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, the ones that constantly pop up in conversation — You Need a Budget (YNAB), Mint, and Personal Capital — each have a distinct purpose and 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 to help you figure out which app might be best for you:
- 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 and bill pay services to serve as 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 he and his wife to use when budgeting and tracking toward specific financial goals. The platform he built was really 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 your 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 only 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, etc. This robust web-based software and mobile app lets you dive deep into your income and expense planning each month and is 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 $6.99 a month after that
5 features to know about:
- The ability to set multiple goals helps you track saving for things like a down payment and that trip to Rome for the best gelato.
- YNAB is optimized so that you and your partner can have access to your budget on the go and full transparency into spending.
- You can manage your finances on your computer or on the go and stay up to date on any goals you’ve created.
- Free, live, online workshops available to members
- A robust community of YNAB fans are easily findable 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 coming 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 with your spending so you can ensure that you hit all those impressive goals you have.
With the app, you also have continuous sync so any changes you make in the app syncs to not only the desktop version but to your partner’s device if you’re sharing an account as well. It’s been a game changer app for many of my clients that are couples allowing them to 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 your goals. For instance, if your goal is to pay off your student loan or nagging credit card debt, YNAB is there for you.
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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, bill pay 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. Additionally, 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
- Mint.com lets you try out financial decisions — like making a large purchase or adding more to savings — 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.
- You can track and pay all your bills in one place and get text message alerts before payments are due
- You can stay on top of your credit score for free, and the app even offers suggestions for how you can improve it
- Sends 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 constant text and in-app reminders.
Paying your bills on time is super important, in fact, it’s the most important factor in boosting your credit score. Just a quick review, credit scores range from 300-850, so if you aren’t sure of what your score is, you can track it in Mint’s app. More importantly, the app helps you figure out how to boost your score in easy to follow steps that even a beginner can feel empowered by.
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Track your budget, net worth, and investments
Personal Capital overview
Need to know: Personal Capital is a company with the goal of building a better money management system for their customers. The primary focus of Personal Capital’s platform is wealth management where they charge a fee to grow your investments. But, Personal Capital also offers a free Personal Finance app to build your budget and track (and a lot of other cool finance features). If you’re just looking to build your budget, their Personal Finance app/software might be a good fit for you, with the bonus that you could eventually enlist Personal Capital to manage your money and help create a financial plan all in one software.
Price: The budgeting software is free while the wealth management software charges fees starting at 0.89% for investment accounts under $1,000,000.
5 features to know about:
- Their budgeting software offers features beyond day-to-day management that the other apps don’t provide, such as calculating your net worth, portfolio tracking and identifying hidden fees you’re getting hit with
- You can get insight into your spending broken down by categories so you can actually figure out how much your spending on Lyft rides each month
- Easily set monthly spending targets and track your progress minute by minute
- Helps you get a grip on your spending and helps determine if you’re on track for retirement
- You’d like the option of 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 we all tend to lag in. Personal Capital’s software helps you bring all the fees you’re paying in your investments (401(k), IRA, ROTH, etc.) to light so you can tell how much they cost. This is a feature that the other apps don’t offer, and it’s a valuable one because paying higher fees can detract from your account’s overall performance.
Their 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 the decision on which one to download. There is no wrong decision, and regularly using any app can help you become familiar with your unique financial behaviors.
My one piece of advice in using any of these apps: Stick with it, even if it may not seem intuitive or useful at first (or fifth!) log in. When it comes to budgeting, consistency is the key to form a habit, and that means sticking with an app for at least a month. My advice is to try all the budgeting apps to figure out which app feels like it’s a fit for your financial goals and needs at this time.And if you like the features from multiple apps, feel free to mix and match between all three. After all, you’re the CEO of your finances, and one of these three (or all three) of these budgeting apps could help you navigate to your financial goals.
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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 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.