How to get started with YNAB

August 28, 2013 at 10:01 pm Leave a comment

I’m mostly writing this for a family friend, but it can be useful for anyone who isn’t sure where to get started with YNAB.

1.  Download YNAB from this link:

2.  If you’ve bought it from Steam, don’t install it through Steam.  If you have already installed it through Steam, uninstall it.  You want to install the version downloaded directly from the YNAB website, listed in step 1.

3.  If you bought through Steam, get the CD key out of Steam.  Here’s how:
A.  Start Steam
B.  At the top, select Library.
C.  From the dropdown menu, select All Software.
D.  If you have multiple items here, select You Need A Budget 4 (YNAB) on the left panel.
E.  On the right column, under LINKS, select CD Key.
F.  The pop-up window that shows up will show your Product Key.  Select the Copy Key To Clipboard button.
G.  Save this Key off somewhere on your computer, where you won’t lose it.  You’ll need it later.

3B.  If the above doesn’t work (No CD Key option shows up in Steam), then install it via Steam, but after installing it, run YNAB and hit “Help”, then “About”.  That gives you a button to copy your CD Key to your buffer.  Hit that button, then paste it into somewhere that you won’t lose it.  Then, uninstall it (via Steam – Right click on the YNAB entry in Steam and “Delete Local Contents”)

4. If you don’t have Dropbox installed, get it now:
A.  Go to
B.  Sign Up, Download and install it on your PC (or Mac)
C.  You’ll need to put your Dropbox username and password in when you install DropBox.
D.  Select the Free account option, when prompted.  2 GB is more than enough for a budget.
E.  You’ll end up with a Dropbox icon in your taskbar.  It looks like a blue cardboard box, sitting open.  When everything is sync’ed, it will have a small green circle with a checkbox covering part of the Dropbox icon. This is the state you see mostly see it in.

5.  Now that you’ve installed Dropbox, have your Key, and have downloaded YNAB from the developer site, it’s time to install it.
A.  I believe it prompts you for your Key when installing it.  Copy the Key you got in step 3 and paste it in.
B.  When setting up your initial budget, you’ll be prompted to create a Cloud budget.  That’s the one you want to select.  This means your budget will be created in the DropBox folder on your machine.  DropBox will sync the files in that directory to your DropBox account.  From your iPhone or Android phone, you can run the free YNAB app, connect it to your DropBox account, and have your budget with you, wherever you go.

6.  Go to the YNAB support page:
A.  Watch the Chapter 1:  Getting Started with Three Simple Steps Video tutorial (right hand side of the page).

7.  Watch the Chapter 2:  Step by Step Set Up video.  This “Watch Along” video gives you step-by-step instructions.  It will encourage your to pause the video at intervals so you can perform the same steps on your installation.  Follow this video to build your initial budget.

8.  After you are done going through the Step by Step video, look at the other tutorial video topics to see if any of them are of immediate interest to you.  If they aren’t, come back to this page the next day and try to watch a couple of them.  Handling Credit Cards in YNAB is one that I needed to see.

9.  Install the YNAB app for your mobile phone platform.  Install it on your spouses phone too.
A.  Go into the Settings for the App.  Make sure GPS is enabled.
B.  Every time you buy something, put it in YNAB.  The first time you add a transaction for a location, you’ll have to manually enter everything.  Next time, though, it will remember the location and pre-enter all the data for you, except the amount.  You might think that this is a bit of a pain, but it keeps you on top of your spending.
C.  Before buying anything of any real value, check your budget in YNAB on your phone to make sure you have the money available.

10.  Take a look at the FREE classes that are offered on  These are live classes, where you can ask questions of professional YNAB trainers.

Pro Tips:

  • You don’t have to start your YNAB budget on the 1st of the month.  Start any time, using your current balance of your accounts.  Don’t forget to put in any uncleared checks/charges as well.
  • Don’t be tempted to put in historical info when starting your budget.  YNAB is, first and foremost, a budget tool.  It doesn’t matter how you’ve gotten into debt.  YNAB cares about how much money you have NOW, and where you need to spend it.  You might think that your past spending will help you plan your future budget, but in most cases, your past method of spending is why you need a budget.  🙂
  • Log into all your bank and credit card accounts every two or three days.  Go through your transactions and mark the “cleared” transactions with the “C” icon to the far right in your account screens.  At first, you might think this is a bit frequent, but by checking it so frequently, you’ll be sure not to miss any transactions that you might have forgotten to enter.  If you find missed transactions, just enter them in YNAB right there, so you’ve properly categorized your spending.  Also, if you have something that’s automatically charged like Hulu Plus or Netflix, you’ll be able to catch it this way.

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