A survey by Bankrate found that 82% of Americans kept some form of household budget. And many budget-keeping Americans use mobile-friendly apps to stay on top of their money. These apps take a dizzying array of forms, from free, lightweight solutions that serve mainly to sync with external accounts and report cash flows in real time to feature-rich paid products that claim to save the typical user thousands each year.
Whether your budget is a better fit for the former or the latter — or something in between — depends on its complexity, your comfort with manually managing your money, and whether you’re willing (or can afford to) pay for budgeting help. But before jumping in, take a detailed look at some of the top budgeting apps on the market right now.
These budgeting apps take several different forms:
- Banking or wealth management solutions with built-in budgeting components
- Free solutions that allow you to import and manually categorize transactions to support customized spending plans
- Free or “freemium” (paid and free plans available) solutions that sync with external accounts and automatically categorize spending
- Comprehensive paid tools that include nonbudgeting features, such as tax forecasting
Best Budgeting Apps
- Plans: All budgeting and financial management tools are free
- Features and Capabilities: Account dashboard (synced accounts and household financial analysis); retirement and education planners (custom retirement and education financing scenarios); investment checkup (comparing asset allocation and performance against age- and tolerance-appropriate benchmarks); fee analyzer (insight into hidden fund fees and expenses)
Personal Capital is a hybrid wealth management platform that’s among the best-regarded human-assisted robo-advisors in the business. But Personal Capital also has a host of free budgeting and financial literacy tools designed to draw new clients into the fold and keep them engaged until they meet the platform’s $100,000 investable assets minimum.
Personal Capital’s budgeting and money management tools include:
- Account Dashboard. Your account dashboard is Personal Capital’s money management hub. From here, you can sync external financial accounts (including external investment accounts) for better insight into your financial health metrics, including household cash flow, savings rate, and net worth.
- Retirement and Education Planners. Use these tools to estimate how much you’ll need to retire and fund your kids’ higher education under various financial scenarios, then develop a plan to reach each goal.
- Investment Checkup. Use this tool to compare your present investment portfolio allocations against ideal allocations for your age and risk tolerance. Personal Capital uses this tool to push its wealth management services, but it’s useful nonetheless.
- Fee Analyzer. This tool helps you find and tally hidden and not-so-hidden fund and investment management fees to answer the age-old question that bedevils every investor: Are you spending more than necessary to manage your investments?
To learn more, read our Personal Capital review.
2. Tiller Money
- Plans: One plan for all features and capabilities ($79 per year after a 30-day free trial)
- Features and Capabilities: Automatic syncing with tens of thousands of financial sources; automatic daily spreadsheet updates with transaction data from all linked accounts; custom spreadsheet templates; custom spending categories that make sense for your financial life; auto-categorization based on custom rules set by you; daily transaction digests sent to your email inbox
Tiller Money is a spreadsheet-based app that directly syncs with nearly 20,000 financial sources, including deposit accounts at large and small banks in the United States, U.S.-based brokerage accounts, employer-sponsored retirement accounts, personal loans, credit cards, and mortgages. If you bank, invest, or borrow with a U.S.-based financial institution, you should be able to sync most or all of your financial accounts with Tiller Money.
Once you’re synced, Tiller Money makes daily updates to custom-created Google or Excel spreadsheets with automatically categorized transactions pulled from your synced accounts. If you spend $50 at the grocery store today, you’ll see it reflected in the groceries or food category on your spreadsheet tomorrow. You can set your own categorization rules and color scheme, so your spreadsheets are always easy to follow. And you can manually categorize or recategorize synced transactions.
If you’re not one for checking spreadsheets regularly, Tiller Money’s optional email alerts give you an unobtrusive daily digest delivered to your inbox. If you manage joint finances with a spouse or work with a financial planner, share your spreadsheets with them.
- Plans: One free plan for all features and capabilities
- Features: Safe-to-Spend, which automatically accounts for funds you can safely spend over a rolling 30-day period; simple tools for everyday money management
Simple is a deposit account app with built-in spending and saving tools. Though it’s designed for use as a spending and saving vehicle, Simple is more than capable of standing in for heavier-duty budgeting apps.
One key Simple innovation is its Safe-to-Spend feature, which shows you the share of your total deposit account balance that’s safe for discretionary spending. It’s the rolling net of your total balance minus your long-term savings deposits and known recurring or one-off expenses set to debit from your account in the coming 30 days.
Because Safe-to-Spend automatically looks a month out, you can dip into your safe balance with confidence without worrying whether an impulse buy will set back your financial plan. And it’s worth reiterating that Simple includes Safe-to-Spend at no extra charge in Simple’s free personal finance suite. If you feel you’ve not gotten great value out of more complex budgeting apps, Safe-to-Spend might be the only money management tool you need.
See our Simple review for more details.
- Plans: One plan for all features and capabilities ($59.99 per year after a 15-day free trial)
- Features and Capabilities: One year of transaction data; a detailed look at inflows and outflows; detailed credit view, including usage, rates, balances, and payments; transaction categorization by merchant and spending category; customizable budgets
MoneyPatrol is a customized account dashboard that provides a centralized view of your entire financial life. It’s compatible with thousands of external financial accounts: checking and savings accounts, credit cards, student loan accounts, investment accounts, and even gift cards.
MoneyPatrol eschews dense spreadsheets and rules-based budgets in favor of a handful of budgeting tools and insights that empower users to monitor and shape their spending. One key feature is MoneyPatrol’s Alerts & Insights, which delivers digestible details about users’ budgets via text or email. And MoneyPatrol’s charts, tables, and panel views help visual learners see how and where they’re spending their money.
- Plans: One plan for all features and capabilities ($84 per year or $11.99 per month after 34-day free trial)
- Features and Capabilities: Secure sync with external financial accounts; “proven method” built around four rules for budgeting; joint budgeting for couples who’ve merged finances; savings goal tracking; retrospective reports to track past spending
You Need a Budget (YNAB) is a paid budgeting app that comes with an unusually long free trial (34 days) and a no-questions-asked money-back guarantee. Although it’s among the most expensive apps on this list, its intuitive features and powerful insights mean users get what they pay for.
The YNAB app comes in multiple iterations:
- YNAB for Web (best for desktops and laptops)
- YNAB for Android and iPhone iOS
- YNAB for iPad iOS
- YNAB for Apple Watch iOS
- YNAB for Alexa
YNAB follows a version of the zero-based budgeting method built around four ironclad rules:
- Give Every Dollar a Job. Prioritize your spending and allocate dollars according to your spending (and life) priorities.
- Embrace Your True Expenses. See occasional or annual expenses, such as holiday shopping, for what they are: expenses you can break into monthly averages, just like more frequent types of spending.
- Roll With the Punches. Reallocate money from categories not yet tapped out (and think about how to adjust categories to better represent your spending in the future).
- Age Your Money. Spend money that’s at least 30 days old. In other words, don’t live paycheck to paycheck or month to month.
These rules do require a bit of legwork — sustainable budgeting is about proactivity, not reactivity. To use YNAB as intended, you must give every dollar a job and lay out your budgetary priorities before you turn “on” your budget (or spend a dime). You also need to link all your financial accounts to your YNAB account for the process to work properly, which could turn off users skeptical of YNAB’s claims to ironclad security.
On the bright side, YNAB claims that the average user saves $6,000 per year, though your actual savings depends on how much fat your budget has to cut in the first place. Even if you’re not able to save thousands using YNAB, the app will surely get you to think differently about how you’re spending and saving. That could ultimately prove more valuable than a one-time savings boost.
Check out our YNAB review to learn more.
- Plans: Plans range from starter (limited features for $34.99 per year) to home and business (all features for $93.59 per year but works for Windows only)
- Features and Capabilities: All plans have an account dashboard that provides visibility into deposit and credit card accounts; automatic transaction categorization; automatic exporting to Excel; custom budget templates; and live customer support
Quicken has a much broader range of features than many of the newer entrants on this list. That makes it ideal for people serious about managing their household finances and small-business owners looking for cost-effective income and expense management without paying a human accountant.
Quicken isn’t exactly cheap, of course. At about $90 per year, the home and business plan is among the priciest products on this list. But you get what you pay for: helpful tax and expense tools, such as Schedule C and E forecasting, and business essentials like custom invoices and estimates with embedded payment links. You can even save rental agreements and other income property documents directly to Quicken, so it’s an excellent business management platform for small-scale landlords.
Quicken has four plan options:
- Starter. This plan displays your accounts in one place, makes budgets, and manages your bills.
- Deluxe. This plan offers a sophisticated account dashboard that provides insight into your deposit, credit card, loan, and investment accounts.
- Premier. This plan includes investment analysis, tax planning, online bill-pay tools, and a home market value analysis tool. It’s basically a one-stop shop for household finance management.
- Home and Business. This plan is ideal for self-employed folks and small-business owners. Its features include profit and loss tracking and reporting, personal and business expense tracking and reporting, property management tools for landlords, and custom invoice creation for businesses of all types.
If you’re just looking to get your household expenses under control and better manage your cash flow, Quicken’s firepower probably isn’t necessary. On the other hand, if you aim to build a miniature business empire, it’s right up your alley.
- Plans: All features and capabilities are free
- Features and Capabilities: Mint has a bill payment tracker that provides visibility into recurring expenses; custom budgeting tools; automatic transaction categorization; external account syncing; free credit score on demand; and account and activity alerts
Mint ties together users’ financial lives. With no paid plan, the entirety of its feature lineup is free for all to use:
- Accounts Tracker. Mint syncs with the vast majority of U.S.-based financial institutions to allow nearly real-time balance and spending tracking — an essential prerequisite for effective budgeting.
- Investment Tracker. Mint syncs with external brokerage accounts as well. As a bonus, this feature helps identify hidden fees in managed plans, like 401(k)s, and investment funds, such as actively managed mutual funds, that can reduce net earnings.
- Budgeting Tools. Mint calculates average spending by category on a rolling basis, proving visibility into monthly and annual spending patterns. The daily budgeting tracker feature is an up-to-date accounting of exactly how much the user has to spend after backing out pending bills and likely outlays.
- Account Alerts. Mint’s account alerts warn you of certain potentially adverse financial events, such as third-party ATM fees, exceeding budgets you’ve set within Mint, approaching bill due dates, and suspicious account activity.
- Credit Scores. All Mint users can check their FICO scores for free on demand. There’s no fee for this service and no limit to the number of requests you can make, though your score isn’t guaranteed to change in the interim.
Mint doesn’t charge for its budgeting tools and other value-adds, but it’s not an entirely charitable operation. The platform makes money by recommending financial products and services like credit cards, loans, insurance, and investing. As a Mint-using budget-maker, you’re under no obligation to avail yourself of these recommendations (or acknowledge them at all). If you find them useful, that’s fine too.
For more information, read our Mint review.
- Plans: Plans range from basic (about $6 per month) to plus ($19 per month)
- Features and Capabilities: Interactive digital envelope budgeting tools; automatic transaction importing and syncing; account balance monitoring; interactive spending reports; debt reduction tools and monthly personal finance training with higher-priced plans
Mvelopes is a digital envelope budgeting app that does away with the whole business of cash-stuffed physical envelopes. Mvelopes empowers users to simplify their messy financial lives by assigning every transaction type an “envelope,” or category-based purpose (think “groceries” or “dining out”). Each envelope gets a specific monthly allocation the user draws down. Once an envelope is empty, that’s it — no more spending in that category until the first of the new month.
Mvelopes doesn’t actually prevent excess spending, which is a good thing for users facing unexpected expenses that can’t wait. And the app builds on the basic envelope concept with real-time syncing of external accounts, debt reduction plans (premier only, starting at $9.95 per month), and monthly personal finance training sessions (plus only, starting at $19 per month).
Get more details in our Mvelopes review.
- Plans: Two plans: free and plus ($3.99 per month or $34.99 per year)
- Features and Capabilities: Comprehensive expense tagging and tracking tools; external account syncing; manual expense categorization; customizable budgeting goals; transaction exporting and cash tracking in the plus plan
PocketGuard is a user-friendly budgeting app that keeps tabs on your entire financial life. It automatically constructs customized, responsive budgets based on observed spending and saving activity in linked external accounts.
PocketGuard categorizes transactions as they occur, providing real-time visibility into your spending activity, helping you identify potential problem spending over time, and identifying opportunities to save. The app’s In My Pocket feature tells you exactly how much you can safely spend at any given time after accounting for paid and pending bills and the monthly or per-paycheck savings built into your budget. And PocketGuard recommends easy ways to save, like negotiating lower bills and opening a high-yield savings account.
The app’s premium plus plan offers some additional capabilities, including custom expense categories, transaction exporting (for those who use other budgeting apps or old-school spreadsheets), and cash tracking.
- Plans: All features and capabilities are free
- Features and Capabilities: Automatic syncing with external financial accounts; savings goals; personalized budgets with custom spending categories; OK to Spend (a sort of traffic light for near-term spending decisions)
MoneyStrands is a free personal budgeting app that works well on a mobile device. Although it’s not as attractive or feature-rich as some paid competitors, it boasts useful budgeting tools like:
- Automatic syncing with external financial accounts, including banks, brokerages, and money transfer apps
- Goal-based budgeting to visualize and reach medium- and long-term savings goals
- Personalized budgets that make it easy to set category-based spending limits and ensure you consistently spend less than you earn
- OK to Spend, an algorithm-driven feature that evaluates your cash flow and tells you when you can loosen the belt a little and when you should buckle down
MoneyStrands isn’t the answer to all your budgeting questions. For example, OK to Spend is not a substitute for financial discipline. But it’s definitely useful for consumers looking first and foremost for insight into household spending and saving patterns that they haven’t thought about intentionally before and for consumers eager to set and stick to long-term savings goals.
If you’re among the few Americans who’s never developed a budget or spending plan, you’re under no obligation to start now. Many people do just fine by following a few basic money management principles, such as spend less than you earn and pay yourself first.
But adherence to tried-and-true money maxims is not mutually exclusive of creating and sticking to a budget or spending plan. They’re complimentary — the latter helping to achieve the former, and vice versa. Perhaps that’s reason enough to adopt one of these budgeting solutions.
What’s your favorite budgeting app? What do you like about it?