5 Budgeting Apps to Keep You in the Black

5 Budgeting Apps to Keep You in the Black
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Making a budget is easy, but sticking with it? Not so simple.

If you've struggled to keep track of your finances, you're not alone. According to a study released by the Urban Institute last summer, more than 35 percent of Americans have debts and overdue bills that have been reported to collection agencies.

Looking to avoid this kind of fate? Then it's time to take a cold, hard look at your spending habits. Luckily, the days of obsessive receipt-saving and spreadsheet updates are done, and keeping a watchful eye on your finances is now as easy as downloading an app to your smartphone. Here are a few of the most popular budgeting apps to help you get smart about your money.

Mint.com

mint.com

Mint.com is probably the most popular and well-known budgeting app out right now, and for good reason. It's free, quick and easy to set up, doesn't require any kind of software download and you can access it on your smartphone, laptop, desktop or tablet device.

Once you've created a profile, you can link up your bank accounts, credit cards, loans and investment accounts and have Mint monitor your spending, earning and payments all in one place. You can easily create a budget and get email notifications if you go over the limits you set for yourself. My Mint account tracks my spending in categories like dining out, groceries, health and fitness, entertainment, shopping and more. To be honest I don't use it as religiously as I probably should, but it is interesting to see how much I spend on certain things versus others.

  • Price: Free
  • Compatible Platforms: iOS, Windows, Android
  • Pros: Easy to sync with your accounts, sends weekly financial summaries, email alerts when you go over budget/make a large purchase/are charged a late fee etc, includes free credit score tracking and can be accessed on-the-go.
  • Cons: I've found their spending notifications to be a little slow. For example, I paid the security deposit for my new apartment in mid-February, and just got an email notifying me of my "Unusual Spending on Home Services" this morning. Like thank you, Mint! It's only been a month since that happened! Other common complaints include a lack of solid investing features, no customer support phone lines, and seemingly random auto-categorization of expenses (eg. sorting $35 spent at Walgreens into "Shopping-Clothing" instead of "Pharmacy").
  • Best for: The budgeting newbie who wants to take a hard look at their spending without too much effort.

GoodBudget

goodbudget

Similar to Mint, GoodBudget lets you set up spending categories (called "envelopes") and set limits on how much you want to allocate to each one. Unlike Mint, you'll have to manually enter all your financial information, as GoodBudget doesn't offer automatic bank/credit card/investment account syncing. However, the lack of this feature could actually make you more aware of your finances, as you'll be tasked with recording them yourself.

  • Price: Free (or $5/month for GoodBudget PLUS)
  • Compatible Platforms: iOS, Android
  • Pros: If you want to stay on the same financial page as your spouse or roommate, you can both download the app and share your budgets. You can also sync this app with the cloud, so you can access your information from different devices, and if you need help understanding your finances, GoodBudget creates charts and graphs to help you get a better grasp on things.
  • Cons: Doesn't automatically sync with your bank accounts, limited amount of envelopes/accessible devices/accounts available with the free version (and you only get one year of financial history unless you pay the $5/month).
  • Best for: The money tracker who likes manually inputting every purchase, and doesn't want to give an app access to their bank and credit card account information.

Mvelopes

mvelopes

As you can probably guess from its name, Mvelopes also uses the digital "envelope" system of budgeting--with a personalized touch. When you sign up, you'll have to specify how important different financial goals--like getting out of debt, saving money, donating to charity and reducing financial stress--are to you, and once you've done that, you'll be prompted to add your bank accounts, define your income, create a detailed personalized budget and then fund your envelopes. It's a time consuming process, but once it's all set up you'll be able to access all your financial information in one place.

  • Cost: Free (or $95/year for Mvelopes Premier)
  • Compatible Platforms: iOS, Android
  • Pros: Bank account syncing, personalized, goal-oriented budgeting help, easy to access on-the-go, networth tracking and email customer support.
  • Cons: Takes a long time to set up, software can be buggy, and many users have complained that logging in and loading your information can take forever--no matter which device you're trying to access it from. Customers have also reported being confused by the system and bored by the how-to videos designed to explain the complicated setup process.
  • Best for: Someone who wants their budget to be tailor-made for them, but needs a little helping hand.

BillGuard

billguard

Identify theft is a real issue in this day and age, and if you're unlucky enough to become a victim of identity theft, your finances could take a major hit. BillGuard works a lot like Mint, with the ability to sync and track credit card and bank account activity, but as an added bonus, it will also alert you when merchant you've recently shopped with is hit with a security breach, and will keep you in-the-know about recurring "grey charges" on your accounts.

Grey charges are unwanted expenses on your credit or debit cards that you might not notice without constant account monitoring--maybe you signed up for a free trial and forgot to cancel before your card was charged, or maybe your kids have been making in-app purchases without your knowledge. Whatever the situation, BillGuard will alert you of all account activity and keep you aware of where, exactly, your money is going.

  • Cost: Free
  • Compatible Platforms: iOS, Android
  • Pros: Can help you cut out grey charges for serious savings, features real-time account synchronization, notifies you if you're at risk for a data breach, secure
  • Cons: Most negative reviews in the Apple App and Google Play stores have to do with buggy software and clunky interfaces, so it may have a few more kinks to work out.
  • Best for: Anyone concerned about identity theft, excess spending or data breaches.

You Need A Budget (YNAB)

YNAB

YNAB does what few other budgeting apps can claim--it actually teaches you how to be more financially responsible. Sure, it comes with a price tag--a flat fee of $60 with no recurring charges--but you can opt for the 34-day trial first if you want to dip your toes in first.

Like GoodBudget, you'll have to manually import all your financial data, but it's also connected to the cloud, so you can access it on multiple devices and share your account with family members to stay up-to-date on your household's finances.

  • Cost: $60
  • Compatible Platforms: iOS, Android
  • Pros: Financial coaching, budget help, cloud sharing, and puts you in charge of recording your purchases, which can help you be more aware of your spending than letting the app do it for you.
  • Cons: No automatic account sync, may be pricey for people who are already in financial trouble, won't do much good if you're not diligent about updating your account.
  • Best for: The budgeting newbie with $60 to spare who wants to track every aspect of their own finances and learn some tricks along the way.

Depending on what your financial goals are, these apps are all good options for keeping your budget in check. However, our pick of the litter is Mint.com. Despite its shortcomings, it's by far the easiest to use, and the free version is just as helpful for budgeting newbies as YNAB's paid software--plus it does all the work for you!

How do you keep your budget in check? Let us know in the comments!