YNAB Criticism (2016)

16 thoughts
last posted Sept. 26, 2016, 4:49 p.m.
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I switched to the online subscription-based version of You Need A Budget as soon as it was available in January 2016 and have been using it since.

There were some shortcomings when it was first introduced and they've had time to sort stuff out, but some issues remain.


Overall I love the product and for budgeting and recording expenses there's nothing I'd rather use. I'm married with two children, and both of us parents share accounts and expense entry, so I'd like to think of our usage as "typical & non-trivial".


Why I decided to switch to the new web-based version after completing the trial:

  1. I don't mind paying for regular improvements to software
  2. The new version looks great on a Retina screen (unlike version 4)
  3. Importing transactions made keeping the budget up to date much simpler. Instead of logging in to the bank and two different credit card sites, clicking around three different screens to download Quicken files and then running an Import on each of them, I could now simply click Import within YNAB once for each account.
  4. Since the software is now web-based I can easily access my budget from work.
  5. Numbers 3 and 4 meant that it was much simpler to simply reconcile all my transactions once every week or so rather than saving all that work for the end of the month. Having more-frequent reconciliations in turn is huge, because now the monthly budgeting process takes maybe fifteen minutes instead of an hour. I'm also much more in tune with the status of our budget spending, and have a higher confidence in the numbers I'm seeing throughout the month.
  6. Syncing between YNAB's new iPhone apps and the web service is instantaneous. On the old version, after every time I did our monthly budgeting, I would usually get wrong budget numbers until after manually syncing two or three times.

All that being said, here are the flaws that remain annoying. I'm sure everyone has their own set but these are mine.


A big reason I'm doing a Thoughtstream for this and not just submitting bug reports is my experience reporting bugs early on.

In Feb 2016 I sent in my first (and so far only) bug report through their support system. In response I got back an email thanking me for the bug report. It was courteous but clearly a blanket response by a customer support person, saying "if this turns out to be a bug" they might reach out. I never heard anything else.

So that's my first annoyance: the process for reporting bugs does not feel at all productive. It's like tossing a penny into a deep, dark well and making a wish.

To be fair, most software companies get this wrong.


Second annoyance: occasionally when editing transactions and switching between the Budget and Accounts screens, anomalies occur. This includes things like category totals being off after changing a transaction's category or date.

For example:

  1. I imported a transaction (the one for my YNAB subscription actually) [The transaction was for $45 and had no category assigned at this point]
  2. I re-dated it from 1/31 to 2/1 because reasons
  3. I then assigned it a category (Subscriptions)

My budget for January now shows $45 in uncategorized spending, but there are no transactions for that month without a category.

  1. I then deleted the transaction altogether to see what would happen. There was no change, and my January budget still shows $45 in Uncategorized Transactions.

(This was actually the content of the Feb support ticket I mentioned above.)

I've since discovered that if this happens, logging out and reloading the site clears it up.

This happens maybe every other month or so.


Third annoyance: No search or reporting.

I almost never look at historical reports of my finances, other than reviewing last month's spending. I don't care how my net worth has changed over time, as long as I'm budgeting so that it will go up and not down.

That said, I frequently would like to find all transactions of some specific amount. Somewhat less frequently, I'd like to know how much I spent in a given category over the past year, or I've wanted to see all the transactions with a certain vendor. YNAB doesn't really have affordances for this sort of thing. Not only are there zero (0) reports, period, there is not even a search box.

I can live without reports, but lack of basic search is a pretty big regression from YNAB 4.

Workarounds: you can sort all transactions alphabetically by payee, or in order of amount, and scroll around till you find what you want. But this doesn't give you any totals, and it isn't going to scale once I have more than 12 months of data in the new YNAB.

Budget categories do show you the average monthly budget/spend. It doesn't say over what time frame, bu the tooltip seems to indicate it's across all your transactions, ever. So if you wanted to know spending by category over the past 12 months, you could probably get a rough estimate by multiplying that average by 12...until you accumulate more than a couple of years' worth of data.


Fourth Annoyance: Payee name matching is not as smart.

When importing transactions, YNAB frequently fails to identify and auto-rename payees that we use all the time. Things like our favourite grocery stores and gas stations still often show up as, say, "ALDI STO#4187" and without an assigned category in imported transactions.

In YNAB 4, there was a place to configure the auto-renaming and categorization so that you could say "if the payee contains 'ALDI', rename the whole thing to 'Aldi' and always categorize it as 'Groceries'."

The new YNAB gives you no control over this and attempts to memorize how things get named and categorized without any help from you. It gets it right about half the time.

I don't care about not having control if the software can consistently do the right thing. Maintaining auto rename/categorize rules was a pain in YNAB 4, anyhow. But at least it was predictable.


Fifth annoyance: "Tooltips" always get in the way.

YNAB has some entertaining, well-written tool tips and they've been consistent about putting them everywhere. They're cute and funny and helpful the first two times you see them.

But there needs to be a way to turn them off.


One example: A couple of times I've accidentally deleted a transaction, which eventually results in my having to go through the account line-by-line and re-mark the "cleared" status of each transaction.

During this process, my mouse cursor is always hovering over the "cleared" marker while I compare each line with a printed statement and mark it off.

Because of this, every time I look back at my screen, the current line's transaction amount is obscured by a tooltip that says "Gleefully mark this transaction as cleared." Sheesh!

Possible workarounds: arrange my browser to put some distance between its right edge and the right edge of my screen, thus allowing the browser to push the tooltip further to the right (not really helpful on a laptop though). Or jiggle and reposition my mouse cursor after every line (stupid).

But there are no workarounds for having to see cute witticisms repeated tirelessly for many months on end.


Sixth annoyance: Imported transactions are often not matched correctly with entered transactions when the date varies by more than a day or two.

Jess will often buy something online and dutifully enter the transaction that day. But often a vendor won't actually charge her card until the item ships, meaning that the date on the imported transaction will be a few days later than the one she entered. YNAB will often fail to match the two, leaving the entered transaction as uncleared and creating a cleared-but-erroneous copy of it.

These are often easy to spot but it's a needless annoyance. Perhaps the problem is being exacerbated by my fourth annoyance above (poor vendor name matching).


There are some annoyances that aren't bugs, just things that YNAB could (and probably should) make easier.

Mostly these are things caused by how online banking works in general.


For example: Jess puts in an order for some stuff, totaling $212.17, and enters it into YNAB right after placing the order.

Then the vendor splits up the order into three shipments and charges her in three separate transactions of $17.84, $111.90, and $82.43.

Right now YNAB is going to import those three transactions and treat them as separate from the one that Jess entered for $212.17, which consequently will never clear.

Instead, it would be insanely helpful if YNAB could notice, "hmm, they entered this charge for $212.17 and I don't see it here anywhere, and it's been at least a week since the date it was entered so it should have cleared; but here are three transactions from the same vendor that they didn't enter that total up to exactly the same amount -- let's maybe ask if they're related or something!"


Related to my third annoyance above, "no search or reporting", it would be good to have some way of tagging transactions related to a particular project.

After much saving, I'm finally finishing off my basement. All the spending for that project is going against the "Quality of Life Goals:Home Improvement" category. But if I want to keep track of all my spending just for this basement project, as distinct from other projects like bedroom painting, etc., I need to do it in a separate spreadsheet. Which is silly!


Another example, suppose you are a school teacher and you end up budgeting for extra supplies for children in your class and you want to compare your spending in this category for different school years. (Never mind the fact that you currently can't even total category spending by calendar years within the app.)

In all of these cases you might try setting up a new category for every school year and "archiving" (hiding) categories for previous years to keep from cluttering up your budget. But besides the fact that you still wouldn't get totals across any time frame shorter or longer than a calendar month, this is tedious and ugly.


Even just being able to search the Memo field would be an improvement, because then I could use that as a "tags" field.