Free License to You Need a Budget (YNAB) for College Students

College was where I discovered cash-back cards and the wonderful world of “getting something for nothing”.  (In quotes on purpose).

They literally gave out credit cards more than they gave out candy.  Which resulted in some of my friends having to get jobs, fast, freshman year.

Credit cards generally teach you to spend money before you even have it.  And we, as a crazy-frequent-flyer-group, sometimes encourage spending money before you have it.  (Front loading Amazon gift cards so you can hit minimum spend.  Even using ice cream was technically doing this).

While the responsibility ultimately goes on the student, it’s difficult being handed that level of freedom without having some good habits built up already.

I used to be a huge fan of Mint.  I still use it to check my purchases and make sure my credit cards aren’t being used without my knowledge.

But Mint also forces you to guess what your income will be that month, and guess how you’ll use that money.

For me, I get freelance income, which comes in spurts.  So my guesses are usually wildly off in different directions.

Mint also incentives you to spend as if your budgets are correct during the beginning of the month, then adjust towards the end.  This can cause a month to go from feast to famine by day 25.

What I like about the You Need a Budget service is that it only lets you allocate income that you have actually received.  So if I get paid on the 1st of the month and the 16th of the month, I can only allocate that first pay check on day 1.  I’m not planning out all the money I’m getting.


I also am not allowed to guess which people are actually going to pay me this month.  I can only spend that once I have it in my hands.

Using YNAB has caused me to be more conservative towards the beginning of the month and more splurgy towards the end of the month, which is okay with me.

I like the idea of giving college students this product for free because it will force them to think about cash in real terms.  (Of course, the creators are hoping it makes them rely on the product and pay for it in the future–but hey, there’s no such thing as a free lunch).

Other budgeting software still makes money feel like an “abstract” concept.  Going over-budget just means it turns red and scolds you to do better next month.

This software will tell you not to spend money you do not have.  Which is a hard truth a lot of people need to learn.  And better to learn it from a piece of software harassing you than from a credit card bill you can’t pay.

To get YNAB for free:

  1.  Write to us at and include proof of registration at your college.
  2. We’ll send you a special license key, good until the end of the academic year (August 31st).
  3. At the end of the year, just shoot us another email if you’re still cranking away on your schoolwork, and we’ll send you a new license key that’s good for the entire next year.


About Jeanne Marie Hoffman

Former bartender, still a geek. One equal part each cookies, liberty, football, music, travel, libations. Stir vigorously. +Jeanne Marie Hoffman Jeanne on Twitter

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