Let’s be real — most of us find ourselves in between a love and hate relationship when it comes to budgeting. Sure, we all know that it’s vital to our financial health that we create a budget and stick to it. However, spending endless hours every month tracking where your money is going sounds about as good as tackling your giant list of chores. However, I’m going to urge you to consider taking another stab at budgeting, since it’s a crucial step in being able to achieve your financial goals.
The number one question I get asked as a financial planner is, “how can I manage my budget in the fastest way possible?” The good news is that there are so many budgeting apps that you can download, and in seconds, be on your way to creating a rock-solid budget — painlessly.
The best financial apps are separated into two different categories depending on your goal — those that help you save money and those that help you track your spending and budget better. No more excuses, there’s a financial app just for you.
The best budgeting apps
You Need a Budget
How it works: You Need a Budget (or YNAB) is software that’s software available in both desktop and mobile app versions, that is all about budgeting from start to finish.
YNAB is a robust software that helps you get focused on debt payoff with their mission of empowering the user to give every dollar a job. YNAB centers around the budgeting strategy that every dollar that comes into your bank account should be going somewhere —- paying off debt, savings, toward a specific goal, towards your goals, etc. and not just sitting around in your bank account, under the premise that “unlabeled” money has a way of being easily spent and forgotten.
After all, we all know what happens when money lays around in our bank account (it mysteriously disappears.) YNAB offers goal setting and tracking by allowing you to sync your bank and credit card accounts for accurate and up to date income and expense information. A relatively new feature is the access to loads of progress reports so you can figure out category specific spending — for instance how much you spent on Uber rides this month. The cherry on top for this program is that YNAB offers support via tons of support and free, live online classes and workshops to help you conquer any financial fears and feel in control of your spending, saving, and financial future. to help you become the budgeting ace that you always knew you were meant to be.
Price: It’s free for the first 34 days and then $6.99 a month after that
Who it’s for: You Need a Budget is a robust budgeting and goal tracking software & app which would appeal to someone who wants to dive deep into their finances, much like a financial planner would do, and get focused on paying off debt and saving towards your goals. It’s also an effective tool for couples looking to merge their finances and budget as a team.
Testimonial from a YNAB user: “YNAB’s manual system forces you to pay attention to the consequences of every single purchase. The learning curve is difficult at first, and it does take an hour or two to get everything set up. But the payoff is literal—managing my money tightly with YNAB lets me spend more comfortably by making sure I have what I need for expenses and savings. This is hands-down the best budgeting system available.”— User hellojeffmclean on the iTunes app store
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How it works: Mint is one of the OGs when it comes to budgeting apps, frequently named as a go-to across financial articles and blogs. Mint is an all-inclusive budgeting app that helps you keep track of your income and spending from the palm of your hand. Mint was acquired by Intuit, the same people behind TurboTax, a few years ago and Mint’s focus is on becoming an app that brings together all your financial accounts in one package. Mint offers a few perks that other budgeting apps don’t, including email or SMS alerts when bills are due, bill pay for most bills, a place to check your credit score, and even offers tracking of your investments.
Price: It’s free to use
Who it’s for: Mint is right for someone who wants a free app where you can see your entire financial picture, with a few bells and whistles like bill pay, a place to keep up to date on your most recent credit score and an app where you can easily set up a budget to track your income and expenses each month.
Testimonial from a Mint user: “My husband and I use Mint, it helps us keep an eye on our expenses. We even caught a fraud recently, somebody used my account number and routing information to transfer $998 to a PayPal account I didn’t recognize. Once we saw it in Mint I contacted my bank and they confirmed that it was a fraud transaction and filed a claim.” — Srishti Gupta, Haven Life employee
How it works: Personal Capital feels a lot like having a financial planner in your pocket. They offer two different platforms —- a free personal finance app and a paid wealth management platform to invest your money. The personal finance app is what most people use when they’re looking for a robust budgeting app. From the Personal Capital dashboard, you can view your spending and income as well as track your investments and calculate your net worth. You can also set spending targets to help keep you within budget and visually analyze where your spending is going.
Like Mint, Personal Capital also allows you to stay on track of bill payments. You can view previous payments made and upcoming bills that are due, as well as the minimum payment required and the total balance outstanding.
Price: The personal finance software is free while the wealth management software charges fees starting at 0.89% for investment accounts under $1,000,000.
Who it’s for: Personal Capital is great for someone who is looking for a robust all-in-one financial planning platform. This service is not limited to solely budgeting and spending tracking — it enables you to also track all your investment accounts and your net worth.
Testimonial from a Personal Capital user: “This is an awesome tool that I have recommended to several of my friends. Not only can you monitor your spending, but also your investment fees which is extremely important—especially because fees eat up so much of your gains over time.” — Pamela on Trustpilot
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How it works: Clarity Money is a crossover mobile app using Artificial Intelligence that could fall into helping you save money while also keeping track of your budget, aka how you’re spending your cash. It was recently acquired by Goldman Sachs’ to partner with its online personal loans and high yield account offering, Marcus.
Think of Clarity Money as an expense tracking app that provides a snapshot style display of your finances on three main screens — a dashboard with your full financial snapshot, an accounts screen that lists your linked accounts and a transaction screen where you can track where your cash is going. The app allows you to link your checking and credit accounts so you can categorize all your transactions in a single app. Need to transfer money from one account to the other? You can do it in the app.
Clarity Money shows you visually the cash you have coming in and the cash you have going out, but also helps you see ways you can cancel unwanted subscriptions to save even more money through dynamic visuals. You can also set up customized automatic savings goals, where money is automatically transferred between linked accounts. You can set up multiple savings goals to “see” your savings growing, if you’re trying to save for multiple goals, such as a nest egg and an upcoming vacation.
Who it’s for: Clarity Money distinguishing feature from other apps is that they will cancel or negotiate some of your bills on your behalf. In addition to that, it’s a straightforward, visually-driven app where spending and income can easily be seen at a glance on a dashboard screen.
Testimonial from a Clarity Money user: I really enjoy this app. It tracks my expenses really well and categorized them in a way that is friendly to my usage. The ability to change the category of each expense either one time or for all future transactions is also a very nice feature. It makes organizing my finances easy and intuitive. I see great things as this app gains traction and the dev team can hone its functionality. Here’s my gripe: the app has a severe lag in displaying my account balances. So the app cannot be the only app I use to track my balances and spending-I still have to use my bank’s app in order to see what I truly have in my accounts.—User Ljohnthorsson, reviewing in iTunes app store.
The best money saving apps
How it works: While Acorns isn’t your traditional budgeting app, it is chalked full of features that are attracting new users each month. The concept of Acorns is simple — connect your bank account and start rounding up all your purchases, like your daily $2.51 coffee habit, to the next round number and then automatically invest that cash in Acorns “smart portfolios.”
Additionally, Acorns recently unveiled a new feature, Found Money, which partners with brands you use every day like Apple and Groupon to divert even more money into your Acorns account without you having to lift a finger. For instance, Acorns will invest 1.2% of any Apple purchases you make directly from the Found Money section in the Acorns app back into your Acorns account.
Price: $1.00 per month and 0.25% annual fee for accounts with balances more than $5,000.
Who it’s for: Acorns is excellent for someone who wants to tackle both saving money and investing in the same mobile app and likes the idea of saving money without needing to really think about it. However, if you primarily use credit cards for purchases, this app may not be the right fit for you as you won’t see as substantial of results.
Testimonial from an Acorns user: I’ve had this app on my phone for about 2 and a half years, and right now, my account has “grown” to about $1500, with nearly $150 in earnings. I love the graph-like feature and a way to “see” the way the market works. I have other investment accounts for specific financial goals like retirement, but I consider this one a fun rainy day fund. — Anna Davies, Haven Life contributor
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How Digit works: Connected to your checking account, Digit analyzes your income and spending habits, “finding” money it can automatically transfer to a Digit savings account. The app has a no-overdraft guarantee, and the money in your Digit account is available for withdrawal. The idea is that you won’t miss the money that you can’t see, and that automating savings makes it easier to set aside money for a big-ticket purchase or goal than it would be to do so manually. Since it analyzes your income, this app can also be useful to freelancers and those who have several income streams; as manually automating savings transfers can be tricky if your income fluctuates from week to week.
The app may work best for people who regularly use their debit card; if you frequently use your credit card for purchases, you may find the app has “saved” too much money over the month, causing you to dip into your Digit savings to pay off bills and not giving you an adequate picture of your saving and spending behaviors. In general, Digit will go into your account every two or three days, moving some money — between $5 and $50, depending on how much is in your account — into your savings.
Price: $2.99 per month after a 10-day free trial. As a fee, Digit takes the interest gained from money saved in the Digit savings account.
Who it’s for: This app is great for people who regularly use their debit card or checking account for everyday purposes, who may have fluctuating income that makes consistent savings difficult.
Testimonial from a Digit user: “As a freelancer with multiple contracts and invoices, it’s been hard for me to develop a solid savings strategy, and my automated savings is set at a standard amount I set based on the lowest amount of money I bring home a month. I like that Digit can “find” additional ways for me to save, but I still like manually transferring money to savings. And while you can pause Digit, I forgot to do so once on a 1-week vacation to Europe, where I was exclusively using my credit card. As a result, the app thought I had a lot more money to save than I did, and I ended up having to transfer money from savings back to checking to cover my bills, which wasn’t hard, but was just a hiccup.” — Anna Davies, Haven Life contributor
How it works: Qapital is an innovative savings app that uses the popular IFTTT (if this, then that) formula to create goal-based saving rules that you can completely customize. You can create automatic savings rule to transfer a specific amount to savings every Saturday or on payday. You can set “guilty pleasure”rules to transfer money to savings every time you’re out having happy hour drinks with your friends. Don’t like those rules? Customize your own based on whatever your unique savings goals may be. The unique feature of Qapital is it combines your goal based savings rules with their completely free checking and savings accounts that are FDIC-insured. You can always take savings out of your goal account by transferring money back to your Qapital checking account or withdrawing your cash with their Qapital Visa Debit Card.
Price: It’s free to use, which includes the Qapital specific checking and savings account.
Who it’s for: Qapital is a fit for someone who is serious about setting different savings goals, who is on board with the idea of opening a separate savings and checking account connected to the app.
Testimonial from a Qapital user: The first week I signed up I had my water heater go bad on me and I needed to replace it. I added the Lowe’s account as one of my guilty pleasures and then I started to save. I started to save by rounding up and also by charging myself $2 extra everytime I made a purchase. Needless to say I had to make a total of 3 trips to Lowe’s land a minimum of $6 I saved. That is not including the roundup part. I use my debit card on just about everything, I very rarely carry cash. So every time I make a purchase I save a little. Yes it does come out of your bank account, the app isn’t giving you the roundup money, so make sure you keep a little more in the account to compensate for a little more being deducted when you make a purchase. — User itizmemikenyc on the iTunes app store
How it works: Using algorithms, Albert automatically analyzes your income and expense patterns to figure out the optimum amount of money to automatically set aside in their savings account that pays 1% annually. Not to worry, Albert knows that you’re going to need cash to pay your future rent payment, so the app only sets aside small amounts of money every day. Albert connects to all your accounts as well so they can build you a budget based on your income and spending without you having to be a budgeting whiz. Albert also offers a feature called Genius which is a text-based, add-on financial planning tool. Got a question about the best student loan repayment option? Text the question to Albert Genius and a real, live financial planner will text you back with answers.
Price: The budgeting and saving app is free to use. If you want to use the Genius feature it requires a small monthly fee
Who it’s for: Albert is a match for someone who may want some guidance in building a budget and also needs some motivation in order to save. Albert is also a good option for people who may find frequent financial questions popping up, and will like the ease of having personalized answers coming from a financial planner over text.
Testimonial from an Albert user: “This app has been super helpful over the last couple of months. I had no idea how to start saving for my move from DC to LA and the Albert Geniuses helped me set up a savings goal for both my moving expenses and rent. They laid out how much I should aim to save and where I should focus on reducing spending in order to hit my goals in time. Categorizing my spending has truly been eye-opening. I had no idea I spent so much money on coffee.
What I love about the service is how easy it was to talk to them – I got to text them on my own time. They also helped me find a rewards credit card to use for my moving expenses and have been very reassuring about my financial goals. I’ve already recommended the app to my friends and can’t wait to see how they help me save over the next months!” — User Cheddar4, reviewing in Apple app store.
Choosing the best app for your goals
While there are a lot of budgeting and personal finance apps on the market, the best one is one you’ll actually use. An app can help you organize your finances, be mindful of a budget, or give you ideas or avenues on ways you can spend, save, or invest, but ultimately, it’s a tool that’s only as good as you make it. So download one and give it a try — we promise, Candy Crush won’t feel jealous.
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Shannah Compton Game is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM professional with an MBA and is the host of the award-winning podcast, Millennial Money, where she shares totally relatable and easy to understand financial advice that will actually make you want to talk about money.
Haven Life doesn’t provide tax, legal or investment advice. This discussion is intended as general education only. We encourage you to work with your own personal tax or legal professionals and your financial advisor. Opinions expressed by the author are their own, and do not necessarily represent the views of Haven Life.