Need to Improve Your Finances? There’s an App for That

September 16, 2021

At a glance:

  • The main takeaway: Budgeting apps are all the rage right now, and they can be quite effective for improving personal finances – when used effectively.
  • Choosing the right app: Not all budgeting apps are created equal, so the key to effectively budgeting with an app relies on finding the right app for your needs
  • Make the app work for you: A budgeting app is a tool, not a magic wand. If you’re using an app to improve personal finances, be ready to commit to changing your habits.

The full story:

It seems there’s an app for everything these days, and personal finance apps are the latest craze – especially for budgeting. In 2020, the global install rate for finance apps increased by 20% (AppsFlyer), smartphone users averaged 2.5 finance app downloads per device (Adjust), and time spent on finance apps increased by 45% (App Annie).

It’s clear budgeting apps are popular but are they beneficial? The jury is still out…

Pro Con Table

If you’re reading this article, then you’ve probably already weighed these pros and cons, and you’re ready to take the plunge. You’re probably also wondering how you’ll ever choose the right app for you with so many available options.

Choosing a budgeting app is a highly personal choice, but we want to help you make an informed decision. We’ve consolidated some of the most popular apps out there right now – see which one fits your needs.

Our top 5 picks

  1. Simplifi by Quicken – This app is the powerhouse when compared to other budgeting apps. It combines the most valuable features from other top budgeting apps, like Mint and YNAB, to create a feature-rich and user-friendly experience that outpaces the competition. Easy syncing and detailed analytics support this app’s highly effective tools without being overly complicated
    • Use this app if you want a personalized guide to improving your spending habits.
    • Cost: $3.99/month or $39.99/year
  2. YNAB – YNAB, or You Need A Budget, is the long-time favorite among the zero-balance budget fans. This particular budgeting methodology focuses on making sure every dollar has a purpose, and YNAB makes that easy by syncing directly to users’ accounts and providing a highly customizable interface for creating spending categories and sorting transactions.
    • Use this app if your goal is to maximize every dollar earned..
    • Cost: $11.99/month or $84/year
  3. PocketGuard – Budgeting doesn’t have to be complicated; PocketGuard proves that. This app keeps things simple by only displaying the numbers you need: account balances, bills due, and money leftover (and in a handy pie chart, no less). Users can pay to upgrade for more features, such as automatic savings, cash flow tracking, and customizable spending categories.
  • Use this app if you want simple, straightforward budgeting features.
  • Cost: Free or optional upgrades
  1. Mint – Mint is the ‘classic’ among the budgeting apps; it’s the most well-known, it’s highly popular, and – even better – it’s free (if you don’t mind ads). Mint seamlessly syncs with financial accounts and provides detailed tracking so users can visual spending habits. It also provides accurate credit monitoring. There’s a reason it’s the #1 most-downloaded personal finance app…
    • Use this app if you want to track your spending more closely.
    • Cost: Free
  2. Honeydue – Budgeting for one is hard enough, but what if you’re trying to budget for a family or with a partner? Honeydue helps tackle the challenge of managing household finances through improving communication and transparency. It supports in-app chats, visualizes shared financial responsibilities, and syncs with multiple accounts.
    • Use this app if you’re budgeting for a household.
    • Cost: Free

If none of these quite fit what you need to achieve your personal finance goals, then maybe the app approach isn’t right for you. There’s always the classic spreadsheet, or you could explore the benefits of working with a financial advisor.

Tips for getting the most out of your personal finance apps

  • Make a commitment. Budgeting and finance apps are only as effective as the ways we use them. If your goal is to improve your personal finances, don’t expect an app to do all the work for you. Commit to regular check-ins with your accounts and take time to explore and use all the features. Effective commitment also means getting all of the relevant parties on board. If you are married or have combined finances with another person, make sure you are both on the same page and using the same tools.
  • Move on when necessary. If you commit to an app but realize after a few weeks of use that it doesn’t quite fit your goals or lifestyle, try something new! Spending too much time stuck on the wrong app will inevitably lead to ignoring notifications, neglecting your goals, and returning to bad habits. Family changes and life events may also change your needs. The right tool now may not be the right tool 3, 5, or 10 years from now, especially if the app you choose doesn’t provide resources for long-term goals.
  • Take responsibility. Think of personal finance apps as a tool to improve your finances, not the solution. The visibility and resources they provide can be revolutionary – but only if you have a clear understanding of your goals and a commitment to breaking bad habits. Budgeting is only one piece of the financial planning puzzle. Don’t leave out the other crucial considerations like tax planning, investment decisions, retirement planning, etc.

The bottom line

Many Americans took a financial hit in 2020 due to the pandemic and shuttered economy. While things are looking up in 2021, it’s still a year of recovery, and more people than ever are doubling down on efforts to improve their finances and commit to a budget. Budgeting apps are a fast and easy way to get started but don’t forget to prioritize the method that works best for you – whether that’s an app, a homemade spreadsheet, a financial advisor, or even the back of a napkin.

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