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What are good alternatives to Mint for budgeting?

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You Need a Budget (YNAB)

Best budgeting tools: You Need a Budget

You Need a Budget (YNAB) has become a popular option among the DIY personal finance crowd. It’s more expensive — $60 for Windows or Mac — but offers a 34-day full-featured free trial.

You Need a Budget works on four simple financial rules:

  1. Give every dollar a job
  2. Save for a rainy day
  3. Roll with the punches
  4. Live on last month’s income

So unlike other tools that simply aggregate your transactions and track your spending, YNAB actively helps you get better with budgeting. Because there’s a bit of a learning curve, YNAB provides free online classes to get you started, which are very cool.

YNAB syncs between your desktop and your mobile device, and allows you to enter transactions on your mobile device in real time.

Most cited answer on Quora is You Need a Budget aka YNAB:

More alternatives:

Reddit also likes YNAB:

Imzy likes smartphone app Albert:

Reddit also likes Excel. See below.

Budgeting 101: The Simplest Way to Start Budgeting Your Money found in the Reddit link above:

Includes an Excel spreadsheet:

TL;DR: Set up three accounts: Expenses, Savings, and Flex. Expenses are bills (on auto-pay), Savings is whatever you want to save, and Flex is your paycheck-to-paycheck spending money. :)

BackgroundI personally feel like budgeting has a bad reputation. It's a scary word that conjures images of Ramen noodles, coin counting, and file cabinets swelling with paper receipts of every KitKat™ and pair of socks you bought over the past 15 months.

It doesn't have to be this way. It shouldn't be scary. It isn't! In fact, budgeting can be fun and incredibly relieving once you start seeing the numbers laid out before you in an organized fashion.

First off, I have seen this method written about, blogged about, podcasted about, and Youtubed about many times before, so I do not claim to be the author or inventor of this method of budgeting. 

However, I did accidentally start budgeting this way and only after-the-fact discovered that what I was doing was a common way of budgeting!

The Philosophy: In the simplest of terms, your money can be looked at in three ways...

1. Money for Expenses

2. Money for Saving

3. Money for Everything Else

That's it. Three lenses through which you should always look at your hard-earned money.

1. Money for Expenses

Henceforth referred to as Expenses, this is all money that is spent on a recurring basis.

It is important to note that for your financial protection, you should consider two types of expenses: Monthly Expenses and Irregular Expenses.

- Monthly ExpensesMonthly Expenses are billed every month. This is the most common type of expense. Two oft forgotten expenses are debts and loans. You should not treat these any differently than you do paying rent or paying for Netflix. The more you treat paying off that credit card balance as a monthly expense, the fast you'll have it paid off!

Examples of monthly expenses are:

  • Rent or Mortgage
  • Utilities
  • Car Payment
  • Insurance
  • Internet and TV
  • Cell Phone
  • Debts and Loans
  • Netflix/Hulu/HBO/Cinemax
  • Spotify/Apple Music

- Irregular ExpensesIrregular Expenses are billed at different recurring intervals such as every three months, once a year, or once every two years. I've been burned too many times forgetting to budget for car registration only to be hit with an unexpected $150 registration fee that has to come out of my vacation fund or my emergency savings fund. Not good. It's best to budget for these types of expenses so that you're never surprised. Depending on the amount and interval, it will likely only be a couple dollars from each paycheck, so you'll barely notice a difference.

Examples of irregular expenses are:

  • Car Registration (once a year)
  • New Tires (about every two years)
  • Oil Changes (for me, roughly every three to four months)
  • Certain Print Subscriptions (quarterly or once a year)

Calculate your monthly and irregular expenses into a single, per-paycheck value, and this represents the amount you have to save every single time you get paid in order to cover all of your bills. You already put them on auto-pay, right????

2. Money for Saving

Henceforth referred to as Savings, this is all money that you lock away in a savings account, only to be spent in an emergency, or toward the intended goal.

Everyone already knows that you should have at least $1,000.00 put away into an emergency fund. If you didn't, then it's never too late to start saving!

This, however, doesn't have to be (and probably shouldn't be!) your only savings goal. I have several personal savings goals that are divided out in a spreadsheet. For simplicity, I use percentages, but you could use dollar amounts, as long as you calculate the per-paycheck amount.

Example savings goals are:

  • Emergency Fund
  • Personal Fund (vacations, new computer, etc.)
  • Investing
  • Charity/Giving

As with your expenses, sum together all of your savings goals into a single, per-paycheck value, and this represents the amount you have to save every single time you get paid in order to meet your goals.

3. Money for Everything Else

It's been four months since you've even looked in your Expenses checking account since everything is on auto-pay and you know exactly how much money you need to save per paycheck to cover your bills. It's pretty freeing to never worry about forgetting a bill and being charged a late fee. (Note: You really should keep an eye on this a couple times a month just to make sure auto-pay did it's job correctly. If you change addresses or close/open bill accounts, then you'll want to monitor to make sure things don't go awry.)

Your savings account is getting larger and larger, and you're becoming more and more protective of what money is in there. "I have $5,822.46 in there now...I can get to $10,000.00 by the end of the year if I keep this up!"

So what about the leftover money from your paycheck? Money that isn't for bills or savings? This money shall henceforth be referred to as your Flexmoney.

Flex money is similar to the envelope system in that it has no restrictions whatsoever. Use it for groceries. Go get a haircut. Buy those new shoes you want. Get another pint of your favorite IPA with that guy you just met on Tinder.

Spend it on whatever you want.

BUT...Once it's's gone. You see, I've attempted micro-budgeting in the past wherein I set precise allowances for groceries, movies, barhopping, restaurants, new clothes, etc. The problem is it's never so cut-and-dry. Sometimes I would go two weeks cooking every single night...other times I wouldn't dirty a plate and go to restaurants every night with friends.

The key, I found, was not setting restrictions categorically, but rather as a whole. Budgeting can (and should be) much more agile because as much as we might think we are, we are not creatures of habit. Things change. It's easier to adapt when you see your Flex account dropping: $100...$56...$12...PAYCHECK!

After the first month or two budgeting this way, you'll develop a rhythm and cadence for your spending, and be good at watching your Flex account to make subtle changes in your spending.

For example, I get paid this coming Friday. As of now, I have $18.00 left in my Flex account. I know that in order to avoid dipping into my savings accounts that I have to be careful how I spend my money between now and Friday. Technically I could dip into my vacation budget, but then I'll have to make up for it later. 

So that's it! A long post to describe a simple way of budgeting. I have seen it work for people like me (26 year-old, single Male) AND married families with multiple kids. It's just a matter of scale.

If you made it this far, you deserve to download my budgeting spreadsheet that should help you figure out your three budgetary divisions (Expenses, Savings, Flex).

XLSX - Download this one if you have the newer version of Excel

XLS - Download this one if you have an older version of Excel

Definitely open it in Excel instead of viewing/editing it in a browser. Looks much cleaner in Excel.

NOTE: Tables in the spreadsheet assume semi-monthly paychecks (24 total per year) because I'm paid on the 15th and 30th. If you are paid bi-weekly (26 paychecks per year) or at any other interval, you'll have to adjust the formulas in the semi-monthly column to reflect per-paycheck amounts.

I don't know which specific apps in the sub-category are good, but there are a number of "envelope" budgeting apps that simulate the paper envelope system.  Search for "envelopes budgeting application". 

I had actually not heard of the envelope system. Is this it?

You don’t have to save up any money to start using the envelope system. It goes like this: Let’s say you have budgeted $500 a month for groceries. When you receive your first paycheck of the month, write yourself a check for $250, cash it, and put the cash in an envelope. On that envelope, write "Groceries."

You could also "allot" that amount of money using an online budget tool, like EveryDollar. Created by Dave Ramsey’s team, EveryDollar is a new, convenient way to know where you’re at with your money on the go. With this type of digital budget, you can update the cash you have in your online envelopes by personalizing your transactions. Learn more about EveryDollar.

No money—and we mean no money—comes out of the Groceries envelope except to pay for food at the store. If you go food shopping and leave the envelope at home by mistake, turn the car around and go back to the house to get it. Make sure to take enough money to cover your groceries for that trip. If you take $150 and you tally up a bill for $160, take some things out of the cart. Put any change back in the envelope. If you’re budgeting with EveryDollar, then make sure you sync your bank account daily.

When you get paid again, write another $250 check. That’s your $500 for the month for food. If you want to go to the store but don’t have enough money, then raid the fridge for leftovers.

Use the envelope system for items that tend to bust your budget. Common examples include groceries, restaurants, entertainment, gasoline and clothing. When the money runs out of each envelope, don’t spend any more until the new month starts and new money goes in there.


Yes that's what I am referring to. 

Cool, I wasn't familiar with that style of budgeting but it sounds pretty bare bones straightforward.

A lot of people still just use Excel.

Would be interested to see any data on what percentage of people use ANY budgeting system.

A poll from Gallup shows that 32 percent of Americans put together a budget each month to track income and expenditures, and just 30 percent have a long-term financial plan laying out savings and investment goals. (Jul 16, 2013)


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