It seems like virtually everyone has been having money problems this past year. The COVID-19 pandemic has most people in a situation where they need to be more thrifty with their finances. But for some people, it can be hard to make a budget and stick to it.
Luckily for those people, budgeting apps exist. As the name implies, these kinds of apps help you create a budget and track your spending so you can be smarter with your cash. A good budgeting app can make the difference between paying all your bills with money left over and having to dip into your savings to pay for the basic necessities like rent, power, or food.
So to help you out with your finances, we put together this comprehensive list of the 10 best budgeting apps to use going into 2021. These budgeting apps can help you get a handle on your spending and save some extra dough.
What Is a Budget App?
In short, a budget app is a smartphone application that keeps track of your spending and helps you create a budget plan for your expenses. Budget apps exist so you can automatically keep track of what you are spending and where you are spending it.
In addition to spending tracking, budget apps can alert you when you have gone over your allocated spending for some specific category. They are a convenient way to keep track of your money and you do not have to constantly be looking at your bank account or keep a separate spreadsheet of your expenses.
Budgeting apps exist for both smartphone and desktop platforms. Moreover, the vast majority of them offer basic services for free while some have premium paid plans that offer extra planning and saving features like credit score checks, bank account transfers, and more.
How Do Budget Apps Work?
Most budgeting apps work by connecting directly to your bank and credit card accounts. Whenever you make a purchase, that purchase will be logged in the app and it will put it into some specific category such as rent, food, utilities, transportation, etc. Most budgeting apps have a handful of pre-defined categories transactions are automatically sorted into, though you can often create custom categories for certain kinds of transactions.
Budgeting apps will look at your spending habits and help you draft up a plan for saving money. Say you are spending a lot on food each month. A budgeting app can give you tips on how to minimize food expenses while putting more into savings, for example.
Most budgeting apps allow you to set alerts for when you reach certain spending limits for the month. So say you only want to spend $50 a month on transportation. You can set up your budgeting app to push an alert when you start to reach that monthly limit.
All of this is to say that budgeting apps offer a free and automatic way to track your spending and help you keep your expenses in check. You can use a budget app for a single person but there are also several budget apps for couples or multiple people who share bills.
What to Look for in Budgeting App
Here is a quick list of good features a budgeting app should have.
- Expense tracking. Any budget app you get should have the ability to track and classify your purchases.
- Budgeting tool. Any good budgeting app worth its salt will also have a budgeting tool that lets you set up a monthly budget for spending.
- Alerts. Always look for budgeting apps that let you set custom alerts when you hit a certain spending limit
- Credit check. While not an incredibly common feature, a budgeting app that can also check your credit score is a good thing to have.
- Resources & Community. Some budget apps have libraries of resources on financial planning or access to a community where you can get advice and share saving tips.
10 Best Budgeting Apps to Use in 2021
Take a look at some of the best budgeting and personal finance apps you can use today.
Mint is probably the most well-known and popular budgeting app in the country right now. As of 2020, Mint had over 10 million users and has grown very quickly in the past few years it has been active.
Mint has been the veritable gold standard for budgeting apps for quite some time now, thanks to its intuitive interface, excellent auto-categorization features, and real-time spending tracking.
Mint also lets you set alerts when you have hit certain spending limits and provides free credit score reports and credit monitoring services.
All of this is to say that Mint is one of the best free budgeting apps to have on your smartphone.
2. You Need a Budget
You Need a Budget (affectionately referred to as “YNAB” by its fans) takes a slightly different approach to budgeting and saving. Instead of relying on past transactions to draft up a tentative budget, YNAB builds your budget using AI algorithms based on your income, not your spending history.
It’s a unique take on the budget app model that is geared towards those who want a more top-down, high-level view of their finances.
YNAB has apps for both smartphones and desktops and allows couples to share their financial info. It also has debt payoff and goal tracking features to motivate specific patterns of saving and spending.
PocketGuard is another algorithm-based budgeting app that uses AI to track your expenses and help you take control of overspending.
It has a free version that allows basic features like expense tracking and categorization and also a premium paid version for $34.99 a year that adds in custom categories, data exporting functionality, and more fine-grained control over your transactions.
No matter which version you pick, you will get access to PocketGuard’s large library of educational resources to learn about how to make the most of your finances.
PocketGuard also has some excellent security measures, including 256-bit encryption, 4-digit PINs, and biometric safeguards like fingerprint scan and face ID.
Zeta is one of the few budgeting apps designed specifically for couples, whether they share joint finances or not.
It has options for all kinds of couples arrangements like married, living together, engaged, new parents, etc. To that end, the main function lets you sync various accounts to keep track of all that data in one place.
Zeta also recently launched a joint no-fee banking account that gives you digital checkers, direct deposits, ATM withdrawals, contactless payment options, and bill payment options. So in a lot of ways, it’s like a banking app with a budgeting app added to it. Zeta also offers in-product recommendations for financial products and services.
Goodbudget is a budgeting app that works on what is called an “envelope” system. You can portion out your income to specific “envelopes” (i.e. spending categories) and the app keeps track of how much is left in each envelope.
You can sync multiple accounts together so couples and family members can share a budget. However, unlike most other budgeting apps, Goodbudget does not sync your bank info. You have to manually enter in details like cash amounts and debts.
The base version of Goodbudget is free but there is also a Plus version which costs $6 per month or $50 annually. The Plus version allows unlimited envelopes and up to 5 synced devices on the same account, along with some other useful perks.
6. Personal Capital
Personal Capital is primarily an investment management tool but it also has a free budgeting service attached to the main investment functionality.
With Personal Capital, you can manage your finances via robo-advisors with access to human financial managers and keep track of all your spending and budgeting. You can sync with your credit card accounts, checking accounts, and investment accounts such as your 401(k), ITA, and more.
Personal Capital also has a nifty net worth calculator and portfolio breakdown tool so you can make sure you are getting the most out of your investments. So if you have a lot of investment accounts, then Personal Capital could be a good choice.
Compared to a lot of other budgeting apps, Wally is somewhat lacking in features. The interface is not that intuitive to use and the main thing it does is track your expenses and categorize purchases. It can also give you regular snapshots of your remaining budgets to help avoid overspending.
Wally is, however, completely free to use and there is a version for both iPhone and Android devices.
The most unique feature of Wally is it has support for basically every kind of foreign currency. As such, Wally is a great idea for people who live outside the US or have a significant amount of their money in a currency other than USD.
Simplifi is made by the same company that makes Quicken so you know that it is going to be a good and well-functioning financial product.
It allows you to make a completely personalized spending plan and sends you real-time updates on how much you have left in your budget. You can also keep track of your bills and monthly subscriptions for things like car payments, mortgage payments, Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc.
You can also set up custom “watchlists” which monitor your spending and alert you about any limits. It offers a 30-day free trial, after which it costs $2.99 per month if billed annually or $3.99 per month if billed monthly.
Simple is more than just a budgeting app; it is an online bank account that has a bunch of useful budgeting functions built-in. Simple can replace your old bank account and lets you manage your money and plan your budget all from the same place.
It is much easier than trying to match things up between separate bank accounts and budgeting apps. Simple will track your spending and lets you set goals for savings.
It has a useful “Safe-to-Spend” feature that tells you if spending would keep you on track or derail your savings plan.
Mvelopes is a budgeting app that places an emphasis on live support. There are three different plans to choose from and each of them comes with some kind of live support option.
If you get the Plus version ($19/month) or the Complete version ($59/month) then you also get access to a personal financial trainer.
Apart from the live support options, Mvelopes lets you track your spending, create envelopes for spending categories, and interactive reports about your spending habits.
Unfortunately, though, Mvelopes does not offer a free plan so you will have to pay to use this app. But it offers a lot more budgeting options than other free services.
Are Budget Apps Safe?
Yes, in general, budgeting apps are safe. Budgeting apps do not actually have control over your bank account so most of the time you cannot actually directly make withdrawals or deposits from them. So if someone did get into your budgeting app, they would not be able to drain your accounts or anything like that.
Moreover, most budgeting apps have several security features like 128-bit encryptions on personal data and two-factor authentication (2FA) to prevent any unauthorized access to your account.
Budget App FAQ
Budgeting apps help you keep track of your finances by tracking your spending habits and help you budget your money.
Yes, if used smartly a budgeting app can help you save an appreciable amount of money each month/year.
Most budgeting apps offer free tools and some have premium versions you can pay for to get more tools.
It depends on what exactly you need but in our opinion, Mint and YNAB are the two best budgeting apps out there today.
Yes, budgeting apps are safe as they do not have direct control over your bank accounts. Budgeting apps also have security features to protect your personal data.