YNAB vs. Mint: An Overview

Some budgeting tools utilize a specific approach to budgeting, while others simply help you organize your budget and expenses in a streamlined way. Some require you to pay a fee to use or unlock premium features, while others are free. 

YNAB, an acronym for You Need a Budget, is a budgeting software that primarily uses the zero-based budget method to track finances. Mint is a personal finance app that allows you to create and track budgets while also monitoring bill due dates and delineating progress toward savings and debt-repayment goals. Let’s compare them to help you decide which is the best fit.

Key Takeaways

  • Online budgeting programs can make tracking expenses and creating a monthly budget easier.
  • YNAB is a paid budgeting software program that utilizes the zero-based budgeting system to help users manage their finances.
  • Mint is a free budgeting app and expense tracker that allows you to manage your budget via your mobile device. 
  • When comparing budgeting apps and software programs, it’s important to weigh both the features and the price. 


You Need a Budget is an award-winning budgeting software program that you can access online or via a mobile device. You can sync your bank accounts and credit cards with the app for real-time tracking of debits and credits. Cash transactions can also be added to your budget manually. According to the YNAB website, it takes approximately 20 minutes to get your first budget up and running with the software. 

This budgeting program uses the zero-based budget approach to help you manage your money. With zero-based budgeting, every dollar of income is assigned a specific job, whether it’s paying monthly bills, going toward debt repayment, saving, or something else. The goal is to have zero leftover dollars in your budget each month while prioritizing expenses from most to least important.

The YNAB software program is designed to help its users break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle and work toward a goal of getting at least one month ahead on bills. Key features of the software include:

  • Access to real-time information across multiple devices
  • Goal-tracking
  • Budget reports, including graphs and charts
  • Personal support
  • Online and mobile app access

YNAB allows you to review and track your budget across different devices, which is helpful if you budget with a partner or spouse. In addition to Apple and Android phones, the software can be used with Amazon Echo, Alexa, iPad, and Apple Watch, so you have convenient access to your budget from almost anywhere. 

YNAB is a paid budget software program. The monthly fee is $11.99, but you can pay $84 per year ($7 per month) when billed annually.

New YNAB users can try the software free for 34 days, and the app offers a no-risk, 100% money-back guarantee. 


Mint is a free budgeting app you can download for Android and iPhone to create a budget and spending plan in minutes. You can sync your bank accounts and credit cards with the app, as well as your investment accounts. You can also use Mint to track cash spending each month by entering those transactions manually.

Mint allows you to create a budget and categorize expenses, so you can see at a glance how much money you’ve spent in any one budget area. The app automatically updates your account balance information and categorizes new expenses as they’re posted to your account. Mint can also keep track of your investment and/or retirement account balances if you choose to sync them with the app.

Rather than using a specific budgeting strategy, such as zero-based budgeting or the 50/30/20 method, Mint allows you to create budgets based on your spending patterns. The app calculates your average spending by category, so you can shape your budgets month to month and year to year as your expenses increase or decrease. You can add as many or as few categories as you need and add tags if you’d like to track individual expenses within each category.

Mint makes it easy to create monthly budgets or individual budgets for specific expenses, such as insurance premiums you pay biannually or quarterly estimated tax payments if you’re self-employed. Other key Mint features include:

  • Free credit score tracking
  • Bill payment tracking
  • Bill due date alerts
  • Low balance alerts
  • Unusual or suspicious transaction alerts
  • Portfolio tracking for investments

Mint also generates offers for credit cards, checking and savings accounts, investment and retirement accounts, and insurance products, though you aren’t obligated to take advantage of them. 

Mint tracks credit history and credit scores provided by TransUnion. Your credit reports and scores with Equifax and Experian may not be identical. 

Key Differences

YNAB and Mint can both help with creating and maintaining a monthly budget, but they differ in how they help users shape their budgets. YNAB is forward-looking, in that the goal is to create a current month’s budget that’s based on last month’s income. This is achieved by creating a buffer in your checking account that you use to pay bills and prioritizing expenses.

YNAB helps you to do this at a pace that’s realistic for your financial situation. For example, if you create your budget for January and have $100 left over that you don’t end up spending, you could earmark that toward February’s expenses. Then, if you get a $1,000 tax refund in February, you could set that money aside in your checking account to pay March’s bills. 

Getting a month ahead with budgeting and spending can help create a cushion in your budget, so that you’re not scrambling to pay bills. The idea is that once you get into a pattern of staying one month ahead on bills, you can turn your focus to other goals, such as building up your emergency fund or paying down debt. 

Both Mint and YNAB allow you to track cash spending in your budget, though neither one is specifically designed for people who follow the cash envelope system. 

Mint, on the other hand, doesn’t take a forward-looking approach. Instead, Mint looks at what you’ve done with your money in the past to help you shape your budget going forward. While you could use Mint to create and follow a zero-based budget to get a month or more ahead on expenses, that’s not the app’s focus. Instead, you’re relying on past spending and income history to determine how to budget your money for the next month. 

The Bottom Line

Mint’s goal is to help create a holistic view of your financial situation by including your bank accounts, credit card accounts, and investment accounts. YNAB is centered on helping you take control of your budget and cut out unnecessary expenses. Determining which one to use may come down to which budgeting style you prefer, though cost should also be a consideration. Someone who’s newer to budgeting may choose Mint, as it’s free, but if you’re a diehard budget spreadsheet fan, you may be happier paying for YNAB instead.