monthly bills, everyday expenses, savings goals and rainy day funds. Each master category has sub-categories, so our coffee fund and expected monthly grocery shop are filed as everyday expenses while our rent and utilities go under monthly bills. You can create as many master categories and sub-categories as you need. Your budget shouldn't be restricted to just the basic essentials unless that's all you spend money on.

You can most easily make savings on non-essential expenses. For example, we gave ourselves a budget to spend on games, and created a savings entry to help us save money for next year's festival tickets.

You set your budget on a month-by-month basis. The intention is that every pound be accounted for in advance, so you’re less inclined to spend money at random simply because it’s in your account or your pocket. It can feel a little odd if you’re not used to controlling your spending in this way, so we studied how spent our money worked out a budget.

Over the three months we budgeted, our expenditure in various categories didn’t always tally with the budget. One month we spent more on books than we expected and much less than anticipated on groceries, for example. However, you’re encouraged to adjust each month’s budget as you go, so there’s always scope to bring your budget in line with your actual spending.

Through careful budgeting and being aware of where our money goes, we’ve found that we’re no longer spending beyond our means or impulse buying. We also quickly and easily got into the habit of entering all our daily spending at the end of the day or while on the move via the Android app.

You Need A Budget 4 Android App Two

You can check your budget on the move with YNAB's Android and iOS apps

If you already have your own successful approach to managing your finances, then YNAB may not be for you. Some users will object to the program’s insistence on starting from scratch rather than importing your financial history, but it does have an import option. You can add a bank statement in OFX, QFX, QIF or CSV format. You can even match imported transactions with those you’ve entered manually.

Sadly, we didn’t get much use out of YNAB’s Reports function, which gives you a graphical view of your spending. However, it might be useful if you’re trying to devote a certain percentage of your money to a particular goal.

YNAB's appeal is its simplicity and the way it enforces a structured approach to your finances. You don’t need any prior knowledge of organising your finances, and found it to be clear and informative. After three months of use, we were more aware of our outgoings and better able to anticipate monthly expenditure. If financial management has ever seemed confusing, tedious or just too much hassle, this is a brilliant Best Buy.



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