Writing out a budget on a sticky note isn’t enough. If you want to effortlessly reign in your spending, then a simple budgeting or money tracking app is your best bet. These apps help you build budgets based on your income, they automatically categorize all of your purchases, and they’re often loaded with fancy tools to save money or pay down debt.
What to Look for in a Budgeting App
Budgeting apps tend to work around a key set of features or philosophies. While one budgeting app may simply present you with spending data, another may help you automate a savings account or passively invest for the future.
In other words, it’s important to get an idea of what features will work for you before you download and set up a budgeting app. Do you need a robust budgeting app that gives you an overwhelming view of your finances, or do you need a simple budgeting app that helps you set aside money for a vacation?
Let’s review some common budgeting app features now:
- Ease of Use: If you’ve budgeted before, then it may be smart to stick with an easy-to-use app. Mint, QAPITAL, and Simple are all good options for anyone who’s just starting to learn about their finances.
- Automated Tracking: All of the apps in this list have automated tracking and categorization features. In other words, they look at your purchases and automatically flag them as “groceries” or “entertainment.” These categories can be customized or turned off if you prefer to sort things manually.
- Bill Paying Features: Most budgeting apps have built-in bill reminders, but some, like QAPITAL, allow you to pay bills in-app.
- Goal-Oriented Saving: Budgeting and saving go hand in hand, but if you’re most interested in setting aside money toward financial goals (paying off loans, saving for a vacation), then an app with goal-oriented saving and budgeting features might be your best bet. Digit and PocketGuard are two standout options.
- Banking Features: Some finance apps, like Simple, are built around actual banks. These banks have their own debit cards, so they’re a good option for anyone who wants to budget or save through their dedicated banking app. Each banking app on this list is insured by the FDIC.
Now that you have an idea of what you’re looking at, let’s move on the apps!
Effortless Budgeting: Mint
Mint is a free budgeting app that’s easy to tailor toward your budgeting needs. The app, which is owned by Intuit (the TurboTax company), automatically categorizes your purchases into spending categories (fuel, groceries, etc) and provides a suite of graphs and other visual tools that make budgeting as easy as possible. It can also remind you to pay your bills and show you your credit score.
All in all, Mint is one of the most accessible budgeting apps available right now. It’s a solid option for anyone who’s never budgeted before, or for people who want to simplify their current budget with an automated system. Mint may also be useful to contractors or business owners, as it pairs well with applications like TurboTax and Quickbooks.
Learn to Start Budgeting: YNAB
YNAB (or You Need a Budget) is built to give you total control over your money. It helps you build a budget based on your income and forces you to account for every dollar in your checking and savings accounts. This makes it easy to put money toward bills or long-term spending goals (like vacations). And unlike many other budgeting apps, YNAB works well with shared finances.
Just know that YNAB is a hardcore budgeting app. It takes some time to get used to, but the knowledge you gain in the process is invaluable. YNAB has a vocal and active community of users, and it’s worth checking out some of their tips before you dive into the app.
YNAB offers a 34-day free trial and costs $85 a year.
Save Up for a Vacation: Digit
Digit is a budgeting app that helps you achieve your long-term spending goals, like paying off loans or saving toward a vacation. Along with its typical budget-building and automatic categorizing features, Digit has a built-in savings manager that helps you set aside safe amounts of money every day. For this reason, Digit is a solid budgeting app for anyone who wants to effortlessly save toward financial goals.
Digit is free for 30 days but costs $5 a month after the trial period.
Budget and Pay Down Debt: PocketGuard
PocketGuard is a robust budgeting app that helps you reign in your finances, pay down debt, and build a nest egg. Like other apps, PocketGuard helps you build a budget based on your income and automatically categorizes expenses. But it also syncs with your loans, savings, and investment data to give you an all-in-one view of your finances. Once PocketGuard is synced with all of your accounts, it offers to negotiate with your service providers (cable, internet, phone, etc) for lower bills and helps you track down high-interest savings accounts.
On its own, the PocketGuard app is totally free. But PocketGuard Plus, which gives you extra control over spending categories and goals, costs $4 a month or $35 a year.
Microsaving + Budgeting: QAPITAL
Microsaving is a form of savings where small, seemingly insignificant amounts of money are put into an account every day. This makes saving or investing relatively painless, especially for people who are on a tight budget.
If you’re interested in microsaving and budgeting, then QAPITAL is the app for you. It’s packed with typical budgeting features, like automatic tracking and bill paying, and includes customizable microsaving and QAPITAL Invest tools to help you painlessly save for the future. These tools range from automatic roundups (save the spare change between purchases) to savings “rules” (save $100 every time you get paid). You can even tether your QAPITAL app to IFTTT for hardcore microsaving action—like investing $1 every time you watch a YouTube video.
QAPITAL offers a 30-day free trial and has three service tiers. The basic tier ($3 a month) has the rudimentary budgeting and microsaving features, while the Complete ($6 a month) and Master ($12 a month) offer some deep investing features and access to an FDIC-insured QAPITAL Visa debit card.
A Debit Card With Budgeting Built-In: Simple
Want to budget from your banking app? Simple is an FDIC-insured bank that’s built to make budgeting as easy as possible. It gives you a straightforward look at your spending habits, and allows you to build simple budgets that work for your income. And with a Simple Protected Goals Account, you can quickly invest money at a competitive interest rate without doing any complicated research or paying hidden bank fees.
Again, Simple is a bank account, not just a budgeting app. Simple sends you a physical VISA debit card in the mail, but the company doesn’t have any physical locations. Instead, it relies on direct deposit and photo check deposits (which are fast and safe). Simple doesn’t have any hidden fees, it can connect to external accounts for transfers or budgeting purposes, and again, it’s insured by the FDIC. Simple is backed by BankCorp South and has ATMs all over the country for quick access to your cash.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Apple Credit Card has some money tracking features baked-in. These features aren’t as robust as Simple’s, but they come with 2% cashback on all purchases made through Apple Pay—a decent deal if you’re a hardcore iPhone user.