Thinking about using this mostly-at-home time to get your finances and budget on track? There’s an app for that — just find the right one for you.
The fallout from the COVID-19 crisis has caused millions of people to be out of work. Almost 40% of Americans need to borrow money to cover an emergency. Coronavirus is a pandemic and for most of us, causing abnormal working and living conditions.
Getting your finances on track isn’t as easy as it looks. Detailing every dollar that comes in and goes out can be exhausting. But it doesn’t have to be difficult. Once you have a budget in place, you’ll spend much less time updating and maintaining it. Using a budgeting app helps you manage money straight from your phone.
Since everyone has different styles of how they prefer to handle their money, the “best” budgeting app for you will depend on your style and goals. For instance, some apps (like You Need A Budget) foster ongoing diligence around tracking, while apps like Mint are more passive. Here’s a roundup of the best based on App Store reviews and personal experience using the apps.
Best for retirement and investment-focused budgeters
While you can set and maintain a monthly budget in Personal Capital, it’s the culmination of budgeting, investment monitoring, and retirement goal-tracking that make it worthy of a download.
When you sign up, you’ll include retirement-focused information, like your age, when you plan on retiring, and how much money you have in your savings and investment accounts. Once you link the accounts you want to be managed, like your checking, savings, and investment accounts, you’ll be able to get a general overview of where your money is going. The charts make it easy to track your expenses and cash flow from month-to-month. It’s a great app to monitor not only where your money is going, but if you’re on track to meet your retirement goals and other long-term plans.
Cost: Free. Download Personal Capital.
You Need a Budget
Best for intricate and super-detailed budgeters
Many budgeting apps allow you to link bank accounts so the app can track where your money is going. You Need a Budget does this but also gives users the option to manually add transactions to avoid linking bank accounts. This is helpful for those who don’t want to let third-party apps have access to their financial accounts — or those who prefer manual logging.
But if you do want to connect yours, you can. YNAB connects not only with major banks, but local credit unions and institutions as well. You can also add credit cards and then immediately set a goal for it, like paying off your balance over time or creating a budget to include your entire balance.
After linking all your accounts you want to be monitored, you’ll give every dollar currently in your accounts an assignment. Rule No. 1 of YNAB is “give every dollar a job.” This means that you shouldn’t have any leftover money by the time everything is assigned. (If you do, leftovers can go towards emergency savings, investments or retirement contributions. Or even fun things like birthday parties and vacations.)
The greatest difference between YNAB and many other budgeting apps is you only budget the money you have; YNAB doesn’t allow “forecasting,” or creating budgets for future incoming dollars.
It doesn’t just end with tracking your money; YNAB wants to make sure you understand the importance of financial management. They offer free daily workshops on budgeting, debt, building savings, and more, along with a rich library of educational resources.
After signing up, you’ll get to use the app for free for the first 34 days. After that, it’s $84 a year. It’s a hefty cost, especially if you’re already strapped for cash and need a budget app like YNAB to help get you on track. But hundreds of thousands of users swear by this app, with many claiming the savings from using YNAB far outweigh the cost.
Cost: Free for the first 34 days; billed annually at $84 or monthly at $11.99. Download You Need a Budget.
Best for simple budgeters who can’t afford YNAB
When you’re looking for ways to “pocket” your cash, that’s what PocketGuard is for. It builds a budget based on your spending habits and lets you know when you’ve saved — or pocketed — the leftover money.
You can set goals, like lowering your bills or adding more money to your savings and investment accounts. You can also browse through other financial products to see if there are ways to save on your mortgage payments, insurance, or other loans.
The visuals are helpful, like the pie charts that let you easily interpret your data at a glance. You can see your income, upcoming bills, and how much money still needs to go towards your goals. It’s like YNAB but doesn’t have the same rich user experience. If you want a similar app but the price tag isn’t in your budget, PocketGuard is a solid backup.
Cost: Free. Download PocketGuard.
Best for in-depth budgeters
Full disclosure: I’ve been a loyal Mint user for nearly a decade. It has gotten me out of debt, helped me budget for a computer, and gotten me to set financial goals (like buy a new car). It started out as a way to track my spending by syncing up with my banks, credit cards, savings, and loan accounts. Now I use it for budgeting, making sure I’m paying bills on time, and checking my credit score every week — a newer feature but one I couldn’t find in any other app I tried out.
The more I use Mint, the more the app learns about me. Still, I love that I can recategorize transactions that auto-categorize into something completely wrong. I also love that I can split transactions. Say you get some of your groceries at Target, but you also pick up home supplies and medicine there, too. You can split your transactions to put the correct amount into each category. This is available in YNAB, but that comes with an additional cost.
Since I’ve been using Mint for years, I can see my spending over time. As Mint learns more about you and your spending habits, you’ll be able to see where your money goes each month. It details patterns and shows you graphs by category (or at a glance) on where your money goes. You can compare months, too, if you’d like.
I also like that I can change my budget based on my spending. If I took my dog to the vet last month, I can add that category to my budget. But if I don’t go back to the vet this month, I can adjust that budget to $0.
While not a saving-specific app, you can use Mint for this, too. You can add “savings” as a category and then mark that transfer in your transactions accordingly. Mint also offers a space to set goals — like buying a home, paying off debt, or anything else you’d like — but it’s on the desktop version, not the app.
Cost: Free. Download Mint.
Best for simple budgeters who like a manual style
For basic household money management, go with Goodbudget. Before you had the luxury of budgeting on your phone, we had to take out a pencil and paper and write everything down. There was once a time where we would “balance our checkbooks” to make sure we weren’t spending more than the money in our account.
Even though those days are long gone, the basic style of budgeting isn’t. Goodbudget has you enter all your financial details — every transaction you make, every paycheck you get — and then helps you create “envelopes.” You never sync with your bank, credit cards, or any other accounts; everything is manually entered. You can sync your account with a spouse and other household members to stay on track.
These virtual envelopes are like categories in other budgeting apps. You’ll set a dollar amount that goes towards things like your home payment, auto loan, groceries, and more. But you’re limited in only 10 regular envelopes if you stick with the free version. The plus plan gets you unlimited envelopes and some other features.
Cost: Free; upgrade to Plus for $5.99 a month or $50 a year. Download Goodbudget.
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