Tracking your monthly expenses doesn’t just force you to budget better; it can also give you good insight into your purchasing behaviors that help you save money. For example, you may not realize just how much you are actually spending on takeout or food delivery every month and realize that you could cut back by cooking at home instead.
Expense tracker apps show you your spending habits — and just how much you could save — by categorizing your expenses.
Newcomers looking for a solution to managing their cash should consider the Goodbudget app. Out of a dozen-plus apps that CNBC Select compared when rating the best expense tracker apps, Goodbudget stood out for being the best app for beginners.
With Goodbudget, users are required to manually input each one of their transactions using the “envelope method.” This way, they’re held accountable to practice conscious spending and can see exactly where their money goes each month.
Below, we review the Goodbudget app to give you all the details on its features, including the tools, perks, safety, pricing, availability and ratings so you can decide if it is the right app for you and your partner to manage your money together. (See our methodology for more information on how we choose the best expense tracker apps.)
Information about Goodbudget has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by Goodbudget prior to publication.
Get 20 envelopes for free; for unlimited envelopes, you need to upgrade to Goodbudget Plus, which is $7 per month or $60 per year
Allows users to plan their household’s spending using the “envelope method,” where they allocate a certain amount of their income into categories like groceries, rent and debt payoff. Users are only supposed spend what’s in their envelopes and if they go beyond their budget the envelope will show red to indicate that they overspent
Categorizes your expenses
Yes, but users can customize
Links to accounts
No, users manually create “envelopes” and input their transactions
Has a web-based version, and also offered in both the App Store (for iOS) and on Google Play (for Android)
256-bit bank grade encryption in a secure data center
The Goodbudget app allows users to track their household’s spending using the “envelope method.” The “envelope method” means that each month, users allocate a certain amount of their income into categories (or digital “envelopes”) labeled things like groceries, rent and debt payoff.
This makes it easy to prioritize your spending and plan ahead. For people new to budgeting overall, it’s a good first step in learning how and where you spend money.
Users are only supposed to spend the amount allocated to each envelope, and if they go beyond their budget the envelope will show red to indicate that they overspent.
Unlike most budgeting and expense tracker apps, Goodbudget does not link to users’ bank accounts and credit cards. Instead, you manually create “envelopes” and input your transactions. The app will categorize your expenses for you, but you can customize the envelope categories according to your needs.
Goodbudget’s biggest perk is its hands-on approach to tracking your expenses. By requiring manual entry of your data, it helps you to really analyze your spending habits versus it being all automated. Users can also download their recent activity from their bank’s website and import that into Goodbudget if they choose.
By using the envelope feature, users can also visualize their spending and prioritize setting different goals for themselves as they see their spending habits unfold. Perhaps you want to cut back in subscription fees and put that toward your emergency fund envelope, as an example.
Also good for people who are new to money management, Goodbudget provides real-time updates of how users’ transactions impact their budget, along with personalized reports.
The app offers plenty of educational resources, such as a blog, a podcast and free online courses that users can take. In light of the economic fallout from coronavirus, Goodbudget also plans to launch a pandemic-inspired feature allowing people to prioritize “envelopes” based on their most urgent expenses, such as housing, utility bills, etc.
Goodbudget’s security features include high-level bank data encryption that sends you codes to access your information in a secure data center.
The Goodbudget app is free to use for creating 20 envelopes, having one account user on up to two devices, tracking one year of transaction history, as well as debt tracking and community support.
For unlimited envelopes, you can upgrade to Goodbudget Plus, which is $7 per month or $60 per year. Goodbudget Plus also comes with unlimited account users on up to five devices, seven years of transaction history, debt tracking and email support.
The Goodbudget app is available in the App Store (for iOS) and is compatible with the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. It is also available on Google Play (for Android) and has a web-based version.
Rating in App Store at time of writing: 4.7 out of 5 (over 12,000 ratings)
Rating on Google Play at time of writing: 4.4 out of 5 (nearly 19,000 ratings)
The Goodbudget app is great for budgeting beginners as it helps you categorize your expenses, set limits to how much to spend in each category and overall prioritize where your money goes.
The app’s variety of educational tools offered, such as the blog, podcast and free online courses, stands out from other apps and is another good reason why Goodbudget is a great choice if you’re interesting in learning more about personal finance.
Learn more: 5 tips on what to look for when choosing a budgeting app
To determine which expense tracker apps offer the best user experience, CNBC Select analyzed over a dozen apps offered by the top companies in this market and looked at their pricing, features, user reviews and ratings.
We narrowed down our ranking by only considering apps that primarily focus on expenses, come with low (or no) cost to sign up, are easy to use and can be accessed on multiple devices so are accessible and compatible for most.
The five apps we selected for this ranking are either free, offer a free version or have a free trial for users to test out before signing up.
All of the apps in our round-up have a sizable number of user reviews and high ratings. The apps on this list have tens of thousands of reviews in the App Store (for iOS) and on Google Play (for Android) combined, as well as a rating over 4 stars (out of 5) on either platform.
Other factors we looked at included apps’ security features, user customization and educational tools offered.
Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the CNBC Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.