5 Budget Apps to Help You Track Spending and More

Highlights

  • There are a large number of budgeting apps available, each with strengths and weaknesses.
  • Some budgeting apps are free, and others cost money.
  • Find a particular app that appeals to you for any reason and try it.
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Find a Budget App That Works for You

Isn’t it nice when you find a new way to do something that takes less time? In addition to the benefit of saving time, completing a task more easily increases the chances you will do the task at all.

When is the last time, for instance, that you washed all your clothes by hand? The washing machine is not new technology, but it wasn’t that long ago that all clothes were washed by hand. The ease and convenience of a washing machine is an obvious improvement compared to the hard, time-consuming work of hand-washing. It wasn’t hard to convince anyone who could afford a washing machine to work less hard and save time by using one.

Your clothes are dirty, they need washing, You wash them and problem solved. The results are apparent. With your clothes, even if you aren’t a neat-freak, sooner or later you are going to wash your clothes. Your mom is not going to do your laundry all your life. Action is required; you can’t do nothing and get results.

Taking care of your finances isn’t so clear cut. You know that you can make smart money choices or dumb ones. It may not be wise to stumble along and not pay attention to your spending habits, but it is easy to fall into that pattern. You pay for your basic needs: housing, transportation, food. You pay your bills on time, but maybe are not paying off all your credit card purchases in full each month. You may have a pretty good idea of where your money is going. But do you know?

Creating a budget is how you can keep track of your current situation and a key to understanding what you can realistically achieve in the short and long-term

 

Mint

Mint is the granddaddy of budgeting apps and the most popular with over 20 million users. Mint is simple to use and is free. It is well designed for use on a tablet, desktop or mobile device,

Mint allows you to see your cash flow, budget, and bills in one place. You can receive alerts about bills coming due so you don't miss a payment and use the Mint platform to pay your bills.

Mint also allows you to set alerts for account balances falling below or rising above any amount you choose, spending that exceeds the amount you budgeted to spend, and when you are hit with a fee. Mint can alert you if activity on your account appears unusual, to guard against unauthorized use of your accounts. Create budgets, track investments, discover new ways to save, and more.

Mint presents itself as an “all in one” application. It doesn’t only look at your cash flow, but you can monitor investment accounts, too, and receive a free credit score.

Mint gives you access to tools that make examining your spending habits easy by automatically categorizing your expenditures.

Mint is a tool that takes the hard work out of keeping track of your finances, assembling them for your review and providing a variety of tools to look at choices you have and what their impact would be.

Score Your Financial Health

Tracking your spending is one important part of good financial health. Take the Bills.com Financial Health Survey and see how you score in 4 key areas.

PocketGuard

PocketGuard is an application where you can see all your finances in one place, after you take simple steps to link your credit cards, checking and savings accounts, investments, and loans.

PocketGuard is a free application. There is also PocketGuard Plus, which offers additional services for a monthly fee of $3.99, or annual subscription fee, currently $34.99.

Once you link your accounts, PocketGuard tracks your purchases in real time, categorizing them automatically so you can get a clear understanding of your spending habits.

You can use PocketGuard to set budget limits on categories and will receive messages that tell you when your spending is on track to exceed your limits. You will also receive encouraging messages when you are on track.

Because budgeting is not about avoiding discretionary expenses, but making smart choices, PocketGuard has a way for you to monitor what you can afford to spend, after you have set aside money for paying your bills and depositing money into savings.

PocketGuard also helps you build a budget easily.

PocketGuard can offer you ways to save you money, by suggesting how you can reduce common bills (cable, cellphone, internet, for example), locating a savings account that offers better interest, finding a better personal loan, and more. PocketGuard gets paid for referring you to a new service, if you sign up, which is less important than if it helped you save money. Using PocketGuard will result in receiving marketing emails and ads.            

PocketGuard currently is available on mobile only.

You Need a Budget (YNAB)

You Need a Budget (YNAB) boldly urges you to “Take Total Control of Your Money.” YNAB wants to help you get off the treadmill of living paycheck to paycheck, get out of debt, and start building savings.

YNAB aims to help you be thoughtful in your spending, focusing on the money you have on hand today. YNAB wants you to be intentional, taking time to ask yourself what is the best use of your money.

YNAB asks you to account for the big expenses that are not monthly, but to think about when they will come due and what they cost, so you can set a goal to build the savings to pay them. YNAB believes that setting the goal will encourage you succeeding in realizing it.

Budgeting on YNAB is an ongoing, organic experience. They call it “rolling with the punches” when you realize that you didn’t allocate your money properly. If you learn from this and adjust your budget, you will fine-tune it. YNAB says that you should use funds from an area in which you allocated more money than you need (though it is not clear why there would necessarily be a surplus of funds in areas). The point they are making is that making a budget requires flexibility and that taking a wrong step is not the end of the world.

YNAB recognizes how stressful it is living paycheck to paycheck and presents their application as a way to escape that. The goal is to “age your money” so that you are living on last month’s paycheck. YNAB wants you to take incremental steps to avoid living on the financial edge where an unexpected expense or getting sick long enough to lose work hours won’t send you over the financial cliff. There is a tracker to show you the age of your money that indicates how old the money is that you are using to pay your bills. The older it is, the better. If you have a 30 showing, then you are hitting a milestone of spending last month’s money.

YNAB is not free, though they offer a free 34-day trial period. Annual cost is $83.99 and includes seven days a week personal support, as well as all the tools to create a budget, track spending, pay down debt, and set goals. YNAB doesn’t track investments or offer bill tracking or bill pay services.

YNAB claims that “On average, new budgeters save $600 by month two and more than $6,000 the first year!” They offer a No-Risk, 100% Money-Back Guarantee.

You can access YNAB on mobile devices and your desktop computer through their web application.

Mvelopes

Mvelopes takes an old-fashioned budgeting method and brings it into the digital era. Using some different envelopes to budget for different categories of expenses was a common way for your parents and grandparents to budget. The envelope system didn’t require financial sophistication or being a math whiz. It was a simple way to put money aside to make sure that you pay the bills. The image of using actual envelopes to cover monthly expenses gives the picture of someone facing tough choices.

Mvelopes aims its services at people who are financially stressed. Their primary message is to increase financial peace of mind by giving every dollar a purpose, getting out of debt, and reducing stress.

They focus on a series of questions that are exclusively aimed at people on the edge. For example,they ask: “Are your finances spiraling out of control?” “Are you worried about the future?” “Does talking about money always end in a fight?” “Are unexpected expenses always a crisis?” That is a pretty consistent message, and the main focus on consumers in great stress is different than the other budget apps.

Interestingly, there are no free versions, but there are three plans at different costs. Mvelopes Basic starts at $4 a month. It allows you to link your bank accounts, and create an online budget quickly.

Mvelopes Plus starts at $19/month and adds to the Basic features the use of the Mvelopes app and access to their Learning Center and Debt Center. You also get a quarterly checkp0up from a “coach” about a workable long-term plan.

The highest level of service is Mvelopes Complete, starting at $59 a month. Mvelopes will give a “complete guided experience.” You will receive a monthly call from a Personal Financial Coach who will help develop and follow a plan that is crafted based on your circumstances.

Whether someone on the edge can afford $60 for advice is a key question. All three levels of service offer a free 30-day trial.

Every Dollar

Dave Ramsey is a force in the world of financial advice. His advice has helped a vast number of people get out of debt and improve their financial security. His fans are extremely loyal. Lots to admire, for sure, and now Dave Ramsey has developed Every Dollar, a budgeting app that comes in a free version and a premium version that costs money. Every Dollar aims to pay off debt, build wealth, and “start living.”

Every Dollar claims that you can create a budget in 10 minutes, using your phone or desktop computer. Every change you make updates across devices. With Every Dollar, you can also manage your money and track your spending easily.

The app has a clean visual presentations that allow you to view your budget plan, how much you have spent, and what remains.

Every Dollar dovetails with the Dave Ramsey’s “Baby Steps” advice of building a small emergency fund, paying off all your non-mortgage debt from the smallest debt on up to the largest, expanding your emergency fund, setting aside 15% for retirement, saving for your children’s education (if you have them), pay off your home so you have no mortgage in retirement, and build wealth with a focus on giving charitably as a component.

The free version of Every Dollar allows you to create an unlimited budget, track your transactions against your budget, and to receive email support. The premium version adds in the ability to connect your bank for faster expense tracking, use the Every Dollar app to view your account balances and to receive coaching calls and calls from support staff. You receive a free trial to Every Dollar Plus when you use Every Dollar. Yearly cost is $99, but there are ways to bundle that service with some of the enormous number of products Dave offers, so there are ways to get the costs down if you have a use for items you purchase.

Given the devotion of Dave’s followers, Every Dollar should be a tool that meets their approval.

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