A budget can help you prepare for expenses, and with inflation driving up the cost of everyday spending, it’s especially important to track how much money is coming out of your bank account. In the aftermath of the pandemic, consumer prices have surged by the fastest rate since 1982 — that means more costs to account for in a budget.
One tool that can help to track these expenses is likely just within reach: your mobile device. There are numerous budgeting apps available that come with enhanced features for tracking spending and boosting savings. See which features each app has to offer.
Best overall: You Need a Budget
One of the foundational rules of You Need a Budget is that you have to assign a job to every dollar you earn. So, rather than hoping to live with some percentage-based rules — 10 percent of your income goes toward groceries, for example — you have to assign a plan for the money that comes in each month.
YNAB provides a centralized layout of users’ income and spending. In other words, account balances, loan debts and monthly bills are all displayed on a single page, where they can easily be tracked. Users can plan further ahead, too, and factor non-monthly bills into their budgets.
With a YNAB subscription, users will also have access to free money management courses from financial experts.
Cost: Free for 34 days, then $14.99 a month or $98.99 annually
Best free budgeting app: Mint
With more than 700,000 reviews that add up to an almost perfect five-star rating in Apple’s App Store (along with nearly 200,000 equally high scores on Google’s Play Store), Mint is arguably the best-known name in the smartphone budgeting game.
Mint helps you track expenses, monitor your credit score and program reminders to make on-time bill payments. It also points out small fees that can add up, too, such as increases in monthly subscription costs or unnecessary ATM fees. When you’re ready to move on from the basics of monitoring your expenses, the free tool offers helpful investment and portfolio tracking.
One unique budgeting feature from Mint is the ability for users to set specific savings goals, such as saving for a vacation, and tailor their budget towards meeting those goals. If there are unused funds from a previous month’s budget, Mint will carry those over into the next month, too.
Best for tracking spending: PocketGuard
If you constantly spend too much, an app that helps you easily understand how much money can be spent without having to build up credit-card debt is key. PocketGuard’s In My Pocket feature is designed to do just that by keeping a tab on how much spending money you have available after accounting for bills and other monthly necessities.
The app’s Insights tool breaks down where a user’s monthly income is spent into customizable categories, highlighting different spending habits. The tool has a top merchants section that adds up all the money spent at a specific retailer each month. Insight into spending habits, can motivate users to cut overspending in certain categories and stick to their budgets.
PocketGuard also comes with a unique bill-tracking feature. Not only does it automatically identify monthly bills and organize them into categories, but it also helps users negotiate for better deals on certain bills.
Cost: Free for basic plan; Premium is $7.99 a month or $34.99 annually
Best for organizing funds: EveryDollar
EveryDollar brings some old-fashioned budgeting techniques and integrates them with more up-to-date technology. One way it does this is by organizing expenses into a classic spreadsheet, with each transaction amount and date listed, which can then be exported as a CSV file. By linking a user’s bank account, EveryDollar eases up some of the manual work of filling out a spreadsheet and automatically imports transactions from bank data.
Like many of the top budgeting apps, EveryDollar allows users to make custom spending categories and group similar expenses together.
Another helpful feature of EveryDollar is its calendar. Users are able to set due dates for the different line items of their budget and get a notification when a certain bill is due, so they can avoid missing payments.
Cost: Free for basic plan; Premium is $19.99 a month or $129.99 annually
Best for couples: Goodbudget
Goodbudget isn’t specifically designed for couples, but this app can prove to be a very valuable money management tool for anyone who says “I love you” but also wants to say “I love the way you handle your cash.” The app allows multiple users in a household, such as you and a partner, to sync budgets.
Goodbudget is based on the envelope budgeting method — an old-school approach to dividing cash into different envelopes for different expense categories — but it’s all digital. For each spending category, money can only be taken from the designated envelope, assigned in the app. With synced accounts, users can see money deducted from an envelope when their partner spends from it. A dedicated savings envelope can also help couples save for future goals, like buying a house.
The app is also a good tool for those carrying a lot of debt. It comes with a debt account where users can track their payoff progress and calculate how long it will take to be debt-free.
Cost: Free for basic plan; Premium is $8 a month or $70 annually
You downloaded a budgeting app. Now what?
Budgeting apps allow users to divide spending into categories, but the creation of those categories falls on you. A good starting place is to make several categories for your largest monthly expenses, but avoid overwhelming yourself by creating too many subcategories.
To consistently work toward cutting spending and building up savings, review your budget weekly, examine the spending data provided by the app and identify areas where money can be saved.
Though it’s up to you to make good financial decisions, budgeting apps help to make those decisions easier.
–Freelance writer David McMillin contributed to a previous version of this article.