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A budget can help you prepare for expenses, and with prices still high from lingering inflation, it’s especially important to track how much money is coming out of your bank account. Accounting for costs with a budget can help ensure necessary expenses are paid each month, build up savings and ease financial stress.
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 free budgeting app: Mint
With almost five stars on both Apple’s app store and Google Play, Mint is arguably the best-known name in the budgeting app 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.
The free version of Mint comes with all of these tools. Mint Premium, which charges a monthly subscription fee, removes ads and comes with some additional features, such as specialized analysis of your spending.
Cost: Free; $4.99 per month for Mint Premium, which is currently only available to iOS users
Best for tracking spending: PocketGuard
If you find yourself constantly spending 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 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. The bill negotiating service comes with no extra charge unless a bill is successfully lowered, in which case the app takes a 40 percent cut of the savings.
If you pay for PocketGuard Plus, you get some additional features, including a debt payoff plan. The debt payoff plan allows you to link accounts, such as credit card and loan accounts, and it then uses machine-learning algorithms to calculate a personalized debt repayment strategy.
Cost: Free for basic plan; Premium is $7.99 a month, $34.99 annually or $79.99 for a lifetime subscription
Best for user-friendliness: You Need a Budget (YNAB)
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 going 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. It’s also possible to make shared budgets, where users can split bills and subscriptions with a partner, roommate or family member.
After the free trial, YNAB costs $14.99 a month. While there’s no free version of the service, it notes that users never have to worry about YNAB selling their data — the product is entirely paid for by users, with their data kept private.
Cost: Free for 34 days, then $14.99 a month or $99 annually
Best for organizing funds: EveryDollar
EveryDollar brings some old-fashioned budgeting techniques and integrates them with more up-to-date technology. It organizes 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.
The free version of EveryDollar includes customizable budget and savings fund features. By paying for Premium, users can connect their bank accounts, utilize automated recommendations and receive group financial coaching.
Cost: Free for basic plan; Premium is $12.99 a month or $79.99 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.
With the basic plan, users get 20 total virtual envelopes and can sync up to two devices. Paying for Goodbudget Plus gets you unlimited envelopes and up to five synced devices.
Cost: Free for basic plan; Plus is $8 a month or $70 annually
Best for worldwide access: Wally
If you’ve got financial accounts in different countries, making a budget and tracking expenses coming from abroad in foreign currencies becomes all the more complicated. Luckily, Wally is an app that comes with global capabilities: It’s compatible with accounts in 70 different countries.
Wally lets users connect an unlimited number of bank accounts in any currency, and then it automatically tracks money coming in and out of the accounts using artificial intelligence (AI) technology. It can predict when upcoming bills are due and notify users beforehand. And although much of the app is automated, users still have the ability to set up custom rules and manually adjust categories as needed.
With its integration of AI, Wally comes with its own AI chat service for financial assistance called WallyGPT. Built into the Wally app, WallyGPT offers insights and guidance for any questions users might have about specific financial terms, investment strategies and how to meet financial goals. For example, you could ask the service “How much should I save for a two-week vacation in Japan?” and it would offer you a breakdown of average prices and how much to save per month, incorporating your personal savings and income.
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 making progress toward savings goals, review your budget weekly, examine the spending data provided by the app and identify areas where money can be saved. Those savings can go toward paying down debt, rebuilding your emergency fund or investments.
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.