Your budget is the core of your strategy for financial success. Making and following a realistic budget can help you avoid overspending and set money aside for your financial goals. Most of us understand the importance of effective budgeting, but actually implementing a budget can still be difficult. There are a number of budgeting tools that can make it easier.
There are two essential elements to setting up an effective budget. One of them is to choose the budgeting method that best suits your circumstances. The other is to choose the right set of budgeting tools to handle the actual mechanics of implementing your budget. There are a number of options available, ranging from old school to high tech. No one method is best for everyone: you’ll have to choose the tools that best fit your individual needs and personality!
|Mint||Free||Tracks and organizes expenses. Offers personalized insights.||Gives you a free credit report, calculates net worth, categorizes transactions.||Many notifications to connect accounts.|
|Pocketguard||Free for the basic version, $7.99/month, $34.99/year,|
or $79.99 for a lifetime subscription (one-time purchase).
|Spending limit alerts.||Marks bills as recurring. Figures out how much you have in your pocket at the end of the day, week, or month.||Only available in the mobile app store.|
|CountAbout||Basic is $9.99/year, Premium is $39.99/year, and Add-ons (attach images to transactions) $10/year additional.||Investment tracking, bill management.||Budget customization.||Annual fee. No bill pay.|
|Spreadsheets||Free||Includes Pivot Tables to organize data.||Multiple tools to analyze spending and income.||A very hands-on approach that requires setup and editing.|
|Pen and Paper||Cost of a notebook, otherwise free.||Handwrite all expenses and income.||Gives you full control of how you want to create a budget. Many options for creativity.||No automation and very hands-on.|
Mint is a popular budgeting app that’s available for both iOS and Android. It equips you with a full suite of tools for monitoring your spending habits, financial goals, and credit score.
Once you download Mint, you can connect your bank accounts, credit cards, investment accounts, and mortgage to the app. Mint will then pull all of your financial data into one central location. All you have to do is click on one of your accounts and you’ll see how much you are spending or earning.
This app’s outstanding feature is its ability to automatically categorize your transactions. The app may sometimes place a transaction in the wrong category, but those errors are easy to detect and fix. Mint is ideal for people who do most of their spending on credit or debit cards. Once your cards are linked to the app your spending will be recorded and classified as soon as a transaction is completed. You will have to manually enter cash transactions.
Other significant features of this app include a free monthly credit score and report and financial goal setting. All Mint users receive a free credit report, and the information is simple to digest. Financial target setting allows you to plug in financial goals and continuously monitor your progress toward achieving them. That can help you stay focused and keep making progress!
Mint is best for:
- Hands-off users,
- Mobile users,
- Budgeting beginners,
- People who use cards more than cash.
Mint is not a good fit for:
- Non-tech savvy individuals,
- Hands-on users.
PocketGuard is another free app that helps you track spending and allocate savings. It’s a personal finance service designed to track your spending, create a budget, and lower your expenses. The app is available for both iOS and Android phones.
PocketGuard lets you link all of your bank accounts, credit cards, investment accounts, and loan accounts. Each transaction is updated in real-time to help you see where your money is going and how you can save better. The app also provides a “pocket” feature, which tells you how much you have leftover after your essential expenses. PocketGuard also creates an automatic budget based on your expenses, your income, and the specified financial goals you make.
There are two versions: PocketGuard Basic and PocketGuard Plus.
PocketGuard Basic allows you to do the following:
- Set up a monthly savings goal – establishing a pre savings goal can help you work for something valuable.
- Pay Bills – payments can be made from a credit card or checking account.
- Credit card payment reminder – each month, PocketGuard will alert you when to pay off your credit card bill.
PocketGuard Plus adds additional features.
- Cash bills planning – you set up a recurring record to track cash paid on expenses. This feature is designed for people who use cash to pay their bills.
- ATM Withdrawals – this features records cash you withdraw from an ATM. It makes it possible for a more accurate picture of cash movement.
- Calculates cash in your pocket – the app will calculate your cash balance continuously.
PocketGuard is best for:
- Individuals who pay their bills with cash,
- People who want to track every transaction and get alerted for overspending.
PocketGuard is not a good fit for:
- Non-smartphone users (no availability on desktop, only mobile version),
- People who rely on customer support (no phone support).
If you prefer a computer to a phone, this is the app for you! CountAbout imports files from your bank and other financial institutions to track income and expenses and help craft a substantial budget. It’s designed for small entrepreneurs, and while the variety of features available will be attractive to people who are in business, it could be overwhelming if your needs are simple.
CountAbout offers a high degree of customization. Every income and expense category can be tailored to your needs. You can also add, delete, or rename categories. You can schedule your payments, incorporate recurring charges, track your remaining budget, track outgoing payments, and much more.
CountAbout offers a highly competitive feature set, but it doesn’t come for free. You’ll have 45 days after your download to experiment with the app and see if it’s right for you. After the 45-day trial, you will have to pay to keep using it.
CountAbout is best for:
- Individuals with sophisticated financial tracking needs,
- Those who prefer to use computers rather than phones.
CountAbout is not a good fit for:
- People looking for a simple budgeting program.
4. Microsoft Excel/Google Sheets
Spreadsheets have been around since the dawn of the computer age, and they have many features that make them easily adaptable to budget management. Some might consider them an old school method, but they can still be effective.
There are two major spreadsheet programs: Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets. Microsoft Excel is included in most Windows-based computers and most computer literate Americans are at least slightly familiar with it. Google sheets offers similar functions, including the ability to read Excel documents. It’s also internet-based, meaning you can keep your documents online. You can reach them and edit them on multiple devices and you won’t lose them if one device is lost or damaged.
Both have numerous features that can easily be adapted to tracking your earnings and expenses. You will have to put some effort into setting up a budgeting spreadsheet that fits your needs, but spreadsheet programs are highly customizable and offer many charting features and other tools. You will have to input your data manually: unlike some budget-specific apps, you can’t link your spreadsheet to your credit card or bank records.
Spreadsheets are best for:
- For those who like an analytical approach to budgeting,
- A hands-on approach,
- People who are already familiar with them.
Budgeting through spreadsheets is not a good fit for:
- People who do not like hands-on work,
- People who haven’t used them before.
Free Monthly Budget Spreadsheet Template
- This simple monthly budget template makes budgeting fun and exciting.
- Easy-to-follow instructions so you can get started budgeting in no time.
- Access your budget online from anywhere. See all features
5. Notebook and Pen Method
An ancient method is a simple notebook and pen style of budgeting. All you need is access to your bank and credit card statements and the patience to record all of your cash transactions, and you are ready to use your creative powers. Why does creativity play a role in this method? You can set up the budget any way you like on notebook paper. Setting up a matrix with each box labeled income, expense, credit card bills, and loans are one way to set up your budget, but it’s not the only way. You can use any method you like!
The Notebook and Pen method is best for:
- Creative individuals who prefer to do things their own way,
- Analytical individuals who want to think outside the box,
- Old-school individuals who aren’t comfortable with gadgets.
Notebook and Pen method is not a good fit for:
- Impatient people,
- More tech-savvy people,
- People who lose notebooks and pens.
Take Your Budget to the Next Level
Budgeting is one of the keys to financial progress. Using budgeting tools that fit your personality, lifestyle, and personal needs can make the difference between success and failure. You can take an old school approach and use a spreadsheet. You can take an old testament approach and use a pen and paper. Or you can use a cutting edge financial management app linked to your bank, investment, and credit card accounts. Any of these methods will work: what’s important is to choose the best one for you!
This list is a start. Consider these tools, and if none of them seems quite right, look for others. It’s worth taking the time to find a budgeting tool that makes you comfortable and confident.