Find the best budget app for your needs and personality
Welcome to the second part of this feature on budgeting. In the 3 steps to start managing your money, the first step is setting up a budget that helps you keep tabs on your spending so that you can get in control of your money.
I wrote this article about budgeting apps because I remember what it feels like to want to get more in control of money but not knowing where to start. My partner had heard about You Need a Budget (YNAB) and recommended that I start there. And it was a great starting point for knowing where my money was going and being more disciplined about my spending. Personal capital was that next step for figuring out my complete financial picture. But those two products, while great for me, aren’t necessarily going to suit your needs or personality.
The problem with just talking about financial literacy without showing people a product that can help them is that it makes it difficult to take action. By the same token, selecting one product and taking a ‘one size fits all’ approach would mean excluding people from the conversation as we all have different needs and personalities that influence how we like to manage a budget. For example, some people love a visual approach and respond well to graphs whereas others like to deal only in numbers.
To include more people in conversations about money, the best thing I can do is to promote what I’ve used, including free and paid options and open myself up to trying new approaches as these are developed and then sharing them with you. That way, we keep learning together and refine our approach to money over time.
Building on the first of this budgeting article series, which covered YNAB and Personal Capital, here’s two more budget apps which could be the right fit for you and your financial needs.
Think of this as a super user-friendly version of Personal Capital, minus the emphasis on investing. The strength of Mint is its laser focus on budgeting and showing you an overview of your spending. If you’re not sure where your money goes each month, this app provides a dashboard of your entire financial situation across your bank accounts, any loans you are paying off and credit cards you’re using.
When you download the app, you just need to categorise your spending, which Mint will then remember and start to do automatically for future transactions. Not sure what categories you should use? Mint provides the top-level categories for you and will then show you how much you’ve spent across the different categories each week via an email update and visually in a neat graph so you can see where your money is going.
This app is great if you’re trying to cut down on a habit that you don’t feel enough satisfaction from to justify the expenses, such as buying multiple shots at the bar on a Saturday night when you’d rather have gone home by midnight and got your Sunday morning back. In Australia, a childhood friend of mine is steadily cutting back her pack a day habit. Given cigarettes in Australia cost around $40 a pack, she’d save close to $15,000 a year by snuffing out this habit. Mint can be really helpful in that you can set sub-categories and automatically categorise items so you can see how much you’re spending on them over time. If you’re motivated by setting goals as a replacement for previous habits you’re no longer practising, such as directing your daily cigarette budget to a house deposit fund, you can set up these goals on the Mint app and track your progress each month.
If you like clear communication, you’ll love the dashboard which updates automatically to show your current financial situation every time you log into the app. In that regard, it’s great for young people who are starting their financial journey or if you want a better understanding of your money but are juggling this with other priorities and don’t have the time right now for a bells and whistles app.
2. Pocket Guard
Another free app, Pocket Guard is great for people who want a coach to get them to their financial goals. On syncing your accounts, you set spending limits for each category or pocket of your budget. My major difficulty in the early days of a budget was sticking to the limits I set myself and feeling disappointed when I got caught up in the moment and splurged beyond my budget. That’s where the spending limits tool comes in, generating a reminder when you’re close to going over your spending limit for that category. An example of this in the real world is stopping you from pressing the check out button on that new pair of shoes if you’ve already bought a new jacket that month and are close to hitting your budget’s clothing category limit.
For my fellow Type A personalities out there, you’ll love the analysis of the app as it looks over your spending habits and suggests efficiencies to build a stronger budget. I love a simple pie chart and this app will deliver you a personal pie chart each month so you can see where your money is actually going. For anyone who loves using cash as a way to budget better, you can also upgrade to the paid PocketGuard Plus to keep track of your cash transactions on the go, which not a lot of budgeting apps have the tools for.
One thing that will endear Pocket Guard to Instagram fans is the use of hashtags to link different transactions so you can see your total spending or saving put toward particular goals like a trip round Europe or tracking shared expenses.
Are there only four budgeting apps in the world? Hell no. I’m keen to show you the best of what’s out there so that you can find a budgeting app that will help you take back control of your money and continue kicking financial goals. We’ll be continuing this series as we find more apps we love and share what we find so that you can test drive the right app for you.
Know a great budget app? Let us know here!