If the idea of following a budget makes you want to hide under a rock, you’re not alone.
Thankfully, following a budget does not have to feel restrictive. In fact, it can give you a sense of freedom knowing where your money goes every month. When you can make a budget and stick to it, you have a clearer picture of your income, spending, and saving, which informs all financial decisions.
Budgeting apps are fantastic tools designed to help you understand your spending and make adjustments as needed. Let's dive into several of the best budgeting apps out there, to help you decide which one is best for taking charge of your finances.
|Free for Basic or $8/month for Plus
|Empower Personal Dashboard
|$14.99 per month or $99 annually
|Free or upgrade for $7.99/month, $34.99 annually, or $79.99 forever
Best for New Budgeters: Goodbudget
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The Goodbudget app takes the old “envelope system” and modernizes it for the digital world. While some financial educators teach that you should use physical cash in envelopes for your expenses, that’s not the most secure way to handle money these days. But the concept remains the same with an app.
With Goodbudget, you allocate your monthly income into different spending buckets (envelopes) such as food, mortgage, paying off debt, entertainment, etc. Then, when bills and expenses come up, you use the appropriate envelope and only spend up to the amount you have available for the month.
The focus of Goodbudget is planning how you’ll spend each paycheck, rather than looking back at where the money went. It’s one of the best budgeting apps for people who might be completely new to budgeting.
With the free version, you get access to one account with 10 “regular” envelopes plus 10 more. Access the app across two devices, and the app will store one year of your budgeting history.
You have to manually record financial transactions, making it more hands-on — which is great for some budgeters who want to put in that effort.
If you’d like more features, upgrading to the paid plan gets you unlimited accounts and envelopes as well as five devices. The app then stores seven years of your history, and you also get email support.
Best for Investors: Empower Personal Dashboard
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If you’re looking for a digital tool that helps you both manage your everyday expenses and keep a focused eye on your investments, Empower Personal Dashboard is a top-notch choice.
Empower isn’t as new as it might sound. It used to be called Personal Capital, and many people know it for its robust investing tools. However, it can be a hassle to juggle separate platforms for budgeting and investments, so that’s where Empower comes in.
The free Budget Planner from Empower gives you the chance to set monthly spending targets as well as savings goals. You can track all expenses each month, classifying them into categories you designate. It’s a really straightforward budgeting app, which is what many of us need.
The hallmark of Empower is its tools for helping you manage and monitor investments. You can connect any financial accounts, from checking and savings accounts to brokerage accounts, to help you gain a comprehensive view of your finances.
In this way, Empower grounds you in the present without neglecting your future. However, if you’re at a point where focusing on debt repayment or getting your spending in check is your primary goal, Empower might not be the most effective budgeting tool for you.
Best for Couples: Honeydue
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It can be extra challenging to stick to a budget when you’re sharing finances. That’s why an app tailored specifically to couples is so useful.
Honeydue offers features like bill reminders to whichever partner you select for specific bills, along with chats within the app for you to reach out to your significant other about finances. Think of all those moments when a money question crosses your mind, but by the time you see your partner, you’ve forgotten all about it. Using the chat feature can ensure you get those messages across.
With Honeydue, you can link financial accounts with over 20,000 banking institutions. And while this is great on its own, you also get the added benefit of customizing what your partner can see. This means that you’re able to keep certain accounts, or certain transactions within accounts, hidden from your partner — which can be helpful if you want to keep that birthday present a surprise.
By signing up with Honeydue, you can access their 17 pre-programmed spending categories as well as add your own. The app is free, with no paid version as of yet.
Honeydue is a basic budgeting app that shines brightest for people combining their finances. It helps streamline communication about money so you and your partner are on the same page.
Best for Serious Budgeters: YNAB
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If you want one of the most robust budgeting apps on the market and you’re willing to put in some time, you can’t really go wrong with YNAB, an acronym for You Need a Budget. This program launched in 2004, led by a married couple who wanted a better way to manage their money.
YNAB consistently shows up on “best of” lists for financial tools, and for good reason. It’s garnered high user ratings in both the Apple and Google Play app stores and offers a wide array of handy features that can really propel you forward in pursuit of your financial goals.
While YNAB isn’t free, the host of tools within the app might make it worth the cost (and you’ll avoid those pesky in-app ads common to free apps). You can also test it out for free for 34 days, and subscribers can share with up to six people.
Here are some of the key features you’ll get with your YNAB membership:
- Goal tracking to monitor progress toward goals like saving for an event
- Loan planner to estimate how payments and interest will affect your finances
- Spending and net worth reports in attractive charts and graphs
- Importing of transactions automatically
YNAB also follows its own four-step method and encourages users to follow that framework. It’s a tried-and-true budgeting method, but users often say it comes with a learning curve. If you’re willing to put in the time and want a lot of features besides basic budgeting, get the free trial period to test it out.
Best for Tracking Expenses: PocketGuard
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While many people want budget tools that help them plan ahead, some prefer to survey their spending after the fact. PocketGuard is one of the best expense trackers that shows you where your money has gone each month (which can then help inform your spending the next month).
To get automated insights, you can connect your important financial accounts to the app to have transactions reported and analyzed for you. Or if you prefer, you can decline to link accounts, instead inputting transactions manually. Tracking your spending reveals potential areas of overspending in which you might cut back.
With PocketGuard, you can use bill payment reminders to help you avoid missing payments. You have the choice of three popular budgeting methods (50/30/20, zero-based, or envelope budgeting). Plus, you can arrange notifications when your accounts fall below a set percentage of your budget to avoid overspending.
Other features of PocketGuard include fraud detection, spending insights (even tracking specific categories using hashtags to monitor problem spending areas), and a SMART goals program designed to help you reach personal savings goals. That’s quite a bit of power packed into one app.
If you don’t need the debt payoff plan, you’ll probably be satisfied with the free version of PocketGuard. However, if you want those debt payoff features plus unlimited budgets and savings goals, it may be worth the subscription cost.
What Is a Budgeting App?
A budgeting app is a digital tool to help you manage your finances. They can be used to track how much money you spend and save each month, notify you when bills are due, and help you set financial goals for the future.
While many budgeting apps are designed solely for budgeting purposes, some can also help you manage your investments — although if you're looking to make trades on the stock market or enroll in a retirement account, you'll likely need a more robust investing app or robo-advisor.
Pros and Cons of Budgeting Apps
Some people make great financial strides by using budgeting apps, while others can reach their financial goals without that technology. Here are the key pros and cons of budgeting apps.
- Conveniently access financial information from anywhere
- Organize multiple accounts in one central location
- Some apps can cater to the type of budgeter you are
- Secure budgeting with bank-level encryption
- Apps can’t force you to change behavior or stick to a budget
- Some apps charge for their best features
- You might prefer pen-and-paper methods of planning and tracking expenses
- Potential risk when sharing personal and financial information
How to Choose a Budgeting App
When it comes to apps, the point is to find a tool that serves you best. Think about your main pain points around budgeting and finance, as well as how hands-on you want to be. That will guide you in choosing the best budgeting app for you.
Do you dread creating and following a budget? Then you may want to start with a more basic app that doesn’t create a lot of work for you. Are you struggling to communicate with your partner about where your money goes? Then consider a couples-focused app.
If you’re interested in really diving deep into your finances, you may want a more comprehensive financial app that addresses net worth, loan payoff, and other factors besides spending.
Cost can be a factor as well. Try a free app first to find out whether it covers all your bases. On the other hand, some people might get more out of an app they pay for, and a few dollars a month is small compared to the amount you might save by using the app.
Fintech has brought a variety of budgeting apps that can make it easier for you to manage money. Whether you struggle with overspending, worry about missing bill due dates, or want motivation to stay financially focused, you can find an app to serve you.
For more budgeting tips, check out the Erika Taught Me podcast, where Erika Kullberg has conversations with financial experts — who all have helpful advice and stories to share.