YNAB's approach to budgeting goes beyond tracking your money to see where it goes. Instead, the app actively teaches you to budget. (As the Gilmores might say, it's not an app, it's a lifestyle.)
As per YNAB's four budgeting rules (which follow zero-based budgeting principles), you should assign each dollar you earn a task, whether that's helping you buy dinner or save for a vacation. Then, you spend your dollar on that task only. In other words, you're learning to purchase intentionally and save sans spending sprees.
If it sounds a little complicated, well, you're not wrong. YNAB definitely demands a learning curve—you'll have to watch some videos and read some articles to set up your account, add your financial information, and start budgeting. But the site is intuitive and easy to navigate, and the vast user community is on hand with immediate practical advice.
Even though it costs money in a market of freebies, YNAB is still our top choice. If you like it enough to sign up, we recommend making the up-front annual payment if you can: it saves you $59 overall.
Of every app on our list, YNAB has the best iPhone app score. Its easy-to-use app lets household members share budgets and goals, and its community focus extends to its learning style as well: the site hosts more than 100 live online finance workshops each week. Or if you don't have time for an entire workshop, you can learn how to budget at your own pace by working through free, video-based YNAB budgeting courses.
Now for YNAB's main drawback: unlike nearly all of its competitors, YNAB isn't free. After the 34-day free trial, you'll pay $11.99 month to month or $84 up front for a year. For what it's worth, YNAB doesn't require you to enter a credit card number when you launch the free trial, so you won't be unexpectedly billed if you forget to cancel.