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How to Find the Best Budgeting App for You

Kelly Burch  |  November 27, 2023

Today’s savvy budgeters have access to more apps and technology than ever before, all of which promise to make budgeting a breeze.

You’ve vowed to get your finances in order. That’s a great first step, but today’s savvy budgeters have access to more apps and technology than ever before, all of which promise to make budgeting a breeze. With so many options, it’s no surprise that it may take some time to find the best budgeting app.

When you’re deciding which app to use, first determine your priorities: Are you hoping to make changes immediately, or just be more mindful of your spending? Are you willing to dedicate time each week to overseeing your budget? Are you someone who is motivated by having lots of information, or do you prefer to just consider the big picture?

Once you’ve given these issues some thought, it’s time to test out two or three tools to see how they meet your needs. Here are a few to get you started.

If You’re Serious About Budgeting

If you’re ready to make big changes, You Need A Budget (YNAB) is a great place to start.

This tool touts “total control of your money,” and that’s exactly what it provides. YNAB is a zero-based budget system, where every dollar is assigned to a category, meaning that you have zero dollars that have no assigned purpose. (Although you can make categories for fun money and other spending.)

The ultimate goal of using YNAB is to break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle by tucking away extra money until you are living entirely on last month’s income. Although it takes a few months to get to that point, the stress relief of knowing that your expenses are covered ahead of time is refreshing.

YNAB is a bit complex, so to get the most out of it, you’ll have to dedicate some time to learning how to navigate it, and then you will be able to evaluate your spending habits. The developer even offers free workshops and classes aimed at teaching you the ropes, so be ready to delve in if you decide this is the app for you.

On the downside, YNAB doesn’t offer any tools to track your investment portfolios. It’s purely focused on your income and expenditures.

Cost: Free 34-day trial, then $14.99 monthly plan or $99 annual plan

If You Just Need to Get Organized:

Maybe you’re not quite ready to know every detail of your finances, but you want to become more organized about paying bills and keeping track of your money. In that case, PocketGuard is the app for you.

PocketGuard allows you to link and display all your accounts — from bank accounts to credit cards and even investments. If you need a little extra guidance, the app will give you reminders when bills are due and notifications if you overspend. Users who pay for the premium version can also use the app to plan their debt payoff.

Once you’re ready to budget, PocketGuard makes it easy by showing you all your transactions for the month, plus expected bills for next month. From there, you can adjust the amounts, getting as in depth (or as basic) as you would like. Paid users can also create custom categories, which is great for a more hands-on approach.

Cost: Free basic plan, or a premium $7.99 monthly plan or $34.99 annual plan

If You’re a Little Old-Fashioned:

Did you once use a stack of envelopes filled with cash to get your spending under control? If so, you’ll be pleased to know the same option exists in the digital age.

Goodbudget allows you to create digital “envelopes,” allotting a certain amount of money to each spending category. The app also encourages users to direct the money saved through budgeting toward paying down debt. By better managing your money and not spending more than is in your envelope, this tool is great at helping you rediscover funds that can be used to pay off debt. And who doesn’t want that?

The downside is that there’s no way to sync Goodbudget with your bank, meaning that you’ll have to manually enter each transaction into the app.

Cost: Free

If You’re Ready to Invest in Your Future:

Maybe you already have a good hold on budgeting and debt payment, and you’re ready to start investing in your future. In that case, Empower Personal Dashboard, formerly Personal Capital, is a great option that allows you to manage your investments and work toward building wealth.

This tool allows you to see your net worth over time and to analyze your investment portfolio. It provides clear information about important details like how much you are paying in fees, which of your investments are performing the best, and how your investments measure up to optimal assets class balances. It also has a great retirement planner, so you can be at ease with your future finances.

Empower does let you do more basic financial management too, like viewing income reports and tracking spending by categories — though these functions are more limited than YNAB’s or PocketGuard’s.

Cost: Free

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