Danny Recommends: You Need a Budget
Every so often we dip our toes into a series called Danny Recommends:, posts that tip you off to the stuff that I…you know. These might be products for use in your ministry, resources that will help you develop leaders around you, or just fun stuff that you need. Want. Whatever. For other posts in the series, check out the link at the bottom.
In most Danny Recommends: posts, I recommend something for your ministry. Today, we’re getting personal.
Budgets are fun.
(If you’re not standing up and applauding that statement right now, it may be time to rethink our friendship.)
Let me say it a better way: budgets can be fun, but budgets can get really complicated really quickly. I know of which I speak: I’ve maintained our household budget for many fiscal years, and I always trend towards complexity with my homemade spreadsheets, handcrafted formulas, and makeshift forecasting scenarios.
Earlier this year I decided to ditch the rudimentary accounting and switch over to a built-by-professionals budgeting software. Six months in, and I’m enthusiastic to recommend You Need a Budget.
I actually downloaded three trial versions of budgeting software so that I could compare apples to apples. Here’s how they stacked up:
Mvelopes. From what I could tell, this one aligned more closely with my historical budgeting practices. Because we’ve used the envelope system a lot, Mvelopes made sense. However, their interface was pretty clunky, the “Basic” plan’s customer service was lacking, and the overall engine seemed slow. (Disclaimer: that was based on what I used in early summer 2020. A quick glance at their website makes it seem that some things have been updated since.)
EveryDollar. Dave Ramsey gets a lot of credit (pun intended) for any success I’ve had with budgeting through the years. I love that EveryDollar has a totally free plan, but both the free and Plus plans seemed to lag (comparatively) when it came to support.
Mint. Full disclosure: Mint was not a part of the three that I test-drove this summer, but I did use it several years ago for a few months. At the time, I found the program to be a little more complicated than I wanted it to be. I just include it here in case you’re wondering, “Why didn’t you try that one?”
The customer support.
I don’t want to disparage the above competitors. Mvelopes hit close to my historical practice, EveryDollar supported my financial philosophy, and Mint carried every bell and whistle you could imagine. But what puts YNAB head and shoulders above the rest is their fanatical care for the end user.
Their YouTube training videos are second to none. Quick and quirky, they carry a production level and fun factor that is just simply entertaining. (Seriously, go watch a few.)
But it was an early trial experience that made me know I’d be doing business with YNAB. I had an error in setting up my budget that I could not figure out. I finally reached out to the support email, and here’s what happened:
- Almost immediate follow up from a customer service rep, getting more information about my issue and some potential next steps.
- An invitation to a free webinar that very night that could potentially answer the question. (Did I mention they have webinars regularly?)
- Continual follow up from the same 1-2 CSRs, determined to help me find a solution.
- An extension of my free trail, so that I had time to make sure that YNAB was the solution for me.
- And here’s the kicker: the support team asked for viewing access of my account so they could see what I was seeing, and within the day, I received a custom-made, personalized video that walked me through a solution, using screenshots from my own budget. Whoa.
As a customer service nerd, that sealed the deal. I knew that if YNAB would go through that much trouble for someone who wasn’t yet on the hook, I needed to get on the hook.
YNAB isn’t perfect. While they do offer automatic syncing with a ton of banks, wouldn’t you know that my particular bank isn’t playing nice right now, so I have to manually enter transactions? (I view it as an opportunity to pay closer attention.)
Because YNAB’s number one rule is “give every dollar a job,” they’re sticklers on not carrying negative line balances over from one month to the next. Philosophically, I agree with that. Practically (and stick with me here), there’s not always a perfect alignment between the date a bill is due, income cycles, and the final day of the month. So a negative balance on day 31 may actually be funded by the following day, but YNAB zeroes it out at midnight and corrects your overall budget accordingly. It just involves some first-day-of-the-month adjustments, which I wish they’d give me the option to avoid.
I would love to see more report features, allowing me to get a little more specific on historical transactions on specific budget lines. Yes, they have reports. They just don’t have great reports.
Personally, I had to re-engineer the way I tend to think about budgeting. I had my way for the last many years, and YNAB’s way is just … different. Truthfully I think it’s better, but it’s still different. So there’s been a learning curve…but those YouTube videos help.
With the tradeoff of my homemade spreadsheets came the tradeoff of free. YNAB isn’t cheap at $84 per year, but it does fall in the middle of Mvelopes’ basic plan ($6 per month or $55 per year) and EveryDollar’s Plus plan ($129 per year, which gives access to Ramsey+). (Now might be a good time to mention that Mint and EveryDollar Basic are both totally free.)
I’m a notorious cheapskate, y’all. And hitting that “purchase” button hurt a
little lot. But for me, the $84 I spent for year #1 has already paid for itself in the amount of time I’ve saved hanging out with my spreadsheets on Saturday mornings.
Give YNAB a try. They have a free 34 day trial, and if you decide to pay for a year and don’t love it, you get a full refund. (But I think you’re gonna love it.)
Disclaimer: FTC watchdogs will probably want to know that the vendors listed / linked above did not ask for this endorsement. Clicking on the referral link and starting your free trial will earn me one free month of YNAB service, via their affiliate program. If that bugs you – try it out anyway! – just go directly to their site.