A budget is an integral part of everyone’s financial plan, but putting one together can be tedious and time-consuming. Enter modern technology: The best budgeting apps make it easy to monitor your spending, track your expenses, stay on top of bill payments and manage your cash flow. They’re compatible with the best phones on the market and tout ancillary features that can help you achieve short-term and long-term money goals, like free credit monitoring, financial planning tools, educational resources or subscription cancellation services.
Plus, if you are really pinching pennies, your budgeting app won’t break the bank, figuratively or literally. A budgeting app should not cost more than it can help you save.
If you’ve already visited the Google Play or Apple App Store, you’ve probably noticed that you have a bevy of choices at your disposal. In other words, the best budgeting apps can be very hard to spot. Fortunately, we have identified some quality options, based on price, standout features, customer and third-party reviews, user experience and more. Read on to discover our top picks for the best budgeting apps of 2021.
What are the best budgeting apps?
Our top pick for the best budgeting app of 2021 is Mint, also known as Intuit Mint. The popular free budgeting app, available since 2006, is hard to beat, given the number of features users can access sans charge. These features include free credit score monitoring, spending alerts, a budgeting goal tracker and push notifications for upcoming bills.
Mint syncs with your financial accounts and automatically categorizes your spending so you can track how much of your money is going to line items, like home, shopping, food and dining. It was selected in part for having mass appeal. The budgeting app is fairly intuitive and relatively easy to set up (though some users report bank sync issues over time).
Both beginners and experts are likely to find the app valuable, given it can track both banking and investing accounts. Users have the option to protect their Mint account with a PIN number or fingerprint ID.
PocketGuard, a budgeting app designed to curb overspending, came in second for ease-of-use and some notable features, including subscription cancellation and bill negotiation services (the app will charge you a fee if it finds some savings). However, it lost some points due to limited technical support and certain restrictions within the free version of the app.
Finally, investing and finance app Personal Capital is a notable and worthy option for people with more complex financial portfolios. It’s calling card is a suite of free retirement and investing tools for users.
All three best budgeting apps are available on IOS and Android and have web-based applications.
The best budgeting apps you can buy today
Consider Mint the “old-reliable” of budgeting apps. Launched back in 2006 and purchased in 2009 by Intuit (the company behind TurboTax and QuickBooks), the app currently boasts close to 25 million registered users — and for good reason. It delivers a lot of bang for $0, including spending alerts, bill payment push notifications and free credit monitoring from TransUnion.
Users can sync the app to their financial accounts, then monitor transactions, track spending by category and keep an eye on cash flow, all in one dashboard. Set up is pretty streamlined. Mint provides a veritable laundry list of banks and financial institutions you can connect with via a few clicks and inputs. Some users, however, report intermittent bank sync issues. (Mint says significant gains in connection and data quality have been made over last year with more improvements in the pipeline planned for coming months.)
Budgeting beginners will benefit from a host of educational resources within the app, while more financially savvy users can track their net worth and investments. (You can sync accounts with major investment companies like Vanguard, Charles Schwab and Fidelity.) Some users may feel bothered by the in-app advertisements for other financial products, but consider them the price of admission.
Mint has a number of new features planned for January 2021, including automatic subscription tracking, actionable insights around your net worth and the ability to bulk edit multiple transactions and customize your categories. All of the new features are free.
Of all the budgeting apps we test-drove, PocketGuard proved the easiest to set up — which was good, as the app advertises simplicity, alongside an ability to curb spending. Its dashboard lets you easily track spending and monitor balances across accounts, but it also boasts a number of attractive ancillary features.
For instance, users receive a weekly report via email that breaks down top spending categories and how they’re tracking toward dedicated budgets. They also receive spending alerts and bill payment notifications.
The free version will help you identify unwanted subscriptions; it will cancel them for a fee. PocketGuard can also help you save on recurring monthly bills, like cable or cell phone services, though, again, it will take a cut of any savings it finds you.
Committed budgeters might find the free version of PocketGuard a bit limiting. (For instance, you can’t create your own spending categories, split transactions or keep track of any cash you receive or spend.) But they can upgrade to PocketGuard Plus for $4.99 a month or $34.99 a year.
Personal Capital is, first and foremost, a digital wealth management company, but its popular app lets you sync, monitor and track your financial accounts in a manner similar to the best budgeting apps on the market. Moreover, people with complex financial portfolios — or retirement on the brain — will find its free investment tools to be a real competitive differentiator.
Case in point: Its Fee Analyzer scans linked investment accounts for hidden or high fees, while its Retirement Planner runs simulations against your starting portfolio to help you plan for a variety of scenarios.
On the flip side, beginners might prefer an app with more robust budgeting features. (You can set a time-sensitive spending target, but that’s about it in the way of tracking toward budgeting goals.) Financial newbies might find the investment-emphasis and jargon overwhelming.
Acquired by Empower Retirement in June 2020, Personal Capital has over 2.7 million registered users of its free tools; as of Nov. 30, it manages over $15 billion in assets.
Launched in January, 2020, Simplifi by Quicken is the new kid on the budgeting block, but its unique features, particularly around cash-flow management, make it a worthy addition to our list.
Like many other budgeting apps, Simplifi allows you to automatically sync and view all your financial accounts in one place. It’ll notify you of upcoming bills and flag large purchases. But it scores extra points by creating a personalized spending plan for each user, based on their income and expenses, that shows how much money they have left to spend (or save) at any given time.
We were equally a fan of its Watchlist feature, which lets you closely monitor potentially problematic spending categories, like “dining and drinks” and the recently introduced Refund Tracker, which sends users a notification when a return goes through or is overdue.
Simplifi costs $3.99 a month or $35.99 a year, though you can try it for a month for free (payment information required). Some users report technical issues — and, to be honest, we experienced some slow load times during our test-drive — but you can easily request support in the app via chat and a call request feature. There also is a web-based version of the app.
Goodbudget, formerly known as Easy Envelope Budget Aid (EEBA), digitizes the “envelope method” of budgeting, in which you “set aside” a certain amount of income for each major spending category in your budget. For example, you allocate $500 a month to groceries and, say, $1,500 to rent.
Goodbudget doesn’t do bank sync: Users have to manually create “envelopes” and enter each transaction, which can be quite tedious. But that characteristic does make the app a good option for people looking to limit data-sharing. It’s also a good option for couples or families, given the app syncs across Android, iPhone and web-based devices.
Goodbudget’s free version comes with 10 regular envelopes, 10 annual envelopes and syncs across two devices. Goodbudget Plus, which comes with unlimited envelopes and syncs across five devices, costs $7 a month or $60 a year.
Launched in 2009, Goodbudget is hoping to introduce new functionality in 2021, including a pandemic-inspired feature that allows people to prioritize “envelopes” based on when an item needs to be paid first.
How to choose the best budgeting app for you
We’ve tapped Mint as the best budgeting app for 2021 partially due to its mass appeal, but, candidly, the best budgeting app for you will vary, depending on your financial portfolio, desired price point and personal preferences.
For instance, people who don’t have investment accounts — or a working knowledge of how they work — might not find the retirement planning tools and financial advisory services available through Personal Capital particularly useful. Similarly, while many people might consider automatic bank sync a must-have, users looking to limit data-sharing might favor a manual app like Goodbudget.
To determine which budgeting app is right for you, consider both the short-term and long-term financial goals you’re hoping to achieve — and which features or resources are necessary to do so. Most paid budgeting apps offer a free trial, usually between 14 and 30 days, so you can test-drive a number of options before making a monetary commitment.
How we picked
We started by identifying 14 popular budgeting apps with dedicated user bases, solid customer reviews and strong third-party evaluations (for instance, was the app awarded a Google Play Store Editor’s Choice designation?) Given the subject matter, we also considered the price point. A good budgeting app, after all, should not bust your budget.
Next, we whittled down our initial list by requiring that each app be available on IOS and Android and, at the time of writing this article, have a four-star rating or higher in both the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store.
Finally, we took the remaining apps for a test-drive. The top five budgeting apps for 2021 were selected based on their functionality: Do they help the user set up, maintain and/or monitor a budget? Can they assist in achieving broader financial goals? Our final rankings also account for ease of set-up, holistic user experience and standout ancillary features, like free credit scores, push notifications or broader money-management tools.