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Budgeting can get complicated quickly, especially if you have multiple accounts to keep track of—your credit cards and savings accounts, loans and investments and everything in between. While some people manage to do it in Excel spreadsheets, if you’re anything like me, this approach would give you an anxiety attack.
Luckily, there’s no need for that. You can track your budget in dedicated budgeting apps which will do most of the work for you. You just need to find the right app for your needs.
Ultimately, the best budget app is the one that meets your individual needs, whether you’re looking to pay down debt or save up for a down payment. However, it’s worth learning about these services’ pros and cons before you decide which money management app to install.
Read on to learn about some of the top personal finance apps, how they work and whether you should consider them as potential tools to help you balance your budget.
Mint: Best free budgeting app
Mint is often included in “best personal finance app” lists, and for good reason. Its simple, easy-to-use interface helps people keep track of where their money is going and how much they have left to spend.
Mint, like many money management apps, connects directly to your bank accounts, as well as your credit card accounts, investment accounts and loan accounts. Once your accounts are connected, Mint automatically collects and categorizes new transactions in order to give you a clear picture of your spending.
It also tracks your credit score, and you can even add upcoming bills and get reminders when they come due. That way, you won’t accidentally miss a credit card payment and see your credit score drop.
Mint is an excellent and easy way to track your expenses and compare your monthly budget to your actual spending. You can set up a budget for each of your spending categories and set up multiple saving goals. The app also gives useful updates—for example, it can now track monthly subscriptions.
However, I’d recommend double-checking how Mint categorizes your transactions. I use the app and find it brilliant, but it does mis-categorize things occasionally.
You Need a Budget (YNAB): Best for zero-based budgeting
YNAB is what you might call an “advanced” money management app—but it delivers. According to YNAB, the average new user saves $600 in their first month of using the app and over $6,000 in the first year. To achieve those results, you need to follow the YNAB system, which involves giving every dollar a job, saving for both your immediate and your true expenses and balancing every penny you overspend. Such an approach is also called zero-based budgeting.
When you set up your YNAB account, you create budget categories not only for your day-to-day bills and expenses but also for any expenses you may likely have in the future.
If you think you might need to replace your laptop in the next three years, for example, YNAB wants you to set aside $42 each month for “new laptop.” When the three years are up, you’ll have the $1,500 you need for that new MacBook. YNAB also wants you to set budgeting categories for clothing, gifts, car repairs and other variable or occasional expenses—which YNAB calls your “true expenses”—and start saving for them right now.
Once you have your budget set up, you need to give every dollar a job. Yes, even the dollars in your savings accounts. Like Mint, YNAB lets you automatically connect your bank and brokerage accounts. Unlike Mint, YNAB wants you to assign every dollar to a potential expense, either now or in the future.
The last part of the process involves reconciling your actual spending with your budget. Unlike other money management apps, YNAB forces you to cover overspending in one category with available dollars in another category. In other words: if you spend $5 extra on dining out, you have to decide whether to take that $5 out of your clothing budget, your vacation budget or the budget for that laptop you think you’ll need in three years.
Although YNAB describes itself as “simple,” many new users aren’t fully comfortable with the program until they’ve taken one of YNAB’s many free tutorials. YNAB is also labor-intensive; every transaction needs to be confirmed, cleared and categorized. To me, it’s a bit much, so I stick with Mint. But if you’re ready to fully commit to saving and budgeting, YNAB is an excellent option.
YNAB is also the only tool on this list that isn’t free. A subscription runs at $84 per year or $11.99 per month, so you’ll need to budget for that to cover the cost.
Honeydue: Best for couples
In my opinion, in a healthy committed relationship, transparency and communication are key, including transparency and communication about personal finances.
Honeydue allows couples to gain visibility into each other’s and shared finances. You and your partner can connect all your accounts and categorize transactions as a shared or individual expense. You’ll also see a shared calendar with upcoming bills and get reminders when it’s time to pay.
There’s a chat function you can use to discuss any issues (“Stop signing up for free trials and forgetting about them, we have 21 subscriptions already!”) or simply send emojis (like hearts when they’re buying you gifts to encourage more gifts!). You can also choose to keep certain transactions private—for example when you want that gift to be a surprise.
You can set up monthly limits for each spending category in the app, and the app will notify you when you’re reaching the limit. However, Honeydue doesn’t offer functionality for creating financial goals or tracking investments, so if those are important features for you, you might want to look into other apps.
Credit card tools
You don’t always have to get a third-party app to track your spending—some useful features may be available right in your credit card app.
For example, if you have a Discover credit card, the Discover app comes with Spend Analyzer where you can see your total monthly spend breakdown by category. The Spending Insights feature offers highlights for the current and previous period, such as total spend amount and your top spending category. Additionally, the Monthly Trend tab will show you how your total spending has been fluctuating month-to-month.
Another feature the Discover app offers is Recurring Billing, where you can take a look at your recurring charges to the card in a simple dashboard.
If you bank with Chase, you can get a Snapshot of your spending by category in the Chase Mobile app. If you have a Chase credit card, you’ll also have access to Saved Account Manager, where you can track where your card has been used for online payments and which merchants are storing it.
In Saved Account Manager, you’ll be able to check where your card information has been stored and make changes where necessary. You can also update your card details merchants have recently saved right in the app and easily delete the card information they’re retaining. Finally, the app will notify you if there’s an irregular charge.
Check your credit card app to see which features your issuer offers. You might not be able to create a budget and saving goals, but it’s an easy way to track your card spending.
These aren’t the only budgeting apps out there, of course, but this list is a good way to help you start thinking about what you want out of a money management app. You can even download a few different apps to your phone, test them out and choose the one you like best.
Once you find an app you love, remember to keep checking in with it and using what you learn to improve your finances, whether you want to save for a big trip, see if you can afford to go out to dinner or bring your spending more in line with your values.