- Budgeting apps can connect to your bank account and automatically categorize transactions from debit and credit cards.
- Many apps are free and supported by advertising or optional service offerings. As a former bank manager, I recommend Mint, YNAB, Mvelopes, Personal Capital, and Clarity Money.
- With a strong budget, you can do a better job of paying off debt and growing your savings and investments.
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The first budgeting apps came out more than 10 years ago. If you are not yet on board with these digital tools that turn your regular spending into an easy-to-use budget, get ready to learn more about how these (mostly free) money apps can help you better manage your money.
While there is a small risk with using these apps (like any apps or sites that hold your financial information) they have so far proven resilient against hackers and stand up to modern security concerns better than the typical retail chain or social network. These apps are generally safe to use and provide big benefits, particularly if you need help finally getting started with a budget… and sticking to it. After working as a bank manager for years, I can confidently say I stand by these five budgeting apps.
Mint is the oldest and best-known of the major online budgeting apps. Now owned by Intuit, the makers of TurboTax and QuickBooks, it stands as the market leader in online budgeting. While it occasionally throws off errors when dealing with specific banks, overall it stands out as a high-quality budgeting app at a price you can’t beat: free.
Budgeting and transaction tracking are the core features of Mint. It also offers tools and features to track goals, investments, bills, spending trends, and your credit score. While it supports payoff tracking in the goals feature, the only glaring thing missing from Mint is a dedicate debt payoff tab.
Mint is free to use and advertising supported. That means you’ll see highly targeted advertising for bank accounts, credit cards, and other financial products based on your own spending and credit profile. But as those offers are optional, it is a low price to pay for a full personal finance software suite.
If you care less about tracking each dollar and transaction and want to look at your money more like a business, Personal Capital is a good choice. Personal Capital is targeted more at higher-income and high-net-worth users, as the software is a free offering that complements a paid investment service.
On the budgeting side, Personal Capital automatically sorts transactions by category just like Mint. But instead of focusing on line-item budgets, it helps you see your total spending and income over a period of time as a net cash flow. This is more like how a business looks at its money — something money-savvy people do each time they check into their bank accounts, loans, credit cards, and investments.
The investment tools are where Personal Capital really shines. I use it myself to save over $300 per year on mutual fund and ETF fees. If you have an investable balance of $100,000 or above, you may be contacted by a Personal Capital advisor. You don’t have to feel obligated to make an appointment or sign up for the paid service to use the free software.
You Need a Budget (YNAB)
You Need a Budget
The founder of You Need a Budget makes the philosophy of this company very clear. You need a budget! This app uses zero-based budgeting. That means you give every dollar a job, whether it is paying an expense, a bill, or going into savings and investments.
YNAB isn’t free. It costs $6.99 per month after a 34-day free trial. But if it can help you save hundreds of dollars on credit card interest, it is completely worthwhile. It also keeps your data private and does not use it for advertising. At YNAB, it’s all about the budget.
This is one of the most detailed budgeting tools out there. The older versions were all manual where you entered each purchase yourself. Newer versions include the ability to link to bank accounts and automatically categorize transactions, similar to the competitors on this list.
Now owned by Wall Street behemoth Goldman Sachs, Clarity Money is a newer entrant to the personal-finance app landscape. It doesn’t offer the strongest budgeting tools, but it gives you a view into every transaction and offers a simple and enjoyable interface to track every account.
My biggest complaint with Clarity Money is the inability to click to update account data. I have had to wait for days to see a credit card payment show up in the app. That isn’t exactly the freshest information about my money.
But for casual use and tracking your spending, it does the trick. Clarity Money also offers built-in savings features and useful charts that let you drill into and analyze your spending. It also looks for recurring costs to help you identify bills to cancel and money you can save. Now, I have to go cancel that extra music streaming subscription I forgot about…
The envelope budgeting method instructs us to cash our paychecks and put the cash in various envelopes for each budget category during the month. Once the cash is gone from that envelope, you are out of money for that budget category until your next payday.
Mvelopes takes that concept and moves it into the digital age. Owned by Finicity, the app offers a free trial and then requires you to subscribe to the Basic, Plus, or Complete Plan. These cost $40 per year, $190 per year, or $549 per year paid in advance or more when paid monthly.
Basic includes the basic software you need to track your budget with unlimited envelopes (categories) and live connections to bank and credit card accounts. Higher plans include time with a "personal finance trainer" to help you build and track a personalized success plan. If you can handle it on your own, the $40/year or $4/ per month basic plan works just fine.
- Read more:
- I’ve been using Personal Capital for years, and the best tool it has to offer is free
- 6 money apps and strategies to help you make a budget — and keep it
- I tried YNAB, the budgeting app that inspired me to take charge of my finances
- 11 financial experts reveal their favorite money apps
- The 7 best ways to build wealth starting today, according to financial planners
- A man who paid off $118,000 in 5 years started by channeling his rage into a ‘debt tornado’
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