The Best Budgeting Apps for Anyone Who Doesn't Know the First Thing About Money
The Best Budgeting Apps for Beginners
You may have been able to skate by on a loose budget method in the past (as long as the account isn't overdrawn, you're good, right?). But as you mature in life and your money needs evolve, your management method needs to get more sophisticated as well.
For most people, finally getting started with a budget—not to mention sticking to it—is the hardest part of getting your finances on track, says Dustin Edwards, principal owner of Austin-based CapFi Lending. That's where budgeting apps come into play. An app allows you to track everyday expenses while also planning for future needs and setting money aside into savings, so you're less reactive and more proactive with your finances.
Whether it's saving for a big goal like paying off student loans or smaller goals like affording a luxe wellness retreat, a budgeting app can make the process easier. Use one of our financial expert-recommended budgeting apps to make this year the year you get financially fit, too.
Free; iOS & Android
Personal Capital allows for a complete view of your financial wellness (for free!). Use the tools to calculate total net worth, set a budget, view your cash flow (all money in and out over the course of 30 days), and plan for retirement or education costs. (Related: How to Pick the Best Gym for You)
"I recommend Personal Capital because it gives me a snapshot of literally every financial aspect of my life (banks, credit cards, mortgage, car loan, investment accounts, retirement accounts, Zillow estimate of your house, and much more)," says Griffin Kirsch, financial advisor with GK Wealth Management in Reno, NV.
Free; iOS & Android
PocketGuard starts by linking all your credit cards, bank accounts, investments, and loans to get your complete financial picture in one place. The app then categorizes your spending (gas, food, shopping, etc.) and gives tips on how to better optimize your budget and savings goals.
But the best feature? "PocketGuard monitors monthly bills for things like cell phone service or loans, and provides offers that can help reduce the cost of these services," says Tim Mooney, Ph.D., assistant professor of finance at Thomas Jefferson University School of Business. You'll never get rolled into that extra-data plan accidentally again.
Another really cool feature is the ability to create subcategories in your transactions. For example, say you're going on a big backpacking trip to the Rocky Mountains and want that spending (gear, flights, hotels, meals, etc.) to be included in a travel budget, simply #rockies in the transaction notes section of the app to put them all into a category. Then, review your total spending for that trip separate from the rest of your monthly budget.
Free; iOS & Android
One of the more commonly known budgeting apps is Mint. Mint is great for beginners because of its simple interface and organized spending categories. At the end of every month, you receive an email with a breakdown of your spending and tips to improve.
"Mint has a cool feature that compares limits you set for yourself to the national average," says Christy Bieber, personal finance writer and expert for financial education resource The Ascent. "This helps you see where your spending may be higher than the norm, which can be especially important for beginning budgeters who don't always know what's reasonable to spend and where to make cuts."
Beyond your day-to-day transactions, Mint gives a big-picture overview of your finances as a whole, like bills and investments. "My hands-down favorite money management app is Mint because it shows your real-time credit score, how much money you have at any given time across multiple accounts and cards, and also allows you to connect and track all your finances in one convenient place," says Edwards. Basically, Mint is a one-stop-shop for financial management. "If you're like me and don't like providing access to your financial accounts to a lot of different websites, this is really important," adds Bieber.
You Need a Budget
$84/year; iOS & Android
Rather than taking a reactionary approach to finances, You Need a Budget wants to help you change your bad spending habits for good. (Realizing you overspent on clothes for the month when had to buy something from the latest Ivy Park collection isn't helpful when you do so after you spent the money.) Instead, budgeting apps work with you to set priorities for immediate, short-term, and long-term goals. Similar to a diet, the app's goal isn't restriction, but rather setting and sticking to a goal.
While it takes a little more start-up time to get the swing of YNAB than your average budgeting app, long-term, it will help you think differently about how you spend and set aside money, says Sandi Bragar, certified financial planner and managing director in planning strategy and research at Aspiriant. "I find YNAB is most effective when we have a client who's facing a significant ramp down in the cost of their lifestyle due to an unexpected or untimely life event and needs to transform their spending patterns, she adds. (Related: How to Eat Healthy on $5 a Day)
One of this budgeting app's best beginner-friendly features is the live support that comes with it. People who are new to budgeting will appreciate this app's online workshops, which give users the opportunity to ask questions and interact in real-time with an expert, says Mooney. If you're serious about tightening up your budget or working towards big financial goals, then it might take some money to save money. The additional support and customizable tools makes the fee, which is less than your Amazon Prime membership, worth it.
Free; iOS & Android
If you live with your significant other but don't have joint accounts, then Zeta is the best personal finance app for you. Founder Aditi Shekar made the app because "we learned (the hard way) that most budgeting apps were built for individuals." But moving in together brings a set of unique challenges—money being a big one.
Zeta allows couples to track bills, create joint budgets, and work toward shared goals, but maintain financial autonomy about certain categories or transactions too (like if you'd prefer your partner not see your budget for boutique fitness classes). You can also pay back your partner or split bills and expenses through an IOU tracking system.
$1/month; iOS & Android
While Stash does offer online banking with savings tips based on your spending habits, the app is most helpful when looking to take your finances to the next level. There are three pricing tiers and each help you dip a toe into investing. The taxable brokerage account allows you to invest starting with as little as $5 into stocks, ETFs (exchange-traded funds), and bonds. Stash chooses the companies available to invest in, so you're can look at their stock prices and growth over the last year and five years. There's an entire platform called StashLearn that will answer all your investing questions such as "what are the different types of investments" or "what you need to know about 2019 tax return."
$6/month; iOS & Android
The envelope method of budgeting—where cash is set aside into different spending categories (gas, groceries, clothes, etc.) so that each dollar is accounted for at the end of the month—is popular in the debt-free community on Instagram. However, apps are absolutely a better method for someone just starting to budget, because it provides a system which can be user-friendly and easy to capture information, says Kristoffer Doura, Financial Advisor at Guardian Life.
Mvelopes took the traditional envelope method digital with a budgeting app. Sync your bank accounts, credit and debit cards to the app, then each transaction will be sorted into "envelopes." You'll be able to see where you still have money to spend in real-time. Create envelopes for as many categories as you need as well as set your budget for each area. With the Mvelopes Plus subscription ($19/month), you also have access to financial coaching to whip your spending into shape. In all levels, you'll receive interactive reports to review that month's spending.