Even if you've never budgeted, these apps make it easy.
This may be the nerdiest of all confessions: I love a good budgeting session. Long before I knew what I was doing with money, there were few things I enjoyed more than sitting down with pen and paper and constructing a personal budget. Having a budget -- whatever budgeting method you choose -- is essential if you want to manage your money and meet your savings goals.
It was Christmas come early when I realized that there are apps to help with budgeting. I've been doing it the same way for so long I wasn't sure how I would adapt, and yet I was eager to test-drive a few.
Here are three very different budgeting apps that may take some of the sting out of organizing your finances:
Mint is one of the earliest budgeting apps and has evolved to include just about everything you could possibly want. It comes to us from Intuit, the good folks who brought us TurboTax and Quicken, and so it covers all your financial bases.
While I like the fact that you can connect the app to all your bank accounts, as well as your credit cards and some utility companies, I also understand that some people may be hesitant to do this. I'd recommend at least linking it to the checking account you normally use to pay bills. The process may sound intimidating, but the app walks you through each step and makes it easy.
Creating categories lets you look back at the end of the month and see where the bulk of your money is going. Another neat feature is that you can manually track your spending, so even if you don't connect your accounts, you'll still have a record of what you've paid for. The Mint app allows you to take care of multiple financial chores, including paying your bills. And if you prefer not to pay them through the app, it'll email you a reminder of what's due.
Mint also helps you track your investments, see an updated monthly credit score, and set financial goals. Ultimately, though, what makes Mint famous is its budgeting capability and the fact that you can personalize yours down to the smallest detail.
There is no fee to use the Mint budgeting app.
If you're a fan of envelope budgeting, you'll like this app. Goodbudget is a sophisticated way to divvy up your monthly income into different envelopes in order to stay on track. For example, one category (or envelope, if you will) allows you to include all things transportation-related, including the monthly payment on your car and maintenance costs. Another may be for groceries or piano lessons. As the month goes by, you take money out of the corresponding virtual envelope for each expense. You can see when the envelope is getting low, and the goal is to stop taking money out before it's empty.
There's a free plan, or you can spring for the $6 per month (or $50 per year) "plus" plan. The free plan allots you a total of 20 budgeting envelopes and allows you to use the program on two devices. With the plus plan, you get an unlimited number of envelopes and can use the program on up to five devices.
Unlike the other two budgeting apps covered here, Goodbudget does not sync with your bank accounts. You must manually enter each transaction as it occurs or import recent banking activity by uploading MS Money or Quicken files.
Goodbudget is best for those who are dedicated to adjusting their budgets as they go along, visual learners who like to see where their money is going, and folks who are uncomfortable linking their financial accounts to a budgeting app.
One of the strangest apps I came across also stole a little piece of my budget-loving heart. It's called Albert and it's perfect for anyone who swears there is no way they can save money.
Here's how it works: Like the Mint app, you link your accounts to Albert. Using a proprietary algorithm, Albert pores over your income, spending, and budget. Based on that information, it figures out how much you can safely save each month. The cool part is that Albert automatically transfers that money into Albert Savings, an FDIC-insured savings account. The transfers range from $5 to $30 (depending on your overall financial health) and take place two or three times each week.
Does the idea of Albert making that decision for you make you nervous? That's OK. You can instead opt to tell Albert how much to put in savings each week and withdraw funds anytime without ever having to pay a fee. The basic Albert app is free to use.
If you want to get really fancy, you can add on Albert Genius. Genius members can find answers to questions like, "Which car manufacturer offers the best warranty?" There's no set price per se, but you're asked to pay what you think is fair. The suggested minimum is $4 per month.
Albert users with a free plan get a bonus of $0.25 for every $100 in their savings account over the course of a year, and those who've signed up for Albert Genius get $1 for every $100 in savings. Bonuses are paid at the beginning of each month and can amount to 1% annually.
If you're not sure which budget app is right for you, take one -- or all -- of these for a trial run. Be warned, you may have a tough time deciding on just one because they each have something good to offer.