Managing your money is a complex skill, especially now that you no longer have to leave the house or even pull out your wallet in order to spend money.
That’s why it is more important than ever for you to track spending and stick to a budget.
But the old school methods of budgeting can be far too onerous for the new Millennium.
Hardly anyone wants to be carrying an old-fashioned ledger book around with them to record financial transactions.
Creating your own Excel spreadsheets sounds like the world’s worst homework assignment for some.
That’s where personal finance software comes in. There are many different budgeting and tracking programs available to help both beginning and veteran budgeters get a solid handle on their finances.
Read on to learn which program will work best for your financial situation.
- Personal Capital
- Clarity Money
- YNAB (You Need a Budget)
- Proactive Budget
- Hip Money
One way to describe Personal Capital’s budgeting software is an “account aggregator.” This program allows you to track and understand every single penny in all of your financial accounts. Once you link up all of your various accounts, including your bank accounts, investments, mortgage, credit cards, and any other accounts, Personal Capital summarizes your finances and offers you basic investment guidance. More info…show
- Pros: The most comprehensive aggregate of financial information, making this ideal for those with complex finances. Basic investment guidance is a major plus.
- Cons: The program is not as customizable as some others—neither asset allocations nor spending categories are customizable.
- Cost: Free
- See our review of Personal Capital.
- Learn more and get started with Personal Capital
The cash envelope method of budgeting is the age-old technique for preventing overspending. The problem is that we live in an increasingly cash-less society, and it can be tough to apply envelope budgeting strategies to modern methods of spending. ProActive takes a new and fresh approach to online cash envelope budgeting. Proactive is a forward – thinking solution that helps you make proactive decisions before purchases versus tracking your money afterward. More info…show
- Pros: Like traditional envelope budgeting, you cannot make a purchase with ProActive Budget unless you know which envelope the money is coming from. That’s the brilliance with this innovation. The credit card linkup allows you to enjoy the benefits of credit while making sure you set aside the money to pay off your bill each month.
- Cons: The fact that you are unable to use your ProActive debit card if you do not have your phone available could be problematic if you lose a data connection. ProActive recommends taking a separate pay card to alleviate this concern.
- Cost: The program costs $60 per year.
- Learn more and get started with ProActive Budget
Quicken is the great-granddaddy of personal finance software, having been first introduced back in 1983. The current version, Quicken 2016, was released in late 2015, and will be the final update by Intuit, since the company sold Quicken to a private equity firm. More info…show
- Pros: Quicken is the most comprehensive personal finance software available. Security-conscious users can rest assured that their information is completely safe.
- Cons: The sunset provision can be extremely frustrating. The lack of an associated app can make it difficult for some users to stay on top of their budgeting with Quicken.
- Cost: Between $30 and $95, depending upon which specific software package you purchase.
- Get the Quicken 2017 Deluxe edition.
Change (Not to be confused with Bank of America’s Keep the Change, above)
The founders of Change started with a simple idea: the best way to influence people to save is to spark behavioral change. After all, consumers have 100% control over what they spend and save, and yet they do not necessarily make the best decisions for themselves. More info…show
- Pros: Change is all about teaching users to be mindful spenders, which is the kind of long-term lesson that all consumers need to learn. There is no expectation that you will completely give up the spending habits that make you happy. These concepts are based on solid research in behavioral economics.
- Cons: Change currently only supports financial institutions in the U.S.
- Fees: None
- Best for: Change’s creators are specifically targeting 25-35 year old Millennials, although anyone who is looking for more insight into their spending habits would get a lot out of this virtual financial assistant.
- Learn more and get started with Change
A brand new entry to the world of personal finance technology, Debitize was the 2016 FinTech Competition runner-up. It offers a solution for consumers who have trouble with credit card spending but do not want to give up the protections and rewards offered by credit cards. More info…show
- Pros: Debitize allows users to have the best of both the debit and credit card world. You save money in credit card interest by always paying your bill in full, while still reaping your credit card rewards and protections.
- Cons: Those who consistently struggle with overspending will not be helped by the Debitize model.
- Fees: None
- Best For: Consumers who are able to responsibly use debit cards, but struggle with credit.
- Learn more and get started with Debitize
Though it has only been around since January 2017, Clarity Money is already shaking up the financial tech world. Clarity Money’s mission is to be a service that will both watch your back when it comes to your money choices, and help you take control of your financial life. The founders of the app believe that consumers deserve nothing less than transparency and advocacy in their financial choices, and they designed Clarity Money to provide it.
After you download the app onto your iPhone or other Apple device (it is not currently available for Android), you then connect your accounts to Clarity, and the program analyzes your spending data before making suggestions to you on how you can optimize and save your money. More info…show
- Pros: Clarity Money takes care of everything within the app, which makes it easy to act on their recommendations. The app offers a fairly global look at your money, helping you lower your bills, cancel unnecessary recurring expenses, save more money, and understand your money habits better.
- Cons: Clarity is only available for iOS. The Clarity savings account does not offer any interest.
- Fees: If you use Clarity’s Bill Negotiation & Lowering service, the program will take 33% of what you save as their commission.
- Best For: Newbie budgeters or anyone who wants their money management to be easy and all in one place.
- To learn more and get started with Clarity, visit www.ClarityMoney.com.
Now in its tenth year, Mint is the original free web-based personal finance tracker. When you sign up with Mint, you provide the program with all of your financial accounts, including bank accounts, investments, retirement funds, credit cards, 529 accounts, and the like. Mint allows you to see all of your financial information in a single dashboard, which also calculates your net worth. More info…show
- Pros: Mint is completely free, very user-friendly, and offers balance and spending alerts to keep your money on your mind.
- Cons: You have to manually track cash spending, some automatic expense categories are not useful/incorrect and need to be changed by the user.
- Cost: Free
You Need a Budget (YNAB for short) is an online budgeting program based on the envelope method, wherein budgeters set money aside for specific categories of spending. The program guides you through the process of budgeting, setting goals and sticking to them, and reconciling accounts. More info…show
- Pros: YNAB is geared toward teaching users how to budget and make managing their finances a habit. The large online community can be very helpful.
- Cons: The hands-on nature of the program might not appeal to all users. The cost is higher than most other personal software.
- Cost: $50 per year
Like YNAB, Mvelopes is personal finance software that offers a 21st century method for following the envelope budgeting method. This online tool has both Android and iPhone apps that allow you to keep track of your spending on the go. More info…show
- Pros: Mvelopes is set up to be interactive in order to teach users how to budget. The credit card spending envelope feature is a very helpful aspect of the program.
- Cons: Multiple reviewers have stated that the program is not necessarily intuitive.
- Cost: Free for the basic program, $95 per year for Mvelopes Premier
Dave Ramsey, the get-out-of-debt and budgeting guru, released his free online budgeting software back in March of 2015. In keeping with his teachings, EveryDollar is focused on tracking every dollar so that all of your money is accounted for and you know exactly where it is all going. According to the EveryDollar website (and borne out by multiple testers), you can create a budget on their intuitive and user-friendly online program in 10 minutes. More info…show
- Pros: The program is very easy to set up, with an intuitive user-interface and well-thought-out defaults. If you are a follower of Dave Ramsey’s teachings, EveryDollar will help you meet the goals he suggests.
- Cons: The free version of the software does not automatically add transactions, nor does it allow you to set up recurring transactions, which can cause some reconciliation headaches. There is currently no Android version of the mobile app.
- Cost: EveryDollar basic is completely free. EveryDollar Plus costs $99 per year.
Large corporations use generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) in their bookkeeping—so why shouldn’t individuals do the same? GAAP allows for efficient, comprehensive, and consistent accounting, which would be a boon to the average budgeter. AccountMe offers users a customizable GAAP accounting framework that allows you to view, edit, and budget your finances using the same double-entry bookkeeping as multi-national corporations. This means users will have an incredibly accurate view of their finances. More info…show
- Pros: Having a customizable GAAP accounting platform as an app on your smartphone is a major boon for anyone already familiar with GAAP.
- Cons: If you do not already know GAAP, it is not necessarily easy to learn from a smartphone app.
- Cost: There are three levels, starting at $9.99 per month for the basic platform, $24.99 for the mid-level, and $49.99 for the highest level (nicknamed the Gordon Gekko level, which indicates the creators of AccountMe have a sense of humor).
Imagine you had a financially savvy best friend who you could fold up and put in your pocket. He’d do all the calculations you’d need to figure out how to reach your goals (with his tiny pocket calculator), suggest an amount of money you could set aside every day to reach those goals, and give you itty bitty high-fives when you saved money. More info…show
- Pros: The app is designed to help you reach your goals without asking you to sacrifice your priorities or make drastic changes to your spending habits. It’s all about making saving money easy.
- Cons: The app has not yet launched. It’s not entirely clear how the program determines a safe amount for you to save each day, nor what safeguards are in place to protect you from a potential overdraft.
- Cost: Once Hip Money launches, the app will cost $18 per year.
For the budget-averse, it can seem like handling money is about constantly juggling and never getting ahead. That’s where the free app Cashpath can help. Once you securely link the app to your bank and credit card accounts, the app uses your past transactions to predict and adjust your cash flow every day, showing your discretionary money as “Free Cash.” The program will then help you split your Free Cash between Save and Spend. Since the app is designed to show you your money in real time, it is able to automatically adjust your Spend amount each day in response to unexpected bills or over-spending. More info…show
- Pros: This is a gorgeous and easy-to-use interface. The program offers a simple method for on-the-go budgeting for individuals who break out in hives at the idea of a spreadsheet.
- Cons: The program is still new, and not all of the potential options are available yet.
- Cost: Free
Envudu offers another option for envelope budgeters in the cash-free world. When you sign up, the program asks you to categorize the money in your checking account into separate spending “envelopes.” The program offers an Envelope Wizard that asks you a number of questions and automatically creates envelopes that will fit your budget needs based on your answers. More info…show
- Pros: For beginning budgeters, the Envelope Wizard can help you effortlessly create a workable budget. The fact that you can make “uncategorized” purchases without your phone available could be handy for the phone challenged.
- Cons: The availability of “uncategorized” purchases without a phone could get some users in trouble. The lack of a credit card option might turn some users off.
- Cost: $10 per month, once the program becomes fully available.
What if you had a money-savvy friend who could look over your finances, put the information into an easy-to-read graph, and even give you financial advice? That’s the idea behind the newly released Penny 2.0, the personal finance app that feels as easy as texting with a really helpful friend. More info…show
- Pros: This easy to use app takes a great deal of the intimidation out of finance. In addition, Penny’s pre-written questions allow new budgeters to know what to ask even if they would otherwise be confused.
- Cons: The pre-written questions might be annoying to a more advanced budgeter.
- Fee: None
- Best for: Beginning budgeters.
Would-be savers who would like some community encouragement will love Unsplurge. This iPhone app asks you to choose a goal and upload a picture of your goal. Once you have set your goal, it can then be shared with “Town,” which is the community platform for Unsplurge, where users can see others’ savings goals and cheer each other on. You (and Town, if you choose) will get to see your progress as you put money aside for your goal. More info…show
- Pros: Both the progress bar and the community aspect of Unsplurge can be very motivating and help you to establish a habit of saving money.
- Cons: Unsplurge does not help you budget or identify money that it is safe to put aside in savings. Also, the app is only available on the iPhone.
- Fees: None
- Best for: Those who are comfortable with budgeting but need additional motivation to save money.
Pennies (not to be confused with Penny, above)
This very intuitive iPhone app helps even the most absent-minded of spenders to stay on budget. Pennies allows you to set a number of budgets (such as monthly fun money, weekly food spending, and the like), with a start date, length of budget term, and the amount available to spend. Each time you make a purchase, you enter the amount into Pennies, which will show you the number of dollars and days remaining in that particular budget. More info…show
- Pros: This app is easy to use and offers a convenient method for tracking spending.
- Cons: Pennies only tracks one source of money, which means it might not work for individuals with more complicated finances. The app is only available for iPhone.
- Fees: $2.99 one time purchase fee.
- Best for: Beginning budgeters.
The Level Money app syncs with your bank account and determines how much will be left in that account after automatically deducting upcoming bills, recent purchases, and your savings goals. It then gives you an estimate of the amount of money that’s safe for you to spend over the next day, week, and month. More info…show
- Pros: The app makes spending decisions incredibly simple, and since it is synced with your accounts, you do not have to remember to enter in new purchases.
- Cons: Setting up the app can take some work, particularly if you have irregular income. In addition, some recent purchases can take a little time to show up in the app.
- Fees: None
- Best for: Beginning savers and/or budgeters, or those who hate dealing with money.