7 Best Budget Apps of 2020
Are you using a budget to manage your money?
If you said “no,” you’re not alone — 33% of Americans spend and pay bills each month without a firm budget plan in place.
Let’s face it, making a budget and figuring out what you’re spending or making each month may not be your idea of a good time. Fortunately, managing your money is now easier than ever thanks to the help of budgeting apps. If you’re one of the 70% of Americans that use mobile banking to keep track of your checking and savings accounts, then adding a budget app into the mix is a no-brainer.
But which budgeting apps are worth your time (and, in some cases, money)? You’re in luck. We’ve rounded up the seven best budget apps to try if you want to master your budget in 2020.
Who it’s good for: Budgeting beginners
Mint is one of the most popular budgeting apps around, and for good reason. It’s a great, comprehensive tool for learning the basics of budgeting when you’re new to managing money.
Here’s how it works:
You sync Mint to your bank accounts and/or credit card accounts. Then, Mint tracks and records your expenses, adding them to different spending categories based on how you budget.
It’s really that simple. And if you’re still learning the ropes of money management, simple may be better. Becky Beach, money-saving expert and founder of personal finance blog Mom Beach is a devoted Mint user and says it’s great for the beginner who feels overwhelmed with budgeting.
“It has a well-designed user interface that is simple to understand,” Beach says. “I’ve been able to track where my money is going thanks to Mint, while before, I was confused about why I had so little money all the time.”
In a nutshell, Mint is suited for people who want a streamlined budget app that can let them see at a glance how much they’re spending in real time. You can set alerts to let you know when you’re approaching a spending threshold and set savings goals. Mint adds to your financial picture by offering free credit scores and credit monitoring. That’s helpful if you’re hoping to build up your credit rating so you can qualify for the best credit cards.
2. YNAB (You Need a Budget)
Who it’s good for: Fans of zero-based budgeting
Cost: 34-day free trial, then $11.99/month or $84/year
You Need a Budget – YNAB for short – is a good budget app if you prefer a zero-based budget method. This type of budget system means assigning every dollar in your budget a job so that you’re left with zero money left over.
For example, when setting up YNAB, you’d set your budgeting goals, then start adding money into different categories. You might allocate a set amount to rent and utilities, earmark money for dining out and pencil in amounts to add to a savings or money market account for emergencies.
This budget app is good if you’re focused on making every dollar count each month. According to the YNAB site, its users save an average of $600 in the first two months and $6,000 in the first year. That’s pretty tempting if you’ve been struggling with saving money regularly and you want to get a tighter grip on your cash flow.
3. Clarity Money
Who it’s good for: People who want to plug budget leaks
Cost: Free to use, but a fee applies for bill negotiation
Clarity Money is a budget app that’s backed by Marcus by Goldman Sachs, which also happens to offer one of the best savings account options online. In fact, you can open a Marcus high-yield online savings account through the Clarity Money app.
This app is designed for people who want to do two things: track spending and cancel unwanted or unnecessary expenses. Similar to Mint, you sync Clarity Money with your bank and credit card accounts and the app records your spending. You can also leverage Clarity Money’s bill negotiation service to cut out money-wasting stream services.
The app itself is free to use, although Clarity Money does charge a commission fee to find and cancel unwanted subscriptions. But having an app do the work for you could be worth the amount of time (and headaches) you stand to save.
4. Personal Capital
Who it’s good for: People who want to do more than just manage their budget
Cost: Free for budgeting tools; management fee applies to investment advisory services
Personal Capital is designed for more advanced budgeters who want to create a comprehensive financial picture. With this budget app, you can:
- Track your expenses monthly
- View your upcoming bills
- Monitor your cash flow
- Track your debt payoff progress for auto loans, personal loans, student loans and other debts
- Plan your emergency fund savings goals
- Create a retirement savings strategy and/or track your retirement account and investment accounts
- Calculate your net worth
Personal Capital’s financial dashboard is free to access and use, which is great if you want a snapshot of how your income, spending, savings and debt balances track from month to month. Once you start building up some wealth, you might also take advantage of Personal Capital’s investment management tools. A separate fee applies for advisory services, based on the dollar amount of assets you have managed with Personal Capital.
Who it’s good for: Budgeters who like the cash envelope system
Cost: Free trial for 30 days, then $6/month or $55/year
The cash envelope system involves divvying up cash into envelopes that represent different budget categories. The Mvelopes budget app takes that same strategy and applies it to spenders who rely on debit and credit cards.
You sync your bank, credit card and other financial accounts to the app. Then you create virtual envelopes for each of your budget categories. You can then fund envelopes, assign transactions to different envelopes, move money between envelopes and round up any money that hasn’t been spent — similar to how you’d budget if you were using cash instead.
Aside from making it easy to adapt a cash envelope budget system to a debit or credit card lifestyle, Mvelopes can help you brush up on the finer points of budgeting. The Mvelopes website includes a huge library of free educational resources, including videos and articles on how to budget and manage money so you can use the app to its full potential.
Who it’s good for: Budgeters who want to keep it simple
Cost: Free for basic PocketGuard; $3.99/month or $34.99/year for PocketGuard Plus
PocketGuard is designed for people who want a streamlined way to track spending, make a budget and manage their finances. You can link your credit cards, checking accounts, savings accounts, personal loans, investments — you name it.
The app updates your spending transactions automatically so you see exactly where your money goes. Another nice feature: PocketGuard tells you how much money in your budget is safe to spend after you’ve paid the bills and added a little something to savings. That can help you avoid overdrafting your account and racking up pricey overdraft fees, which collectively cost consumers over $34 billion annually.
Who it’s for: Couples who want to budget together
Cost: Free for the basic version, $6/month for Goodbudget Plus
Goodbudget is another budget app that utilizes the envelope method to help you track your expenses each month. The app can sync with bank and credit card accounts across multiple devices, which is what makes it a good option for couples who are trying to stay on top of their household budget as a team.
Goodbudget uses a values-based budgeting approach. You set aside money to meet your needs first, then assign dollar amounts based on what’s most important to you. For example, that might be saving money to buy a home if you’re already checking out mortgage rates. Or making a bigger dent in your auto loans or other debts.
This is a great budget app to try if you want no surprises when it comes to your money each month. You decide how many envelopes you need and how to fill them. As money goes out again, you can have the peace of mind of knowing your most important expenses are covered.
Tips for budgeting successfully
Using a budget app makes managing your money simpler and less stressful. But there are a few more things you can do to make sure your budgeting efforts pay off. Give these tips a try to get the most bang for your budgeting buck:
1. Take advantage of the goal-setting tools included in a budget app.
This can help with tracking your progress and staying motivated to stick with your big (or small) money goals.
2. Shop around for the best credit cards to use to earn rewards on spending.
For example, if you’re interested in earning cash back, then you might consider the Capital One Savor Rewards credit card or the Citi Double Cash Card.
For travel miles and points, there’s the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card or the Capital One Venture Rewards credit card.
3. Remember to budget for irregular expenses.
This includes things like insurance premiums or other expenses you pay biannually or annually. Consider setting aside money from every paycheck for those expenses, so you’re not scrambling to come up with the cash when those bills are due.
4. Schedule a monthly budget date to review your spending and income.
Go over each spending category to see what’s increased or decreased from the previous month and do the same with your income.
5. Remember to include saving in your budget.
Last but not least, add in a line item for emergency savings, a down payment fund or any other goal on your list when planning your budget. Make sure you’re keeping your money in the right place. A CD or money market account, for example, might work best for long-term goals, while a high-yield savings account could be better for saving in the short-term.