Do you need a budget?  The people behind YNAB (You Need a Budget) think you probably do, and I think they’re probably right.

Here’s my money story.  I’m pretty good with money.  This is mainly because I’ve always been on the brink of not having money.  I make a good living with my blog most of the time, provided I work 7 days a week and in television I made a lot of money … when I was working.

As a television host you never know if you’re going to be working the next year or not because you don’t know if your contract will be renewed or if your show will be cancelled.  And most of the time there’s no warning, it’s just a phone call from the producer saying “Oops, the network isn’t renewing. They’ve decided to go in a different direction and are only, ONLY going to air shows about little people who are trying to lose weight while buying and selling real estate.

O.K. then.

So I’ve always been careful with money even when I was making a lot of it because I knew that if my contract wasn’t renewed or my show was cancelled I might not have steady work for 6 months or even a year.  It isn’t like when you’re an accountant and you lose your job. There are a lot of accounting jobs to go around.  There are very few television hosting jobs.

Even before that I was careful with money. In highschool (see how I spell high school?  That’s how it should be spelled.  One word.) I didn’t speed when I was driving because I knew I didn’t have money for a speeding ticket.  It was all just logical to me.


photo by Donna Griffith

Look at me.  Look at how happy you can be if you aren’t worrying about money.

It wasn’t until I got out of University that I began to realize saving money and budgeting wasn’t logical for a lot of people.  My friends had huge credit card debts before they’d even got their first jobs.  They were buying houses, cars, televisions, shampoos they couldn’t afford.  And it didn’t seem to bother them one bit. I couldn’t handle the stress of owing that much money.  I couldn’t handle the guilt of buying a $40 bottle of shampoo when I knew I could really only afford the $7 bottle.  Now?  Yeah, I can afford the $40 bottle of shampoo.  But I still don’t buy it because I know I’d rather allocate that $40 to something else in my head.  Like good Olive Oil.  For someone else their priorities would be the complete opposite of that.

The following is a true story …

A few weeks ago the company You Need a Budget asked me if I’d review their budgeting app in a sponsored post. I said I couldn’t because I’m already good with money.  It seemed like a disingenuous thing to do, to review a budgeting app when … I don’t need one.

Although turning down money from a sponsored post isn’t doing anything to solidify my reputation as being good with money is it.  Who turns down money??

THEN I got a brilliant idea. I contacted the company again and told them if they were brave enough to let real people, my readers review the app then I’d write a post on their product  based on what my readers thought of it.

YNAB said absolutely.

That’s a company that’s confident in their product.

So budgeting inept readers Kara, Michael, Zoe, Alyssa and Jeanne volunteered to test the You Need a Budget app for me. In fact hundreds of you offered your services.  Like I said, there are a lot of you who need a budget and …


(P.S. no credit card required! Yay!)


Even though I wasn’t going to be using the YNAB app myself I wanted to set it up to see how easy it was and look into it a bit.

Their philosophy revolves around living by 4 rules:

  • Rule One- Give every dollar a job.  (Everything goes somewhere whether it’s bills, unexpected expenses, vacation fund, or savings)

  • Rule Two- Embrace your true expenses. (Things that aren’t in your monthly payment schedule like the cable bill or hydro. Things like Oops your car might need fixing or Oops birthdays happen a LOT or Oops how much do you think a new roof will cost?  Or my famous Oops, omg I have to replace my sewer lines!)

  • Rule Three- Roll with the punches.  (Don’t fret. If you set up a budget that doesn’t account for “flying to your highschool reunion because that dreamy guy from Grade 12  just got a divorce because his wife became a monk, and now that he’s single you absolutely HAVE to see him again … YNAB teaches you, you can deal with it.  And the expense.)

  • Rule Four- Age your money. (When your money isn’t old that means you spend it as soon as you get it, if not BEFORE you get it (helloooo credit card debt).  Your money comes in, your money goes out … immediately.  You never have OLD money.  Which is basically a stack of savings.  You don’t have this stack of savings because your expenses are too high and you aren’t paying attention to that.  This leads to living paycheque to paycheque.  By following the first 3 rules of YNAB you’ll acquire OLD money, and therefore a big, cushion of soft, bouncy money to fall back on.)

This YNAB app isn’t just about budgeting, in fact more than that, it’s about changing the way you live.  I can’t tell you how many emails I got from people who said they make a LOT of money but are still living paycheque to paycheque.

Part of the problem with the world (in North America anyway), is that schools don’t teach anything about budgeting.  Or living expenses.  Or the fact that owning a house, having kids, even keeping a few pets is WAY more expensive than you first think.  New roofs, daycare, vet bills … all things you don’t think about when you’re newly graduated and about to start life.

The inventors of YNAB think this is stupid.  Very stupid.  And kind of unfair to everyone that plans on ever moving out of their parent’s house and starting a life of their own. Which is you know … pretty much everyone.

So they decided to do something about it and END the life cycle of the pathetic budgeter.  The clueless budgeter.  The debt, the tears, the turmoil.  How are they planning to do this?  By teaching students and by teaching them for free.


Now let’s see how it worked with my readers.  Overall, they really liked it and everyone said they’d continue to use it.

These are REAL reviews from REAL people which YNAB was brave enough to allow in this sponsored post. Not every company would agree to that as you can imagine!



1. Budgeting problems/special circumstances.  
I’m a recently single mum, and I really want to get in to the housing market but now I need to do it on my own.
4.  General impression of the YNAB program.  
It’s definitely a mind shift in how one thinks about budgets but from reading reviews and ultimately figuring it out I think it’s going to be incredibly helpful. It’s also got a great phone interface!
5.  Pros for YNAB.  
The program itself is technically easy to use and their customer service is amazing!
6.  Cons for YNAB. 
I think the instructions could be a little clearer. I got some great emails from customer service and it may just be me and single mum tired brain but it took a while before I got to my aha moment!
7.  Do you think it’s going to help you?
Absolutely. I think it’s going to force me to be much cleverer with my spending and truly account for things that i just “swipe” albeit pay off monthly – doing that doesn’t let you get ahead.
8.  Will you continue to use it?
9.  Did it create any eye opening moments for you in terms of your spending?
Not yet, I rode the struggle bus in getting started, but even just thinking about it all has made me very conscious of what I’m doing or not with my dollars!


1.  Budgeting problems/special circumstances.
Self-employed full time handyman. With debt. Of course. My wife & child recently returned from 1-year absence abroad while our boy was in school in Mexico (so he could learn his other language and culture), so I’m the sole support right now until my wife finds suitable employment. Yikes.

2.  General impression of the YNAB program.
It’s very thorough and well-executed, and seems to have covered the challenges of budgeting in a world where income is as unpredictable as global politics and where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will show up shirtless next.

3.  Pros.
The support is excellent, and the regular tips and tricks sent by email are very helpful. Its apparent the company really wants you to make use of every feature of the software, and actually seems to care about the end-users success. It’s a very deep program and encompasses the idea that a truly successful budget isn’t just about putting numbers down, it’s about how well you stick to it and form new habits.

4.  Cons.
Two major issues: Syncing with bank accounts is not done in real time. I have to wait at least 12 hours before posted transactions appear for ‘importing’ into YNAB and that’s the biggest hurdle.   Also, the mobile apps have a severe limitation, as good as they are, they do not contain all the features of the web-accessible one. I can’t ‘import’ new transactions via the mobile app; I have to go to the web platform to do that. That necessitates access to a laptop or desktop computer and that’s just not a reality for many people anymore. I carry an iPad or an iPhone with me. I don’t carry a laptop.

From YNAB:

Hey Mike!

A transaction has to clear your bank before it will be imported into YNAB, so yes, there is a little bit of a lag. If you want things to be immediate you can enter every transaction as you spend on your phone (it takes about three seconds) or you reconcile your budget as things import, usually about one day behind your spending. 

 Mobile is our current obsession. We are working toward complete parity, so every single thing could be done from your phone. We aren’t finished yet, but we are well on our way and it’s our top priority!

5.  Do you think it’s going to help you?
I believe it will help enormously to help me develop better budgeting habits, which I had hitherto previously thought was impossible on a self-employed, precarious income stream.

6.  Will you continue to use it?
I will.



1.  Budgeting problems/special circumstances.
We’re a one income family in debt.   My husband’s a waiter, walks out with cash at the end of each shift so his pay isn’t the same every month and some cash tends to leak out.  I’m a stay at mom.  Somehow my husband and I both survived to be almost forty without learning how to do a budget and have no savings, little retirement, no money to buy a house, and some debt.  Now that we have a kid it’s time for US to grow up.  Every time we try it, it hasn’t worked. There are always things we forget to account for and we don’t always stick to what we set in the budget either.

2.  General impression of the YNAB program.
There is a lot of information about budgeting.  With all of the support materials (videos, articles) it’s as if you bought a book about personal finance as well as a budgeting program. It seems very well thought out and very informative.

3.  Pros.
All of the information.  Also the colour coding and categories are helpful for me since I’m pretty visual. You see things in green if you’re sticking to your plan, red if you messed up and need to change something.

4. Cons.
The initial setup is neither quick nor easy. There’s lots to read and every article has multiple hyperlinks within it so it’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole.

5. Do you think it’s going to help you?
I’m hopeful. To be honest we are REALLY bad with money. I don’t think we’re going to fix this overnight but I do think this can be part of the process.

6. Will you continue to use it?  
Yes!  I’m going to stick with it for a few months and see how it goes!


1.  Budgeting problems/special circumstances.
I’m a stay at home mom to four kids 6 and under which leaves me with little time for what my style of budgeting demanded. I was doing it all on paper, and often would leave the budget until just before the next paycheque had come around. I’d then spend more time than necessary balancing everything and we’d be short on my savings goals. My husband switched jobs; some weeks there is plenty of work and some not so much.
2.  General impression of the YNAB program.
So far, I really appreciate what the program has done. It’s a HUGE learning curve. I feel much more in control of, and have more knowledge of where each dollar is going and what it’s being used for.
3. Pros.
The easily available apps make seeing which dollars are available where so quick. I can take a quick glance anywhere I am, anytime, and know exactly how much I have to spend in any area. Also, because of this, a smaller paycheque will no longer be a panic – I know what my immediate obligations are, those get taken care of first, and then other things that I hadn’t bothered to budget for (ie. new washer and dryer) get a “goal” and in a more prosperous month the extra that we totally would have frittered away on latte’s and sparkly, curly, pink shoe strings (we have three girls…) has a job. I had learned the hard way about immediate obligations, but hadn’t thought through assigning those extra dollars on my own yet.
4.  Cons.
I still haven’t figured out *exactly* where they are getting the “funds for this month” figure from – the downside is that my budget *says* I have $100 for, say, eating out, but I know I don’t. I can’t figure out where my mistake is.   I’m not sure how I would improve it, the only big snag I ran into is that I used the direct link to our bank account – but if I make a transfer/payment/purchase and it doesn’t show up right away, I would just go ahead and enter it myself. DON’T BE LIKE ME.  This throws off the balance big time and will cause needless major panic. I was pretty excited to be setting everything up, so I may have just completely missed that explanation. Basically, not a con, just read the instructions. I was  balancing things just now, and I’m pretty sure I just made the same mistake. Again. I don’t learn too quick.

Response from YNAB: Alyssa – Sounds like you might be a little mixed up somewhere along the way – you aren’t alone! It’s hard to think about your money in a whole new way and pay attention to things that you aren’t used to paying attention to! It will be well worth the effort! I’d suggest writing into and they can walk through it with you step by step and sort you out right away!

5.  Do you think it’s going to help you?
Absolutely. It already has. Minus the almost heart attack(s).
6.  Will you continue to use it?
7.  Did it create any eye opening moments for you in terms of your spending?
They make you assign a job for every. single. dollar. Which is brilliant, and something I wasn’t doing. When I have certain dollars set aside for a specific thing, I am far less likely to dip into that fund to spend it on that momentary attractive thing I think I need.
1.  Budgeting problems/special circumstances.  
In debt, trying to put the kids through college with cash and school loans
2.  General impression of the YNAB program.
Well, I’ve been using Quicken for over 10 years so I thought I’d be able to catch on quickly. I’d love a tutorial that I could open up on a tablet or phone that I could run through as I was setting up everything on my desktop computer.  It seems like they have plenty of instructions but I find it a little tricky.
3.  Pros.  I love the sync-to-your-bank function for the checking account portion.
Also, props to the help staff of YNAB!  Every question I’ve submitted has been answered promptly and clearly.  I also really like the webinars.  I’ve watched two of them already and I think one of the most helpful things about the webinars is that it’s something I can get my husband to participate in.  I’m hopeful that it will help to get him involved.
4.  Cons.
I would like a clearer explanation of how the Budget relates to the Accounts.  I’m a visual person and I couldn’t wrap my head around how the two worksheets relate to each other.  I’m still having trouble with that one. Also, as I’ve said earlier, I need more handholding in setting it all up.
From YNAB:
Hi Jeanne!  Budgets vs. Accounts – Your budget is your plan. When you have money come in, you ask yourself, “what does this money need to do before I get paid again?” and then assign every dollar a job. Your accounts can be connected to your budget or set-up separate from your budget as a Tracking account. If you want to have every transaction “direct import” into your budget, then you just have to assign them to the appropriate category and your budget is up to date. Or you can do it more manually, entering transactions (and their categories) more manually, and your account is not connected. The goal is to get to the place where rather than referencing your checking account, “Can I afford this?” – you would go to the budget, and look at the appropriate category. You might have $5,000 in your checking account, but only $25 in your Eating Out budget. If you checked your bank account, you might feel rich and go out for a sushi feast, when based on what you have to spend on Eating Out, pizza might be more appropriate.
5.  Do you think it’s going to help you?
Yes, I do.  I’ve already used the goal function to determine how quickly we can pay off one of our cars. It was great to have that function determine just how much money we had to add to our monthly payment to pay off the car quicker. I can certainly see us using that function for each one of our debts. 
6.  Will you continue to use it?  
Absolutely! I’m looking forward to a couple months down the road because I’ll have a better idea of where we are in our budget and I’ll be able to look at those averages
7.  Did it create any eye opening moments for you in terms of your spending?  
Not really. Because I’m used to using Quicken, I often times create reports to see where our money is going. So, unfortunately, my eyes have already been opened many many times in the past!


What did I think of it?  Even though I don’t need any budget training,  I went through the setup so I could see what it was like.

You need to set aside one hour to set the app up initially.  If you do this, and have in your head that it will be one hour, you’ll be fine.  There will be no anger involved.   You need to connect your bank accounts to YNAB (this is automatic and painless), and then you need to add in all of your monthly expenses.  This takes some time if you do it right because you don’t want to miss anything.  Personally I have regular expenses like everyone else, mortgage, house insurance, groceries, heat, hydro, etcetera.  Then I have my work expenses like my email software program, my website server, web maintenance, supplies, and that sort of thing.

After one hour I had all my expenses set up and was ready to roll.  It was actually kind of fun so, shock of all shocks, I’m going to continue to use YNAB!

And how much does all of this cost?  What ridiculous amount of cash are you going to have to PAY to learn to save money???

$5 a month.

Yep.  Or you can get the annual package and save $10, for $50 for the entire year.

Not sure you have $5 a month to put towards it?  Then you probably need this more than anyone.

Try YNAB free for 3 months! 

P.S. No credit card required. Yay!

If YNAB could help you save $3,500 this year what would YOU do with it??


  1. They are a game changer! We love them!

  2. Very nicely done. Your show schedule gave me the info on some shows I was wondering about

  3. Diane says:

    Well. I was just trying to set up a real, useful budget for myself just the other day. But it got complicated, FAST. This might be good for me…. I just don’t have time to set up right now. But I did sign up, because I definitely don’t want to miss out on the free 3 months. This should be fun, though! And seeing that Paul and his wife share their YNAB account…. that will help with budgeting because my boyfriend and I share our finances, but we don’t have our accounts linked. I can’t wait for tomorrow night when I should be able to set up. Thanks Karen and YNAB!

  4. UrbanFarmKid Marti says:

    Yeah, I still work in TV, so you know where my finances and acumen come from, right, Karen?
    This sounds interesting. I’m glad to see so many people taking advantage of learning some fiscal responsibility. Were you being stingy with the numbers (what happened to 2 and 3) on Zoe?

    Why do you spell it highschool? Did I miss that explanation or is that a “tune in next week and I’ll explain my clever and entirely unique spelling habits” kind of thing that harks back to your previous career?

    • Karen says:

      Yup. The wonderful world of … omg … I’m out of work AGAIN? I’ve talked about my penchant for spelling high school as highschool before. It just makes more sense. It isn’t a school that’s up high … it’s a highschool. No one says which school are you in? And someone answers “high”. It’s highschool. That is all. ~ karen!

  5. judy says:

    I don’t get this app-I entered my accounts ,it took the car balance but left the payment out, the edit button lets you eliminate the amt. but not re enter the payment amount and it just sits there with my debit amount no where to enter income ,no forward arrow to move on and now it wants to export data to my cell phone. My cell phone costs $17.00 per month and I never use it. Got it in case one of us starts the death process in the car. TeeHee… I know it’s better than what I am getting so can someone explain what I am doing wrong?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Judy. That’s what their great customer support is for, lol. :) Email them. They’ll explain anything you’re having trouble with. ~ karen!

    • judy says:

      our income is 2 SS checks and 3 pensions per month so a little more than might be common. Other apps like this have a clear income column I don’t see this?

  6. Jessie says:

    Has anyone tried YNAB that has also used It *sounds* VERY similar, but mint is free for everyone, always. I love mint and spent some time “playing” with it just this morning paying bills and checking how I did budget-wise in August.

  7. Sylvia says:

    Now let me find something you can spend all that money on, (and it’s for a good cause even). :)

  8. Christina says:

    I have been using YNAB for almost a year now. I love it. Previously I had been using a complicated and convoluted spreadsheet to keep track of money that wasn’t doing me any favors. They are not kidding when they say the YNAB way takes a HUGE shift in how you think about your money for probably almost everyone that wants to try it. They are also not kidding when they say there is a learning curve. I watched every single webinar (they are fantastic) and contacted support a few times. I am pretty quick to learn most things but there were still a couple sticking points for me that took forever to click. But they did eventually click. :) I love how I am so much more aware of what every single penny is doing and I love the ability to set goals.

    My only word of advice: As hopeful and full of promise as learning YNAB will make you feel, keep in mind that it IS still very possible to mess up. You have to find ways to keep yourself motivated and stick to that damn budget. Reading this article has reminded me that my husband and I have been a little lax with sticking to the budget lately. Need to try to straighten up!

    Bottom line: I strongly recommend YNAB to anyone considering. :)

  9. Kris says:

    I guess my only question is – Can you have the app on more than one phone? As in, can my husband and I both use it on our two different cell phones? That way he can actually see what I’m doing?

    Because right now I use Excel to do our budget, and we have a weekly “state of the union” meeting to go over it, but it would be so nice if I could just get an app to make it easier to get him the info.

  10. I totally agree that Budgeting 101 should be a mandatory course for every highschool student.

    Personally, I used to suck at budgeting and would often forget to pay bills or overdraw my account because I carried everything around in my head.

    One day, about 5 years ago, I created a spreadsheet and my budget was born. Now, I plan my money out 3-4 months in advance. I know, now, that if I have thousands in the bank this week two weeks from now the balance might be in the single digits. It’s been a godsend. No more forgetting, no more overdrawn bank account, more $$$ in savings than ever, and so on.

    My most important lesson I learned was not creating the budget, but sticking to it. That is the trick. Once you make it a habit, though, it’s easy.

  11. Kristin says:

    Is the app safe & secure? How about their servers? It freaks me out more than a little to give access to my bank account, especially after the Target hack.

    • Kelly says:

      I’ve been using YNAB for about a year, you don’t have to give them your bank information if you’re willing to manually input every transaction.

  12. judy says:

    I wonder if this could access my American bank? I used Quicken for years and loved it but our bank informed us that they were going to stop allowing access to Quicken and guess what the bank did then. You are so smart…..right- they offered their own bill pay function which works OK for setting up auto pay and e bills but only records for 18 months. Quicken preserves your data for much longer and does provide the categories that show what you are doing with your income.Don’t remember what the time frame was for Quicken to keep data. I don’t believe they will allow it because they charge me almost ten dollars per month and they are not going to relinquish that revenue. America the land of free competitive trade . Ha!

    • Kris says:

      I’m setting mine up now, and I’m in Louisiana. It looks like they have all the national banks and a good number of regional ones as well.

      • nancy says:

        HA!, it’s hilarious how you say “I’m in Louisiana … “! I am born and raised there, my kids and I call it a 3rd world country.

  13. Elaine says:

    Back in the Dark Ages when I was a young mother, I used envelopes for our various spending categories! I know it sounds really archaic now but this was over 50 years ago long before computers, etc. I was a stay-at-home Mum (no maternity leave in those days) so my husband was the sole provider. We didn’t even have credit cards (hard to believe, I know) so if we didn’t have the cash, we didn’t buy “it”. I had an envelope for Groceries that a certain amount went in – that was to last for two weeks of food (until the next pay cheque) and if there was any money left over, then that little bit ($10 if I was really lucky) went into say, the Fun envelope. The Fun envelope usually was for things like going to the movies, eating out, etc. If we needed a new couch, then a certain amount of my husband’s pay cheque went into the Furniture (or Wishes) envelope until we had enough saved – then off we went to buy the couch. It all sounds terribly old fashioned but it worked. As credit cards came on the scene, we always made sure we were careful and paid the balance every month.

  14. tracie says:

    Sounds too good to be true. Therefore, I must do it. This is really good timing, let’s hope I don’t procrastinate myself out of this opportunity…

  15. Aja says:

    I’ve always been good with money, but I have still been using YNAB for 5 years because it makes me even better with money. It is really great for impulse purchases too. I make mindful decisions now. The best part is never ever looking at my bank balance. I know that all the money is already has jobs so there is no point to making purchasing decisions based on my bank balance. If I want something I haven’t budgeted for yet, I consult the budget and move money from one category to another. No more savings accounts to save money for a repair or vacation. It’s all together in one account and keeps my banking free. Also, the YNAB community of staff and users are The Best.

  16. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    I really could have used this when I worked before I became disabled..back when I had actual money to budget..This sounds like a really good plan..

  17. Peggy says:

    Good info. I’ve already sent a link to this blog to my son who coincidently was saying just the other day that he wanted to budget more efficiently. He’s married, self-employed, wife works & 2 small kiddies. I think it would be great for him.

  18. Jacquie says:

    I’m good with money and have no debts so not really useful for me but looks like a really good idea and the customer service seems excellent. Well done for passing on the challenge Karen, this could help some people immensely.

  19. whitequeen96 says:

    I was going to talk about how great I’m doing, money-wise, but then I was afraid someone would try to kidnap me or my kid and hold us for ransome! Riiiiight! Actually, this sounds like an interesting program and I should look into it!

  20. Paula says:

    If you sign up for the free three months; are you then committed to continue with the app so it must be purchased?

    • Karen says:

      Nope. That’s why you don’t have to put in your credit card number or make any payment. You try it for 3 months and if you don’t like it you just stop. If you DO like it then at the end of 3 months you’ll give them your payment information and start paying your $5 a month. ~ karen!

  21. Elizabeth says:

    It sounds great. Are they going to make it work in other countries say Pounds rather than Dollors too? It’s sounds as it would be useful to all young and old!

  22. Jan in Waterdown says:

    Can’t believe I’m first! And I did read the whoooole thing. I do not need a budget cuz I’m good with money…. no debt at all but this sure sounds like a good idea. I especially like that the company is targeting students with a free app. I remember learning very basic bookkeeping in school back in the day. Now? Not so much.

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