We all know that taking control of your personal finances starts with budgeting. Unfortunately, efficient spending doesn’t come naturally to all of us, so despite the handful of traditional methods for distributing earnings, any help we can get is welcome. When there is no one around to offer budgeting assistance, the power of technology comes to the rescue.
Budgeting apps do everything you expect them to do: they track and categorize expenses, they automatically draw data from banks, and even offer saving alternatives to recurring expenses. A number of apps also offer personal financial advisers, learning resources, and projections of your budget in the near future. Chances are, you won’t use every feature on your app, but even if that’s the case, they can be amazing tools for personal finance.
The different types of budgeting apps
These days, many people turn to apps for budgeting and, as you can imagine, this leads to dozens of viable options with different features.
Some of them are tailored for couples and provide the easy synchronization of data. There are applications developed with those making their first steps in personal finance in mind, while other apps cater to the needs of investors. Don’t sweat it if you are just starting out. It’s actually quite typical for users to go from the most simple apps that deal with monthly budgets to a more advanced application down the line.
Find the app that is right for you
As with any other product on the market, certain applications will be more attractive for you than others based on their cost, ease of use, the specific features you are after, and security. If you are new to budgeting with apps, you have one big advantage though – users have already made sure these apps work, first-hand. They have already tested them so you don’t have to. In essence, what follows is our review of the most common apps for budgeting.
So, let’s check them out.
Mint is one of the most popular apps, partly due to its budgeting tools that will automatically tag and categorize purchases (covers both bank account and credit cards). It uses the same secure platforms banks use to process data. And, did we forget to mention? It’s free.
Not only will Mint track your spending against a budget, but you can also set up alerts (yes, plural): one for overspending, one for unusual expenses, and one for changes in your credit score. This is another perk that is almost unique to Mint – you will have access to your credit score through TransUnion and get free credit reports.
Such great service has to come with a trade-off, so users should expect to be targeted by in-app advertisements. Also, there are reports of technical issues while using the app.
As the name implies, Simple aims to make things as straightforward as possible. In line with that, this budgeting app doubles as a bank account and can replace your traditional checking account, should you decide that that’s convenient for you.
If you stick to the daily budgeting feature of Simple, you get automatic tracking of income and expenses against a preset budget. Once you determine spending limits, you can activate the Safe-to-Spend feature that will help keep your expenditures on point.
The app is free and compatible with most devices.
Are you looking to make new acquaintances? You better be, because Charlie is primarily a penguin (mascot) and only then a budgeting app. We are not kidding, this is not a smartphone app. Rather, it’s a messaging app.
In other words, you are dealing with a chatbot that sends notifications and suggestions to you so you can improve your budgeting skills. In essence, Charlie serves to strip educational materials from intimidating financial lingo and to make budgeting as simple as such a complicated matter can be.
Don’t let us sell Charlie short, though, because it does perform budgeting functions with success. It can sync your bank accounts, analyze your expenses, and even share advice on future saving. Once you set a budget per spending category, you can activate a spending tracker to consistently enforce the plan. Users can also set long-term goals, like a debt-free date, which can help improve motivation. Plus, the interface is really user-friendly.
The drawback of Charlie is the fact that not all push notifications are useful. Actually, some of them are ads that might distract you from the act of budgeting. Although, users can disable such notifications.
The name of this app is spot-on because it’s designed to limit overspending. Of course, restraining the tendency to overspend is not an easy feat. To achieve this, PocketGuard tracks income, bills, and savings deposits. It’s also capable of analyzing recurring expenses like utility bills and finding alternative deals which are suggested to you as a better option compared to your current service provider.
This is where it gets unique: by following your usual income stream and your regular spending patterns, PocketGuard can project your expected earnings and possible expenditures in the near future.
With so much focus on analytics though, there is space for improving visualization and tagging. Users report that the charts aren’t always correct, mainly because sometimes the transactions are inaccurately categorized.
You Need a Budget (YNAB)
The focus of YNAB is getting rid of the paycheck-to-paycheck spending mentality. This makes it perfect for beginners, and it’s probably why it’s quite popular with millennials. YNAB goes against the grain by reducing cash flow management to four simple rules: Give every dollar a job, Embrace your true expenses, Roll with the punches, and Age your money. Dollars in your budget get a “job” in YNAB – be it paying bills, the automatic creation of an emergency fund, or other financial goals.
This budgeting app allows you to import data from a file, enter transactions manually, or sync it with your bank accounts. The level of security is high because the data is protected with bank-level encryption. Additionally, YNAB offers plenty of online resources including classes, videos, and instructional material.
After the free introductory period of 34 days, users have to pay $84 per year or $11.99 per month to continue using the service. Also, despite their best efforts, the designers of YNAB have created an unnecessarily complicated interface and it really takes users some time to set it up before they can track their finances.
This app focuses mainly on budgeting, which translates into streamlined tracking of expenses. For many of us, that is just what we need. Apart from the manual populating of sheets, entries can also be added by taking pictures of receipts.
The forte of Wally is support for most foreign currencies, which makes it indispensable for ex-pats and frequent travelers. Budgeting is fairly easy, and users can set up alerts for overspending.
Wally is a paid service ($24.99 per year) and you can find it at the app store.
With Goodbudget, you have the traditional envelope approach to budgeting but on a digital platform. So, the income is quickly accounted for in separate envelopes by category – you can use up to ten such envelopes for free.
The app allows for the sharing of data across platforms and devices, which makes it a very good option for couples. Spouses (single users as well or any partners or group who shares finances) have access to tracking expenses in real time, so each party is abreast with current spending. The financial visibility is great and it facilitates setting aside money for big-ticket items, like a car.
Goodbudget will enable each user to get a precise idea about the remaining discretionary income in the budget, but its free version has a lot of restrictions – synchronization with bank accounts, for instance, is a premium feature. So, you’ll have to do most of the work manually for each transaction if you opt for the free version.
Personal Capital is more of a wealth management app than a budget planner. However, it enables users to track both their budget and investments in one place. One can learn a lot from using the tools available in this app like net worth tracking, retirement planner, fee analyzer, etc. Plus, they all come with educational resources.
The dashboard is quite comprehensive and provides automated analysis for all asset classes. Users receive investment advice with a hybrid solution – partial Robo-advisor and partial human adviser. The daily tracking of expenses and accounting for income streams is not its main focus, so if you need it strictly for budgeting, you’ll need to add the transactions manually.
All in all, Personal Capital has great budgeting features, but it’s best used for the management of investments. The basic app is free, and premium service is available at an annual fee of 0.89% from the total portfolio.
This app is great if your focus is on daily budget management. BUDGT provides updates in real time, so users can work on curtailing impulse purchases and excessive spending.
Long-term financial planning is not a priority for BUDGT, but the app has a function that projects the likely state of your cash flow (based on your previous data) up to a certain point in the future. Income and transactions are usually uploaded manually, and this app is available only for iPhone users.
As the name (kind of) suggests, the app uses the envelope budget method in a digital setting (much like Goodbudget). Mvelopes is one of the budgeting apps with a longer track record, so users can expect minimal technical issues and user-friendly functionality.
In terms of budgeting features, Mvelopes packs a robust configuration that can be tailored to individual needs. Unlike your income stream, the number of envelopes you can use for budgeting is unlimited. Mvelope offers live support regardless of your expertise level or subscription plan. There are three different plans you can choose from:
- Mvelopes Basic: costs $5.97 a month (two months are free if you pay annually), includes chat support, automatic importing of transactions, synchronization of transactions (in real time), interactive reports – and this is the introductory level.
- Mvelopes Plus: costs $19.97 a month (two months are free if you pay annually) and covers quarterly consultations with a personal finance trainer, learning resources, and such.
- Mvelopes Complete: costs $59 a month (two months are free if you pay annually) and includes monthly consultation with a personal finance trainer, perks that help increase accountability and keep motivation high, as well as one-on-one education on personal finance.
This app can be used on multiple devices (desktop, iPad, Android, iPhone), but there is no free trial and syncing is not seamless with all banks and credit unions.
Trim tracks users’ spending habits and recurring bills as most budgeting apps do. The app is available for free.
What is unique about this app is its Bill negotiation feature. It works like this: Trim will analyze users’ recurring expenditures for cable TV, phone, and wireless. Then, it will search for alternative deals that would save you money in the long run. The catch? If users activate Bill negotiations, Trim gets a 33% cut on your savings for that particular bill. It’s paid once a year as a lump sum.
Advanced budgeting plans like Trim Premium allow you to apply the bill negotiations method to credit card rates and medical bills. This plan is available for $99 per year and also covers financial advice from a coach via email.
Unsplurge is not a daily budgeting program in the strict sense. Rather, it’s an app geared toward budgeting for a special event or a big-item purchase. These are goals like saving for a wedding, a down payment on a house, a holiday abroad, or something along those lines.
In effect, Unsplurge helps direct savings from regular expenditures to a special fund. It works best when you plan for these big-ticket items in advance as opposed to splurging a lot of cash and going into debt. The app is free and available for iPhone users only.
This is practically one of the most popular budgeting apps for couples on the market. Zeta can be used by all couples (cohabiting, engaged, married, new parents) regardless of the couple’s approach to finances – total sharing, partial sharing, or not sharing finances at all – to improve budgeting.
Careful thought went into designing Zeta because it allows individual users to hide certain financial data from their partners. Apart from that, the forte of this app is versatility so it supports: contactless payments, banking accounts, digital checks, direct deposits, and bill payment.
The app is available for free and aside from the usual expense tracking, it also offers features for setting up joint goals, as well as managing shared and personal budgets. Zeta’s interface is easy to use and the data is encrypted with state-of-the-art security methods.
The focus of Pocketsmith are daily expenditures and their implications to long-term financial goals. As a budgeting app, it contains all of the tracking features you would expect (like bill paying, categorizing expenses, syncing different accounts, etc.).
Pocketsmith has analytical tools built into the app, and this allows you to project future savings and expenses based on your day-to-day spending. A lot of effort went into making this as user-friendly as possible and the interactive calendar is proof of this. The calendar, along with different types of graphs, visually conveys the consequence of your morning latte on your savings goals.
The app is free and features a currency conversion tool; however, a Premium plan ($9.95/month) and Super package ($19.95/month) are available as well. Some reviews point out that the interface is not as intuitive as that of other competitors on the market.
There is no app that is “the best” – there’s simply the most suitable app for your needs, based on your goals and preferences.
The list above can include a lot of other entries, but we decided to cover these based on their prominence amongst users. We followed benchmarks like budgeting tools, extra features, intuitive interface, general pros and cons, and, of course, price.
You can delve deeper into each of these apps individually, especially if you consider them relevant. For example, an argument can be made that paying for a budgeting tool should be avoided as yet another unnecessary expense. On the other hand, it can also be argued that the guidance users can get from such apps makes them a great value – possibly even the cheapest financial advice you’ll get. So, it all depends on your financial goals and how you choose to get there.