You Need A Budget: Money Management for a Happy Marriage

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You Need A Budget (YNAB) is the best budgeting software I have ever used.  In fact, YNAB is so awesome that my wife even likes it!  But more on that later…

If you are a regular reader here at Engaged Marriage, you may recall several recent posts about our search for budgeting software that met our needs as a busy family.

After many years of faithful budgeting that allowed us to pay off $54,500 in debt, we recently started to slip up in our spending and planning.

In a quest to find the right software to get us back on track, I reviewed 5 of the top budgeting tools on the market and wrote my opinions of them.  Each had their strengths, and many offered a way to track spending and plan for the future with far less time and energy than I had been spending with my homemade spreadsheets and manual receipt tracking.

The Best of the Best

After I did that initial review, I basically narrowed things down to just two choices that seemed like the best fit: Mint and You Need a Budget.  Well, after trying them both out and putting them to the test, I’m confident that we’ve found the right budgeting tool for our marriage.

While I enjoyed Mint’s online access and the overall picture it provided (including retirement accounts and other investments), I felt that it came up short in the primary area that we’re concerned with, which is budgeting.  Mint doesn’t “look ahead” and it makes the process of planning for the future quite cumbersome.  It’s not bad for a free service, but it simply didn’t stack up to YNAB.

You Need A Budget does all of the things you’d expect a premium budgeting software to do:

  • It allows you to import your banking transactions as you wish (with no need to give up account passwords like you do with Mint), so you never have to worry about saving receipts for every nickel you spend day-to-day.  Plus, with slick iPhone and Android apps (plus Kindle Fire), keeping track of your budget on the go is super easy.
  • It makes it easy to categorize your purchases for simple budgeting on the “envelope system” (without the need to carry around envelopes…unless you want to).
  • It lets you know when you are overspending on a certain category and lets you balance your budget on the go.
  • It allows you to plan ahead to save for large purchases and  irregular expenses.
  • And it gives you the insight you need to make wise decisions about your family finances.

Sounds great, right?  Well, what makes You Need A Budget superior is all that is goes well beyond the basics of normal spreadsheet budgeting!

The Four Rules for Financial Success…

OK, this is where the nerd in me really gets excited. :)

If you don’t already know that having a budget is the first step to financial success, well now you do.  Seriously, you really do need a budget.

So whether you use a great software like YNAB or you just write everything down on a piece of paper and track your spending manually, please know that you must have a budget if you want to achieve any level of financial freedom.

The budget is a great tool for identifying how you are spending your money.  However, the real power in budgeting is the ability to plan ahead and change your behavior to achieve financial goals.

I want you to read the following four principles for sound money management and think about how important they are for success in personal finance…and marriage.

1. Stop Living Paycheck to Paycheck

2. Give Every Dollar a Job

3. Save for a Rainy Day

4. Roll with the Punches

Pretty killer financial principles, right?  Well, the best part is that they…

….Are Built Right In!

Do you want to know why I’m so excited about You Need A Budget?  It’s because these Four Rules are built right into the software!

I encourage you to head over and read more on the You Need A Budget website (save $6 when you use that link!), but here’s a quick overview of  why these “rules” matter and how powerful they really are:

1. As you start using YNAB, the software will literally guide you to help you get ahead by a month (so you use May’s paychecks to pay Junes expenses, for example).

This will give you breathing room and allow you to stop wasting time by timing paychecks with bills.  Plus, if you’re on a variable income, your budgeting “problem” will be eliminated.

2. It helps you put every dollar to work with a specific purpose and plan.  Your financial awareness will increase tremendously, and you’ll find contentment as your spending aligns itself with your core values.

Communication between spouses about money can be restored in the process.

3. The software lets you anticipate and save for larger, irregular expenses so you’ll be ready.  This helps you eliminate the crazy ups and downs in your spending, and it lets you see a true picture of your discretionary income.

You can enjoy opening the mail again when the money is there waiting to pay the bills as they arrive.

4. We all mess up, and we all overspend from time-to-time.  The key is to stick with your plan over the long-term and maintain consistency.

YNAB helps keep you moving when you fail so you don’t quit, and it lets you start each month with a clean slate, which is a huge psychological boost.

Again, when you visit the YNAB site, you’ll find great videos that go over each of these points in detail.  I think you get the idea though, and I hope you can see why this makes me so excited.  OK, so no one probably understands that, but trust me when I say that I think this built-in methodology is sweet! :)

Purchase, Installation and Use

The You Need A Budget website is the place to go to read, listen to or watch tutorials that will show you everything you want to know about the software.  However, I want to hit the high points here for your convenience.

  • Purchase – YNAB is sold for a one-time fee.  Many of the other premium software packages require monthly fees, but if you are sticking with it for the long-term (as you should), then a one-time fee is certainly the way to go.  Plus, I’m convinced that one month of living “on a plan” will more than pay for the price of the software.

Also, you can try YNAB free for 34 days with no obligation (they don’t even take any payment information up-front), which is a great way to see if it fits your needs.  Plus, they offer incredible (free) support.

BONUS – I’m an official partner of YNAB, so when you use this link, you’ll save $6 on the cost of the software!

  • Installation – I found the installation to be a snap.  And the software did some cool things like automatically set up defaults so when I go to my bank’s website to download transactions, they pop right into YNAB in the right format.
  • Use – You Need A Budget is primarily desktop-based software, which originally concerned me because I didn’t know how I’d access it from both my home and work computers.  However, they’ve thought of that, too!

When you buy a YNAB license, it allows you to install the software on as many computers as you’d like, and with their CloudSync technology, you can hook it up to a free Dropbox account and keep your budget synced in real time on all of your devices!

So, I have YNAB on both of my computers, and I just keep our budget file on a flash drive so I can open, change and save it wherever I’m at.  I also picked up their iPhone app (also available for Android and Kindle Fire) so I can budget on the go.

So Awesome Even My Wife Likes It!

By now, you surely know that I’m a bit of a geek.

After all, I created our original budget spreadsheets and went through years of pain to track our spending manually while trying to plan ahead for our family finances.  And I didn’t mind it until I got so darn busy that I couldn’t keep up using those methods.

Well, you may not know that my wife is what Dave Ramsey would call a “free spirit” at heart.  She wants our family to be comfortable and she’s not an irresponsible person.  However, to say that she enjoys budgeting or has any desire at all to track spending on a spreadsheet would be a major stretch!

After I got YNAB installed and had a chance to play around with it for a while, I decided I just had to share it with Bethany even though I figured she’d think I was asking her to watch paint dry.

Well, I have to say that she actually complimented the look, feel and functionality of the software.  And she said it was something that even she could stand to use! (yes, that is a ringing endorsement of a financial product coming from her :) )

If you aren’t the “budgeting type,” I would encourage you to give YNAB a try.  I really think anyone can intuitively “get” the budgeting process and, more importantly, achieve success in their financial planning using this awesome software.

The YNAB website and the software itself are packed with excellent resources to teach you about not only the software but financial planning as a whole.  They even have free forums, a blog, live online classes and a free “YNAB University” where you can gain a wealth of great information all at your own pace.

The Bottom Line

I could seriously write about this software and the topic of achieving financial freedom all day.  However, the YNAB website has all of the details you’d ever want to know about their product, and I have plenty of time to write posts about money.  Here’s the bottom line in my opinion:

  • You (really do) Need A Budget.
  • You also need a solid financial plan and goals for the future.
  • If you want to use software to aid you in the process, YNAB is the best product I have found to get the job done effectively.
  • Whether you use YNAB or not, please start addressing your finances today.  Your marriage will benefit more than you can imagine.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments to this post.  Please post a financial goal that you are currently working on with your spouse or fiance.

Here’s wishing you success with your money and your marriage!

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About Dustin

Dustin Riechmann created Engaged Marriage to help other married couples live a life they love (especially) when they feel too busy to make it happen. He has many passions, including sharing ways to enjoy an awesome marriage in 15 minutes a day, but his heart belongs with his wife Bethany and their three young kids.


  1. Michelle says:

    Hi Dustin,
    Great review! I (also) am known for my extensive databases, lists, and spreadsheets! No one seems to understand my “need” for doing all of it! :) Our goal is to never have the need to get out of debt. What I mean by this… is that we are currently debt-free and hope to keep it that way when we decide to add to our family, which I assume is where the real challenge begins!

  2. Scott E. Selliers says:

    As a financial advisor, it breaks my heart to see young adults entering the best money-earning years of their life with no long-term plan. Time and time again, I hear twenty and thirty-somethings whistle past the graveyard, as it were. “I have a 401k at work” and “I am up-to-date on my bills” are not statemnets of intention; they are peripheral occurences to a complete financial picture of health. Above and beyond properly balanced and funded IRA accounts (both of the traditional and of the Roth varieties), financial planning needs to take both expected (529 college savings accounts) and unexpected (life insurance, either term or whole) life events into account. While it is true that the best-made plans may be susceptible to failure, having no plan at all guarantees failure, does it not?

    Of the most common obstacles I encounter, the hands-down most common issue deals with monthly income as it relates to monthly expenditure; how much comes in and how much goes out. In order to address this issue with my prospective clients, I typically refer to the amount of money people are willing to spend on entertainment each and every month. Specifically, cell phone, television and data-package contracts come into mind. The $100 per month data-package upgrade I have seen people accept has amazing investment potential, especially as placed into a compound interest-earning long-term picture. With this simple deletion from a monthly budget, real wealth-building becomes possible for anyone.

    In this mindset, I offer my family’s financial goal. By the year’s end, we intend to have at least $100 deposited each and every month thereafter into our son’s 529 college savings account. While it may feel better in the short term to have all the bells and whistles as it pertains to wireless communication, we are betting that it will feel better to look our son in the eyes as he enters college and tell him we are going to be able to ease his financial burden.

  3. Katharine says:

    Right now, our family’s goal is to pay off our car loan and my hubby’s student loan so that I can take a couple of years to stay home with the little one we have and the one we hope to have soon (it’s a year-long plan!). I’ve been looking for a budget to really get down to the nitty-gritty, and this one sounds awesome!

  4. Great review. I’ve always been thinking about getting YNAB, so maybe i’ll win the contest:) My current goal is to save up for a wedding. A smaller goal is to save up for a second car.
    .-= Kevin´s last blog ..Make Your Money Work For You =-.

  5. Melissa says:

    Hi Dustin,

    Thanks so much for this! Our goal is simply to share the budgeting equally. I know that probably sounds strange but I’m the “geek” who loves spreadsheets and my husband is the “free spirit”. He is more than willing to sit down at our monthly Budget Committee Meeting (a committee of 2):) and contribute in any way he can. The issue, however, is in the preparation for the actual meeting. I think using a software like this might take some of the burden off me and encourage him that he is able to lead in this area.
    Thanks again for all you do and how you have helped our marriage (of 8 months) already!!

  6. I’m getting married in 36 days. We’ve saved enough for a wedding, but need to figure out how to do finances together once we’re married. I’m very credit card (but pay off in full) & he’s very cash. We’ve got a timeshare we’d like to pay off, but also need to upgrade the heating/cooling system before we sell the condo. So many adjustments & stuff to pay off!!

  7. Charlotte says:

    This sounds great!
    We became debt free the day our son was born! Now we’re saving up for a house. If all goes well, we’ll have the full amount before baby’s second birthday.
    Thanks for the great info you provide!

  8. Vicarious says:

    One of my current goals (besides getting out of debt, of course) is to save up enough money to go and visit each of the two children I sponsor through World Vision. I have a girl in El Salvador and a boy in Ghana, and I definitely want to visit each of them.

  9. My husband and I have been married for two years (as of June 27) and we have been chugging away at our monthly credit card statements with what seems like little relief. Our goal is to be credit card debt free by Fall of 2011 when he will start medical school (hopefully on a Navy scholarship so that we are not taking out student loans). This is a huge stretch as the amount of credit card debt is roughly two thirds of our income. I’ve used Mint (twice) as well as Pocketsmith and have not been pleased (or motivated in the least) by either. We’re talking about starting a family but don’t feel that it would be wise until our finances are under control. Per your review, I’m encouraged as YNAB sounds like it’s proven fruitful for your own financial health as well as many others. I’d love to have the software but honestly, spending $60 on that right now seems overwhelming. My husband and I would be ever grateful recipients of your giveaway!
    .-= Esther´s last blog ..Pick ’em good! =-.

  10. We want to retire early.

  11. alifiyah says:

    we want to pay off my husband’s medical school debt of $100,000 in the next 5 years (by the time he starts and finishes his residency).

  12. The current financial goals my fiance and I have are to finish paying off our credit cards and to have our wedding completely paid for before we get married October 1, 2011 so that we’ll enter our married life free of consumer debt. After that, our next goals will be to build an emergency fund and pay off our student loans before we add children to the equation. I’ve been using regular Excel spreadsheets to track spending and we’ve been making slow but fairly steady progress towards our goals so far this year. This software sounds pretty fab though and might free up some time for me and get the fiance a little more interested in “budgeting” which would be awesome :)

  13. WE want to be free of all credit debt in the next 2 years. Then we’ll get to work on the house!!
    .-= Jennia´s last blog ..Welcome to! =-.

  14. Beckey & Jeff says:

    We refuse to use credit cards anymore. We will be debt free by mid year 2012.

  15. Our goal is to finish the Financial Peace University classes (in Week 10 now) and keep working the babey steps until we reach true financial peace and can bless others in our lives.

  16. this sounds excellent. I think my husband and I need something like that
    .-= Mary´s last blog ..No More Tears =-.

  17. great post. we want to make our money based on decisions, not our decisions based on money

  18. Wow – you really did your homework for this post. I came over to your site from Get Rich Slowly and have been reading through the other articles. I am really enjoying it and will be adding it to my blog feeds.

    I’m turning into a bit of a personal finance geek – I say that proudly – and am *definitely* a spreadsheet/tech geek :) so I very much enjoyed reading this post. I’ve been using Mint for some time now, but have been wishing for more robust features. I’ve heard YNAB mentioned several times in the various personal finances books and other materials I’ve read, but had not read about it in such detail before now.

    Thanks again and looking forward to reading more!

  19. Our goal is to pay for our wedding with cash and then work on my fiances student loan debt. We need this to help us set up our budget. Thanks!

  20. We’re doing well with living within our means right now, so our next goal is to pay off our mortgage (which is a substantial chunk of our monthly budget).

  21. Stephanie says:

    This seems like a great budgeting software! My husband is also a “free spirit” so if I could find a tracking tool that even he would use – that would be amazing! : ) One major goal we have for our finances is to get our food spending under control. We seem to over-spend every month on food, and I’m pretty certain it’s not because the amount I’ve budgeted is too small, rather it is due to poor planning.

  22. Capulet says:

    Sounds like a great tool! We don’t have a budget and definitely need one, so this could help my hubby and I so much because we need to be better with our spending. We don’t even balance our checkbook. Yeah, we’re that bad. Like always, great post!

  23. I’m getting married in December and the financial goal that we have started is to not go into debt over our wedding.

  24. In case you missed it on the Facebook page and blog post, I wanted to let everyone know that we had a winner in our giveaway (Michelle). I REALLY appreciate all of the interest in YNAB and the fantastic goals that each of you shared on this post!

    I really encourage you to give YNAB a try and see what you think. I totally love it, and I’m really glad we made the decision to give it a try on the free 7-day trial and then buy it. It’s one of the best investments we’ve made in our money management, and we made up the cost in less than a month simply by wasting less money by being on a plan!

  25. I read your review of YNAB and I was sold the first night I used it (7 day trial). There was no question after the second day that we would purchase it. I had an Excel w/macros I made up years ago, but no interface and it was clumsy and not at all “wife friendly”. YNAB is great software, very intuitive and the one time fee was a bonus. I really like the long range budget views (where we’ve been, where we are, where we are going) and the simple rules built into the package. Thanks for sharing.

  26. Hey Dustin,

    We’ve been using YNAB for the last three years and I couldn’t agree more. It is definitely the best way to manage your finances. It is amazing how freeing it is to be living off of last month’s income.

  27. Hey Dustin,

    We’ve been using YNAB for the last three years and I couldn’t agree more. It is definitely the best way to manage your finances. It is amazing how freeing it is to be living off of last month’s income!

  28. A budget helped relieve a lot of stress in my marriage. It was stressful putting it together, but once our finances was organized the continual stress was greatly diminished.

    Whether you have a lot of a little money is stressful. Budgets are wise.

  29. Is it okay to reference part of this on my webpage if I post a link back to this webpage?

  30. As a young husband and father also, I must say. Having a SMALL wedding and a reasonable honeymoon allowed us to purchase a house a get off on the right foot. So young couples, PLAN ahead! 😉

  31. Dobre biuro rachunkowe Olsztyn wyprobuj usługi.

  32. Does the app work well for couples using YNAB on both a MAC and an APPLE computer and who have iphones? I want to know that we can both enter our data simultaneously and have it update to our individual computer so hat we are both up to date at all times and on the same page. So far I can only find information that seems to refer to the app as if you are just one person using the software which is not really helpful in our case.

    • Hi signe,

      YNAB works wonderfully for those using different platforms. Between my wife and I, we have two PCs, a Macbook, and iPhone and an Android phone. We can make updates from any location and it instantly syncs on all devices.



  33. I really like what you guys are usually up too.
    This sort of clever work and exposure! Keep up the terrific works guys I’ve added you guys to blogroll.

  34. Hi Dustin, did you try Dave Ramsey’s own software? If so, it what is better about YNAB?

    • Hey Andy,

      I did use Dave’s budgeting tools several years back when I was a paid member of his community. As I recall, it was a good basic tool, but it didn’t incorporate the Four Rules that YNAB uses (as outlined in the post above), and it was only available online with no desktop version. It may have improved since that time, but I have not tried it lately.

      It looks like it also costs $9.95 per month or $89.95 per year. I personally prefer the one-time cost of YNAB, and I’ve used it for several years now with just the initial $60 fee so I’m money ahead.

      Really though, getting started with ANY tool is better than not starting at all, and the cost of either option is money well spent considering how much you’ll save simply by living on a budget.



  35. I have been budgeting for a year in excel spreadsheets. I may need to try the app for next year’s budget…I think it is time to upgrade. Budgeting helped me pay over 7k in cc debt plus I saved 8k for a car that we OWN resisting everyone’s advice to get a new car in payments (I got a 06 corolla with 40k miles! – I am still in love). My fiance has always been debt free but he isn’t great at saving and future planning so I am gonna call him the free spirited and I am nerd that loves spread sheets and plans and calculators.
    I have $600 left on a credit card that will get paid next month and we will be DEBT FREE! Out goal is then keep piling cash for our emergency fund which should be completed by next year (hopefully by the end of the summer if not sooner). We will also be getting married next year but it will be a really private small wedding with just us and a few friends but even for that we need to save for paying the restaurant, the rings and a photographer.

    • Hi Mara!

      Congratulations on your great progress with budgeting and getting so close to FREEDOM…and for recognizing where you and your fiance “reside” in your approach to money. It’s SO important to understand this as you prepare for marriage.

      I’d encourage you to check out YNAB – I did my own spreadsheets for years. While it works, YNAB makes it much easier and even more fun! :)




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