There’s an app for almost everything and budgeting is no exception. There are numerous budgeting apps on the market ranging from simple apps for tracking and classifying spending up to full-scale personal finance management apps. Many of them are very useful while others might not be the right choice for you.
If you’re considering using a budgeting app, think about what you want it to do. Look at the common features of budgeting apps and decide which ones are important to you. Think about what you’re willing to spend: do you want a free app that carries ads or are you willing to pay for an ad-free experience? Once you’ve reviewed the features you want, you’ll be ready to choose an app to help you manage your budget!
Common Features of Budgeting Apps
Budgeting apps have different feature sets. Some are detailed and complex, with dozens of options. Others are stripped-down versions that focus on delivering simple and basic features:
- Sync with your bank and credit card accounts to automatically classify and track your spending.
- Track expenses and place them in budget categories. Expenses may be manually entered or imported from account synchronization functions.
- Provide flexible budget categories. Many budgeting apps have preset categories, but they may also allow you to add, edit, or delete categories. Most will monitor spending in each category and tell you when you’re close to using up a budget allocation.
- Generate reports. Most budget apps will provide regular reporting functions that keep you up to date on how well you’re meeting your goals. These may include charts and graphs to help you visualize your progress.
- Secure your information. If you are linking your app to your bank and credit card accounts you’ll have to make sure the app encrypts your data thoroughly. Make sure your app and any online accounts are protected by high-strength passwords that you change regularly!
- Export and import your data. It’s useful to have an app that will export to and import from common spreadsheet programs. If you ever want to change apps you won’t have to start all over again!
- Display financial trends, monitor investments, forecast spending, and flag tax-deductible expenses. Some more sophisticated apps integrate a range of financial planning features. These may not be specifically related to your budget, butbudget but are handy if your financial life is complex and you want easy, portable access to all your information.
- Collaborate with other users. Many budget apps allow collaborative access for your spouse, partner, business partner or anyone else who shares your financial life.
Not all users need all features. You’ll have to review what’s available and decide what’s important to you. An app that’s loaded with features you don’t need may turn out to be unnecessarily complex and difficult to use, especially if your needs are basic.
The Best Budgeting Apps of 2020
Best free app for detailed budgeting
Mint is one of the most popular finance apps in the world and it’s popular for good reasons. It’s a full-featured app that provides a broad overview of your finances in a user-friendly interface that’s easy to learn, navigate and manage. Once you sync Mint to your bank account, credit cards and monthly bill schedule you’ll be able to track your budget at a glance, with a full view of what you’ve spent, where you’ve spent it and how your budget is shaping up over any given time period. Mint also offers a free credit score feature. The app will remind you if you’re overspending in any budget category.
Mint is free, which makes it a great value, though you will get a significant number of ads. The app also offers a very comprehensive feature set, which will please users that like to explore features but might overwhelm users who prefer simplicity.
Best simple free app
PocketGuard has a paid version, but the free app does a very good job of handling simple budgets and answering a question that’s on many minds every day: “how much is left in my pocket”? PocketGuard takes that question literally, offering a “pocket” for each budget category and an easy, quick look at what’s left in each pocket as you spend. You can set savings goals, plug in your recurring bills and sync expenses as they happen. The app and supporting website are well designed and easy to use and the feature set is simple, basic and aimed at people who aren’t looking for a lot of frills or confusion.
Best for detailed personal finance management
Quicken has been providing personal finance services since the dawn of the computer age and its current versions give you a range of options to cover almost every personal finance need. You can track your spending, assess your compliance with your budget, review your bank, credit card, investment and retirement accounts, pay your bills, track your home’s value and much more. You can even export data directly to TurboTax or generate reports for your tax preparer. This is a comprehensive financial management app designed to serve people with complex finances. If you just want simple budgeting it will probably be more than you need. Some reviewers complain that the interface seems dated, but all found the sheer quantity of available information and features both useful and impressive.
Quicken is a paid app that comes in several versions offering different levels of features. The different packages range from $39.95 to $119.95.
Best for integrating budgeting and investment planning
Personal Capital combines a potent suite of tools for managing spending, savings and budgeting with a full set of investment management features. You can track major stock indices, monitor your brokerage fees and keep track of your net worth and specific investments with the same tool you use to track your spending and make sure you’re not overrunning your budget. You can sync the app to your savings, checking and credit accounts for effective budget tracking and gain access to both automated “Robo-advisor” investment management tools and actual financial advisors. If you want to manage both your investments and your day to day finances from a single app this is one to consider. Personal Capital offers both free and paid versions.
You Need a Budget
Best for budget beginners and frustrated budgeters
You Need a Budget, called YNAB by its many users, is another extremely popular budgeting a financial management app. YNAB starts from a single basic premise: assign a specific function to every dollar you earn. Once each dollar is assigned, the app tracks your progress in meeting your budget goals and lets you know if you’re at risk of slipping up. It’s a very easy app to use and it’s ideal for budget beginners or anyone who gets frustrated by complicated approaches to budgeting. YNAB also incorporates an extensive range of automated and personal financial advice and education, which makes it a great choice for people who are still learning to keep a handle on their finances.
YNAB isn’t the cheapest budget program out there: it’ll cost you $11.99/month or $84/year. The Company claims that the average user saves $600 in their first two months of using the program, so it might be worth it!
Best for saving money and building investments
Acorns may not be a “budgeting app” according to a precise definition, but it takes a unique and very useful approach to savings and investment. You link credit and debit cards to the app and every time you make a purchase the app rounds the price up to the next dollar. If you spend $22.25, the app charges you $23 and sets the difference aside. Users say they never notice the difference, but over time those pennies add up. The app allows you to invest the money you save in stocks, mutual funds, or a retirement account. It’s a great app for young people who want to start investing but can’t find the money to do it. The amounts involved may seem small, but over time they can add up to make a significant contribution to your future. The Acorns app comes in both free and paid versions offering different ranges of options for using the money you save.
Most of us understand the need to develop a budget and stick to it. Many of us still struggle with the actual mechanics of building a realistic budget and following it. A well-chosen budgeting app can provide vital assistance in moving from dreaming about a budget to actually following one. Just choose the app that best fits your needs and start managing your budget!