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I have spent quite a bit of time talking about a budgeting app called YNAB, but I haven’t yet covered the 800-pound gorilla in the room: Mint. Mint is by far the most popular budgeting app out there. However, it varies pretty drastically from YNAB, the app I consistently recommend on After School Finance. That’s why, today, I am very excited to compare YNAB vs Mint so that you can decide which budgeting service is right for you.
Before I jump in, however, perhaps it’s worth a quick recap on why budgeting is so important. There are two ways of working towards financial independence. Yes, only two. Earn more or spend less.
For most of us, earning more is a bit more challenging than spending less. Learning how to budget and spending less is the key to success, and I think a budgeting app is THE best way to do that.
Let’s start with an overview of Mint. Mint is a long-standing personal finance tool with a whole host of tools designed to give you an overview of your financial situation.
Mint allows you to:
- Track spending
- Set up bill reminders
- Monitor your credit score
- Track your investments
It does all of these things in a straightforward tool. Mint is much more than a budgeting tool.
Mint will automatically sync all of your financial data so that you can stay up to date as it happens. The budgeting tool automatically tracks spending from each of your accounts and then assigns a budget category to each expenditure. In a nutshell, it is documenting spending that has already happened. Think of it as more of a spending tracker.
YNAB, on the other hand, is not a full-featured set of financial tools. It has one goal: to help you budget.
YNAB has defined four fundamental principles which are the driving force behind its budgeting approach:
1. Give Every Dollar a Job
The first rule of YNAB is to allocate a job to every dollar in your name. And when I say every dollar, I mean every dollar. Zero-based budgeting.
As an example, if you have $1,000 in your checking account, you may allocate $300 to groceries, $600 to rent, and $100 to insurance. You have now given every one of your one thousand dollars a job.
This zero-based budgeting approach allows you to prioritize where your money goes. Prioritizing your spending gives you more control over how your money works for you. As YNAB puts it, instead of stressing over every spending decision (or having guilt because of your spending), you spend knowing it was part of the plan.
2. Embrace Your True Expenses
Second, YNAB forces you to think about all your long-term expenses. Holiday spending is a simple example.
How many of you get your credit card bill after the holidays and find yourself stressed out? I am guessing most of you. And I did too before I learned how to embrace my true expenses.
YNAB has a different approach. Let’s assume you spend $600 on holiday gifts each year. Instead of panicking when the bills hit after the holidays, you set aside $50 every single month to cover holiday gifts. So when the holidays do roll around, and you spend $600, it’s no big deal. You just pay the bill. And you don’t have any guilt about your spending because you planned for it.
Making spending decisions taking into account current and future needs is a massive piece of the secret sauce when it comes to budgeting.
3. Roll with the Punches
Third, overspending happens. When it does, you can move money from different categories to cover this overspending.
Let’s say, for example, you go $100 over your allotted restaurant budget in a given month. Maybe you have a category for travel, but you aren’t planning to travel for a while. Just move $100 from your travel category to your restaurant category to cover your overspending.
Again, it’s about budgeting your priorities but proactively managing where each dollar is going.
4. Age Your Money
Finally, YNAB pushes you to age your money. Aging your money means that you stop the paycheck to paycheck cycle by spending less than you earn. When you spend money that you received more than 30 days ago, you have broken the paycheck to paycheck cycle.
YNAB vs Mint: What Makes them Different?
The most significant difference between these two budgeting services (ignoring the other tools offered by Mint, such as bill alerts, credit scores, etc.) is that Mint is reactive while YNAB is proactive.
Mint merely documents spending and then tallies up each spending category. YNAB, on the other hand, drives you to make proactive spending decisions by seeing how much money you have in each of your budgeting categories before making purchasing decisions.
Mint is a much more passive budgeting approach. It doesn’t require you to do much, as it will track your spending on its own. That said, it is easy to go a little too hands-off and not use it to track your spending regularly.
YNAB vs Mint Price Comparison
Mint Pricing: FREE
Mint does handily beat YNAB in one key area: it is free. With a free service, you aren’t likely to get much customer service, and Mint does have ways of monetizing your use of the platform (such as ads).
YNAB: $11.99/month or $84/year – Is YNAB worth the cost?
YNAB does cost money. Is it worth the cost? In my opinion, yes. I have saved over $1,500/month since starting to use the service. YNAB also claims that most new budgeters save $600 on average in the first two months and more than $6,000 in their first year. In other words, you get what you pay for with YNAB. However, if you’re still skeptical, YNAB does offer a 34-day free trial.
YNAB also offers countless free articles about budgeting, and I think they’re worthwhile to read even if you’re using a different budgeting service, as many of the principles are universal.
How to Get the Most Out of These Services
With both of these services, the key is linking all of your financial accounts, including credit cards, bank accounts, etc.
Both services will automatically sync your transaction history so that your financial picture is always up to date.
You may be asking: are YNAB and Mint safe? In a nutshell, yes. Both services use industry-standard protection to keep your data safe. While you can read their detailed security policies on their respective websites, perhaps it’s easier just to say this. I have trusted my data to both YNAB and Mint, and I would have no reservations about doing so in the future.
Additionally, Both YNAB and Mint offer world-class apps in addition to their website platforms, so I would suggest you download them to be able to track your spending on the go.
YNAB vs Mint: Which Budgeting Tool Reigns Supreme?
Wrapping up this YNAB vs Mint review, these two budgeting tools are very different. Mint is a “do it all” set of financial tools – budgeting isn’t necessarily front and center. Things like your credit score, your investment portfolio, etc. are all in one place.
If you want to find the best budgeting app, YNAB is the clear winner. It does budgeting, and that’s it. But it does budgeting exceptionally well, and when paired with some of my other favorite financial tools, it can be a part of a winning combination. If you’re willing to put in the work, I can’t recommend it highly enough.
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Why Am I Choosing YNAB as the Best Budgeting App?
In my opinion, Mint’s approach to budgeting simply does not work. As YNAB puts it, getting an email at the end of the month with a bunch of pretty pie charts showing how much you overspent in each of your categories isn’t particularly helpful. A backward-looking approach doesn’t help change behavior. To make Mint work for you, I think you need to be using it daily. Otherwise, you’re just going to find yourself blowing past your budgeting goals and making other common budgeting mistakes.
YNAB, bluntly, isn’t as sexy as Mint. It doesn’t have as many charts and graphs and reports. But what it does have is an approach to make you think about spending before it happens.
I hate to say it, but if you want to change your finances, a set it and forget it approach isn’t going to work. You have to put in the effort. Getting the hang of YNAB isn’t always straight forward in the first month or two. But once you have it all set up, it truly can change your life. It changed mine, and I think it has the power to change yours too. Get started with your free trial of YNAB today!