Have you noticed that more money is leaving your bank account than normal? Welcome to the club. According to Bankrate research, nearly 90 percent of U.S. adults have been paying higher prices for groceries, gas, restaurants, clothes and more in 2021. All of that extra spending puts the need for a budget in the spotlight: As prices increase, you’re stuck figuring out how to better manage your money.
Top budgeting apps
Best overall: You Need a Budget
You Need a Budget is built on the reality that you – yes, you – need a budget. More importantly, though, it underscores the fact that budgeting requires work. One of the foundational rules of YNAB 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 on gas, for example – you have to be intentional about what you will plan to do with all the money that comes in each month.
While you’ll need to budget for You Need a Budget ($11.99 monthly or $84 per year), that investment can pay off in a big way: The company says that new budgeters save an average of $6,000 in their first year. Take advantage of the free 34-day trial to figure out if what we think is the best budgeting app turns out to be the best budgeting app for you.
Best free budgeting app: Mint
If you’re looking for the best budgeting apps, Mint is going to show up in your search. 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 most well-recognized 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 features to avoid overpaying fees to grow your money.
Best for tracking spending: PocketGuard
If you’re constantly spending too much, you’re going to need an app that helps you easily understand how much cash you actually have to avoid the temptation of putting too much on a credit card. PocketGuard’s “In My Pocket” feature is designed to do just that with a running tab of how much you have left to spend and how many days you have to make it last.
Additionally, the app’s Insights tool offers a quick rundown of the places where you’re spending the most money on a regular basis. That offers a convenient route to cutting some of those dollars: By knowing the biggest temptations for your wallet, you can aim to steer clear of some of those online sites and brick-and-mortar stores. And in addition to putting a stop sign in front of overspending, it can help you start setting aside money with an auto-save feature.
Best for investing and building wealth: Personal Capital
If you’re already ahead of the curve on figuring out how to properly track your expenses each month, you need an app that can help you take some of the money left over and grow it. There is a free version of the app, but Personal Capital can also go a step beyond an app. Rather than automating everything, you can become an investment client and connect with an advisor (yes, an actual human being). There are fees – 0.89 percent on your first $1 million and a tiered structure for larger sums – but that money can be well worth it to have someone who can help you understand your risk tolerance and pave the way toward a successful retirement. Additionally, the company’s Fee Analyzer tool can help spot unnecessarily high expenses you may be paying on your 401(k) or other mutual fund investments.
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.” It’s built on the foundation of envelope budgeting – an old-school approach to dividing all your dollars into different envelopes to cover bills and savings – but with a digital approach.
The Plus version, which costs $7 per month, allows you and your partner to sync your budget across five devices. So, if you spend $55 on dinner tonight, you’ll see that removed from an envelope on your iPhone while your partner sees that same transaction on his or her device. It can also prove to be a motivator for creating a saving plan, too. With a dedicated envelope for a vacation, a down payment on a house and other financial goals, this can serve as a powerful reminder of what saving together can do for your future together.
You downloaded a budgeting app. Now what?
Whether you download one of these tools or opt for another app, you will need to do more than allow it to send you notifications. Focus on setting up your categories in a way that divides your spending but without setting up too many of them. You won’t have much luck trying to organize your financial life if you have to track 25 different subsets of spending. And in addition to looking at the visualization of those categories when you open the app, you need to set aside time to review the individual purchases, too. Make a weekly appointment with yourself to comb through the data and identify opportunities to trim your spending.