Budgeting can feel hard. Although the concept and the steps are simple enough, it can still be intimidating to figure out where to start or know if you’re budgeting correctly. But it doesn’t have to be.
As with everything in our digital age, there’s an app for that. Actually, there are several personal finance apps to help you manage your money. (And that’s just one type of budgeting tool you can use.) But what’s the best budgeting app for saving money?
To help you save time (and money), we’ve created an overview of some of the more widely used money management apps out there, starting with a few of the best free budgeting apps on the market. We’ll cover how they’re best used, highlight a few handy features, and outline major pros and cons to help you choose for yourself. Let’s log in.
What it’s for: Created by makers of QuickBooks and TurboTax, Mint is perhaps the most well-known budgeting app. As you’ll see with many of these budgeting tools, it connects directly to your various accounts so you can create a budget, track your bills, and see your finances update in real time.
Mint’s budgeting tool allows for customizable spending categories to track your expenses in different areas and calculate your average spending in each to see where you can save. It alerts you when you are approaching your budget, when you buy something out of the ordinary, and when you go over-budget in a category.
- Split transactions—If you buy groceries and a gift from the same store, you don’t have to worry about how it will show up in your budget. Mint lets you divide it across your spending categories.
- MintSights—A relatively new feature, MintSights uses your financial information and spending habits to provide personalized, data-driven insights and recommendations that help you spend wisely and save more.
- Free credit score and credit monitoring—Knowing your credit score is the first step to improving it. And the better your credit, the more you’ll save with lower interest rates on credit cards, loans, and more.
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- Simple setup and easy-to-use interface—Budgeting can be hard enough as it is. No one wants the added hurdle of an app that isn’t intuitive to use.
- Get a snapshot of your finances all in one place—You may have a number of bank accounts, credit cards, and investment funds. How nice would it be to see them all at once?
- No bill pay feature—Mint discontinued its bill pay feature, so you can no longer pay your bills directly from the app. You’ll have to add your bills manually in order to track them.
- Ads galore—Nothing is ever completely free, is it? Instead of billing its users a monthly fee, Mint makes its money by marketing new credit card offers or investment services.
What it’s for: Technically speaking, Personal Capital isn’t a budgeting app. It’s primarily an investment management tool where you can plan your retirement and check how your investment portfolio is performing. But the app also has handy budgeting features to help you save more.
With all your accounts in one place, you can tie your day-to-day budgeting to your long-term financial plan. With automatic, real-time updates, you can track your spending and saving and set goals to get out of debt, build your emergency fund, and prepare for retirement.
- Savings Planner—Personal Capital’s savings tools can leverage your current financial situation and long-term financial plan to help you meet your goals. It helps you identify how much you should be saving in order to reach your retirement goals, cover at least three months of expenses in case of emergency, and pay off your existing debt.
- Retirement Planner—In addition to seeing your progress saving for retirement, you can see how different scenarios might alter your retirement plan. What would happen if you retired early? How does a recession impact you in the Recession Simulator?
- Everything in one place—The Personal Capital dashboard makes it easy to see your financial picture in a single snapshot. If you have multiple accounts to manage and are looking for more than just expense tracking, Personal Capital may be a good choice for you.
- Combines budgeting with planning—Having your long-term financial plan side by side with your monthly budget can only help you spend on what you want and save for what you want.
- Geared more toward wealthier clientele—Personal Capital is a wealth management firm. To unlock their financial advisors in the app, you need to invest at least $25,000 with them.
- Not primarily a budgeting app—The app is first and foremost intended for wealth and investment management. The budgeting tools in Personal Capital exist to support that.
What it’s for: Founded in 2016 and purchased by Goldman Sachs in 2018, Clarity Money is equipped with your standard budgeting features. It links to your accounts, brings those accounts into one place, and categorizes your expenses.
Its most attractive feature, however, and what Clarity Money is most known for, is to identify recurring expenses. By showing you what you’re spending your money on month after month, the app can help you see expenses that you aren’t fully benefiting from and could bring you greater value applied elsewhere—the gym membership you aren’t using, the second (or third) streaming subscription you don’t need, or that “free trial” that you forgot to cancel.
- Stop unwanted auto-pay—As covered above, Clarity Money will take some of your unnecessary repeat purchases off autopilot. It will also notify you when the price changes on one of your subscriptions, so you’re not surprised by your expenses. By spending with greater intention, you’re more likely to spend less.
- Better savings rate—Thanks to its Goldman Sachs connection, Clarity Money users can open a high-yield online savings account in the app itself to earn more interest.
- Automated savings—Establish a savings goal and set up automatic deposits into your new high-yield savings accounts.
- Free credit check—See your credit score once a month without hurting your wallet or your credit score.
- Cutting costs instead of cutting cords—We’ve all come across those subscription fees that we didn’t realize we were still paying. When it comes to lowering your spending, it doesn’t get much better than an app that finds ways to save money for you.
- Save more money, more easily—Set it and forget it with deposits to meet your savings goals and easy access to high-yield accounts.
- Lack of customization—One of the most common criticisms of the app is that you can’t create custom spending categories or change the user interface to access the information most important to you.
- No manual entry—You may be wondering how this is a negative. Why would anyone want to manually enter expenses when they can sync their accounts? Not as many of us carry cash anymore, but if you want to track your petty cash purchases, you’ll be out of luck using Clarity Money.
What it’s for: Started in San Francisco in 2009, Goodbudget began as a simple envelope budgeting system and has evolved into an entire philosophy of money. “The Goodbudget Way” is based on the belief that our money should reflect our values—not only the priorities revealed in our spending, but also the trust within our relationships.
To help you spend what you want instead of what you have, the Goodbudget app helps you allocate your income into (virtual) envelopes that correspond to your budget categories, such as rent, groceries, phone bills, and date night. By spending your monthly “allowance” out of each envelope, you can better track your expenses, see what you have left to spend (or save!), and stick to your budget.
- No more reconciling across relationships—With the ability to link multiple devices to an account, you can make sure you and a partner stay true to your joint budget. By syncing your budget, everyone knows the what, where, and when of your spending.
- Plan ahead for large expenses—With the envelope system, you can create a category for your dream vacation, a new car, or other large expense to start saving in advance and over time. No splurging required.
- Online budgeting courses—Goodbudget offers two courses to help with your budgeting, starting with Bootcamp 101 and graduating to spending more on what really matters to you.
- Save money and your relationship—As mentioned previously, Goodbudget is designed to help couples get on the same page with their saving. No more surprise expenditures. No more avoiding the conversation about money. This app makes sure both of you put your money where your mouth is.
- Plan your money instead of tracking it—Some budgeting apps and methods simply track your spending in the rear view mirror; by the time you see what you’ve spent, the money has long since left your bank account. The envelope system that Goodbudget uses helps you allocate your money in advance and make you more aware of what you’re spending in real-time.
- Only manual entry—Manual entry can be painful, but useful when you want to keep track of your cold hard cash. Only being able to enter your transactions manually because you can’t link your accounts in the app? That’s just a pain.
- It takes pure discipline—This is true of budgeting in general, no matter what technology you have working for you. But where some apps offer insights and suggestions based on your finances and goals, Goodbudget has no such feature to help you.
- Free, but limited—They say you get what you pay for. With Goodbudget, the free version allows for just two devices on one account with a limited number of envelopes to budget with (10 regular envelopes for day-to-day spending, 10 annual envelopes for larger purchases). To get unlimited accounts, unlimited envelopes, and up to five devices, it will cost you $6 per month or $50 for the year.
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