The post-pandemic world has changed personal finance needs. As of July 5, 2021, hardship among American families remains high, with nearly 30% having “difficulty covering usual expenses” and 15% not yet caught up on rent.
As reported by CNBC, personal budgets from February 2020 are no longer relevant now due to pandemic-driven economic changes. The need for personal money management has never been more urgent.
An excellent way to improve personal finances is by using a personal budgeting app.
In this article, we’ll look at the best budgeting apps for each type of budgeter, as well as talk about how budgeting apps work, if they are worth it, and also how you can decide which one is best for you without having to try all of them!
Best budgeting apps
- Best budgeting app overall: Mint
- Best budgeting app for proactive budgeters: YNAB (“You Need a Budget”)
- Best budgeting app for investors: Personal Capital
- Best budgeting app for couples: Honeydue
Do budgeting apps really work? Are budgeting apps worth it?
An independent study discovered that people who use personal finance apps on their mobile phones reduce their discretionary spending by an average of 11.6% (around $430 per month).
“Discretionary spending” refers to expenditures that are not entirely necessary each month such as going out for dinner, entertainment, or vacations. The highest reduction in spending from people using personal finance apps on their phones was from lower-income and high-spending-to-income consumers.
Every budgeting app tries to offer something unique, and when trying to decide what is the best budgeting app for you, it’s important to understand your specific needs, and each app’s unique offering.
How do budgeting apps work?
Budgeting apps generally connect directly to your bank account and then assign categories to the transactions they detect there.
There are variations on this basic functionality, but the essence of each budgeting app is to assign meaning to any money that has come in or gone out.
Just like a business’s accounting, budgeting apps try to bring some degree of control to personal finances. But you don’t need to be an accountant to start applying basic accounting principles to your personal budget.
The best budgeting apps make this process simple, and the end goal is to save money because of them.
Best budgeting app overall: Mint
Mint is made by the same team that produces QuickBooks, the most popular business accounting software with over 73% market share! Perhaps that’s why Mint is totally and 100% free—because the company is already worth $144 billion.
Why we love it:
Mint has a stunning user interface that gives you all the essential information you need the moment you open it up. It immediately displays a chart showing you your net worth over time, breaking it down by your different accounts. And you can easily switch views to give you an overall picture of the current month’s spending.
Mint allows you to link multiple accounts such as bank accounts, credit cards, and even investment accounts. Once an account is added, you can see all the transactions for that account with a simple click. Adding accounts is a piece of cake and extremely intuitive.
The user experience is phenomenal, right down to little touches like multiple sorting options for transactions so that finding transactions is a piece of cake. It also offers a cash flow chart and a spending trends chart.
Finally, there is its top-of-the-line budgeting feature which allows you to create detailed budgets for every month, specifying what you want to spend your money on so that the app can help you manage your money effectively. The app gives you detailed reports and charts as you spend throughout the month so you can keep track and not lose control.
Produced by a highly respected, public company (NYSE: INTU). Winner of multiple Webby awards in 2021.
Absolutely free! (The app makes money through discreet advertising, and offers from partners such as credit card providers.)
- Completely free
- Incredibly easy to use, great visual design, excellent user experience
- Automated expense tracking and categorization of expenses
- Top-tier budgeting features
- Subscription tracking feature so you don’t forget to cancel subscriptions
- Notifications for bills due
- Tons of other nifty features, making this a well-rounded app that does just about everything for personal budgeting
- Not available to users outside the USA or Canada. (YNAB is available for non-US and non-Canadian users.)
Who is it mainly for?
Anybody and everybody in the US and Canada who takes personal finance seriously and wants to manage their money more efficiently.
Best budgeting app for proactive budgeters: YNAB (“You Need A Budget”)
YNAB’s origin story is a sweet one. It was born as a budgeting tool used by a husband and wife who decided to sell it to others when their son was born and they needed to pay the rent.
Fast forward a few years and it is now an $8.6 million company with 96 employees.
Why we love it:
YNAB (short for “You Need a Budget”) is designed around what’s called “zero-based budgeting” which has its roots in the basics of accounting. Zero-based budgeting is a system where every dollar must be assigned a “job” and the difference between income and expenditures must always equal zero at the end of the month.
YNAB teaches you to learn to live off last month’s income only. This practice helps you get out of the paycheck-to-paycheck treadmill, gradually putting money aside so that you can handle unexpected expenses when they come up.
According to the company, users of YNAB save an average of $600 by the second month of using it.
YNAB’s four core principles are:
- Give every dollar a job
- Embrace your true expenses (break up large expenses into monthly “bills” that you allocate money to each month)
- Roll with the punches (there is no need to feel guilty if you overspend in a category, just reallocate funds from another category)
- Age your money (spend only what you earned last month, and never more, accruing the rest in savings)
Voted the most popular personal finance app on Lifehacker. Multiple finalist as one of Utah’s fastest-growing companies.
It costs $11.99/month or $84/year. (They have a 34-day free trial.)
- Proactive budgeting and long-term planning
- Very simple layout. YNAB started as a spreadsheet and this has carried over into how it looks today (this is not a bad thing).
- Handles multiple accounts (bank, credit card, investment, etc.)
- Available to European users (unlike Mint)
- Not free
Who is it mainly for?
Serious and proactive personal budgeters, and users outside of the USA and Canada who can’t use Mint.
Best budgeting app for investors: Personal Capital
Believe it or not, there is a personal budgeting app aimed specifically at investors.
The clear winner in this category is Personal Capital, a money management app that has some personal budget features built into it on top of its investment features.
Why we love it:
Personal Capital pulls in feeds from multiple accounts—investment accounts, bank accounts, retirement accounts, credit cards—and brings them all together in one interface so you can get an overview of your earnings and expenses at a glance.
It doesn’t work exactly like a typical budgeting app—you don’t set a budget for individual items as the primary focus. But it does give you an overview of your spending habits across all your accounts over time so that you can make adjustments to your spending moving forward.
A study released by Personal Capital showed that people reduced their spending by an average of 15.7% in the four months after installing Personal Capital, compared to the three months before using it.
Free! (But investment features require payment.)
- Aggregation of bank accounts, investment accounts, and credit cards gives you an overview of your overall budget and where you are spending or earning the most.
- Less restrictive, e.g. no major alarm bells when you go over budget (this can also be a con, depending on what your needs are)
- Spending is automatically categorized into buckets
- Tracks investments
- Not the best for people looking for minute and detailed control of every expense
- Not restrictive enough for those who want tight control of their finances
- Bank links sometimes break (usually resolves itself, but can be frustrating)
- Sometimes the company engages in aggressive upselling to try to get users to pay for financial advisory services
Who is it mainly for?
- People who don’t need micro-managed control of their budgets but just want something with a general overview to improve their money management and spending.
Best budgeting app for couples: Honeydue
Why we love it:
Honeydue is designed specifically for partners who want to stay on the same page regarding their finances. The app deals with joint accounts as well as each partner’s individual accounts, and each partner can choose if they want to hide any accounts from the other.
The interface is designed in such a way that it’s clear to see whose account an amount belongs to.
The app has basic collaboration built in so that partners can make comments and ask questions about individual transactions. They can also split expenses or set a reminder to pay any upcoming bills.
Honeydue has over 500,000 registered users and was recently acquired by Mission Lane, a financial technology company with half a billion dollars worth of funding. Watch this space!
- Handles multiple account types (loan accounts, credit card, bank accounts, etc.)
- Can maintain running tabs between partners
- Excellent for people who need to keep track of shared finances
- Budgeting functions are quite limited compared to apps like Mint or YNAB.
Who is it mainly for:
Couples who want better control over mutual finances but don’t necessarily need all the bells and whistles that typically come with other budgeting apps.
Free Budgeting Apps—is it better to get a free or paid budgeting app?
The only paid app on our list is YNAB and it offers solid competition to its closest rival, Mint. For non-US and non-Canada residents, there is little choice—YNAB is the only way to go.
There are other paid budgeting apps that didn’t make it onto our list such as Empower, Tiller, and Pocket Guard Plus. Tiller can sometimes offer more flexibility than other apps, and Pocket Guard limits its features unless you fork over some dough.
But we’ve found that the free apps listed on this page are pretty awesome, and the only paid app—YNAB—has solid features that sets it apart.
The way to decide on the best app for you is to see if that app will ultimately save you money, and if it matches your specific needs. If your bent is toward investing, then an app like Personal Capital might be the way to go, and you might even want to pay for some of their financial advice. But if you’re in a relationship and want to split bills easily and know if you can mutually pay the rent at the end of the month, Honeydue is the clear choice.
Choosing the best budgeting app is all about what you need. Every person is unique, and we hope the above list and tips have provided some clarity on choosing the best budgeting app for you.