- No matter how much money you earn, it’s easy to spend more than you plan to and fail to reach your savings goals. That’s why many people track their spending and use a budget each month.
- You don’t have to use technology to track your spending if you don’t want to, but there are plenty of money apps that can do some of the hard work for you.
- Make sure to compare budgeting apps’ features and pricing before you sign up. Many apps are free, although those with the most features and tools tend to require a nominal monthly fee.
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No matter how much money you earn every month, you’ll wind up with nothing if you spend it all. That’s why individuals and couples at all income levels track their spending.
But how should you track your spending? There are different schools of thought on the best ways to keep track of where your money ends up, and some differences of opinion on whether technology hurts or helps. At the end of the day, however, you can decide to track your spending with the help of a budgeting app or do it the old-fashioned way.
Which option is right for you? That totally depends, but here are some of the best money apps and strategies to consider as you get started.
Zero-sum budgeting is a type of budgeting that requires you to give each dollar you earn "a job," whether that means allocating it towards a bill or saving it for the future. The goal of zero-sum budgeting is "spending" all the money you earn on paper each month, which includes allocating funds for debt repayment, savings, and retirement.
Imagine your take home pay is $6,000 per month and you allocate $1,500 for housing, another $500 for utilities, $1,000 for car payments and transportation costs like gas, $1,000 for other bills, and $600 for groceries. While you could pay your regular bills — like a mortgage — right away, you would have to track your spending in categories that might fluctuate, like groceries and gas.
Many people who use a zero-sum budget choose to track their spending manually by checking in with credit card and bank statements a few times per week. This way, you can keep a close eye on how much you’ve spent and how much you have left in categories that change each month.
As each month progresses, you simply "check off" each bill you pay, whether it’s a utility bill, a mortgage payment, a car payment, or your student loans. And, as each fluctuating category with a spending limit runs out, you stop spending until the new month starts. This could mean eating ramen and leftovers the last week of the month until you get used to your new spending limits, but you will save money with this method over time.
If you like the idea of zero-sum budgeting but think manually tracking your spending sounds like a pain, consider signing up for YNAB, also known as You Need a Budget. This app syncs with your bank accounts and helps you create a zero-sum budget and spending plan while doing all the grunt work and tracking for you.
With YNAB, you can check in with your spending in real time, set debt-repayment goals, and allocate your money where it will help the most using your computer or mobile phone. YNAB even shows you your spending with snazzy charts and graphs that can help you change your behavior over time.
Currently, you can try this app for free for 34 days. After that, it’s $6.99 per month.
If you’re looking for a comprehensive money-management tool you can operate with a computer or your smartphone, consider signing up for Mint. This budgeting app helps you track your spending with the use of charts and graphs so you can understand where your money goes each month. Mint also automatically updates and categorizes your purchases so you can check in at any time to see how your spending is going — and where you may need to cut back.
Mint also offers bill-tracking tools and help with investments, depending on how many accounts you want to connect and which features you plan to use in the app. Best of all, the basic version of Mint is absolutely free to sign up for.
PocketGuard is another budgeting app that lets you link your credit cards, bank accounts, investments, and loans in one place. The app updates and categorizes your transactions as you make them so you can see how much you’ve spent in categories like food and entertainment at any time.
The app’s "in my pocket" feature also lets you set aside some money for spending after your bills and savings are paid, which makes it easy for you to set limits for yourself without feeling deprived. Finally, PocketGuard lets you set a budget and work towards financial goals such as paying off debt or saving a specific sum of money.
If you want to give PocketGuard a whirl, you can take advantage of a free basic version as well as a free trial of the paid PocketGuard Plus program. If you opt to join for the long haul, you can do so for $3.99 per month or $34.99 per year.
Honeyfi is another financial app that’s available for both iOS and Android, but it comes with a twist. This app is geared to couples who want to manage their money and budget together, and its features help you do just that in a collaborative way.
Once you and a partner start using the Honeyfi app, you can easily create budgets and sync them together, see each other’s transactions, and even comment on them. You also have the option to share only some of your synced accounts with your partner if you choose to keep some of your funds separate and private.
Since Honeyfi is also free, you can try it out to see if you like it without any risk or ongoing costs.
Mvelopes is yet another budgeting app that lets you create a budget, track your spending, and see your entire financial picture all in one place. This app focuses on the idea of creating separate spending buckets, or "envelopes," for all your fixed and fluctuating expenses with the goal of helping you save more money and pay down debt faster.
Mvelopes has three different plans to choose from. The basic plan costs $4 per month and includes basic budgeting and expense tracking tools, while Mvelopes Plus costs $19 per month and includes special financial and debt reduction tools along with a quarterly check-in with a budgeting coach.
The Mvelopes Complete version, which costs $59 per month, offers all the perks and features of other Mvelopes packages with monthly calls from a personal financial coach.
While Mvelopes is one of the more expensive budgeting apps out there, you can try it free for 30 days.
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