Why use a pencil and paper when an app can do the math (and so much more) for you? Here are some of our favorite resources to help with your budgeting.
September 9, 2020 — 5 min read
Let’s do a quick experiment. Without checking your phone or your bank account, could you tell us the exact amount of money you spent last week?
If you don’t know, don’t worry. You’re not alone. In the United States alone, only one in three people claim to track their expenses. And among those who do keep a budget, the majority say that they just keep track of what they spend in their head.
In discussions of budgeting and saving money, often the first piece of advice is to track your expenses so you can see where your money’s going and where you might have room to cut back on spending. But that’s easier said than done.
You could easily rattle off regular payments (like rent, your Netflix subscription, your bills, and your gym membership), and you probably (such as an online clothing order or that Peloton you’ve been eyeing), but what about the small stuff? Do you remember how much you spent when you ordered takeout? What about when you went to the gas station? Or that movie you rented on Amazon Prime?
Even if you think you have a good idea of how much you’re spending, it’s easy to forget about those small, off-the-cuff purchases (that can easily add up), or subscriptions that you’ve forgotten about. That’s why financial experts recommend keeping a written record of all of your expenses. You could do this in a spreadsheet or with a good old pencil and paper, but who needs to do that in the year 2020?
Fortunately for you, there are a number of apps you can use to track your spending, create a budget, and much more. Even more fortunately for you, we’ve compiled some of our recommendations here.
If you’ve done any digging on the top apps for tracking expenses and building a budget, you’ve likely heard of Mint. One of the most popular personal finance apps today, Mint is a free app that can sync multiple accounts across multiple banks and institutions, and will automatically update and categorize your transactions (though you can manually create additional categories if you wish).
Other free features include bill payment reminders, low balance alerts, and access to your credit score.
Why use Mint?: If you’re looking for a free, easy-to-use, and well-rounded expense tracker.
You Need A Budget? Then you might be interested in using YNAB. This app is based on the zero-based budgeting system, which requires that you have a plan to allocate all of your monthly income—whether it’s to expenses, savings, or investments. The goal is to have a plan for every dollar you earn, so you won’t allow yourself to get overrun by spur-of-the-moment spending. You can link to multiple bank accounts, set goals, and customize your spending categories to create a budget based on what you’re currently earning.
However, one thing to keep in mind is that YNAB is not free. The app comes with a 34-day free trial, after which you will be charged $84 a year or $11.99 a month. Students, however, can get an additional 12 months free with proof of enrollment.
Though YNAB does come with a price tag, it does offer quite a few additional features such as educational workshops, support services, a resource library, user guides, and budgeting advice.
Why use YNAB?: If you’re committed to long-term financial planning and creating your budget, and are willing to spend a little money to do so.
Have you ever used the envelope system, in which you physically separate cash for different expenses by placing them in different envelopes? Good news: there’s an app for that. Goodbudget allows you to set a budget aside for each spending category. Once your “envelope” is empty, it’s time to stop spending.
The free version of the app allows you 10 envelopes that can be accessed on two devices. If you’re looking for more, the Plus version, for $7 per month or $60 annually, will give you unlimited envelopes, longer history, and the ability to sync to up to 5 devices.
One point to note is that Goodbudget does not offer the capability to link your accounts; you will need to enter your balances and expenses manually. If you are looking for a syncing feature, you might be interested in Mvelopes, another expense-tracking app that uses the envelope system and does offer account linking. However, if you don’t need to sync your accounts or are worried about the potential for security breaches with linked accounts, you’ll likely be fine sticking with Goodbudget.
Why use Goodbudget?: If you prefer the envelope method and want to allocate money toward categories.
Are you looking for something a little deeper than just adding up your transactions? Then you might be interested in Clarity Money. This free app allows you to link accounts from a variety of institutions in order to comprehensively track and categorize your expenses. You can also easily monitor and cancel your active subscriptions, track your credit score, and automatically deposit to your savings. Each month, the app will track your spending and compare it to your expected monthly income, and provide a visually appealing analysis of the month’s activity.
Why use Clarity Money?: If you’re looking for an easy-to-use, well-rounded expense tracker that covers all of your bases.
Are investments a part of your financial plans? Then this is the app for you. While this app can track and categorize your expenses like the others, where it really excels is its charts and visualizations that analyze your cash flow, as well as its features to help you with retirement planning and other long-term investments. The base personal finance app is free, but the premium wealth management option can offer comprehensive wealth management guidance from digital and live sources.
Why use Personal Capital?: If you’re good with your monthly budget but want some help with your investments and long-term financial planning.