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After another round of testing, Simplifi by Quicken remains our top pick. We also recommend You Need a Budget (YNAB) for those who track every penny with a zero-based budgeting method.
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For some, creating a budget is less exciting than starting a diet (and sometimes useless). For others, creating a spending plan gives them a feel-good dopamine rush. No matter where you are, a calculator app can be a great tool to help you reach your financial goals. After another round of testing nearly a dozen apps, we continue to recommend Simplifi by Quicken as the easiest and most comprehensive way to see where your money is going and plan for future expenses.
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For those looking at a budget that forces them to account for every dollar in their bank account, we suggest you need a budget (YNAB). It’s not as easy to set up and use as Simplifi, but if you’re the type to track your diet by tracking every calorie, YNAB’s zero-based budgeting method can hit the charts right for you.
Simplifi combines an elegant, intuitive interface with powerful tools for monitoring consumption and planning future expenses. It also had the fewest bank connection issues of the apps we tested.
Most budgeting apps are easy to set up, but are ultimately ineffective when it comes to managing money, or are complex and boring enough to drive someone away without a week off to research their finances. Simplified needle thread. It helps you sync your bank accounts seamlessly and offers a combination of useful tools and user-friendly design that keeps you on track. Our favorite feature is the Personal Spending Plan, which gives you a dollar-to-the-minute figure of how much you have left to spend by the end of the month after accounting for your bills and savings goals. Simplifi is not free, but it is cheaper than competitors with similar features. Also, having certain skins in the game can make you want to stick with it.
YNAB has sync issues and a steep learning curve, but it’s still a great option for those on a budget.
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For a more rigorous approach to money management, a no-frills budgeting system might be for you – where you designate dollars in your bank account as a spending category or savings goal at the beginning of each month. You Need a Budget (YNAB) is the best app we’ve found that supports the how-to or budget philosophy. The complexities of allocating correctly can take some time to really grasp, but for those who are comfortable with this method, the payoff can be huge: your brain is trained to spend less time. However, in addition to the high learning curve, in our tests YNAB had more problems syncing with some banks. It also lacks some of Simplifi’s features such as cash flow forecasting, desktop notifications, and live customer support.
Wirecutter Senior Writer Melanie Pinola researches and writes about home office products and technology, including our guide to the best online tax filing software. For more than five years before joining Wirecutter, she wrote extensively about personal finance for websites such as Lifehacker, SmartAsset, and MyBankTracker.
Author Taylor Tepper has covered personal finance for nearly a decade, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, Fortune, Time, Money magazine, Bloomberg, and NPR, among others. He received the 2017 Loeb Prize for his work on the financial costs of mental illness.
If you want to live within your means and let your money grow, the most basic rule of personal finance is: spend less than you earn and save the rest. (Or, to put it another way, earn more than you spend and save the difference.) That’s harder than it sounds, especially if you don’t track your income and expenses.
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Budget apps are for anyone who wants to better manage their finances without having to manually count the numbers in a spreadsheet every month. When linked to your bank and credit card accounts, budgeting apps can automatically display all of your transactions in one place—usually categorizing them for you and creating helpful reports that give you insight into your spending. We know that many people are concerned about the security and privacy of these applications; More on that in a bit.
Everyone needs a budget app? no. Using detailed, category-focused budgeting systems like our pick isn’t for everyone—and these apps have their critics.
In Slate, personal finance writer Helaine Olen argues why this subtle and precise approach to personal budgeting can be wrong. The crux of her argument is that most people’s income and expenses vary enough from month to month to make a budget useless.
We sympathize with Olen’s argument and do not believe that everyone needs a detailed budget. After all, what does it matter if you spend $100 or $200 on wine this month, as long as you end up spending less than you spent?
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Budget apps are for anyone who wants to better manage their finances without having to manually count the numbers in a spreadsheet every month.
There are two basic types of budget apps: trackers (à la Mint) and zero balancers. The tracking app offers a 30,000-foot financial overview, shows your transactions in real-time, and requires very little effort to set up. Balance center apps, on the other hand, encourage a more hands-on approach, forcing you to account for the dollars you bring in (X amount for savings, Y amount for rent, etc.), but they tend to be illogical and expensive. We recommend Simplifi for most people because it’s a happy medium between the two. It tracks your spending, recurring bills, savings goals and earnings history to estimate how much money you have left in any month in any category you want. Spreadsheet-based budgeting (and some other budgeting tools) encourage you to create multiple categories and assign dollar amounts to each, which is not only overwhelming but also potentially unsuccessful. (Ever run up a big bill, like a car repair or a dental emergency? Those things can throw your budget out of whack.)
This hybrid method tracks how many Americans actually practice. Only one-third of American households have a detailed, written budget, according to a 2013 Gallup poll, while about two-thirds of Americans have a budget in some form, according to Debt.com. (However, both studies are from before the pandemic.)
It’s important to choose a method that you feel comfortable with and that fits your lifestyle. Both of our options offer a free trial, so you should try before you decide on one option. And if you don’t want to use an app, we’ve got tips on how to make a calculation for free.
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Trust us, linking our bank accounts and giving apps our financial information worries us, too. As part of our research, in addition to reading the privacy and security policies of these apps, we contacted the companies behind our selection and asked them to answer a series of questions related to what we think is the importance of privacy and security. which includes:
Most budget apps use third-party services to collect information from your bank to the app; Budget apps just provide a way to read that information in one place. Third-party services include Plaid and Envestnet Yatli. These services have their own security policies and procedures, making it difficult to assess everything. But the company has a reputation in the industry and is used by its own financial institutions to present customer transactions in an easy-to-read manner. They all claim not to sell or share personal information – the same way your bank promises to protect your privacy.
What if something goes wrong and someone has access to your account with one of these budget apps?
The good news is that this person will be able to see your transaction list, but they won’t be able to transfer money or log in directly to your bank account website. Your bank details are not stored anywhere in the budget app that I can read.
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However, you may not mind having your financial transactions leaked even if this information is anonymous. That’s why we strongly recommend that you properly protect every app you use. Used – especially budgeting and finance applications – by:
Remember, especially with free apps—the more services, features, and “partner interactions” an app has, the more vulnerable it is to data leaks. An app may claim that its data collection is anonymous or that it can’t track you, but that’s not entirely true, especially without industry verification of these apps. This is one reason why we don’t recommend Mint if you have privacy concerns.
Here are highlights of our selected answers to our security questions and links to their security and privacy policies if you’d like to explore further
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