Update: Since publishing this Mint vs YNAB comparison, two significant events have occurred. First, a new version of YNAB was released. The product now requires a monthly subscription, which we don’t like. Second, Empower has launched a free financial dashboard that does what YNAB does, plus a whole lot more. You can read the details here in our Empower review.

After months of debating whether to pay $60 for budgeting software, I finally took the plunge and bought You Need a Budget (YNAB). For years, I’ve used Mint. I appreciate its slick graphical interface and that it automatically syncs with my accounts.

With that said, in the last few weeks, I’ve become more and more of a fan of YNAB. I think that, given the chance, YNAB will beat Mint every time. Here’s why:

1. Planning Ahead

With Mint, I’d have to wait until the 1st of the month to plan our budget for that month. Once, I was overly excited about the planning of the month (yeah, I’m a nerd). So I started putting in our budget just after midnight. That messed up the whole system for several hours. You’ve got to be a few hours into the first day of the month for Mint to reset to that month.

With YNAB, I can plan ahead as much as I want. For instance, I know we have a couple of big expenses coming up that we need to cover. I also know that my husband is getting a third paycheck in January. So I can slot those for January. They’re on the budget already, and I don’t need to think about them again.

2. Built-In Accountability

One thing I loved about Mint was that it automatically synced with all my accounts. This is great. Until it isn’t.

Now, I have to enter my transactions manually. (You can also upload your transactions from your bank account, but I haven’t done that yet.) Even though this takes more time, it builds in more accountability, which I like.

With Mint, I could sign off for days at a time, only to come back and find that we’d blown one budget category by $50. With YNAB, I know I have to stay on top of entering transactions. And there’s something about the mental and physical effort of that that has made me more conscious of our spending.

3. A Month Ahead Budget

Not living paycheck to paycheck is always a good thing, especially when you’re not sure when your next freelancing check is coming in, or how much it’s going to be. I always assumed that freelancers just spent money as it came in, and that all of us worried about whether the next PayPal transfer would hit the checking account in time to pay the Internet bill.

(Because, clearly, that’s the most important bill of all.)

It wasn’t until I encountered YNAB’s month-ahead budgeting system that I discovered a different way of looking at my crazy variable income. My family isn’t a whole month ahead yet, but I know that the YNAB system will help us get there. And I am so looking forward to the day when I can relax, knowing that this month’s bills are covered by last month’s money.

4. More Flexibility

I’ve always been one to do lots of shifting in the budget. It’s not set in stone for us, and never has been. YNAB makes the shifting easier than Mint, I think, by showing you how much you’re overspending.

I know that once we are a month ahead financially, YNAB will automatically pull overspending from the next month’s budget. So instead of having to skimp on this month’s groceries to pay for that unexpected flat tire repair, I’ll be able to cut back on next month’s discretionary spending instead.

What’s Best for You?

The bottom line here is that I like YNAB way better than Mint, but I still don’t think it’s for everyone. If you’re not on a tight budget and just want to track a few major spending categories, then Mint might serve you better. You can set it up and check the nifty graphs (I do miss those graphs!) a few times a month to make sure you’re not spending too much in your problem areas.

But if you’re a detailed budgeter and are really looking to take control of your finances, I would recommend YNAB over Mint every single time.


  • Abby Hayes

    Abby is a freelance journalist who writes on everything from personal finance to health and wellness. She spends her spare time bargain hunting and meal planning for her family of three. She has a B.A. in English Literature from Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis, and lives with her husband and children in Indianapolis.