You know what budgeting is like? It’s like dieting.
You want to lose a little weight or cut down on cholesterol. You buy a scale. Fruit and veggies. You start working the diet.
Then mom drops by with homemade apple pie: 350 calories, just for the first slice. That’s not counting ice cream. What’s apple pie without ice cream?
A diet isn’t something you acquire. It’s not a scale or a low-cal cookbook. It’s a discipline. For a diet to work, you have to change the way you live.
Budgeting is just like that.
The best budgeting apps in the world can’t prevent you from impulse buying, recreational shopping, generous gift giving, and other temptations. You need discipline.
An app can help with the details and it can even boost motivation. That’s why we’re writing about the digital world’s top budget apps in this article. We know that managing your finances is complicated. Maintaining the necessary discipline is hard.
We can help.
The World’s Best Budgeting Apps, 2020 Edition
Availability: iOS, Android
Mint is a well-known app that’s been around for a long while. It comes from Intuit, the PC industry’s largest maker of accounting and bookkeeping applications. The programmers at Intuit definitely know their business. Mint is a great little app for beginners and it offers both mobile and browser-based platforms so you can access your account no matter where you are.
It allows for automatic account synchronization and bill tracking, plus a full range of other features. You’ll be able to manage your money with ease, and all your financial information will be recorded so you can look at it whenever you need to. All transactions are automatically categorized and you get to see a little chart of your overall cash flow. Mint is the best budget app for the hands-off budgeter who wants something simple and straightforward. You’ll get a little notification each time you go over your budget, so it could potentially help you save more cash. But mostly it’s for tracking expenses, not preventing over-spending.
Cost: $83.99 a year or $6.99 a month. Free for students for the first 12 months.
Availability: iOS, Android
You Need A Budget isn’t free like Mint, but it sure is worth the money. This is a budgeting package that you can install on your phone or your computer. Its entire aim is to help you give every dollar a job. You can assign categories and track every little purchase you make to ensure you’re always on top of your finances. You even have a 100% money-back guarantee, so there’s no risk. YNAB is one of the best financial apps out there, especially if you have large debts and have trouble finding ways to pay them off.
This app really helps you plan for the future. If your goal is to stop living paycheck-to-paycheck and build up your funds until you can start relying on “old money” more, then this app is a great choice. It offers a free trial, so if you’re not sure you want to commit to $6.99 a month, feel free to download it and try it before paying.
Cost: Free. The Plus plan costs $5 ($45 per year).
Availability: iOS, Android
Setting up Goodbudget is pretty easy and straightforward. It has a simple interface that’s a joy to use, but one of the biggest downsides is that your bank accounts aren’t automatically synced with the application. Still, it’s one of the best budgeting apps for couples because it allows for easy information sharing and it uses the familiar envelope budgeting system. You can synchronize your account with your partner’s and get your family’s finances in order with ease. It’s also useful for parents who want to teach their children how to budget. The free version of this app is great, but a little limited — you’re allowed to make only 10 envelopes, which might not be enough for everyone.
The Goodbudget website includes instructional videos on how to use the app, so you’re covered if you need help setting everything up. This app makes it easy to put your spending in perspective and adjust things based on your income and your debt — you can easily adjust the envelope allowances, and at the end of each month you’ll see personalized reports to help you stay on track. Overall, it’s a great choice for families.
Availability: Android, iOS
This is one of the best free budgeting apps for people who prefer a simple, no-frills program. It’s perfect for people who want a fuss-free experience and don’t need anything beyond elementary budgeting. It’s very easy to navigate the interface, but you will have to manually insert all the data because the app doesn’t sync with your bank accounts. There is a very good range of budgeting features for you to use, but you can’t set budgets for individual categories.
Using Wally makes budgeting almost enjoyable because the app runs smoothly and there’s no stress involved when entering data. The program keeps detailed transaction records, and you get the option to immediately assign a percentage of your income to a savings account. Wally+ is the Android version of this app, and Wally Next is the iOS version.
Cost: Free, but there are 0.49% – 0.89% for management fees.
Availability: Android, iOS
When it comes to money management tools, Personal Capital is an app that has it all. It’s a hybrid online advisor that combines both robot-advisor algorithms and human financial consultants to provide practical counseling and teach you how to grow your investments. It gives you a lot more than simple budgeting — these are real, all-encompassing financial tools aimed at high-net-worth investors and people who want to engage in tax optimization.
Personal Capital’s consulting services are pricey, but you can download the app for free and you’ll get an excellent money-tracking tool with great budgeting features. The app is aimed at investors, and you’ll get automated analysis of your investment fees, asset classes, and other details of your account. You can also link your accounts together and any purchases you make will be tracked automatically.
Availability: Android, iOS
This is quite possibly one of the best budgeting apps for college students because, as the name implies, its entire purpose is to prevent overspending. The whole interface is focused on exactly what you need to know — how much cash you have to spend. The app calculates how much money is available after you pay your bills and set aside savings. You can see how much cash is left “in the pocket” for the day, week, or month.
It’s easy to set up the app and connect it to your bank account, and that lets you track all your transactions. The app also memorizes recurring bills and frequent expenses, so entering data becomes faster and easier the more you use the app. And here’s our favorite thing about PocketGuard — it uses financial services that give you rebates on shopping, lower your bills, pay off loans, and even improve your credit score. You want to know how to be a savvy budgeter? This app will teach you. You can learn how to control overspending and amass enough cash to put more into your savings and retirement accounts, and all of it is done through a great-looking, easy-to-use interface. PocketGuard might not have all of the features that Mint and YNAB have, but it has more than enough to get you started.
Cost: $1, $2 or $3 per month, free for students.
Availability: Android, iOS
This is one of the best personal finance apps on the market. Acorns isn’t strictly a budgeting app, but more of a savings app. It has a feature called “Roundups” that connects your debit cards to your Acorns account. It then helps you invest cash whenever you make a purchase. Instead of saving spare change, Acorns puts this money away in an interest-bearing savings account. For example, if you make a $1.60 purchase, Acorns will round it up to $2 and send $.40 into an investment portfolio. Your money is distributed over six exchange-traded funds through Acorn’s partner, Vanguard. Your investments are distributed over 7,000 stocks through these funds so they’ll be diversified.
The app lets you withdraw and deposit money whenever you want to, and you can also schedule automatic deposits from your bank account. In addition to this and the pretty mindless, easy way to make small investments, the app is also cheap. It’s $1, $2, or $3 per month depending on the plan you choose, and it’s entirely free for students. All you need to do is show them an .edu email and you can sign up without charge.
More on Budgeting
In addition to our list of best apps for budgeting, we want to share a few tips. In order to stick to a plan, you need to understand how budgeting can help you get your finances in order.
Why Is Budgeting Important?
Spending less is easier said than done. At the end of the month our cash starts running low and we’re forced to make smarter decisions. In that moment, we get nervous. Restaurant visits when we could have cooked, impulse buys of things we don’t need, retail therapy as a way to deal with stress — all the little things add up and we start feeling guilty about constant overspending. We vow to find the best budget app so we can finally become mindful about our finances, but then our paychecks arrive and we relax — our bank accounts are practically overflowing. Where’s the harm in treating ourselves a bit?
Make a budget and stick to it. That’s all you need to do. We all know it: We’ve heard it a thousand times before, and we understand the basic concept. Spend less on Starbucks and focus on paying off your debt, right? Great! Except that apparently 22% of Americans have less than $5,000 in their retirement savings accounts, and most of us still treat budgeting as a chore that prevents us from enjoying life’s small luxuries.
So why do you really need good budget apps? We’ll give you a list:
1. An app helps you figure out goals and stick to them.
It’s not about huge goals. Telling yourself you’ll save up thousands of dollars in a year might not be realistic for everyone, and it’s important not to overextend yourself. Stick to bite-sized goals that you achieve every single day. For example, saying that you’ll never again spend money on things you don’t need is a goal that manages to be both too lofty and too vague. Or did you think you can successfully defend yourself against the culture of American consumerism every single day? If you can, power to you and feel free to skip the rest of this article. (Incidentally, how’s that diet going?)
For the rest of us mere mortals, smaller goals are the solution. Download good money management apps. Go to Starbucks less often. Drop your cable subscription. Take tiny steps and encourage good spending habits each day — in the long run, that’ll get you far.
2. An app ensures you don’t spend money you don’t have.
Credit cards are not extra cash. It often feels like they are — after all, it takes one swipe to get that new plasma TV that you couldn’t have afforded otherwise. A few more impulsive purchases like this and you can easily rack up debt. You don’t have to pay it all back right away, but you’re merely postponing the inevitable, and once you get into the habit of using credit cards, the debt just keeps growing. The best budgeting apps can minimize the chances of this happening because they give you an easy overview of the current state of your finances. You’ll know exactly how much money you have at your disposal, how much you need to set aside, and how many luxuries can you afford each month.
3. An app makes it easier to deal with emergencies.
It will happen to you. You’ll lose your job, you’ll get a divorce, you’ll have a medical emergency that your insurance won’t cover, or your house will get flooded and you won’t be able to pay for the repairs. Life tends to surprise us, and not always in a good way. Having a budget will help you save up money for these kinds of emergencies. It will give you safety and the luxury of facing bad situations with your head held high because you have something to fall back on.
4. An app helps you prepare for retirement.
Retirement is closer than you think (yes, even if you’re currently in your twenties). Look at our list of the best apps for budgeting. You’ll see that many of them have a bunch of handy features that make it easy to set aside a little cash each month to go specifically toward your retirement fund. Entering your sixties without a beefy retirement fund will mean downgrading your lifestyle and having to rely on social security. Entering your sixties while knowing you’re fully financially solvent and have plenty set aside? That means an easier life that you can enjoy fully once you don’t have to go to work every day.
5. An app helps you shed bad spending habits.
The best money budgeting apps will force you to take a close look at your finances. You’ll notice things that are often overlooked — delivery charges, credit card fees, subscriptions to services you never use. You’ll notice that your name-brand sunscreen costs $50 and that the drugstore version costs only $5. That you bought new shoes even though you have seven pairs of black shoes already. That your habit of buying lunch instead of bringing something from home racks up at least $50 a week. Subconsciously, you already know these are bad habits. But it’s one thing to have a vague idea and a whole different thing to see it all in black and white.
Do I Really Need an App to Budget?
No. Budgeting can be done with pen and paper, it can be done on an Excel spreadsheet, it can be done through a finance advisor, and it can be done through the good old envelope method. There are many ways to track your spending, and you should opt for the one you like.
Why did we make a list of the best budgeting apps for budgeting and saving? Because apps are easy.
You don’t have to do any math, you don’t have to bother with spreadsheet formulas, you don’t have to draw tables and go through the painstakingly slow process of writing everything down manually. You download an app, you install it, and it’s ready to use within a minute. The program will guide you through the process and all you have to do is type some numbers.
If you still prefer to do everything on your own, you can. There are a few basic steps to creating a budget:
Decide how you want to track your budget: If you don’t want an app, you can take a look at other online budgeting tools or simply get a notebook where you keep track of everything. Our recommendation would be to make a spreadsheet so you don’t have to bother with a calculator. Here are some free budgeting templates that you can download if you’re not a savvy Excel user. It’s a good idea to make backup copies of these files, just in case your computer crashes and you lose all your data.
A financial advisor can help you save more. Hiring them can be pricey, but an expert can help you stay on top of your finances in the long run.
Calculate your monthly income: To do this, start by calculating your monthly net income. Take-home money is really the only thing that matters for this purpose; you don’t need gross numbers. You don’t have to use any special money management tools, just write down how much you earn from all your sources of income each month, and you’ll know how much you have at your disposal.
Calculate your monthly expenses: Figure out what you spend your money on. Start with recurring bills. This list will likely include:
- Mortgage and/or rent
- Utility bills
- Student loans
- Car payments and gas
- Subscriptions streaming services, magazines, etc.
After you’ve got that figured out, write down variable expenses such as:
- Pet supplies
- Restaurant visits
Once you’ve written all of this down, compare your income with your expenses. Are you spending a little too much on coffee runs? Do you really need a cable service if you already have Netflix?
Gather all financial statements in one place: That’s one of the reasons we’re recommending the best apps for budgeting — they track everything. You can also do this on your own. Gather bank statements, bills, receipts, and basically any kind of info about your income and expenses. Keep all the papers in one box and have it neatly organized.
Subtract expenses from income: This way, you’ll know how much you can spend right at the beginning of the month. If you know about your limits in advance, you’ll be less likely to overspend or indulge in impulse purchases. This also makes it easy to figure out how much money you can put in your savings account. Maybe you can put in a little more this month and invest in your future?
Try the 50/30/20 rule: Elizabeth Warren, the US senator and bankruptcy expert who studied at Harvard, coined the 50/30/20 rule. It’s one of the best money-management tools for beginning budgeters and experts alike because it’s so darn simple: Spend 50% of your income on Needs (rent, groceries, utility bills), 30% on Wants (shopping, hobbies, restaurants), and 20% on Savings. This sounds pretty great — 30% of your income on fun and luxury? Amazing! But hold your horses, it’s not all hot new shoes and vacations in Hawaii. Remember, tiny luxuries such as an unlimited messaging plan are also in this category.
Review your budget once a month: It’s unlikely you’ll be able to make the perfect budget plan on your first try. It takes some practice. You’re likely to make a few mistakes and end up with costs you weren’t counting on. That’s why it’s a good idea to review your budget periodically, just to make sure it’s still working for you. Once a month would be ideal, but try doing it at least every three or four months.
Quick Money-Saving Tips
This budgeting thing is complicated. We get it. It takes effort and will-power to be responsible, and it all seems overwhelming at the start.
So in addition to recommending best apps for budgeting, we also want to give you this little list. We’ve compiled a checklist of tiny, easy steps you can take each day. On their own, they won’t make much of a difference. But they’ll encourage good habits, nd if you adopt several of them you’ll be well on your way to excellent financial health. Here are 30 fun little ways to save more:
- Cut the cable and rely on streaming services only.
- Introduce a no-spend day once a week.
- Don’t go grocery shopping on an empty stomach.
- Invite friends over instead of dining out.
- Cook your lunches instead of ordering takeout.
- Stitch clothing instead of tossing it.
- Instead of buying expensive plastic toys, use an old cardboard box and transform it into a rocket ship. Your kid will be endlessly thrilled.
- Make a yard sale for your old things.
- Drink water instead of soda (this is both a health and a financial benefit).
- Get a library card instead of buying books (that you’ve nowhere to put anyway).
- Install energy-efficient light bulbs.
- Turn off lights when you leave the room.
- Keep your credit cards at home instead of in your wallet.
- Make your own bread. It’s fun! Here’s a recipe.
- Instead of expensive gifts, make baked goodies for your friends’ birthdays. Look at that, another recipe!
- Learn how to use simple online budgeting tools and programs like Excel.
- Instead of stress spending, here are some ways you could deal with anxiety: Take a luxurious bath, listen to some good music, play with puppies, call your friends and whine to them, install a video game and shoot some zombies, paint your nails, make a nice dinner, fix something around the house.
- Work out from home instead of going to the gym.
- Buy second-hand when you can.
- Do holiday shopping after the holidays. Your gifts might be a little late, but you’ll save a ton on sales.
- Go for generic brands instead of name-brands.
- Rent unused space in your home.
- Swap babysitting services with neighbours.
- Embrace a minimalist fashion style.
- If you can, start a garden for some fresh herbs and produce.
- Take public transportation.
- Buy staple supplies in bulk.
- Try making your own cleaning supplies.
- Try to eat meat less often.
- Stop beating yourself up over every mistake.