Web-Based YNAB: My (Long) In-Depth QA Review

If you are a follower of this blog, you know that I am absolutely in love with YNAB software for managing my spending plan. YNAB stands for “You Need a Budget.” It has been a magical solution for many of us working a recovery program as it is an easy to use, virtual envelope system.

Their newest offering appeared just a few days ago. It is a web-based, subscription version that is intended to replace YNAB 4, which lives on your computer and can be saved in DropBox so you can work on it across all your devices through their Android and Apple apps.

They will continue to actively support YNAB 4 through 2016. And, as always, they will never actually desert users of previous versions, but those versions will become more and more outdated over time.

Instead of paying $59 once, the new model is $5/month or $50/year (there is a lifetime 10% discount if you already own a previous version if you register now to try the web-based version for free).

New Pricing Model

So let’s start here … with the new pricing model. Yes, I am already paying monthly for my Adobe suite of products, but the difference is that Adobe products, bought outright, can cost a couple months’ worth of pay for many of us!

At any rate, I do understand their business decision that rather than forcing users to pay for a new version at some point when there is a major upgrade, the YNAB folks can just focus on continuing to improve the product ongoing.

Granted, as someone on a very limited budget, I don’t like how much more it will cost, but I can see the value in working with the most current version. And subscription models just seem the wave of the future.

Functionality Review or “What Still Needs to be Fixed”

OK, so on to functionality. The bottom line is that I think they still have a way to go before I will be as happy as I was with YNAB 4. Had I not gone ahead and created my 2016 budget in the web-based YNAB, I would not have proceeded at this time.

It is clear that they are continuing to work hard on fixing issues (in fact, they already fixed a couple of my pet peeves this morning), but I wish they had waited until more of these issues were resolved before launching. I have divided my thoughts into categories.

Bear in mind that my comments are focused on the needs of recovering compulsive spenders and debtors who may require more help than the general population to ensure we do not sink into vagueness.

Please note: I will update this post as they fix these issues!

What I like about the Web-Based YNAB

(I figured I’d start with the positives 🙂 )

Sharing is FABULOUSLY EASY!!!

I’m so excited about this, as I help lots of people with their YNAB problems. If you need help, the other person can also log in as you and both computers will be updated with any changes. DropBox is great, but the sharing process was labor-intensive.

No more giant files

Currently, I have about three years worth of information in my YNAB 4 file and that slows down my computer. The new version just flies along!

Looks like YNAB 4

It does resemble YNAB 4 in many ways so there is not a big learning curve overall.

Updates are quick!

So far, when there is an update, a little note pops up and after clicking on it, the updated application displays within a minute (sometimes seconds).

Split transactions don’t roll up

I actually like this. I don’t have to click to see what the splits were. In this version, you can’t (yet) roll them up, but personally, I like it this way.

Enhanced notes and lots of new info

You have to look around a bit, but you can enter a note for the month. And for categories, the note function is on the right side at the bottom of the screen.

I also like all the information they give you to the right of your categories.

notes


NOW, ON TO MY SUGGESTED FIXES

Critical Issues to Fix

No reports

The folks at YNAB are very aware of this one and are working on it.

Problems with YNAB 4 import

They are working on this. Personally, I liked starting from scratch, though it was a bit labor-intensive. But after I was done, I actually enjoyed knowing that I was starting with a clean slate. I got rid of a lot of old stuff I no longer needed (like about a billion hidden categories).

Cannot choose to enter “Income for Next Month”

From what I’ve read, I think this was a deliberate choice by YNAB, but it is a huge problem for me. I am easily confused by numbers, and being able to choose to put today’s income as available for next month ensured that I was only budgeting last month’s money for the current month. Now, this will involve manual effort to be sure I am not budgeting any of next month’s money in this month. I strongly urge YNAB to provide this option again.

Can’t copy budgeted amounts to the next month!

Unless I’m missing this, it’s missing. I surely don’t want to have to manually enter my budgeted amounts each month.

No Check Number Field

There is no check number field. When I wrote to ask about this, the response I received was, “Enter check numbers in the memo field. What else is going on there?”

The reason I am posting this in Critical Issues is not just the fact that the field is gone, but the flippant nature of the response. YNAB customer support has been one of its most amazing features. I was a bit taken aback by this answer.

While I didn’t respond to the email, I will explain here. The memo field is for clarification and notes. The Account portion of YNAB is supposed to replicate a check register, which has a field just for the check number. This needs to be a separate and sortable field so that I can easily look to see that I have not missed any check numbers.

No search capability

I really really really need this one! You can filter transactions by date and type, but there is no search functionality.

No calculator on the account side (Inflow and Outflow).

They have added this functionality on the category side, so I am hoping that this will be forthcoming soon.

No simple step-by-step instructions for new functionality

As a former technical writer, I know the importance of good instructions. YNAB has great tutorials, but I couldn’t find any simple ones for changed functionality and features. I would have hoped they would have this in place concurrent with their launch. Hopefully, it will be there soon.

Features that are Lost That Would Be Nice to Have Again

Can’t change the account type

Unless I’m missing this, I can’t change account type once I create an account. I had picked the wrong account type and ended up having to delete all the transactions, delete the account, and recreate it.

Can’t sort by Cleared items

I kept my transactions sorted by Cleared in YNAB 4. There is, of course, a field to clear items, but you can no longer sort on that field. For me, it helped me stay on top of items that hadn’t cleared for a long time so I didn’t forget. For instance, maybe I sent someone a check and they still hadn’t cashed it after four months. For me, it’s critical, but I can see that it may not be the most important item for others.

Defaults to hiding reconciled transactions

I don’t like this at all. I wish it were reversed, but maybe others preferred this. To show your reconciled transactions, make sure the the box is checked in the Filter Transactions window (click Filter on the upper right-hand side of the Account register).

filter1

GIGANTIC date drop-down that persists

I loved how I could just type the month/day in YNAB 4 and it would just automatically fill in the year. Or when I filled in the first transaction, the next automatically kept the same date. Now this extra large contraption impedes my progress. Like an eclipse covering the moon.

When you enter a budgeted amount and press enter, the cursor doesn’t go to the next subcategory.

It stays where it is and you have to click the next one. OK, so it’s a high-end problem, but just sayin’…

Can’t widen register columns

Not a big deal, but it does look like you can do this as you could in YNAB 4.

Term “cash spending” is confusing

OK, this may seem picky, but I think it bears correcting. To the right of each subcategory is information about it. It’s terrific, except the term “cash spending” should just be “spending.” Otherwise, it is confusing (well, it was to me) if you use a debit card or check.
cashspending

Future dated income doesn’t show up in the budget until the date has arrived

Now, this may be intentional, but it is a real problem for me. I live in the next month so the money I earn today is spent next month. For those of us in DA, we often need to print the budget for the next month for our pressure relief groups. My next month budget is going to look all off without the income side showing up.

Very nervous about no off-line capability

I feel great about the safety of my data with YNAB, but if the Internet goes out, what do I do? Many of us in DA live and breathe by our spending plan categories and if we cannot be clear about how much is available, it could threaten our money sobriety. I don’t know if there is anything to be done about it, but it does make me very uncomfortable.


Summary

So those are my thoughts as of January 3, 2016. I’m still just as dedicated as ever to YNAB, but I think they may have rushed to get their new web-based version out the door by the end of 2015.

Had I not spent all the time creating my 2016 spending plan, I would not have made the switch just yet.

If you are happy with YNAB 4, then just stick with it for now.

But I’m not sure how long their 10% lifetime offer for current users will last, so you may want to, at least, sign up for the web-based version now. You have 34 days to test it for free, and, I think they said that once you have signed up, you don’t have to go to the paid version immediately after the 34th day.

I do advise everyone to play around with the new web-based YNAB, even if you aren’t ready to make the switch. Eventually, they will have all the kinks worked out.

And, even with all the issues I brought up, this is still the easiest way I have found to manage my spending plan one day at a time in recovery from compulsive spending and debting.

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12 thoughts on “Web-Based YNAB: My (Long) In-Depth QA Review

  1. my biggest issue is if for some reason I can’t afford the $5 per month, (and we know this could happen), there’s no way to use the program or access data. I don’t like paying for someone to host my financial data where if I am unable to pay, my data is gone.

  2. also, it was kind of ironic because in a Reddit AMA that Jesse Meacham did, he said “We want you to be able to access your budget anywhere via mobile device, even when you don’t have internet connection” but the new YNAB requires an internet connection at all times.

  3. Hi Natasha, that is a very good point. I would just stick with the YNAB 4 for now. They said that you don’t have to switch to this model, but eventually, they support will be minimal. On the other hand, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it!

    In this blog post from YNAB, if you scroll down, they do say that they will be working on a desktop model.

    I really appreciate your taking the time to comment.

  4. that is my plan – awesome program for free vs paying $5 a month just because – I’ll stick with YNAB 4 until they pry it from my cold dead hands.

  5. I have played around with the new YNAB. Yes, I like it and it will work for me. But for now, I am going to stick to YNAB 4. I know it so well and it works wonders for me!
    Plus for some reason, I can’t use the drop down menu. So instead of obsessing over it. I will stick to what works for now! When I have to make the change I will. But for now. I am going to just work with what I have. Thank you for your review!

    Kyle

    • Hi Kyle, thanks for you reply. Yes, I agree. In fact, I found that the calculator stopped working in the web-based version for me, so there are definitely issues to be worked out. I think you are making the right decision for now.

  6. Hi, I am in love with YNAB and very dissappointed I am now trying to navigate both.

    My biggest problem is synching my devices. On YNAB4, this doesnt happen anymore and is very frustrating.

    Does anyone have any information relating to this.

    thank you

    Di Melbourne

    • Hi Diane. YNAB4 should still work as it always has. Are you sure you have the “YNAB Classic” app to sync with YNAB4? If you downloaded the new “YNAB” app, that one syncs with the web-based version of YNAB and wouldn’t sync with YNAB4. I agree it is confusing. Check to see if you now have both apps on your device. If so, make sure you use the “YNAB Classic” with your desktop version of YNAB4.

      I hope that helps.

  7. Great review. Thanks for your time to put this all down. I am using YNAB4 and am really in doubt about going to the new version. For now, I’ll keep reading reviews until I find actual improvements about this version. It really seems like a step back.

    Also, the funny thing is, I believe I would really hate this new date-entering approach. I love to just type 1-3 and knowing YNAB converts this to my local date format, March 1st, 2016. Also, arrow up + TAB moves the date to the next day. Manually entering each date would be quite annoying in my opinion.

    • Hi Henk, thanks for your comment. I would still recommend logging on for the trial version and checking it out so you can lock in the 10% savings if you do upgrade. It is my understanding that this discount stays in effect for YNAB4 owners even if they don’t upgrade right after the trial period. I’d love to hear your thoughts after you test it. I’m sure the YNAB team is continuing to update the software and work to make it every bit as good as YNAB4.

  8. I’ve used YNAB 4 for about 6 months, and personally I was ready to drop it even before YNAB 5 came out. If your finances are simple, its probably great, but when things get more complex YNAB just gets out-of-hand. I have an MBA actually but just handling transfers, and business expenses that are reimbursed, and splits just got to be too much. I had 150 transaction a month to reconcile and accounts never would reconcile. Even today YNAB 5 doesn’t import correctly, and doesn’t have reporting running, not that YNAB 4 reporting was a that great anyway. It wasn’t.

    I just need a program to track spending. Personally I don’t really need to budget, because if the car breaks or the AC needs replacement I need to fix it, budgeted or not. If I need food I need to buy it. This always was really confusing because when I went over or under I didn’t really every understand where the money went from or went to. As I say, YNAB is great for a college grad on their first job. For me, not so much.

    • Hi Allen. I’m sorry you have had a problem with YNAB4.

      There is no one software solution that is right for everyone. Maybe you would want to explore software geared to the business owner, like Quicken. And I wonder if you have raised your concerns in the YNAB user forums. Maybe there are other business owners who could help you with the issues you are having. Or maybe you could just create your own custom Excel spreadsheet for this purpose. And sometimes, the online banking for checking accounts has a tracking function as well.

      I never use the Import function in YNAB4 because when I tried it, it was way too complex to sort through to ensure the categories were correct, etc., and do the category splits. I have found that if I spend a few minutes a couple of times a week to manually enter transactions, it works perfectly. Splits are easy that way. And I also reconcile once or twice a week. I have helped people who had reimbursable expenses make it work in YNAB4. In my own experience and with dozens of people, issues with reconciliation easily happen when we only reconcile monthly or less and when importing rather than manually entering transactions.

      If I were to use YNAB for business, I would probably have to enter the transactions every day because of what you said – there are so many transactions. And I would reconcile daily as well. I think any software (e.g., Quicken) would require a business owner to put in real time and effort to make it work to track their spending.

      I can only speak for myself, but as a compulsive spender in recovery, who needs to track my spending by categories, YNAB4 works flawlessly. If I need to take money from another category for an emergency, it is easy for my PRG team and for me to see the implications because every dollar is allocated to a category, and I can easily move money between categories and make notes.

      I wish you the best in finding the right solution for you.

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