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It’s quite embarrassing, but my checking account resembles more a debt-burdened Southern European nation than it does an actual grown-up, taxpaying adult.
I’m old enough to know better, but it’s just so hard to make a budget and stick to it. Part of that is impulse purchases. Quite frankly, these decimate my bank balance like locusts in a cornfield. It’s really damn tiring to keep track of each £3 coffee and each £0.70 candy bar.
It’s the attribute I dislike most about myself. There’s no dignity in being fiscally feckless. And hey, I’d love to spend less money, save more and generally feel much better about my financial future.
And then someone told me about YNAB – You Need A Budget. It turns out, I do need a budget. Quite badly, in fact. So, I thought I’d give it a spin. Here’s my thoughts on this incredible application.
You Need A Budget
YNAB comes in many incarnations, but the one I’m going to be reviewing right now is the desktop client, running on OS X Mavericks. There’s also a mobile version of YNAB, which synchronizes your budget and accounts using Dropbox. Blackberry and Windows Phone fans will be dismayed to learn it is only available on iOS and Android.
When you install YNAB, you will be prompted to create a budget. Here, you are asked if you want to synchronize this budget with your mobile device; if your budget is for your business or personal accounts, and some localization settings.
I was pretty impressed to see that YNAB isn’t a US centric product. I live in England, and I was able to use the British (DD/MM/YYY) date format, as well as to create a budget in British Pounds Sterling. A wide range of currencies are available, including Euros, Yen, US Dollars and Chinese Yuan.
Once you’ve created a budget, you are then prompted to provide some information about the state of your bank accounts. Those concerned about their privacy should take into account that this information is stored locally on your computer, unless you decide to share it with your Android and iOS devices.
YNAB supports multiple bank accounts, and allows you to add savings accounts, lines of credit, and even Paypal. You can then add payments which are subtracted from your bottom line. Simple enough.
YNAB doesn’t support accounts of differing currencies. This is quite frustrating for those among us who move around a lot, although it shouldn’t be an issue for most users.
But what I just showed you isn’t actually budgeting. That’s just a bank-statement.
Creating A Budget
The crux of budgeting is starting with a fixed sum of cash, and earmarking segments of that cash for specific things – be they rent, food or utilities. Creating a budget with YNAB is really quite easy. It comes with a number of categories, most of these are pretty obvious, and include rent, utilities, food, clothing and leisure money, for life’s little pleasures.
You can earmark funds for these expenses, and when you add a payment, these are reconciled against both the earmarked funds, as well as your budget.
There are some noticeably absent categories, on YNAB. One of these is taxes, which makes sense, as the types, rates and methods of taxation varies by country. However, it’s possible to add these categories, and then budget for them accordingly.
In the picture above, you will see that I added a master category called ‘Tax’, and two subcategories for ‘Income Tax’ and ‘National Insurance’, which are the two types of tax which most freelancers will find themselves paying in the UK.
Does YNAB Work?
Absolutely. After using it for a while, I feel more in control of my finances. A significant factor for the efficacy of YNAB is its simplicity. As a product, it’s drastically more beautiful than an Excel spreadsheet is. It’s intuitive, and it doesn’t feel like an uphill battle to create a maintainable budget.
However, using YNAB effectively requires a degree of self honesty. It requires accountability. You need to be able to be realistic about your present liquid assets, your expenditures and your liabilities. It’s incredibly hard (and humbling) to sit down and think about where your money goes.
It also demands a degree of effort, requiring you to accurately log each and every purchase. This might be too much for some people.
I really like YNAB, and intend to use it as a tool to balance my checkbook. With that said, YNAB is useless without determination and willpower. Thankfully, there’s an app for that.
Convinced? Why don’t you grab a copy and let me know what you think in the comments below?