Understand Your Spending
Keeping a balanced budget can help you stay on track and sleep better at night. But if your money-management system requires sifting through piles of receipts and retrieving cash from various pockets and purses, it’s time to reconsider your approach. With these seven apps, you can put away the paperwork and get a better understanding of your daily, weekly, monthly and annual spending habits.
Ready, set, download and go!
This popular app gives you all the tools you need to manage your earnings, spending, saving, and budgeting. It syncs up all your accounts, from bank accounts and mutual funds to your 401(k) or IRA.
Each section is intuitively organized to give you the big picture of your finances. The Updates section includes all transactions (recent and unauthorized) and how you’ve been using your accounts. In Overview, you can get account totals, monthly budget, credit score (get a free one when you sign up), alerts for where you went over budget, and spending broken down by category.
Mint shows your cash flow in real time, including deposits, expenses, credit card debts, and other investments. This format is great if you’re especially into using your debit or credit cards for all purchases, but it also works with cash as long as you enter every purchase.
In addition to adding up all your accounts, and outlining budget and savings goals, Mint analyzes your spending habits, helping you pinpoint areas where you can potentially save. If you’re forgetful about balances, you can set a low-budget alert and Mint will email or text when you hit it.
GoodBudget (formerly EEBA)
This is a great app for people who are ready to start creating a budget based on their cash flow. The envelopes system is similar to putting allocated amounts of cash into actual envelopes per month, which is charmingly old school.
Use the Envelopes section to divvy up your monthly budget and understand spending habits in each area of your life. For items that land in your recurring budget, select the time frame as monthly, weekly, semi-monthly, or every two weeks, and then pick a start date.
This app is also optimal for people whose pay schedules vary (hey, freelancers). The “irregular” option lets you track spending that isn’t routine. For example, maybe you have a “holiday gifts” or “vacation” envelope that you contribute to every other month — or when you can.
This app starts with a few simple questions about your financial goals. Mvelopes in no way should replace a financial planner or advisor, but it does guide you through ways to think about money long term. It starts by syncing up your bank accounts. The app takes security very seriously, as it should, and requires rounds of email confirmation to sync up. Much like Mint, Mvelopes wants to work directly with your financial institution, tracking every debit and credit transaction.
After syncing, Mvelopes functions similar to GoodBudget with the envelopes system, but asks you to define income and create a budget before filling the spending envelopes. This way you’re thinking realistically about how much you have in your accounts, what your income actually looks like, and what a reasonable budget could look like.
After loading the accounts, Mvelopes takes you through defining your income and creating a budget, and then separates spending from the total amount in your bank accounts. That way, you’re spending based on a budget rather than your net worth, or how much is in your accounts.
BillGuard has two goals: to make sure you completely understand your spending habits, and to protect your cards from fraud and unauthorized transactions. This app syncs your bank accounts first, and then quickly brings up your total balance and the amount you spent this month.
The app uses Tinder-like swiping actions to make sure you account for every transaction. Your inbox shows a full list of all transactions. Swipe right if you actually made it, and it stays on your list. If you didn’t make the transaction, swipe left and a screen with the following options pops up:
- Help Me Recognize This
- Report/Contact Merchant
- Follow Up Later
If you choose the last, it will continuously show a small red dot until you address the situation.
After you’ve made your swiping decisions, you can go back into the All tab and see every transaction listed with merchant, type of purchase, amount spent, and date. The Analytics button breaks down spending per category. There’s also a handy News Center that shows security breaches.
Operating system: iOS
Pocket Expense focuses on tracking your spending, giving you a visual outlook on your spending before creating budgets (rather than the other way around).
Pocket Expense does not sync with your bank accounts. You manually enter all transactions, making the app ideal if you’re concerned about linking accounts. Start by entering your checking and savings. From there, enter how much you spend. Pocket Expense color codes these numbers in green (how much you have, or a credit) or red (debts and expenses).
You can add additional accounts — great for people with multiple checking or savings accounts. To get a breakdown of how much you spend versus how much you have combined, go to the Calendar tab and take a look at expenses per day, week, or month, all color coded. Then set up a budget under the Budgets tab and check out Charts for your spending breakdown.
Everything about this fantastic app is super clear, color coded, and easy to navigate. The home screen shows the following categories: Expenses, Bills, Income, Budget, and Accounts, and the dollar amounts in each one. Right below that, you see a chart with expense as percentage of income (color-coded from zero to 100 percent) and a total balance. Below, there are three more tabs: Payees, Reports, and Search. Unlike other apps with tabs at the bottom of the screen, this shows everything up front.
The Income section is also easy to use, especially for freelancers: Enter each client into the Description section, and then organize by category (client) or date. All the financial big-picture options can be found under the “reports” table. If you want a broader month-to-month look at your spending, budgeting, and accounts, you can get that landscape as well. If you have people you regularly pay, add them to the Payees section.
This app offers another added bonus: a Search tab. Let’s say you’re trying to find a check you deposited months ago from a specific client. Just search for that client and it will immediately pop up.
This app offers both smartphone and web interfaces. The easy-to-navigate interface features four big buttons: SmartScan, Add Expense, Track Time and Track Distance.
“SmartScan” lets you photograph, categorize, and tag receipts, and then add them to expense reports if necessary. You can also enter the merchant name, total amount spent, and date for each expense. This is great for anyone who wants to save receipts but doesn’t want to hang on to a paper copy. If you prefer manual input, “Add Expense” offers the categorizing options. You can also note if the expense is billable and/or reimbursable by the flip of a few switches.
The “Track Distance” option is especially handy for freelancers who travel by car and want or need to bill by distance; here, you can track by odometer, or just turn on location and use the app’s GPS. The “Track Time” option offers a way to keep tabs on hourly earnings, which are based on a set hourly rate.
Add your debit and/or credit card through the web version of Expensify, and you’ll be able to track your total account balances alongside daily expenses and earnings. Expensify offers both micro and macro pictures of your financial life. Later, you can export your expense reports or send invoices straight from the app or the web version.