Do you need to see details or just the bigger picture?
You’ve vowed to get your finances in order. That’s a great first step, but today’s savvy budgeters have access to more apps and technology than ever before, all of which promise to make budgeting a breeze. With so many options, it’s no surprise that it may take some time to find one that is perfect for you.
When you’re deciding which app to use, first determine your priorities: Are you hoping to make changes immediately, or just be more mindful of your spending? Are you willing to dedicate time each week to overseeing your budget? Are you someone who is motivated by having lots of information, or do you prefer to just consider the big picture?
Once you’ve given these issues some thought, it’s time to test out two or three tools to see how they meet your needs. Here are a few to get you started:
If You’re Serious About Budgeting
If you’re ready to make big changes, prompted by knowing exactly where your finances stand, You Need A Budget (YNAB) is a great place to start.
This tool touts “total control of your money,” and that’s exactly what it provides. YNAB is a zero-based budget system, where every dollar is assigned to a category, meaning that you have zero dollars that have no assigned purpose (although you can make categories for fun money and other spending).
The ultimate goal of using YNAB is to break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle by tucking away extra money until you are living entirely on last month’s income. Although it takes a few months to get to that point, the stress relief of knowing that your expenses are covered ahead of time is refreshing.
YNAB is a bit complex, so to get the most out of it, you’ll have to dedicate some time to learning how to navigate it, and then you will be able to evaluate your spending habits. The developer even offers free workshops and classes aimed at teaching you the ropes, so be ready to delve in if you decide this is the app for you.
On the downside, YNAB doesn’t offer any tools to track your investment portfolios. It’s purely focused on your income and expenditures.
You Need a Budget offers a 34-day trial and costs $50 per year after that.
If You Just Need to Get Organized:
Maybe you’re not quite ready to know every detail of your finances, but you want to become more organized about paying bills and keeping track of your money. In that case, Mint is the app for you. It’s one of the most well-known budgeting apps and for good reason.
Mint allows you to link and display all your accounts — from bank accounts to credit cards and even investments. If you need a little extra guidance, the app will give you bill reminders and notifications when your payments are due. It will also alert you when your account balances are low, helping you avoid dreaded overdraft fees.
Once you’re ready to budget, Mint makes it easy by suggesting a few starting budgets based on your spending. From there, you can adjust the categories and amounts, getting as in depth (or as basic) as you would like. Best of all, Mint is free.
If You’re a Little Old-Fashioned:
Did you once use a stack of envelopes filled with cash to get your spending under control? If so, you’ll be pleased to know the same option exists in the digital age.
Mvelopes allows you to create digital “envelopes,” allotting a certain amount of money to each spending category. The app tracks expenses from your linked accounts (although there is also a manual entry option) so that you can see how much you’re spending on categories like food or entertainment — and how much you have left.
Mvelopes also encourages users to direct the money saved through budgeting toward paying down debt. By better managing your money and not spending more than is in your envelope, this tool is great at helping you rediscover funds that can be used to pay off debt. And who doesn’t want that?
Mvelopes offers various levels, ranging from a free basic version to a coaching version that includes one-on-one monthly sessions, which of course will cost you ($59.95 per month). The premium version of the app is $19.95 per month.
If You’re Ready to Invest in Your Future:
Maybe you already have a good hold on budgeting and debt payment, and you’re ready to start investing in your future. In that case, Personal Capital is a great option that allows you to manage your investments and work toward building wealth.
This tool allows you to see your net worth over time and to analyze your investment portfolio. It provides clear information about important details like how much you are paying in fees, which of your investments are performing the best, and how your investments measure up to optimal assets class balances.
It also has a great retirement planner, so you can be at ease with your future finances.
And, like Mint, it also lets you do more basic financial management, like viewing income reports and tracking spending by categories.
Viewing your analytics is free. To use the app’s automated investing services, Personal Capital charges between 0.49 to 0.89 percent in asset management fees, and it requires a $25,000 minimum balance.