I’ve been using YNAB since 2017, I think. Ever since I started making my own living, essentially. It had been evading me for years because of its hefty price at the time, so I was excited to dig my feet in. Young and energetic — and I still am, just with different priorities now — it was not a tussle to manage it all.
While it does so for its US and Canadian users, YNAB does not offer a bank sync for me, and I don’t think it ever has. I rarely ever need the customer support too.
Unfortunately, no matter what you need or don’t, you pay the same price: $83.99. There are no tiers.
It is a perfect product, really…
- It receives frequent fixes and enhancements, and the occasional new feature — across all platforms.
- They build a web app that has a polish and focus that shines well above its competitors.
- It is built on the solid “zero-budgeting” method.
- Customer-support doesn’t BS.
- A good community, even if much too Americentric.
However, its primary market is college graduates finding it cumbersome to shake their debt off. Getting rid of debt is what they focus on most. That’s not me.
I live in the third-world, I am debt free, and although I did split $84 two ways for an effective price of $42/year, it just felt like a waste at this point with neither my friend using it nor me. We were both tired of the manual input process (bank sync of course is not available in India).
Manually inputting everything caught up with me finally.
Why am I paying $42 a year to annoy myself every day and every week? Surely this can be automated… and it could, but not without quitting YNAB and switching to Toshl.
With Toshl comes a totally different paradigm of looking at your finances. And it would work well for people who earn for themselves and spend for themselves.
I don’t know about you — but eating out with friends, borrowings in either direction, a running balance with your roommate/flatmate — that’s just life and Toshl cannot accommodate this at all.
Having paid for a month’s trial, I gave it a real go. I even took the chance to build myself a Flask-based sync tool from Splitwise to Toshl (they do sport an API).
Yet, without building a complete replacement for their frontend using the API, it was simply not viable for me.
None of their “Budgets” were accurate because Toshl has separate categories for incomes and separate categories for expenses. It cannot count back income, refunds, and receivables in a category like YNAB does since it is not shared between expenses and incomes.
To elucidate this, say you went out for lunch with Jane who owes you $10 because you paid for it in full. Toshl notices the $20 charge, syncs it, and you have a new expense in the F&B expense category. To reflect the “real” balance for the F&B budget, you’d have to count $10 back from Jane. However, the budget only takes into account expenses. So when the $10 from the Splitwise sync tool reaches Toshl and adds itself to a F&B income category, the budget doesn’t update.
As the month goes on, your budgets reflect less and less of reality.
A big ask… yet I decided I would build this, and then binned it. I cannot be paying $35/year for essentially an API that might change any time and a bank sync, and then to write+maintain my own business logic on topic of it.
Notion/any spreadsheet application.
I have built a super simple table on Notion instead now. I calculate my total balance manually a couple of times a month, subtract for reserve funds (such as The Emergency Fund, Moving Fund) and any major expected expenses, expected income until my contracts run out, and expected regular expenses until my contracts run out, as well. This way, I reach a zero, and it works.
Here’s a preview sheet I made:
I also track my overall balance over time to double-check that my net worth is indeed increasing.
You could just as easily use a spreadsheet:
It has several benefits for me:
- Free. I save $35-84 per year. This adds up over time.
- Low stress. No need to spend 10-15 minutes per day entering transactions or being out of sync with real life when you skip a few days.
- Budgets are hints, not accounts.
- By tallying up accounts once or twice a month, you can keep yourself in check.
- I do not lose the ability to track my balance over time.
- I am reasonably able to predict short-term expenses and prepare for them (the next 6 months or so).
I like this system.
What do you use to budget?