underscored couple using budgeting app

If you’re looking to start budgeting — or enhance your existing budgeting method — there are many apps that can do the bulk of the work for you. Using any of these apps to organize and track your spending will undoubtedly help you stay on top of your financial game. And since many of today’s most popular budgeting apps are available for free, there’s no reason not to take advantage of them.

With so many budgeting apps available, we picked a handful of the most popular ones — 11 in total — and put them to the test. We used our own financial information to see which apps helped us keep our budget in order the best. And although all of these apps have something to offer, we found three winners that can fully keep your finances — and budget — in check.

Best budget app overall

Without question, PocketGuard is our favorite budget app. It’s easy to set up an account and straightforward to use. The app is available on the Apple Store and Google Play, and there’s a desktop version if you get sick of the tiny screen on your phone.

Best budget app for couples

If you’re looking for a simple budgeting app for you and your significant other, look no further than Honeydue. This entirely free app is as easy as it comes, and can truly ensure that you and your partner are synced up when it comes to budgeting.

Best budget app for account tracking

Mint is one of the most well-known money management apps out there — and it’s easy to see why. This completely free app offers the longest list of features of any app while neatly laying out all your financial information.

Best overall budget app: PocketGuard (basic version: free; PocketGuard Plus: $4.99/month, $34.99/year or $74.99/lifetime)

PocketGuard can link all your credit card and checking accounts together, along with other types of financial accounts, to help you build a robust budget. You can also manually add any additional income you receive, such as cash or checks that don’t hit your bank account.

To create an initial budget, the app shows you what you’ve spent in prior months as a baseline, which you can adjust as desired. When creating your budget, PocketGuard offers many categories to choose from as well as the option to create your own categories — a feature that not all apps have.

The app automatically categorizes your transactions, but you can edit the category for any transaction if the system gets it wrong. However, in our testing, PocketGuard’s categorizations were pretty accurate.

Once your initial setup is complete, you’ll see how much money is left over for the month, which the app calls “In My Pocket.” This helps you determine how much money you can save or spend on everything else.

Then, throughout the month, your budget is updated in real time based on your transactions so you can see how much over or under budget you are in each category. PocketGuard’s budgeting charts also provide some great visuals of your month-over-month spending habits.

A newer feature is that you can set up push notifications to receive alerts in regards to your finances, such as if a bill due date is approaching, income has been received, you’ve gone over your budget and much more.

PocketGuard can even help you lower some of your bills. For example, the app noted that my monthly Verizon bill was $218.97 per month, and estimated that it could negotiate a savings of $12.48 per month. While this is a free service, if PocketGuard is successful at saving you money, it takes a 40% cut of the savings.

This money-saving service is available for many types of bills, including phone, internet and cable. Of course, there’s no guarantee that PocketGuard can save you money, but it never hurts to have someone else try to save you money on your behalf, especially if you don’t want to go through the effort of negotiating with your service providers on your own.

The one downside of the app is that while the basic version is free, to get the full picture, we recommend signing up for the paid version known as PocketGuard Plus, which costs $4.99 per month, $34.99 per year or $74.99 for a lifetime subscription. The main draw of the paid version is that you have access to unlimited budgets and can track your cash spending. While the fees can get expensive, the potential savings can quickly outweigh the cost. One big tip: Sign up on the web version, as the plans offered through the app are more expensive (the prices mentioned here are the website prices).

And if you’re a true hustler, there’s a referral program that provides an opportunity to receive the premium PocketGuard Plus service for free. Refer enough friends and family members — which translates into points — and you’ll earn free months of the premium service.

Overall, if you want an easy-to-use app with great visuals and capabilities, PocketGuard is the way to go. Just know that you’ll probably want to splurge for the upgraded version to get the most out of this app.

Best budget app for couples: Honeydue (free)

With Honeydue, you and your partner can create a household budget by pulling all your financial accounts into one dashboard. The app allows you to link accounts from almost any financial institution, including credit card accounts, checking accounts, savings accounts and more. This allows you and your partner to toggle through the system to see both individual and joint account activity.

And while the goal of Honeydue is for you and your partner to be on the same financial page, the app does offer the option to change permissions on what your partner can and can’t see. So you can decide if you want your significant other to have access to both your balances and transactions, just your balances or nothing at all.

The app also categorizes all of your transactions so you can monitor your household’s spending within each budget category. You can set a spending limit for each category, and the app will send you and your partner a notification when you’re close to hitting the limit. You’ll also receive notifications when money comes in or out.

The real upside of Honeydue is its communication features. You can add comments to different purchases, or even send your partner a particular transaction through the chat feature. It even has fun emoji you can use to make budgeting not seem like such a chore.

All these features allow you and your partner to fully communicate about your finances, and to use the app to budget and keep everything in one place so nothing gets forgotten. It might even help you avoid some of those tough-to-have conversations at the dinner table.

Other great features of Honeydue include adding bills and their due dates to a calendar so both you and your partner receive reminders. This can help you manage your household expenses to ensure there’s money in your accounts to pay any upcoming bills.

More recently, Honeydue added a joint bank account option, which is fee-free with no monthly minimums. If you don’t already have a joint account, this is an easy way to track your banking together. But be aware that Honeydue Joint Banking is available only through a mobile app, and there’s no web browser option. You also can’t deposit your checks through the mobile app.

While Honeydue doesn’t feature all of the bells and whistles of some of the other apps on our list, for an entirely free app, it’s a great option for couples. With its communication capabilities and notification features, Honeydue will help you and your partner stay on track without unknowingly spending more than your household can afford.

Best budget app for account tracking: Mint (free)

Mint’s setup process is extremely easy, even for those who aren’t tech-savvy, as it pulls in all your bank account, credit card and investment account information. At any time, you can check Mint and see how much money you have across all your accounts.

The app allows you to categorize your transactions across all your accounts to paint a clearer picture of your spending habits. This feature also helps when sorting Venmo transactions — which many apps don’t link to — as you can differentiate between the $50 you earned helping your friend move and the $50 you were reimbursed after paying for lunch.

Although the app provides a ton of information, one of Mint’s most useful features is its budgeting tool. Based on your spending habits and average spending in each category, Mint will provide a monthly budget that it thinks you should adhere to, which can help you not only budget better but also save you money. Of course, you can customize the budget based on your particular needs and desires, but having the system guide you can be extremely helpful, especially if you aren’t sure where to start.

Once your budget is set up, Mint will monitor your progress and send you notifications if you go over your budget in any category. It’s also very easy to log in to Mint on a daily basis, see your individual progress and track any goals you’ve set up.

Another unique Mint feature is that all users get a free credit score. While you can get your credit score for free from several sources, having your score provided along with all your expenses is a nice bonus. You can update your credit score every three months through the app, which can help you stay on top of all the major aspects of your score, such as your outstanding bills and total available credit.

Ultimately, if you’re looking to see all of your financials in one place and venture beyond just budgeting, Mint is a great choice.

How we tested

We downloaded each app and went through the entire process of getting our personal data into the app as if we were a real-life user by linking our bank accounts, credit cards and any other financial information (for apps that allow this). We then experimented with each app to test all of its features. We started with the basic version of each app and, if available, upgraded to the paid version to truly understand each app’s potential.

We started our testing in 2020 and have updated this guide since then with new apps and new features on an annual basis. We’ve continued to use the same criteria mentioned below and the same financial information.

The main criteria we evaluated included:

  • Usability: We looked at many different aspects of each app when determining how easy each one was to use. This included overall usability, the ease of setting up an account, reporting availability, the option to upload information from a variety of financial institutions and any other unique capabilities.
  • Tracking and goals: This included the number of categories we could budget for, real-time tracking updates and the option to set goals.
  • Availability: Apps that were available for both Apple and Android users scored higher in our testing, as did apps that offered a desktop version.
  • Cost: We compared the cost for each app as well as any fees for upgrading in-app features.

While our best options above have stayed consistent, in 2022, we added another budgeting app, Digit, to our testing lab.

Other budgeting apps we tested

Personal Capital (free)

If you want to calculate your net worth, Personal Capital will help you get there. However, if you’re looking purely for a budgeting app, this well-known investing choice may give you more than you bargained for, and truthfully, it can be slightly overwhelming.

In our original testing, we found that the strong suite of this app wasn’t its budgeting features, even though you’re able to link your credit cards and financial accounts to it, including investment accounts. Originally the program didn’t allow you to split transactions across multiple categories, but a recent enhancement now provides the option. For example, if you make a large purchase at Target that includes both clothing and groceries, you can now separate the transaction into its respective categories.

Still, even though you can set monthly spending targets and see your information in real time, when it comes specifically to budgeting, other apps are more appropriate and more straightforward.

Mvelopes (basic plan: $5.97/month or $69/year; Premier plan: $9.97/month or $99/year; Plus plan: $19.97/month or $199/year)

Mvelopes uses the “envelope” budgeting system, where you allocate your budget into different digital envelopes. The theory is that once your money is divided up, that’s where it stays, and it can only be used for a purchase in that particular category. This ultimately helps you keep your purchases in check and ensures you don’t overspend in a specific area.

Creating your envelopes is relatively easy in Mvelopes, but it can also take quite a bit of time. Some of the tabs aren’t very intuitive, but if you pay for the Premier or Plus version of the app, you’ll receive initial setup assistance. This isn’t something we think should be necessary, as the cost is quite high — especially compared to some of the other apps on our list. Fortunately, though, the newly introduced Premier plan offers a 30-day free trial, so you can always try it out first and then see if this system (and app) works for you.

If you’re already familiar with the envelope system but you’re looking to make it digital, Mvelopes can be a good app to try. But unlike many other budgeting apps, it’s not free — not even the basic version. Given the cost, you might find other apps and systems that can work better for you.

Goodbudget (basic version: free; GoodBudget Plus: $7/month or $60/year)

Goodbudget is another envelope budgeting app that helps you allocate and manage your monthly spending. You enter your budget for each envelope category, such as groceries, gas, entertainment and more. With the free version you’re able to create 10 envelopes, but with the paid GoodBudget Plus version you can make an unlimited number of envelopes.

This is a manual app, which means you can’t import your credit card transactions. So once your envelopes are set up, every time you make a purchase, you’ll manually fill that envelope category with the amount you paid. You can also add recurring payments to simplify your entries.

We didn’t find Goodbudget to be particularly straightforward, but its visual reports are quite detailed, which can be helpful if you’re a more visual person. It also offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, so if you’re looking to try the Plus version, you have a month to see if the app works for you without any financial risk.

You Need a Budget ($14.99/month or $98.99/year; free 34-day trial)

You Need a Budget (YNAB) is a zero-based budgeting app, which means every dollar you earn has a place and is either allocated toward a spending category or a savings goal. This allows every dollar you bring in to have a purpose or a “job,” thus allowing for better budgeting habits.

Once you create an account with YNAB, you can immediately link your credit card and bank accounts, so you don’t have to manually enter your information. You then set up a budget for all your expenses (such as rent and groceries) as well as activities (such as vacations and dining out).

By knowing how much money you have left in the “quality of life goals” and “just for fun” categories, you can budget better for these adventures and ensure you aren’t spending more than what you actually have in your bank account.

Although this is a great system, the app definitely takes some getting used to. Fortunately, YNAB offers a 34-day free trial to allow you to play with it and determine whether or not this type of budgeting system works for your needs. The app also provides a lot of workshops and tutorials so you can learn more about the app and overall budgeting.

Albert (basic version: free; Genius membership: you choose what to pay, but the minimum amount is $6/month)

The Albert app shows you how well you’re meeting your budgeting goals by calculating an “Albert Score,” which is a financial checkup score on a scale from 0 to 100. Within the app, you can also sort your transactions into customizable categories, which will help you keep a better budget and track your spending.

Although Albert has many of the same features as other budget apps, one feature that sets it apart is its savings component. Albert Savings uses an algorithm that looks at your entire financial picture to calculate an amount of money to automatically transfer out of your checking account into a savings account. While the amount of money pulled out might be small, it’s designed to add up over time.

The big deterrent with Albert is that you’re required to link your bank account — and even enter your social security number — during the setup process to use any part of the app. This means you aren’t able to browse through the app’s capabilities first, or even use portions of the app that don’t involve pulling in personal information. Additionally, there isn’t a web version, so for those who don’t want to connect an account and also want the option to work with your budget on a computer, this isn’t the right app for you.

Wally (basic version: free; Wally Gold membership: $8.99/month, $39.99/year or $99.99/lifetime)

With Wally, credit card information is collected in real time and categorized appropriately, helping those on a strict budget know exactly what they have left to spend for the remaining days of each month. In fact, every time you sign in to Wally, the first thing you’re shown is your total budget remaining for the month. This front and center reminder helps you be aware of where you stand at any given time to ensure you don’t go over budget.

To help with your budgeting, Wally also allows you to take pictures of receipts and save them in the app. This is extremely useful for keeping track of your expenses without holding onto every single paper receipt. It can also help with your petty cash purchases, which can be especially important while traveling.

Digital nomads will also love Wally, as the app supports almost all foreign currencies — a great feature to have for those primarily traveling (or living) abroad. The huge disadvantage of this app is that it’s only available through the Apple Store, which means if you have an Android smartphone, you’re out of luck.

Previously, Wally only offered a paid version, but fortunately the app has added on a basic — and free — version as well. Now, with the paid Wally Gold membership option, you’ll receive more features, such as the option to budget by category, share accounts, see your entire financial history and more. And through Jan. 31, 2022, Wally is offering a free year of its Gold membership option. With an easy-to-use interface — as long as you have an iOS device — this is a great app to use to see if it works for your budgeting needs.

EveryDollar (basic version: free; Ramsey+ membership: $59.99/3 months, $99.99/6 months or $129/year; 14-day free trial)

If you’re a fan of personal finance guru Dave Ramsey — the host of the radio program “The Dave Ramsey Show” — you’ll love the EveryDollar app, which gives you a quick and easy way to budget without having to see your entire financial picture. It’s based on zero-based budgeting, which means that your income is divided up into spending and savings categories until there’s nothing left.

EveryDollar has both a free and paid version. With the free version, you’re tasked with manually setting up your account, while the paid version allows you to import your bank transactions. The paid version also offers custom reports, which can be helpful to see your entire financial picture. Unfortunately, the app’s price is quite high, and these same features are available on other budgeting apps for free.

That being said, budgeting is the focal point of EveryDollar, which allows you to prioritize where you’re going to save up front instead of spending excess money at the end of the month. So the high cost might be worth it if budgeting is your true goal right now.

Digit ($9.99/month or $95.90/year; 30-day free trial)

If you have specific saving goals in mind, the Digit app can easily help you reach those goals — little by little. Within the app, you’ll set various savings targets, which include the amount you want to save and the time period to reach your goal. These savings goals can include anything from a rainy day fund to an emergency fund, retirement, travel and much more.

Once you link your bank account to Digit — which is a requirement to use the budgeting tool — the app will analyze your income and savings pattern. Then, every few days, the app will transfer a small amount of money (based on its algorithm) from your linked checking account into your Digit account.

Although you can withdraw the money at any time, the idea is to help you save for your particular goals without “missing” a few dollars a day from your primary bank account. Your money in Digit is redirected to a partner savings account, which is FDIC insured, and also earns 0.10% APY as of this writing. While this interest rate is extremely low, it’s better than nothing in the current low-interest environment.

The app also allows you to invest your money and will guide you to the best portfolio options based on your risk tolerance. Again, you can set up goals for your investment accounts and add money straight from your checking account.

While the app does cost a pricey $9.99 per month, it comes with a 30-day free trial so you can test it out. The app also offers a refer-a-friend option, which can help offset the fee. Typically, you can earn $5 for each friend that signs up, but when you first sign up for a new account, you can earn a $100 bonus if you refer three friends within the first week (as long as those friends each complete an autosave).

Although the Digit app doesn’t come with all of the bells and whistles, if true savings is your No. 1 goal, the app is simple and straightforward to use, and allows you to focus on saving money.

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