Researching your budgeting software options can be overwhelming if you’re just getting started. I believe that whatever is the most easily executable option—meaning that you can get set up and manage it consistently—wins out over anything else. The point is to get started, because that is the hardest part (or should be).
When it comes to tracking your spending, my goal is that everyone does it, regardless of their financial situation. You can’t make conscious decisions without that data. My personal favorite of all of the budgeting software options is Mint. I recommend it to everyone I work with, because it fit my personal criteria:
- Simple to use. From the moment I started setting up Mint, I could intuitively click and get to where I needed to go. I never was stuck trying to understand what report I needed to run, like some other programs I have used in the past.
- Minimal set up time. Setting up my bank accounts in Mint the first time took all of 30 minutes. I have a different way of doing things than a lot of people when it comes to budgeting, so it might take some as much as an hour. Still would be a record for me at an hour!
- Minimal maintenance. I can stay up-to-date with Mint using their iPhone app, but mostly I just check in every 10 days or so to monitor trends and check categorization.
- Free to use. Mint has affiliate partners making offers—which is what keeps it free—but it’s easy to ignore them and focus on your finances. I have never been irritated or distracted by an offer.
I don’t use Mint to track investments or set goals, but it has that functionality. Mint has worked so well that I have maintained it for almost 8 years now, which is a record for me! That may be because it’s an online program, and there is never anything to update . . . plus, there was zero upfront commitment to purchase, unlike desktop versions of budgeting software options.
Having said that, I also understand that people operate in different ways, and Mint might not please everyone. Therefore, I have compiled a list of 14 other budgeting software programs that might suit you, although I have not personally tried them. But if someone finds it easier to execute their tracking on one of these programs, they are that much closer to engaging in conscious spending.
Other Budgeting Software Options
Here are some personal finance programs if you don’t care for Mint:
- AceMoney is a desktop app that offers all the features you’d expect: downloadable transactions, budgeting, investment tracking, and more. With my initial inspection, there just wasn’t enough going on to engage me visually. iPhone app available.
- Quicken is perhaps the most popular personal-finance software available today. It’s fairly comprehensive and well-supported, but not without problems. Old versions are “sunset-ed” at regular intervals, forcing users to upgrade if they want to continue using certain features.
- Moneydance. The Washington Post said Moneydance manages to replicate much of Quicken’s functionality — but in some cases a bit more elegantly. It’s available for Mac, Windows, and Linux. If you’d just like to try out Moneydance, you can download it for free–the only limitation is a maximum of 100 manually entered transactions. Full-use license costs $50. iPhone and iPad apps available.
- YNAB stands for You Need A Budget (YNAB) and it’s fairly impressive with its free, live classes, and they have made several changes recently that makes it pretty turnkey. I agree with their budget methodology. iPhone app available.
- Budgetpulse is a free online program that offers standard budgeting and tracking features. One of this program’s stated goals is simplicity; it doesn’t try to do a whole lot other than track your core accounts.
- Buxfer started as an online tool for tracking debts and has grown into a more comprehensive financial management tool. It goes from a free, basic membership to a premium membership. iPhone app available.
- ClearCheckbook has a free online program as well as a paid, premium program. Many old users of Microsoft Money moved to this program for its simple yet robust reporting tools. iPhone app available.
- Moneystrands. Based in part on a financial management tool from Spain, moneystrands offers all of the features you’d expect. One issue that made me nervous was the mention that they are reconfiguring account aggregation so you may have to manually upload data for some accounts—that would be the death of my tracking! iPhone app available.
- Mvelopes is a web-based version of the envelope budgeting system that’s been around for over ten years. Though I can’t refute ten years of success, I DID go a little crazy trying to figure out potential usage costs by looking at the site (they imply there are transactions costs). iPhone app available.
- Pocketsmith. Pocketsmith is a web-based program that you pay for on a monthly basis ($10), although a free version is available as well. The program takes a unique approach to the budgeting interface by utilizing a calendar to forecast your future cash position.
- Yodlee is the granddaddy of free online money-management software. It’s the platform on which many account aggregation tools are based. But Yodlee also offers its own personal-finance product called MoneyCenter. As you’d expect, it provides the same account-tracking functionality that most of these applications have, but it doesn’t feature budgeting as prominently. iPhone and iPad apps available.
- Calendar Budget was recommended to me a year or so ago as a free, online system that is easy to maintain and that you can access via mobile device. I like the idea of adding the calendar component to spending, so that people don’t miss paying their bills on time.
- InEx Finance is another that was recommended to me, free and deals in multiple currencies–in fact, they deal in over 70 world currencies, which might make them the most global application in the list! Almost everyone has mobile applications so you can keep track of things away from the computer, and InEx is no exception.
- MoneyMunk’s budgeting calculator is a simple, easy-to-use tool that allows you to quickly change spending amounts by category, showing how small changes can impact savings.
There may be others out there that I missed–apps and programs are coming out all of the time! But i think the goal is to find something that works and stick to it.
Bottom line, the programs offer very similar features, so you need to decide what speaks to you personally and your method of staying financially organized. The best way to get started is to choose one and jump in—if you decide you hate it, jump in and choose another (I’d go for YNAB first personally, if Mint went away). Some people might start with ALL of them, and then only maintain the easiest; each person needs to decide what will work for them. The key is to get started and make this the year that you finally get precise and clear about your spending!