There are dozens of budgeting apps available today to help just about anyone get better control of their finances. Two of the most popular are Mint and You Need a Budget (YNAB).
While both have budgeting at the core of their programs, each approach it a little bit differently. When it comes to budgeting, the specific methodology is a make-or-break factor for most users. After all, a budget will only be effective if it’s one you’re comfortable working within.
There are plenty of other differences between these two budgeting apps, including how one is free and the other isn’t. However, you may find free isn’t necessarily the better choice if it doesn’t enable you to get the job done.
So, let’s look at Mint vs. YNAB and see if we can determine which will be the better fit for your finances.
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With more than 15,000 users, Mint may be the most popular budgeting app available. It’s a web-based app but also available for mobile devices, where you can link your bank accounts, credit cards, brokerage accounts, loans and credit cards. The platform is pretty simple to use, even if you’ve never used budgeting software before.
The main purpose of Mint is to provide budgeting and expense tracking. You connect your various financial accounts, and the app will import and categorize your transactions. The process happens automatically, but you can make modifications manually.
The app makes heavy use of goals. For example, you’ll set goals such as paying off a loan or credit card, or saving for a specific purpose, like a vacation, a new car, or making the down payment on a new home.
The whole process is automatic, but you’ll be kept in the loop by regular alerts. These can include alerts for: upcoming bill payments, significant purchases, changes in interest rates, pending late fees, or even going over-budget in a specific category.
You Need a Budget, often referred to as just YNAB, is a premium budgeting app that has a primary mission of helping you get control over your budget and finances. The company claims the typical user saves an average of $600 by the second month of using the app, and $6,000 over the course of the first year. It’s not hard to see how this is possible.
YNAB uses four “rules” to enable you to get better control over your money:
- Rule One – Give Every Dollar a Job. With this rule, you create a purpose for each dollar in your budget. As soon as you are paid, the money is already allocated to pre-selected spending categories. This is to impose some type of discipline over your budget, which is exactly what most non-budgeters lack.
- Rule Two – Embrace Your True Expenses. Most of us are aware of our regular expenses – rent/mortgage, car payment, utilities, credit card payments, etc., but what often gets people off-track are those large, infrequent expenses. YNAB helps to smooth out your budget by converting those to monthly expenses. For example, if you know you have a vacation coming up, and it will cost you $3,000, YNAB sets it up as a $250 monthly expense. When your vacation comes, it won’t destroy your budget.
- Rule Three – Roll With The Punches. One of the biggest obstacles in a budget is spending more in a category than you expect. YNAB builds flexibility into your budget, by moving money from other categories into the expense where you’re overspending. That will keep you on track with your budget.
- Rule Four – Age Your Money. The purpose of this rule is to get you to a point where you are paying this month’s expenses with last month’s income. It may take some time to reach that point, but once you do it’ll be the equivalent of having a 30-day cash cushion built in your budget.
In using this four-step approach, YNAB not only helps you to redirect your spending priorities into more productive channels, but it also accommodates the variables that always surround personal financial management.
Our You Need a Budget review goes into much greater detail about the app and the company.
Mint Special Features
Mint offers free credit score monitoring as part of the program. You can check your credit score at any time and get specific details, such as your payment history, age of credit accounts, outstanding balances and other important credit information. It also provides credit alerts any time new credit information appears on your TransUnion credit report.
It isn’t your official FICO score, but an educational score. Nonetheless, that score roughly corresponds to your FICO score and will give you a general idea where your FICO score is at. Perhaps more importantly, it will give you the ability to track significant changes in your score that may indicate late payments, information reported in error, or even potential identity theft.
In addition, Mint provides limited investment monitoring. They provide portfolio and investment tracking tools to enable you to aggregate your various accounts on the app. They even offer a tool that will uncover hidden fees from investment advisors, brokerages, and 401(k) sponsors that may impair your returns. You’ll, then, have an opportunity to make lower-expense investment choices in your portfolio.
The investment tracker even compares your portfolio to market benchmarks to see how you’re performing against market averages.
YNAB Special Features
YNAB is a straight-up budgeting app that doesn’t offer many of the extra features commonly seen with other budgeting apps, but they do offer some interesting features.
Let’s start with the YNAB Referral Program. The program makes it possible to enjoy full use of the app without ever paying the monthly fee. YNAB will give you one month free for referring a friend or family member who signs up for the app. If you refer at least 12 people per year, and each signs up, you’ll get 12 months free.
Another interesting feature is the availability to budget using foreign currencies. While YNAB is designed for budgeting with US dollars, you can also use foreign currencies, like British pounds, euros, or Canadian dollars. The only limitation is that you cannot use multiple currencies simultaneously. You have to choose a single national currency and use that exclusively.
YNAB also enables you to split transactions. If you make multiple purchases from the same vendor, but for different spending categories, you can separate the transaction between multiple expenses. This will be particularly valuable when you’re shopping at big-box retailers, like Walmart or Target, or even when you make multiple purchases on the same order through Amazon and other online providers.
YNAB also gives you the ability to either import your transactions automatically or enter them manually. While I can’t imagine anyone preferring to go the manual route, I recognize there are some people who have a better sense of control over their finances whenever they’re more directly involved. YNAB gives you that option.
Mint does not charge a fee. They are completely ad-supported. What this means is that while you don’t pay a fee, you will be subject to advertisements and recommendations for various products that might be appropriate in your financial situation.
For example, Mint might recommend certain credit cards, personal loans, or mortgages. It might even recommend certain savings or investment products, and possibly insurance and other financial services.
If you sign up for any of these products or services, the sponsor will pay Mint a fee for the referral. This is a common method of earning revenue on many websites and apps, and while the ads and recommendations themselves may be a bit annoying, they are the “price” you’ll pay to use the service.
YNAB does charge a fee for their service but not before giving you a 34-day free trial to try out the product. If, after 34 days, you decide to keep using the app, you’ll have a choice to pay either a monthly fee of $14.99 or an annual fee of $98.99. If you choose the annual fee, you’ll save $59 per year over the monthly fee.
Whether you choose the monthly or annual plan, you can cancel your subscription at any time and get a full moneyback guarantee if you’re not satisfied with the service.
College students get an even better pricing deal from YNAB. If you can provide evidence you’re currently enrolled as a student, you can enjoy the service free for a full year – which is in addition to the 34-day free trial that everyone else gets. If you choose to continue with the service after the one-year and 34 days end, you’ll get a 10% discount off the regular rate.
(if you are in college, or recently graduated, here are our picks for the best budgeting apps for college graduates)
What Mint Does that YNAB Doesn’t
Mint uses a goal-oriented budgeting approach, in which you set certain targets and build your budgeting activities around hitting them.
For example, Mint offers a surprisingly detailed daily budget tracker that shows you how spending decisions will affect the amount of money you’ll have in the future.
Mint also provides free credit score monitoring, something YNAB doesn’t, and while that may not be an integral part of the budgeting process, but it can be a useful perk. If you have a goal of trying to improve your credit score, getting out of debt will be one of the main ways you’ll accomplish that goal. Mint will allow you to do both from the same app.
Finally, Mint gives you the ability to track your investments on the app but you can’t manage them from within the app. It’s nice to aggregate several investment accounts – including retirement plans – on the same platform, even if it’s not yet super developed yet.
What YNAB Does that Mint Doesn’t
The main feature YNAB has that Mint doesn’t is its referral program. Since you can get a full month free for each referral who signs up for the app, it’s possible to use the service for free for as long as you can provide referrals.
Other than that, YNAB is a more serious budgeting app, creating a framework for you to change the way you view and manage money. The basic concept of creating a 30-day cash cushion in your budget is, virtually, the key to making any kind of financial progress in any direction. Once you reach that goal, it will be easy to set goals, such as building an emergency fund, saving for retirement, and getting out of debt.
Mint vs. YNAB: Which is the Right Budgeting App for You?
If you’re just looking for some budgeting help, and you don’t want to pay for the service, Mint is the better choice between the two. It’s also more general in its approach, offering both investment tracking and credit monitoring.
But if you’re looking to get serious control over your finances, YNAB is definitely the better of the two apps. Paying $98.99 per year is a small price to pay for a comprehensive system that gives you greater control over your cash flow and creates a 30-day cash cushion in your budget. YNAB seems better suited for a journey towards financial independence but it does come with a price tag.
This is just a personal opinion, but participating in a budget is much like going on a diet. It will require a commitment on your part, which is more likely to happen if you pay for the service than if you get it for free.
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Caroline at Costa Rica FIRE says
We have always opted for tracking over budgeting — like a food diary v. dieting. For tracking, we use Excel since it’s the most flexible around exactly what columns to include and what analyses we can do.