YNAB Automation

Over the years I have tried several different budgeting tools, from spreadsheets, to desktop applications, to one-person-startups, and finally to YNABopen in new window. They've all had their quirks and limitations, but in the end YNAB is the one I've hated the least, and with some creative automation, I've been able to close the deal-breaking gaps in its functionality and happily use it for several years now.

In this post, I'll share how I've set built and hosted my own YNAB automation system, and how you can easily (literally a few minutes) set up your own.

Why bother with automation?

YNAB is great for budgeting your daily spending and even tracking your lines of credit, but where it really struggles is with investment accounts, multi-currency support, and the ability to share a subset of your transactions with a partner for household budgeting purposes. All of these are things that, as someone living in Europe, with a partner and international investments, I really can't live without.

In an ideal world, this would let me do things like:

  • Specify the number of shares of a given stock I hold, and have YNAB automatically reflect daily changes in the value of those shares under a "Tracked" account.
  • Automatically convert transactions in a foreign currency to my local currency, and have YNAB reflect the local currency amount (as well as an indication of what the foreign currency amount was) in my budget.
  • Allow me to share specific budget categories with my partner, so that we can budget together for household expenses, but keep our personal spending separate.

Since YNAB doesn't support these features, and has indicated that for several of them they have no plans to do so, I figured I'd take matters into my own hands, dust off their API documentation, and see what I could build.

Why use GitHub Actions?

Of course, building something is only half the battle, I also need somewhere to host it - ideally somewhere that is low cost (or free), doesn't require me to manage infrastructure, is easy to setup and maintain, and has great deployment options. Fortunately, GitHub Actions brings us several nice features which make it a compelling choice over alternatives like Azure Functions.

  1. Low Cost

    For personal repositories, GitHub Actions is (mostly) free, and unless you're abusing the platform, you're unlikely to hit the limits of that free tier.

  2. No Infrastructure Management

    Since GitHub Actions is an entirely managed service, you don't need to worry about provisioning, updating, or otherwise maintaining the hosting infrastructure for your code.

  3. Native GitOps Workflow

    Okay, this is definitely cheating, but the easiest GitOps workflow is the one you don't need to build in the first place. GitHub Actions are configured and managed entirely through your repository, making for the perfect deployment pipeline.

  4. Scheduled Execution

    And lastly, you can set up cron-like schedules within GitHub Actions to automatically run a task on a regular basis without needing to resort to hacky workarounds.

Simplifying configuration

Another aspect of setting this up is that I didn't want to need to leave YNAB to configure things, so I decided to use the Account Notes field to specify the automation configuration for each account. This lets me easily configure things like the amount of shares I hold in a given stock, or the categories I'd like to replicate transactions from, without needing to leave the YNAB website.

For example, if I wanted to configure my "Tracked" account to track 10 shares of a stock, I'd add the following to the account's Notes field. This'll automatically calculate the current value of those shares and convert it to my local currency, creating a transaction to update the account's balance to match the value of the shares.

/automate:stocks AAPL=10

I could also configure my daily spending account to replicate transactions from the "Groceries" and "Rent" categories to our household budget by adding the following to its Notes field.

/automate:replicate from_category="Rent" to_category="Ben: Rent" to_budget="Household" to_account="Ben"
/automate:replicate from_category="Groceries" to_category="Ben: Food" to_budget="Household" to_account="Ben"

Setting it up yourself

If you'd like to set this up yourself, all you'll need is a GitHub account, a YNAB account, and a few minutes to configure the workflow.

First, create a new repository in GitHub. You can call it whatever you like, but I'd recommend something like ynab-automation. You might need to sign up for a GitHub account if you don't already have one.

Next, get your YNAB API token. You can find instructions for doing so hereopen in new window. You'll want to add this token to your GitHub repository as a build secret called YNAB_API_KEY.


To add a secret to a GitHub repository, you'll want to go to the repository's Settings tab and find the Secrets and variables section on the left-hand menu. Select the Actions category and click on the New repository secret button. Enter the name of the secret (in this case YNAB_API_KEY) and paste in the value of your API token.

Then create your GitHub Action by adding a new file called .github/workflows/automate.yaml and pasting the following into it.

name: YNAB

     # Run the automation every 12 hours
    - cron: '0 */12 * * *'
  workflow_dispatch: {}
      - main

    runs-on: ubuntu-latest
      - uses: SierraSoftworks/ynab-automation@v2.1
          budget-id: "00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000" # Enter your budget ID here
          api-key: ${{ secrets.YNAB_API_KEY }}
          cache: true



You'll need to edit the budget-id field to match the ID of your YNAB budget. You can find your budget ID by visiting YNABopen in new window and looking for a UUID in the page URL, it should look something like a1b2c3d4-5e6f-273a-78fc-836bc6f27250.


You can create a new file from the GitHub web interface by clicking on the Add file button in the repository's file browser, then entering the name of the file you want to create.

Once you've done that and committed your changes, you should see a new Actions tab in your repository. If you click on that, you should see a new workflow called YNAB which you can run run manually by clicking on the Run workflow button. It'll also automatically run every 12 hours, but you can change that by editing the cron expression in the workflow file.

Setting up automatic updates

I regularly make updates to the automation scripts and fix issues as they appear, so you'll want to make sure that you're using the latest version of the automation script. To do that, you'll need to update the version number in your workflow file when I release new updates.

Fortunately GitHub has support for automatically taking care of this for you through something called dependabot. To set it up, you'll want to create a new .github/dependabot.yml file and paste the following into it.

version: 2
  - directory: /
    package-ecosystem: github-actions
      interval: weekly

This will automatically create a pull request for you whenever I release a new version of the automation script, and all you'll need to do is merge it to get the latest version.

A picture of Benjamin Pannell

Benjamin Pannell

Site Reliability Engineer, Microsoft

Dublin, Ireland