Whether you’re budgeting or just tracking your spending, picking the right platform for organizing your expenses can help you understand where your money is going.
Two of the biggest budgeting apps out there are Mint by Intuit (the creators of Quicken) and YNAB, short for “You Need a Budget”. There are other great options like Personal Capital, using your own custom spreadsheet or good old fashioned pen and paper – but Mint vs YNAB is one of the biggest rivalries in budgeting. Which one is right for you?
Free for 34 days.
|Ease of Use||9/10 ✅||4/10|
|Transaction Syncing||8/10 ✅||5/10|
|Exporting Data||9/10 ✅||7/10|
|Mobile App||6/10||9/10 ✅|
|Minafi Rating||7.7 / 10||7.4 / 10|
Keep in mind, my pick doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Since initially writing this post I switched from Mint to using Tiller which migrates my transactions to a Google Sheet for me to analyze from there.
Mint and You Need a Budget both are in the same general space – helping people track their spending, understand that spending and (hopefully) act on that information.
My experience with Mint and YNAB go back a long time. I started using Mint over 10 years ago – back before it was acquired by Intuit in 2009 for a whopping $170 million.
Last year I realized I would be leaving my job soon to retire and started doing everything I could to understand my cash flow. That lead me to try YNAB to see what insights I could glean from a different service. I continued using YNAB for about 6 months throughout 2018 before switching back to Mint.
Understanding your spending is absolutely crucial for achieving financial independence. In order to forecast your future spending, you must have a deep understanding of your current habits – something only possible by monitoring your spending behavior over multiple years.
While Mint ended up being the winner for me personally, that was heavily based on what I value and wanted out of a budgeting/tracking service. In this comparison, I’ll go over the reasons why I think you should choose YNAB or Mint based on their strengths and what you’re looking for.
|Who It's for||
If you've never budgeted before or analyzed where your spending is going. Mint is a super-simple way of seeing all of your spending in one place – enabling you to better understand your own habits and plan accordingly.
Mint focuses on categorizing your spending after you have spent the funds. This allows you to see if you're still within your budget, as well as look back on prior months to understand spending over time.
YNAB focuses on giving every dollar in your bank account a job. Before you can spend any dollar, you need to know what bucket of money on YNAB that money was coming from.
This means that every time you make a purchase – no matter how small – you'll be moving money from one place to another.
|What they Recommend||
There are 4 areas that Mint uses to help better understand and plan your spending. How you use them is up to you, but each offers a number of helpful recommendations:
YNAB has four rules that guide how people use the product:
|How it works||
|Why It's Different||Mint focuses on ease of use. If you've never tracked your spending before, it's a super-simple way to get started. It's also free and very reliable and secure – being owned by Intuit, the same company that runs TurboTax.||YNAB forces you to make decisions before you spend money. If you want to spend from a budget but you don't have the cash, you'll need to figure out where else you can get the money from.
This level of accountability is amazing if you're aiming to rein in your spending.
|Why I love It||
Seamless Imports - Every day I see transactions from the previous day imported to Mint without fail. I can categorize those transactions or split them into multiple categories if a transaction should span a few (like when I order household goods and hiking poles on Amazon).
Easy to use - This ease of use makes it hard to mess up. Even if I don't check for a few weeks, I can go back and categorize every transaction during that time in a few minutes.
Trends - At the end of each month, I'll go in and check out the Trends for that past month. Did I spend more than in previous months? Was there a category that was larger than I expected that I should watch more closely in the future?
Serious Budgeting - YNAB is for people who want to get serious about budgeting. It's for those who want to fully understand their spending habits, and anything less is not going to work.
Education - They also offer a bunch of videos on your site to help learn how to use YNAB. These are presented as videos on how to use their service, but they're really videos on how to budget. If you fully embrace and understand the YNAB 4 rules, then you'll be able to use just about any budgeting app successfully (but they hope you continue with YNAB).
|Why I Struggle with it||
Budgets - Mint's budgeting section is laughably bad. It's not that useful, but it's very basic. You set a budget then Mint tells if you have money left or not. If you are disciplined and check this before you make new purchases then it's sufficient but still rudimentary.
Advertising - This is one of the most annoying parts of Mint. Since it's a free service, they're constantly trying to get you to sign up for a new credit card, change your insurance or open an investment account with one of their partners. These ads are inserted in the most annoying places - even within your list of transactions!
High barrier to entry - Learning to use YNAB doesn't happen overnight. I spent the first 2 days just setting up my budget, and I've been tracking spending for a decade! The initial few weeks using YNAB are going to take a lot of time and effort.
Easy to Mess Up - After I thought I had everything set up on YNAB, I'd realize I made a mistake somewhere. An account wasn't syncing right, the balance YNAB said didn't match my actual bank account – something was just off. It takes a lot of work to get YNAB to match up completely with your savings/checking account, and if you're off track it's a pain to get back on.
|Who should use it?||
Ok, that’s a lot. Let’s take a step back and compare these services feature by feature.
Intuit Mint Review and Overview
Mint launched back in 2006 as a small startup with a great idea – show people all of their financial accounts in one place. They were one of the first, if not the first, site that allowed people to aggregate credit cards, bank accounts, mortgages and investments in one place.
How Does Mint Work?
Using Mint is simple – if you trust them. After creating an account, you connect Mint with any accounts you want. Mint supports a bunch of different types of accounts including:
- Bank Accounts (Checking and Savings)
- Credit Card Accounts
- Vehicle Loans
- Student Loans
- Investment Accounts
After using Mint for over a decade, I’ve yet to find an account they couldn’t connect with and pull in data. What can you add to Mint? In my experience, any accounts at a popular financial institute will work. You may run into trouble with a local bank or a credit union that isn’t supported.
These account types work for ones with positive balances (checking, saving, investing) and tracking your debt (vehicle loans, mortgages, credit cards, student loans). Some people to track their progress to get out of debt, others to evaluate and improve their spending habits, while others to monitor their investments.
After you connect your account, Mint will begin downloading your transactions. Each one will show up in your Mint account ready for you to attach a category to. Categories are a core part of Mint. Mint has a set number of top-level categories to use that includes the following:
- Auto & Transport
- Bills & Utilities
- Business Services
- Fees & Charges
- Food & Dining
- Gifts & Donations
- Health & Fitness
- Misc Expenses
- Personal Care
- Hide from Budgets & Tends
Within each of these top-level categories, Mint starts you off with a handful of subcategories as well. For example, under “Kids” there are categories for Allowance, Baby supplies, Babysitter & Daycare, Child Support, Kids Activities and Toys (I haven’t ever changed this category, so this is what I started with). You can remove subcategories and add new ones.
Once you start organizing your transactions, you’ll quickly want to start creating your own subcategories. For example, Mint creates a “Bars” category under “Food & Dining”. In my monthly budget posts, I consider alcohol to be a subcategory under “Entertainment”, so I moved it over there.
I found it took years to get my categories just right. It’s OK to try something, see if it works, and then adjust from there.
Here are a few screenshots of the Mint web interface from my account.
Mint App for iOS / Android
Mint also has a free app for iOS and Android that provides much of the same functionality as the website but without the need to constantly log back in (seriously, the “remember me” option never works). I use the App to categorize my transactions after they’ve synced to Mint or to add manual transactions (cash spending) directly into Mint.
When it comes to budgeting from the app, you can see a quick snapshot of how much has left for any budget, but it takes 4 clicks to get to that screen – not exactly the focus of the app.
The app has a dashboard widget too which shows your upcoming bills that need to be paid. It’d be much more useful to me if this showed budgets, but ahh well.
You Need A Budget Overview and Review
You Need a Budget is a very different type of app than Mint and requires a different mindset to use. While Mint allows a more passive method of tracking your expenses and analyzing them, You Need A Budget focuses on giving every dollar a job.
What that means is that every dollar you earn has a set job for it to do already planned out before you spend it. This is the core idea for YNAB and takes a while to wrap your head around. For me, trying to understand the job of a dollar that I hadn’t yet earned took some time to come around to.
The second part of this is that you aren’t basing your budget on what you earn during the current month, but what you’ve already earned in the past. YNAB has a concept called your “age of money“. This refers to how long you’ve had money in your account before spending it. YNAB encourages (and somewhat gameifies) increasing this number.
I think of it like this: if you’re earning money in January and spending it in January, then your “age of money” is going to be 0 days. The money you earn is immediately spent.
But what if you earn money in January but don’t spend it until February? In that case, your “age of money” starts to increase to weeks and maybe months.
“Age of money” is YNABs way of saying “it’s important to have an emergency fund!”. If you are spending last months money, then you have a month of emergency funds – funds that could be used for unexpected expenses.
If your age of money grows to 3 months, then you have a 3-month emergency fund! 3 months is the length I recommend in my free Minimal Investor Course, which shows how to invest confidently.
The part that’s harder to describe about YNAB is how to use it. The closest comparison would be to an accounting ledger (did you take financial accounting in college and hate it like me? It’s similar to that). Every budget has an amount that you expect to spend each month and an amount that you have actually spent. At the end of each month, you try to balance these out so every budget has $0 in the “amount we expect to spend” category.
You do that by moving money around from budget to budget based on your actual spending. For example, if you plan to spend $300 on groceries, but only end up spending $285, you would move that $15 from your grocery budget to somewhere else – giving it another job for the month.
The important part here is that there’s no way to go half-in on using YNAB. You either use it for every single budget and dollar you spend, or you run into trouble.
Here’s a look at the web interface for You Need a Budget with some screenshots.
You Need A Budget Apps – Android and iOS
You Need a Budget also has apps for Android of iOS (of course). I used the iOS one on my iPhone and found it to be a lot more useful than the Mint one for budgeting. It easily allows you look at how much money you have left in a given budget. If you’re about to make a purchase that exceeds a budget, you can transfer money from another budget over and cover it.
The Android app looks just about the same. I haven’t used it myself, but the workflow you would use for either would follow the same flow.
Here’s a bit of an overview of some of the major points that each service offers.
Let’s break down these two feature by feature.
1. Cost & Price
Mint is a free product. That means it’s completely free, you don’t pay any fees, and mint costs nothing to use. But Mint is a business out to make money off of you in other ways – namely by selling your data and hoping you act on their recommendations (check out part 3 about Security for more info on that).
Does Mint Cost Money?
So is mint free? Technically yes, but you are the product. Your data is what makes them money. The mint cost is your data, and the mint fees are the ads they serve you. By offering you deals (credit cards, loans, insurance) based on your spending and credit profile, Mint is able to make targeted recommendations that are more personalized than Google or Facebook could ever dream of. Although Mint’s pricing is free, they make it up in other ways.
Does YNAB Cost Money?
Is YNAB free? Well, no. It’s $84 a year, after a 34-day free trial. For that price, you’re buying a powerful budgeting piece of software that focuses on one thing – budgeting. There are no YNAB fees or services they try to upsell you on. By paying this price, you don’t have to worry about constant upsells or ads while you’re budgeting like you do with Mint.
As a software developer, I have no complaints about paying for a great service if it’s going to be useful and help solve problems. Don’t rule YNAB out just because there’s a price tag. They also offer a money back guarantee just in case:
In fact, we offer a No-Risk, 100% Money-Back Guarantee. At any point, if you don’t feel like you have more control of your money with YNAB, we’ll give you a full refund. No questions asked.YNAB Pricing page
Cost & Price winner: Mint
2. Ease of Use Comparison
You Need a Budget is one of the hardest pieces of software to use that I’ve ever experienced. It’s not because the interface is bad, or it’s slow. It’s because in order to be successful using YNAB you need to earn it through practice.
In order to learn YNAB, I found myself reading every video on their Ultimate Get Started Guide, joining multiple free workshops (live streams with a YNAB teacher going over the software), joining the Reddit You Need a Budget community and watching countless videos on YouTube detailing how people organize their expenses with YNAB. Getting confident with YNAB takes a lot of time, experimentation and education.
Mint goes a different route: providing guard rails, bulk editing and simplistic organization with pre-created categories. By offering these recommendations, Mint allows you to jump in and start categorizing transactions immediately – potentially giving you insights on your spending on day 1.
This is a double-edged sword though. Mint doesn’t allow editing their “top-level” categories, which limits categorization later on if you turn into a Mint power user. YNAB is a blank slate for categorization, which allows you to use whatever hierarchy you want.
- Mint ease of use rating: 9/10
- You Need a Budget ease of use: 4/10
Ease of use winner: Mint
3. Transaction Syncing
Both Mint and YNAB allow you to connect to your bank and have them automatically download your transactions. For Mint, this is one of their strong areas, as their entire business model is around getting as much data as possible to upsell you.
YNAB’s data syncing isn’t as efficient. Often it would take a day or two for transactions to be imported – sometimes much longer.
Mint seems to constantly synchronize. As I’m writing this today, I’m sitting in a coffee shop while my car’s oil is changed across the street. I already see the coffee I purchased show up in Mint.
Part of this is because Mint imports pending transactions and shows them to you as pending. YNAB waits for your transaction to clear with your credit card company before it imports it. This is a huge difference! Sometimes transactions may take days, or even weeks to clear – meaning you may not have a full picture of your spending if you rely on YNAB and their automated service.
To get around this, YNAB recommends that you manually add all transactions yourself. When your account does sync up, YNAB will connect the manually added transaction with the actual transaction from your bank or credit card, which prevents it from being added twice.
Reading YNAB forums and watching videos, the overwhelming trend is that transaction syncing with YNAB isn’t the practice that most users recommend. In a way this makes sense. Tracking every cent you spend manually provides a deeper connection (and potentially deeper pain) for every dollar you spend.
So in other words – Mint is great at synchronizing data extremely fast, while YNAB doesn’t sync transactions until they’ve cleared. YNAB recommends adding all transactions manually, while Mint encourages you to spend time letting them do the heavy lifting and you to categorize transactions after the fact.
Transaction Syncing winner: Mint
4. Exporting Data
Both Mint and You Need a Budget allow you to download your data.
YNAB allows you to export data to a CSV (comma separated value file) in 3 areas: Spending (grouped by category), Net worth and “income vs expenses” which is a breakdown of how close you were to your budget in each category.
What’s absent from YNAB is the ability to download your transactions. This fits with YNAB though, as the core reason for using YNAB is budgets. If you do want to export transactions from YNAB to evaluate it outside you’re out of luck today.
Mint allows you to export transactions and trend data. That might not seem like much, but both exports are flexible depending on what you’re looking at. If you’re looking at all transactions, you can export all transactions. If you’re looking at only transactions with a specific category during a given date range, your export will include only those.
I export trend data each month and synchronize it with my personal financial spreadsheet (one that tracks my spending totals, income and net worth month over month for the last few years).
Exporting Data winner: Mint
In other words, if Mint can work with another company to make money off your data, they can transmit anything you’ve submitted to Mint to that third-party service. In a time of data breaches and security concerns, this means that any number of companies could be storing the information you share with Mint.
You Need a Budget goes a different route with their data, stating:
Both of these privacy policies talk about who they choose to give their data to. But what about data breaches? How likely is it that either of these services would give up your data unwillingly?
The big question for me is your passwords to other sites. When you grant Mint or YNAB access to pull in data from your bank, you give them your bank account login and password. Having this information compromised is a HUGE deal. How likely is it that would happen?
You Need a Budget has a security page that details their security practices – which is a good sign.
YNAB is hosted on Heroku, which is a cloud hosting provider that uses Amazon behind the scenes for their servers. It’s the same service that Minafi uses (so YNAB obviously has good taste). Between Heroku and AWS (Amazon Web Services), you can feel confident that the hosts themselves won’t be compromised. AWS is used for the CIA and too many companies to name.
But what about your bank/credit card account credentials? For those YNAB parters with Finicity, MX, and Quovo – three services that fetch transactions from your bank and return the results to YNAB. YNAB doesn’t store your account credentials.
While this is good, and one less place with it, it does mean I now have to read the security pages for these three services. Don’t worry, I did. There were no red flags in their terms that I spotted, and each service seems to focus on doing one thing and doing it well, with good security.
There’s no way of knowing how safe an external site is, YNAB has been in business since 2004 – longer than Mint (2006). YNAB has a bug bounty program, where white hat hackers can report issues (and get paid), which is a great strategy for proactive security. YNAB is built on Ruby on Rails (also like Minafi) and is based here in Salt Lake City (again like Minafi – are we brothers YNAB?).
In my research, I didn’t find a single data breach by You Need a Budget during their 15 years of operation. The biggest concern for me personally is that YNAB is a smaller company, with under 50 people. In my experience as a developer in smaller companies, it’s tougher to validate that their site has been verified and audited by an external party, and they don’t list out any external auditors that they’ve used.
Mint is owned by Intuit, makers of Turbotax, Quicken and Employee Payroll software. Intuit is a publicly traded company with a market cap of almost $60 billion. In other words – they’re big. While YNAB has under 50 employees, Intuit is a massive company with 8,200 employees.
I mention this because public companies tend to go through additional security audits that smaller companies don’t need to do. These audits aren’t a guarantee but do offer some baseline level of accountability, since a data breach can cost billions of dollars (just ask Equifax).
The data security I’m most concerned about with Mint is their partners they share your data with. I doubt they share usernames/passwords with them, but sharing your transaction history and spending habits with unknown companies is concerning.
Security is a tough one to evaluate from the outside. Based on both their track records, YNAB and Mint are both doing well – with no data breaches. What scares me most about Mint is this line from their terms:
By submitting information, data, passwords, usernames, PINs, other log-in information, materials and other content to Intuit through the Services, you are licensing that content to Intuit for the purpose of providing the Services.Mint Terms of Service
The idea of my username and password being considered “licensed content” to Mint doesn’t sit well with me.
Security Winner: YNAB for overall security.
6. Trend Analysis
When it comes to understanding your spending after you’ve made it, Mint wins hands down. Within Mint’s Trends section, you can drill down and explore your spending in more ways than you’ll need including:
- By Category
- By Tag
- By Merchant
- By classification (expense vs income)
- Debt trends
- Net worth trends
For all of these, you can also look at the trends in any date range, or compare with previous periods. When I say “any date range” I mean it too. Unlike my credit card with only allows a 12-month span, Mint allows running reports since the beginning of time.
YNAB’s reporting is focused on a snapshot of the current month. This does allow you to understand your spending for that period, but it lacks the comparison for me to explore spending over time.
Trend Analysis Winner: Mint.
Isn’t this what it’s all about? Well, here’s the thing: Mint isn’t great for budgeting. Mint does offer three types of budgets: Monthly, every few months (you enter the number of months) and a one-time budget that goes until the funds are exhausted.
The problem I have with this approach is that you’re either on target with your budget, or you need to change your budget forever. If I spend $5 over my grocery budget for the month, should it’ll show up as red – even if I’m $5 under somewhere else? Your options are to let your budget show up as a failure for the month or tweak it for every month going forward.
YNAB goes a different route. It allows you to tweak every budget every month. It also acts as a catalog of your actual spending – not your optimistic goal of what your spending should be. By approaching your budget as a living, changing thing, it allows for a much healthier budgeting experience too! If you go over in one category for a month, just move some money around and call it a day.
Budgeting Winner: YNAB.
Both Mint and YNAB allow you to create custom categories. In both cases, every transaction should be exactly one category.
For Mint, they have a pre-set list of top-level categories that you cannot change. You can add new subcategories under each category, but those are limited to 20 characters long and should contain only text (no emojis).
YNAB starts out as a blank slate. You can create any budgets you want and name them whatever you want. Like Mint there are two levels of categorization – a top level and a sub-level.
My method of organizing YNAB has been to have a sub-level budget for every single known expense I have – even if it’s only once a year. Within that expense, I’ll set YNAB up to save towards it over the entire year.
Here’s a look at my personal categorization I’m using:
Notice all of those “Subscriptions” in there? Each is something that renews either monthly (Spotify) or yearly (Duolingo). For each of them, I’m budgeting in the exact same way. Take Bear for example. It’s an amazing note taking app I love. It renews every February for $14.99. Through YNAB, I’m actually setting aside $14.99/12 = $1.25 every month, then paying it in full when it’s renewal comes around.
This doesn’t mean much for a $15 expense, but what about for something much larger – your yearly taxes, a vacation, Christmas presents, a hotel stay for a friends wedding. In all cases, you can easily save over time using YNAB.
What is tricky is that you aren’t separating out your actual money in any way – it’s still just in your bank account. YNAB will show the exact amount you have in your account, then allow you to drill down and understand where every dollar from that account is allocated for future expenses, or as extra money awaiting allocation.
Customization Winner: YNAB.
9. Mobile App
When it comes to budgeting, having continual access to your budgets is important. If you’re relying on your memory to know if you have money left to spend or not, that idea will break down fast.
Both YNAB and Mint have mobile apps. Both allow checking your budget, adding new transactions and categorizing transactions. The big difference to me is that Mint’s app is also an investment tracker, a bills tracker, a trend tracker, a deals app, a credit score checker, rewards checker, and cashflow app. Whew, if that seems like a lot, it is!
YNABs app is a budgeting app – that’s it.
I prefer to use the mobile app the least possible. It should help me understand my budgets, make decisions on future spending, and allow me to track transactions as they happen. YNAB does all of these things but without the need to do 18 other things as well.
The Mint app does win in one category though – trend analysis. Sadly, the trend analysis features aren’t as great on the phone as from the Mint website.
Customization Winner: YNAB.
Mint or You Need a Budget?
Ok, so which should you use? In my opinion that completely depends on what you want to get out of each and how much time you want to put into it.
You Need a Budget is best for people who have the grit to stick with it through the hard learning curve, want to take budgeting seriously, are hesitant to provide their account data to another service and want to make the largest impact on their budget. To use YNAB successfully, you’re going to need to use it each and every time you spend money.
If you’re looking for the best budgeting app, then You Need a Budget is it, without a doubt. Budgeting isn’t easy though! You’re going to need to put in the effort and the time to learn how to use it, and probably learn a lot about your own spending habits in the process.
Mint is best for people who have never budgeted or tracked their spending before and want a high-level idea of where their money is going. Tracking your spending with Mint is super-easy. It gives you a quick look at your spending trends, allowing you to understand where your money is going.
With Mint, you don’t need to log in every day or even every week. You can use it as much or as little as needed to get the value you want out of it. Chances are you won’t see a massive shift in your spending habits if you’re not thinking about it all the time.
My personal recommendation is to use Mint if you’re like most people and just want to better understand your spending and tweak it accordingly. If you want to maximize spending habits, create and adhere to budgets and optimize your financials, try YNAB for 34 days. The first week (or 3) will suck with YNAB, but once you make it past that initial learning curve things get easier.
What about you? Do you track your spending? Which services or apps do you use – and why?