Personal Finance 

Better Budgeting Software: YNAB or Quicken?

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I recently received an email from Reader Donald asking if I could do a direct comparison between You Need A Budget (YNAB) and Quicken. Having recently used both to write a YNAB review and a Quicken 2010 review, I was familiar with both and could easily share my thoughts.

To add a little color to the discussion, which I hope you’ll join in on, is that Donald does his taxes using TurboTax and the potentially seamless integration of Quicken and TurboTax “hobbles” him from buying YNAB. Also, he has yet to take advantage of the 7-day free trial of YNAB (no email or registration required for the trial, you can download the application here). Finally, he does all his banking with a regional credit union in California and being able to pull banking records is an important feature.

Money Management vs. Budgeting

I have always seen Quicken as a full scope money management application and YNAB as primarily a budgeting tool. Quicken has introduced some budgeting features, such as scheduling bills and billpay, but the strength of Quicken is in all aspects of money management – from banking to investments to credit to future planning. Quicken does have budgeting features built in its Planning tabs, categorizing your spending and helping you review your cash flow. However, Quicken offers a ton of features, built up over the years, that makes the learning curve much steeper than a simpler tool like YNAB.

YNAB is not a full scope money management tool, it’s focused on budgeting, getting you off the paycheck to paycheck cycle, and that focus makes the tool very easy to pick up and use. I have yet to see the features being rolled out in version 3.0, but when I saw version 2.0 I was able to figure out what to do without navigating any help menus or being confused.

Better Budgeting Software: YNAB

Donald wanted to know which budgeting software was better and I believe YNAB is. I like their methodology for getting someone off the paycheck to paycheck mentality and I believe that methodology separates them from the competition in the budgeting software world. I think even the Quicken folks would agree that YNAB is better for budgeting.

However, if you want a full featured money management suite with the ability to pull data from various accounts and give you an executive summary, YNAB can’t do that. YNAB wasn’t designed to do that, only Quicken can. (in fact, they make a good case for pulling spending data manually, it makes you closer to your budget) I mentioned it in my review but Quicken’s ability, once you set it up, to give you your entire financial picture in seconds (a few minutes if you have to pull the data) is extremely valuable and one of the reasons why I climbed the learning curve to set it up.

TurboTax Integration

Since this is my first year using Quicken, I don’t know about theTurboTax integration and how helpful that will be. I do know you can categorize expenses as being tax deductible and I imagine that can be exported to TurboTax, but I haven’t used it yet. I’ve also been a little lax in categorizing expenses, so that might come back to bite me.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on both YNAB and Quicken, on any of the topics Donald was interested in. If you’ve used Quicken for years and have a better feel for the budgeting features, please share your thoughts because I may not be doing them justice. If you have insight into TurboTax integration or some other features I skipped in either package, please let us know in the comments!

{ 29 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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29 Responses to “Better Budgeting Software: YNAB or Quicken?”

  1. eric says:

    I agree with your distinction and that’s what I tell people who ask me this question too. If you want to concentrate on budgeting and seeing exactly how you spend your money, then YNAB is the best at what it does. Quicken gives you the overall big picture of your finances. Actually thinking of it, both programs would probably complement each other pretty well rather than be mutually exclusive.

  2. zapeta says:

    Well, I use YNAB to do my budgeting and I haven’t used Quicken. YNAB is really just for budgeting but it is great for that purpose. I use Mint to get my entire financial picture quickly.

    • aua868s says:

      Totally agree…love Mint..especially the “ways to save” tab.

      • Chris says:

        Mint has been great for me except for when smaller institutions don’t allow this type of third party connection through Mint.

  3. Brad says:

    I was a Quicken user for a long time. It was great to get a quick snapshot of your finances, track accounts and the like. But I really struggled trying to use it to take control of my budget. I also became annoyed at the need to upgrade every year or two.

    I have since switched to YNAB and love it. It totally changed my way of thinking about handling my money. I am in now in a much better financial position because of it. It doesn’t have all of the bells and whistles of Quicken, but it does what it’s supposed to. I use a simple spreadsheet to track and update my net worth on a monthly basis. It takes a few more minutes than Quicken, but is much easier to setup.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I have been a long time quicken user. Its probably been 8 years I would guess. I am too set in my ways now, plus I have 8 years of historical transactions. There is no way I could ever move all of that over to YNAB.

  5. Soccer9040 says:

    I have been a long time Quicken user. Its been probably 8 years now. I guess I am just too set in my ways. Plus, how would I get all of my historical data over to YNAB. It sounds like its just more of a budgeting tool.

  6. Izalot says:

    I would like to try out YNAB (I’ve been a Quicken user for years), but with the 3rd version coming out, what would be the incentive now, versus waiting for the new version?

  7. SVP says:

    I’ve used Mvelopes (Finicity) for budgeting for 2 years now, I’ll check out YNAB…am curious if it is close to being as successful in pre-planning your spending as Mvelopes is. I love it!

  8. aua868s says:

    havent tried YNAB yet…but Quicken is good.

  9. Safeway_Sage says:

    So, I think I asked this before and I am having a hard time getting it into my head. I use mint, which has an excellent “planning” feature that allows you to set a budget for the month.

    What does YNAB have over the budgeting features of mint?

    Any comments on this question?


  10. CK says:

    M I N T. At least until Intuit screws it up.

    • Charlie Brown says:

      Hello CK,

      I think your prediction came true. As I visit the Intuit web sites, I see many complaints about MINT.

      Also one should be wary of Quicken 2012. Apparently, it is an unmitigated disaster.

      Charlie Brown

  11. finco86 says:

    Just did the 7 Day Trial at YNAB and thought that it worked pretty well for what it does, the budget. You can have all of your checking, savings, and credit cards accounts visible so it might take a little time to set up and get comfortable with how things work.

    I have been a Quicken user for many years and just love the full picture it provides. Its budgeting features are not as good as YNAB, but they can work if your take the time to learn their system and have everything categorized.

    But, like others have said, if you want to do a budget without much else, YNAB is a good choice. If you want a fuller picture, Quicken does this well. YNAB will be cheaper.

  12. Eric says:

    I have used Quicken, Mint, YNAB, and Mvelopes.

    For budgeting: Mvelopes and YNAB are both fantastic. However, Mvelopes is ridiculously expensive and an online app, whereas YNAB is a one-time, very affordable purchase, and YNAB 3 is looking to be absolutely incredible.

    YNAB is the best budgeting software out there for your money, hands down.

    For overall financial picture: Quicken and Mint are both great. I don’t think the learning curve is that steep, but the detail of Quicken can be a little overwhelming at times. Mint does a good job at keeping it simple. The only reason I would use Quicken would be for tracking investments (for tax purposes) and tax-deductible expenses to export to TurboTax.

    In comparing the two, I like Mint better because it is so much easier to use and if you use the “tag” system well I think you could also do well at tracking tax-deductible expenses.

  13. Chance says:

    A great response to the Quicken vs YNAB question, Jim.

    Quicken is certainly more focused on “total” money management while YNAB is almost entirely focused on the budget. But what YNAB does, it does extremely well. YNAB is really a budgeting methodology first and (great) software second.

    I’m working on a review of YNAB 3 and hope to finish it in the next day or two. I’ll be sure to post again when it’s finished!

  14. jessy says:

    I have always used notebook and pencil for my budgeting, and it has worked great for me. For minimal stuff that I do, I couldn’t find a software that helps me replace my notebook and pencil method. Recently, I found a software called ‘innoslice’ which was more or less what I needed. However, I am not able to give any feedbacks on this yet; I would be able to comment on it when I use it for a couple of months.

  15. aua868s says:

    “innoslice”???…never heard of it before…would like to hear about it from you.

  16. Gina says:

    I’m on my 2nd day of trying out YNAB and I’m frustrated. I get that it’s a budgeting tool but I want to keep track of the payments we’ve made and payments to come and money coming in and of course the budgeted expenses but I haven’t figured it out yet.

    My father uses quicken and he’s been using it for 5 years. Of course the difference between us is he has more investments to monitor than I do. I have yet to try it. I have yet to see which program suits my needs.

    I am using excel which is a lot of work, but I get my ideas from YNAB on how to organize my spreadsheets.
    I’m thinking YNAB might not be the one I’m looking for.

    • Bob says:

      Gina: check out the fabulous YNAB support page before you give up. The videos address all your concerns. YNAB helps you live off LAST months income… as weird as that sounds… by creating a buffer, automatically.

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