5 Apps to Help You Make a Budget and Stick to It
Wonder where all your money's going? Now you can find out
Do you find yourself looking at your bank statement at the end of the month and wondering exactly where your paycheck went? Or worse, have you ever discovered that your balance is less than zero? If you have, you're not alone. In a recent study, research firm Moebs Services found that banks and credit unions collected $31.9 billion in overdraft charges in 2013.
If money seems to slip through your fingers, you’re probably having trouble building up your savings account and may not have the rainy day fund experts recommend. One of the best solutions is to create a budget. You can do it using desktop software like Quicken, or make a spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel. But the best way to monitor your spending while you're on the go is to use a budgeting app.
Here are five apps to consider, all of which are available on iOS and Android operating systems.
Mint is one of the most comprehensive financial management tools on the market. It’s designed to give a big picture view of your finances — that is, it not only allows you to create a budget but also tracks your net worth. It links to all your accounts at banks, mutual funds and IRAs.
- Shows cash flow in real time (useful for people using debit and credit cards for purchases)
- Allows for manual entry of cash transactions
- Sends an alert when you’ve gone over budget
- Analyzes past spending habits and suggests categories where you might be able to save
- Sets up reminders for payments and lets you receive low account balance notifications
You Need a Budget (YNAB)
The purpose of YNAB is to help you manage your finances using the zero-based budget concept. It does not provide features that allow you to manage investment or retirement accounts. Although anyone can use the app, its target user is someone who is new to budgeting and/or wants to get out of debt.
- Provides an easy-to-use interface
- Assigns every dollar a category
- Permits manual entry of transactions only (which keeps you more involved in the budgeting process)
- Allows app syncs with desktop version via Dropbox
- Includes helpful support, educational resources and tutorials
Cost: 34-day free trial period; app is free to download. Required YNAB desktop software: $60
MVelopes is a virtual adaptation of the traditional envelope budgeting system in which you divide up cash into expense-specific envelopes. Once the cash in an envelope is gone, you can’t spend any more on that category until the envelope receives additional funds in the next month. This reduces overspending and forces you to be actively involved in your money management.
Mvelopes app (Photo: Mvelopes)
- Creates digital envelopes for your money
- Gives access to financial coaching for an additional fee
- Allows you to create and track saving goals
- Geared towards over-spenders or those in debt
- Links to financial accounts which enables automatic tracking
Cost: Basic version - Free; Premier version - $9.99/mo
GoodBudget is another program based on the envelope budgeting system. You create digital envelopes for your expense categories (food, rent, clothing, etc.) and set aside money in each envelope. By doing so, you are planning ahead and committing to only spend a certain amount of money in that specific category per month.
GoodBudget app (Photo: GoodBudget App) Highlights:
- Digital envelopes help you limit spending
- “Irregular” option helps track spending for those whose income varies from month-to-month
- Free version allows users to create 10 custom envelopes only
- Unlimited envelopes and sync capabilities with premium subscription
Cost: Basic version - Free; Premium version - $5/mo or $45/yr
Like the other apps, HomeBudget tracks expenses, income and bills due and account balances. You can analyze expenses and find out where you can save by viewing reports on charts and graphs. It includes a family sync feature that connects a group of devices within the household, so that all users are seeing the same information and working together on the same budget.
HomeBudget app (Photo: HomeBudget)
- Color coded and easy to navigate
- Can create/edit/delete expenses, income and bills
- Can attach photo images of receipts
- Includes Pie/Bar charts for expense breakdown
- Offers a search tab for finding old transactions
Cost: $4.99 on iOS (“lite” version is free); $5.99 on Android
(Photo: Homebudget images/Homebudget)
There are many other budget and money management apps available, so experiment with them to find one that meets your needs. What’s critical is doing something to track your spending habits, even if that’s using an old-school pencil and paper method. It’s the one time-tested path to spend less, save more and create a sound financial future.
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