Setting a budget is arguably the single most important step toward improving your finances. With a budget, you can better control your spending and work towards your financial goals. Given that creating and maintaining a budget are data-heavy tasks, utilizing software can facilitate the process and provide you with additional functionalities to track your finances.
Mint, YNAB, Empower, Goodbudget, and PocketGuard are just some of the best budgeting apps currently available in 2023. They provide comprehensive and easy-to-use interfaces for inputting your expenses and tracking your budget.
What makes these apps stand out is their ability to offer comprehensive budgeting options without overwhelming users. They also offer notifications and alerts to encourage people not to overspend. Many of these apps also excel in various use cases such as investment analysis or data visualization. Trying out these apps is a good strategy both for first-time and returning budgeters.
Top Rated Budgeting Apps
When searching online for budgeting apps, you’ll likely encounter Mint as one of the top search entries. The massive popularity of Mint is strong evidence of its usefulness for people from all walks of life. Mint excels in offering extensive customization options and security features through an easy-to-use interface.
Mint supports multiple accounts, including bank accounts, credit lines, and investment instruments. It summarizes the status of your various accounts and provides relevant statistics such as your estimated net worth and cashflows. The app can make intelligent recommendations to improve your savings based on your accounts and transactions.
The app also allows you to create budgets and then assign transactions with their corresponding budget. With this information, Mint can raise alerts if you’re about to exceed your budget.
Mint has a handy bills feature that can remind you of important due dates and amounts, helping you avoid late fees and other expenses.
Mint integrates with many banking institutions, allowing users to quickly sync bank account information with app records.
Finally, the app features multiple layers of security, including multiple-factor authentication and encryption. Any data processed by the app is reasonably protected from hackers.
With the app currently available for free, Mint is a strong option for anyone looking for budget apps.
You Need a Budget (YNAB)
YNAB has a name that garners attention. Past its witty name, YNAB offers strong features that distinguish it from the competition. People who are working to reduce their debt and minimize expenses would find YNAB especially useful.
YNAB takes a slightly modified version of the typical budgeting process. The app asks users to assign each dollar earned to a specific task, such as paying for credit card bills or saving for a home purchase. This approach forces users to think about how they spend their money and ensures that no money is left allocated. This zero-based budgeting system is well-known in the personal and corporate finance industry, and it can be an effective tool for people to understand how to allocate money properly.
YNAB also offers integrations to several banks, allowing for seamless syncing of bank account information into the app. The app uses well-established authentication and encryption features to protect your data. By being accessible thru desktop and mobile devices, YNAB ensures that users can utilize its budgeting system anytime and anywhere.
YNAB offers a trial version of around a month. A subscription can cost up to USD 12 per month. Despite the cost of the app, many users are satisfied with what they get from the app: disciplines budgeting.
The Empower app lives up to its name of being a powerful but easy-to-use financial tracking app. The software excels in data visualization and report generation, allowing you to instantly get a bird’s eye view of your finances.
According to Thomas Kopelman, a financial planner, a common myth is to believe that “you do not need an emergency fund.” Empower is excellent for tracking your savings account and other emergency funds through its cash flow tracing capability. However, the app shines through its core functionality that revolves around investments. The app offers advisory tools to help you make sound investment decisions. From analyzing investment fees to tracking your net worth in real-time. Empower provides advanced data and analytics to help you optimize your financial strategy.
Fortunately, Empower uses an intuitive user interface to guide users as they navigate the app. Its ability to integrate with bank and credit card accounts as well as several investment instruments means that users can focus on identifying optimizations and improving their approach to financing. Empower also offers robust user authentication and encryption to secure your financial data.
Empower has a free platform with most of its core features. Investors who want to receive management services can opt to pay a small percentage of their investments. Given the extensive amount of data given by the app, Empower is a great choice for the investment-minded user.
The Goodbudget app is best for people who use the envelope system for budgeting their money. The envelop method involves partitioning a sum of money into several envelopes representing key expense categories such as groceries or healthcare. The creation of effective envelope budgeting systems is especially relevant as society transitions to a cashless economy, and Goodbudget helps bring this approach closer to motivated budgeters.
Another useful feature of Goodbudget is the ability to track household budgets in addition to your budget. Each budget can be assigned to several people, allowing for a more collaborative approach to budgeting.
Goodbudget complements its app with educational materials designed to teach financial literacy. These resources include both text and multimedia formats, giving users the flexibility to choose materials that best suit their needs.
Goodbudget offers a free version that contains all of its features. Users who want to create detailed budgets might benefit from the paid version of the app which increases the envelope limit.
For followers of the envelope budgeting system, Goodbudget is a strong and accessible software option.
The PocketGuard app offers a budgeting app that simplifies your spending data into intuitive statistics and charts. Its approach to data visualization ensures that you can quickly understand the highlights of your spending and saving habits.
PocketGuard specializes in highlighting the money you have after accounting for regular expenses. Knowing exactly how much of your income you save after expenses can motivate you to work harder to increase your savings.
According to Harvard Business Review, “reaching our (financial) goals is easier when we set a realistic timeline to achieve them.” PocketGuard can calculate how much you save and spend collectively each month, making it easier for you to spot monthly or seasonal patterns.
Another excellent feature of PocketGuard is its bill negotiation feature. Based on the transactions you input, the app can recommend specific offers designed to reduce your spending.
PocketGuard has its essential features in the free version of the app. However, users can unlock the full potential of the app through a paid subscription.
Guidelines for Assessing Budgeting Apps
Aside from knowing the current lineup of top-tier budgeting applications, it’s also useful to know what distinguishes a good budget app from its competition. Using software that offers many useful features can help you do more with the finance data you input and ultimately make more optimizations to your budgeting system. Apps that are easy to use are especially useful for first-time budgeters seeking to strengthen their financial tracking habits.
While preferences change from person to person, the following general criteria should help you decide which budgeting apps are worth your time and money.
Many people use the software store of their respective mobile operating systems when searching for any application, including budgeting software. However, not all apps are available for all platforms. Sometimes, device availability can be the determining factor for choosing one app over another. The best budgeting apps should support all major operating systems and devices.
Considering which platforms a certain app supports is especially relevant for people with multiple devices. Even if the devices have the same operating system, some apps may have features that are incompatible with older phones. Some finance software has limited features when using their mobile app, so power users may need to access the desktop version through a laptop or PC.
Note that more apps are generally available on Android due to relatively lower compliance requirements for Android app developers. Fewer apps may be available on Apple devices, However, the more stringent qualifications for Apple’s App Store means that budgeting software on that platform will generally tend to offer better user experiences.
Backup and security features
Your budgeting data will likely contain sensitive financial information such as credit card purchases and bank account details. Unauthorized persons who somehow gain access to this data can expose you to fraud and identity theft. For many people, the weakest link in their protection against financial data leakage would be their budgeting apps, especially those with inadequate security features. Choosing a budgeting app that offers strong security is paramount to keeping your financial data secure.
At a minimum, your budgeting app should require a password or other key to access and manipulate entries. Two-factor authentication, or 2FA, is also strongly recommended for more protection. A 2FA system requires both your password and a time-sensitive verification code sent to your device upon login. Even if a hacker manages to obtain your password, a strong 2FA system can keep them out.
Learn more about common security tips through our article, “Efficient Workplace Security Devices.”
The budget app you choose should also perform data encryption. Even if the security of your app is stolen, encryption can prevent outsiders from meaningfully interpreting any stolen data. The software itself should receive regular patches to fix security vulnerabilities. Finally, the company selling the app should have a strong history of ensuring data security and privacy.
Another important aspect of security involves data integrity protection. A good budgeting app should offer backup options to protect your data in the case of data loss or corruption. Ideal setups would include multiple backup options where you can create backup files that can be saved in separate locations in your phone storage or other devices. Many apps also support cloud storage where encrypted data can be uploaded thru the Internet and stored in servers operated by the company. Keep in mind that any backup solution should be as secure as the mobile app itself to prevent any additional vulnerabilities.
Security issues will only continue to evolve. Insider Business says that “the worsening cybersecurity landscape, marked by a continuous increase of sophisticated attacks, is on track to reach a crescendo as quantum computing advances.” Choose software providers that can provide strong security for years to come.
Learn more about protecting your data through our article, “Digital Literacy and Cybersecurity: Protecting Yourself and Your Company’s Data Online.”
High levels of customization
The most basic budgeting apps allow users to place their financial transactions, including both revenue and expenses. These apps can calculate how much the user earns and spends within a week or a month. Another basic functionality would be to check expenses against a user-defined budget and to warn the user if the set budget is nearly depleted.
While these basic functions already provide a lot of utility, many apps offer more advanced features for specific use cases. Some software can track multiple accounts and assign transactions appropriately, ensuring more granular control. Others can generate reports and financial statements either regularly or on demand. An increasing number of apps can utilize machine learning to identify patterns and suggest user-specific recommendations.
Consistency is the key to building any habit, including expense tracking. Utilize automation as much as possible so that it’s easier for you to keep using your chosen software.
A good budgeting app should facilitate automation by integrating with outside accounts. One example of integration is when your app can directly access account details from your bank to determine recent transactions and the current account value. Another example is when your app can communicate with supermarket loyalty programs to retrieve and store your previous purchases.
Integrations can drastically shorten the time you spend inputting transactions and are particularly useful for repetitive transactions. When using integrations, make sure that your budgeting app uses proper security to safeguard your data. Note also that some integrations may break from time to time due to regular maintenance, so be ready to manually input data in this scenario.
According to Insider Business, “as customers engage with their finances more meaningfully, banks can translate this increased engagement into more revenue.” More institutions are expected to set up integrations in the coming years.
Trackers and notifications
For most mobile applications, notifications are more of an undesirable trait than a sought-out feature. However, budgeting apps can become more effective at promoting healthy financial habits if they can consistently alert users about potential issues or problems. Good software should be able to provide useful notifications without being too intrusive.
Many budgeting apps track how much the user has spent versus their declared budget. These apps will typically warn the user if total spending is about to reach the limit. Another important notification involves alerting the user when they haven’t used the app in the last few days. This alert helps encourage regular usage of the app and assists in building healthy habits.
Machine learning features
Given the increased computational power of most devices alongside dropping costs, machine learning and AI are becoming more accessible to everyone. Companies are striving to innovate by introducing intelligent features into their budgeting apps. Machine learning algorithms work optimally when given a large and structured dataset such as historical transaction records. They work by identifying patterns and predicting trends, allowing them to make personalized recommendations.
Learn more about emerging machine learning through our article, “What is Machine Learning?“
Ease of use
While it is important for budgeting apps to offer useful functionalities, they should still be able to provide enjoyable user experiences to be effective. Even the most feature-packed apps won’t have a meaningful impact on financial health if they’re too clunky or complicated for users. Intuitive user interfaces that balance style with functionality are essential for anyone who wants to practice expense and budget tracking in the long term.
Ease of use also translates to avoiding inconveniences. Apps that use unoptimized resources or are built on outdated software packages will likely encounter frequent bugs and outages, making for a poor user experience. Choose apps that are made by competent software developers and a company that truly cares for its customers.
According to Harvard Business Review, “a design-centric culture puts the focus on user experiences — especially emotional ones.” Empowering interfaces can distinguish a budgeting app from its peers.
Even with the list of the best budgeting apps in this article, you may still want to experiment with various apps to see which one is the best fit for your needs. Fortunately, many budgeting apps offer trial versions so that you can try out their basic features before committing to a subscription. Other apps offer full functionality from Day 1 for a limited number of weeks, allowing you to try their best features.
How important is it to find the best budgeting app for me?
You should experiment with many budgeting apps to find the one that meets your needs the most. The vast selection of software means that there will always be a match for your use cases. However, don’t over fixate on finding the ultimate budgeting app. With personal finance software being a competitive market, most reputable apps already offer excellent services.
Is it worth it to spend money on a budgeting app?
The decision to pay for premium apps or to choose free software is up to you. For many people who only need a reliable budget tracker, free apps can do the trick. However, many of them eventually decide to switch to paid apps to take advantage of additional features. Shelling out money can also be worth it if it motivates you to use your chosen budgeting app to its fullest.