While there seems to be a new budgeting app available every time you open the app store, some have emerged as leaders in their field. And as a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER professional who’s downloaded and reviewed pretty much every budgeting app that exists, I can tell you that the ones that constantly pop up in conversation — You Need a Budget (YNAB), Mint, and Personal Capital — each have a distinct purpose. Here’s why they may be worth adding to your devices.
Budgeting app cheatsheet
Before we dive into all the details about each budgeting app, here’s a quick cheat sheet:
- You Need a Budget (YNAB) is geared toward those who may want to get a firmer handle on their budget and where their money is going. Optimized to be user-friendly for couples budgeting together, YNAB is a great tool to consider if you’re merging finances, working toward a financial goal, or simply want a deep dive into your financial habits and financial goals for the future.
- Mint is geared toward people who want an at-a-glance view of their bank and credit card accounts, with an interface that allows the user to track spending and credit score, and customize alerts, for a one-stop shop for daily financial moves.
- Personal Capital is geared toward those who want an all-in-one solution for budgeting, monitoring, and financial tracking. With capabilities to track net worth as well as the option to include investments, this app is also ideal for those whose finances may be too complex to fit in the rubric of other high-level apps.
Here, learn what these three apps offer, so you can choose the budgeting app that will best fit your lifestyle.
Sophisticated budgeting for couples
You Need a Budget (YNAB) overview
Need to Know: You need a budget (YNAB) was created in 2003 by CEO Jesse Mecham because he needed to find a simple system for both him and his wife to use when budgeting and tracking saving toward specific financial goals. The platform he built was founded on four key rules of budgeting:
- Decide what you want to do with your money before you spend it
- Break up less-frequent bills like car insurance and real estate taxes into manageable monthly bills
- Change your budget easily so you can adapt to any unexpected expenses
- Spend money that is 30 days old
YNAB’s approach to money management is that every dollar should have a job. Therefore, any money you earn is going somewhere—toward the mortgage, childcare, savings, a vacation, property taxes, and so on. This robust web-based software and mobile app lets you dive deep into your income and expense planning each month. It’s a favorite for couples looking to get on the same page about budgeting and specific goal savings.
YNAB also has top-notch support and free live online workshops each day to help you become a budgeting pro in no time at all.
Price: It’s free for the first 34 days and then $83.99 a year after that
5 features to know about:
- Set multiple savings goals that you can track and work toward at the same time
- Access to your budget on the go and full transparency into spending
- Manage your finances on your computer or on the go and stay up-to-date on goals
- Free, live, online workshops available to members
- A robust community of YNAB users on social media — Facebook groups like YNAB fans (unaffiliated with the official app) have tens of thousands of members, providing a place to ask questions, seek support, and find savings hacks.
YNAB in action:
One of the best features of YNAB is the ability to track every single penny going in and out of your accounts so you can begin to see trends in your spending habits. When you can spot trends, you can begin to make changes to your spending in order to work toward your goals.
The app will continuously sync, so you’ll see changes in real time on your desktop or your partner’s device if you’re sharing an account. It’s been a game changer app for many of my clients that are couples, helping them stay in the loop of what’s going on with their money and track who’s spending what.
Speaking of all your amazing goals, YNAB is a pro at helping you set and achieve them.
High-level understanding of your financial situation and where you can improve
Need to know: When you think of a budgeting app, it’s likely the name Mint comes to mind. Mint is undoubtedly the OG of budgeting apps with more than 20 million users, according to the site. Mint was built to be an all-in-one app to monitor and manage your finances including, budgeting, tracking, and even credit score, which makes it a great fit for those just dipping their toes into financial management. Let’s face it – not everyone wants to be deep in the weeds of daily budgeting and tracking.
Mint offers some good perks that the other apps don’t which, depending on what you’re looking for, might make you lean in Mint’s direction. Mint is owned by Intuit – the company behind TurboTax.
5 features to know about:
- It’s free which is already a good start if you’re just starting to get smarter about budgeting
- Try out financial decisions — like a large purchase or saving more — to see how they would impact the rest of your budget. This is a zero commitment way to move money around, which can help you decide whether it’s a good idea.
- Track your bills in one place and get text message alerts before payments are due
- Stay on top of your credit score for free, and get suggestions for how you can improve it
- Receive alerts for unusual account changes
Mint in action:
Becoming a budgeting ninja is not only about having an incredible grasp on what’s coming in and what’s going out each month. You’ve also got to keep on top of all the tasks you need to complete each month to keep all that cash coming in and going out, like paying your bills. We’ve all forgotten to pay a bill or two in our time (even me), but Mint’s app makes it very easy to stay on top of these important tasks with text and in-app reminders.
Paying your bills on time is super important. In fact, it’s the most important factor in your credit score, which you can track on Mint. Mint offers useful information and tips for boosting your score in easy to follow steps that even a beginner can feel empowered by.
Track your budget, net worth, and investments
Personal Capital overview
Need to know: Personal Capital is a company that builds a better money management system for their customers. The primary focus of Personal Capital’s platform is wealth management. For a fee, they manage your investments. But, Personal Capital also offers a feature-rich free Personal Finance app to build your budget. If you’re just looking to build your budget, the Personal Finance app might be a good fit for you.
Price: The budgeting software is free. The wealth management software charges fees starting at 0.89% for investment accounts under $1,000,000.
5 features to know about:
- Features beyond day-to-day financial management, such as net worth calculation, portfolio tracking and identifying hidden fees you pay
- Spending is broken down by categories so you can gain more useful and specific insight
- Easily set monthly spending targets and track your progress minute by minute
- Determine whether you’re on track for retirement
- Option to receive financial planning and investment advice (for a fee)
Personal Capital in action:
As if creating a budget and keeping on track each month isn’t hard enough, managing your investments and discovering hidden fees are usually areas where we all tend to lag. Personal Capital’s software helps you bring all the fees you’re paying for your investments (401(k), IRA, ROTH, etc.) to light. This feature is valuable because higher fees can diminish your account’s overall performance.
The Investment Checkup feature provides you with an instant visual on the current status of your financial strategies. You’ll be able to figure out if you’re on track with your retirement savings, and Personal Capital takes it one step further by helping you figure out changes you need to make based on your income and spending habits. You can do a bunch of other cool things as well like figure out your risk tolerance and how that might impact your investment strategy.
Choosing the right budgeting app for you
Of course, the best budgeting app is the one that you will actually use, so consider the pros, cons, price, and even the user interface before you make a decision about which one to download. There is no wrong decision, and regularly using any app can help you become more familiar with your own financial behaviors.
My one piece of advice in using any of these apps: Stick with it, even if the app doesn’t seem useful at your first (or fifth) log in. When it comes to budgeting, consistency is the key to forming a habit, and that means you should stick with an app for at least a month. Try all the budgeting apps to figure out which one feels like a fit for your needs. And if you like the features from multiple apps, feel free to mix and match. After all, you’re the CEO of your finances, and one of these or all of them could help you navigate to your financial goals.
Shannah Compton Game is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® 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, an online life insurance agency that sells term life insurance, 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.