Reviewing The New YNAB

YNAB has changed.

That little blue program that’s made such a difference in so many lives has released a massive update to their software. This isn’t just new features, but a complete overhaul and an updated way of thinking about budgeting.

A lot of people have been asking what I think about it. Chris and I have been promoting YNAB for awhile and it’s only right that we share with you some thoughts on the new program.

What is YNAB?

For those who’ve never heard of it, YNAB is a budgeting tool. It a program that syncs across all your devices and is super easy to setup and to use. It’s greatest feature is how great it is as facilitating true conversations about finances for people who normally can’t talk about money.

Up until December 30th, YNAB was a program you downloaded to your computer. It used DropBox to sync your budget to your phone, IPAD and all your other devices. But on December 30th, YNAB made the leap to the Cloud, and with that leap made some pretty big changes to the way the program handles your budget.

What Changed?

First, YNAB is now Cloud based, which means you no longer download a desktop application. In order to access YNAB you sign up for an account at app.youneedabudget.com. When you want to check on your budget, you log onto the website and do whatever it is you want to do. No more downloading applications. No more waiting years for new features to come out. Since it’s in the Cloud, YNAB can update whatever they want whenever they want.

And since you access the program through a browser, it no longer matters if you’re on Windows, Mac, or Linux. Anyone with internet access and a browser can enjoy YNAB.

Unfortunately, this also means that it’s a lot more expensive for YNAB. They now own and maintain your budget data; plus they’ve taken over pushing that data between your devices (no more DropBox). That means hundreds of servers to hold all that data. It means they’re now spending money to back up your data in case something awful happens and their servers break. It means paying people to monitor those servers and keep things in tact. All of this (and so much more) is invisible to you, but it’s real and expensive. Therefore they’ve instituted a $5/month or $50/year charge. If you sign up before January 31st, you get a 10% discount which brings it down to $45/year. If you’re coming from YNAB4, there is no deadline on that discount, so you’ll get it whenever you choose to sign up (if you choose to sign up).

So, it’s a yearly deal instead of a once per version deal, but there is a lot more going on in the background. Plus, now that they’re Cloud based, they can add features on the fly instead of storing them all up for years to add to the next version (they’ve already done this with a few minor features).

A few other differences worth nothing:

  • You can now sync your budget directly to your bank account and reconcile your entries through that connection. This is something a lot of people have asked for and it’s here!
  • They’ve finally got an easy way to reproduce your budget from month-to-month. It’s called “Quick Budgeting” and it’s really good now! You do it by selecting the categories you want to copy over and then clicking the “Budgeted Last Month” button. Then YNAB automatically brings over the the amounts you budgeted last month in the selected categories.
  • They’ve overhauled their Credit Card system so that you can actually have credit cards in the budget, with debt on them, without it looking like you’ve got no money to budget.
  • They’ve added goals that will help you figure out how much money to budget in various categories. No more keeping it in your head or using the Notes sections.
  • They’ve created a category inspector to let you know if you’ve got a goal or a scheduled transaction and to help you figure out what to do if you overspend..
  • And much, more.

What’s Missing?

It’s not all sunshine and roses, though; there are things missing. Most are “coming soon”, but since they’re not here yet you need to know them before making the leap.

First, if you’re migrating from YNAB4, your history isn’t coming with you. They will migrate your accounts, your categories, your scheduled transactions, and a few other things, but none of your previous history is coming with you from YNAB4 to the new YNAB. This is suppose to be their first priority, and until it’s here it’s a big gaping hole in the transition.

Second, like history, Reporting is also gone. This was something they tried to have up and running for the release but didn’t finish it in time. Most likely it will be part of the program by the end of the year, but until then it’s a wonderful feature in YNAB4 that’s missing from the new YNAB.

Third, the calculator is (mostly) gone. There is a way to do calculations in the new YNAB (and it’s fairly easy to use), but the actual calculator and the hot keys associated with it are gone. This isn’t a huge blow since the functionality is still there, but it does create a bit of a learning curve. Also, I had to figure this one out on my own. As of this posting, I haven’t found information on this alternate way to do calculations anywhere on their website or help.

Fourth, there is no computer app. This is another thing they’ve assured us is coming back, but I’m not going to hold my breath. There really isn’t a good reason to have one now that everything is Cloud based. The problem with this is no offline budgeting. That’s not a deal breaker for me, but I can imagine several people being unhappy with this (I was).

Fifth, designating income as “next month money” is gone. Instead, all your on-budget accounts go into one pot. It’s a different way of thinking about it. And while a good system, it’s a big change from the way budgeting was previously handled in YNAB. It means you’ll probably have to rethink the way you prepare your budget. For instance, Rachel and I get our paychecks direct deposited to a Savings Account. On the 1st of the month, we move the accumulated income from savings into our checking account. Savings is an on-budget account and assigning that income as “next month” money has made it really easy to differentiate which account our “to budget” money is coming from. We don’t want to spend money thinking it’s ine checking when it’s actually in Savings! I don’t think this is going to matter much to most people, but it has disrupted our rhythm a bit and it’s something we’re having to re-figure out.

A New Philosophy

And that’s a big part of the new YNAB, it’s got an updated budgeting philosophy. It’s a solid (and in some ways better) philosophy than it was before, but the differences are going to disrupt anyone who makes the switch – at least at first.

That’s why “next month” income is gone. Instead, it’s all income that you “age”. They suggest you strive to age your money at least 30 days, meaning that the money you’re spending in your budget has been in your on-budget accounts for at least 30 days. The philosophy encourages you to think long-term about the money you’re making (that’s where this age thing is coming from) while also helping you in the day-to-day spending (via the monthly budget you set up).

As I said, I like the way they’re taking the philosophy, but it’s different and so you should expect some bumps in the road if you’re going to make the switch.

Should I upgrade?

The truth is, this is still a good program. However, it’s not a great program – yet.

At launch, New YNAB was six months away from being a great program. Since they’re having to re-prioritize a lot of things that didn’t go right with the launch, I’m guessing most of the missing features will be there by the end of the year. And that’s the beauty of being Cloud based, they can add all the features they develop as soon as they’re ready to go.

And even with all the changes, it’s still YNAB. It’s still going to help you budget.

So yes, I do still recommend YNAB. But if you’re thinking of making the switch, here are my recommendations:

For those who are thinking about buying YNAB, it is still an excellent budgeting tool that will help you communicate finances with your spouse and plan for the future. If you were planning on buying it, but hadn’t pulled the trigger, it’s worth picking up before January 31st to get that lifetime discount. You may feel it’s missing a thing or two, but give it time and it’ll most likely catch up.

For those who already own YNAB, you have a choice to make. Your transaction history and reporting are gone. We have been promised (repeatedly) that importing YNAB4 history and Reporting are two things they are working on. Most likely, both of these features will be in the program by the end of 2016. With that in mind you can either (1) wait for the new YNAB to add these features or (2) go ahead and upgrade now to get the feel for things if you aren’t worried about those features. Either option is a good option, it’s simply what is most important to you.

Some Final Thoughts

As for me and my family, we’re sticking with YNAB. We’re still working through when we want to transition. The big question for us is, how detrimental is it not to have history? Probably not bad in the short-term, but it sure is nice to have that backlog I can check on. It’s something we still need to talk through. When I know for sure, I’ll let you know. But we still love YNAB and I’m convinced it’s still one of the best programs available for budgeting.

And yes, there are many other budgeting programs that are worth checking out. I fully intend to test and review them right here on the blog as I have time and the opportunity. But until then, YNAB is where I’m staying. And if you’ve loved it up until now, I recommend you stay too.

 

About Alex Humphrey

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