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Personal Financial Budgeting Tools
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Personal Financial Budgeting Tools

Not everyone relishes the idea of proactively managing money and maintaining a budget. However, creating a budget – and sticking to it – are key first steps toward reaching financial goals large and small. It’s also something that is increasingly important given today’s economic situation.

“With rising inflation, consumers are paying closer attention to their budgets,” says Sonali Divilek, head of digital products and channels at Chase.

Having the right tools is essential to being able to track expenses and monitor income, and fortunately, you don’t have to break the bank buying expensive software to do that. From old-school methods to the latest apps, here are 10 simple and free budgeting tools to keep your spending on track.

Personal Financial Budgeting Tools

Pen and Paper

While budgeting apps and software are popular, you don’t need anything more than a pen and some paper to write a budget. The basic budgeting process involves writing down all your expenses, from monthly bills to small discretionary purchases such as morning coffee or lunches. Then, categorize those expenses according to whether they are needs or wants. Next, add up your income. Earmark your income for your needs first and any money left over can be spent on wants.

If your expenses exceed your income, you’ll need to determine what changes to make. You may be able to balance your budget by cutting out wants, such as dining out or a gym membership, but in some cases, you may need to consider more significant changes such as moving to an area with a lower cost of living.

Envelopes

An envelope system involves placing cash into envelopes marked for major budget categories such as groceries, clothing and dining out. It makes it easy to see how much money is available for each spending category.

“The envelope method is a great tool for budgeting because it forces people to take control of their spending with cash in hand,” says Howard Dvorkin, CPA and chairman of Debt.com. When money in a particular envelope is gone, it signals that no more spending should occur in that category until the cash is replenished.

Spreadsheets

For a highly customizable way to track income and expenses, use a spreadsheet. “People can download budgeting spreadsheet templates that come formatted with formulas, dates and labels,” Dvorkin says. “This method helps take the guesswork out of organizing a budget, and it can also make it easier to edit a budget and track income.”

Both Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets offer free budget templates to users. You can also create your own, though there can be a learning curve to using the programs. Microsoft provides free online training lessons on its support website for Office products. Otherwise, plenty of tutorials can be found on YouTube.

Worksheets

If you’re making a budget for the first time, a worksheet can eliminate some of the guesswork. These papers often have recommended percentages to indicate how much of your earnings should be spent on each category each month.

Several organizations offer free budgeting worksheets online. American Consumer Credit Counseling, a nonprofit credit counseling provider, has sheets for household budgeting, expense tracking and budgeting for specific needs. Meanwhile, Regions Bank has free worksheets anyone can download from its Next Step Financial Education website, including a personal spending plan worksheet and daily spending tracker.

“The resources and tools we offer through Regions Next Step, like these worksheets, can help people improve their financial skills, stay organized and take the next steps to meeting their goals,” says Joye Hehn, vice president of financial education strategy and implementation at Regions Bank.

Banking Tools and Apps

Free budgeting tools may be as close as your bank’s website. Bank of America, Chase and even local credit unions are among the institutions to provide customers budgeting resources that can track expenses, run spending reports and export data to spreadsheets or computer software.

“At Chase, we are constantly enhancing our digital banking features to help our customers make the most of their money,” Divilek says. With the Chase Mobile app, customers can use a budget feature to track their spending throughout the month and determine how much is available after bills and transfers.

By paying bills online, banking tools may create charts and graphs that categorize spending, and this information can be used to develop a household budget. Banks may also offer other tools that aren’t specific for budgeting but can be helpful to manage money. For instance, you may be able to set up automatic transfers to savings or receive alerts when account balances are low.

Mint

No list of free budgeting tools would be complete without mentioning the many free budgeting websites and apps available today. Mint may be the most well-known of the internet and smartphone-based budgeting applications, and it offers comprehensive services at no cost.

Mint users can link multiple financial accounts to the service, which then tracks and categorizes spending. It includes a payment tracker with bill reminders, and its calculators allow people to see how their decisions may impact progress toward goals.

Honeydue

Designed specifically for partners who are managing money together, Honeydue helps couples stay on the same page financially. The free app allows people to link multiple accounts to share balances and spending information. A chat feature allows partners to discuss specific transactions if needed.

In terms of budgeting, Honeydue categorizes expenses to make it easy to ensure your monthly spending stays on track. The app will also send bill reminders. For those who are looking for a joint bank account, Honeydue offers those as well, with deposits insured by Sutton Bank.

SoFi Relay

SoFi Relay is another free budgeting app. It allows users to link accounts, review balances and set spending targets. It aggregates accounts and makes it easy to review spending by category.

The app also provides access to VantageScore 3.0 credit scores and makes it simple to connect with a professional to discuss financial goals and strategies. SoFi Relay users are entitled to a complimentary 30-minute call with one of the company’s in-house financial planners.

Goodbudget

This savvy budgeting software is intended for those who like the idea of an envelope cash management system but don’t want the hassle of carrying physical envelopes.

Instead, Goodbudget lets users fund virtual envelopes that are used to track expenses and sync and share budget information across devices. The free version includes 10 regular envelopes, 10 more envelopes, one year of account history and access to community support forums.

Truebill

Reducing expenses is often an integral part of creating a workable budget, and Truebill is an app that helps users identify sources of spending that may fly under the radar. Once you link a bank account, Truebill will automatically search for recurring payments such as subscription services and, if you want, cancel those accounts.

Truebill can also create a budget based on your transactions and monitor your spending. Through its bill negotiation feature, it may be able to lower monthly expenses for wireless, cable and insurance bills, among others. While the app is free to download and use, Truebill will collect 40% of your savings if it successfully negotiates down a bill.

Personal Finance Budgeting Software

1. Quicken

Quicken is a long-established tool for managing personal accounts, and while its reputation was built on a desktop version, it’s now available to run as an app on your mobile devices.

Quicken offers a good range of financial reporting tools. These are set around a few different areas, namely budgeting, bills, accounts, and even investments. For budgeting, it offers you a chance to input your purchases and income so you can compare them both together to get a better idea of how much you are spending compared to how much you are earning.

In terms of bills, you can also see which utilities and similar you are constantly paying out to, and see both the amounts to be paid and how much money you have left over. For accounting purposes you can even bring your banking and credit card bills together in one place so that you have a very clear idea indeed of how much you’re paying out. This is especially handy as people easily underestimate how much regular small purchases can add to costs.

For investments it also offers the ability to track these, whether as part of your savings, investment portfolio, or 401k pension plan. This means you have a clear idea of how much your savings and investments are worth, though it’s fair to say you shouldn’t panic about short-term fluctuations in the stock market.

Altogether, Quicken brings together your budgeting, banking, and investment reporting into a single dashboard, which you can view from your desktop or even via your cell phone from the mobile app. 

2. YNAB

Just in case you need to be told explicitly what to do, along comes YNAB – short for You Need A Budget. Because, hey, if you don’t want to spend every single penny you have and more, you absolutely do need one. And perhaps you have more money than you thought?

YNAB’s primary mission, as you might expect, is to help you curb overspending and avoid living from paycheck to paycheck. Stick to the program, temper your spending appropriately, and eventually YNAB will see you spending last month’s money rather than that which you’ve just earned.

It’s quick to install, supports the majority of transaction information downloadable from banks, and appropriately configures itself for personal or small business use by changing its monetary categories depending on your needs.

If you get off track, YNAB – which is reasonably forgiving and understanding for a bit of software – will tell you what you need to do to get back to where you need to be. You’ll have to make sacrifices, but if it’s guidance you need, this sets itself apart from the likes of Quicken.

3. Banktree

BankTree is more than happy to support worldwide currencies, and in fact does a solid job if you’re working simultaneously with more than one, offering balances in multiple currencies rather than rounding them off into a single total. It’s also good for keeping track of everything, allowing you to scan receipts with its mobile app and import them later on.

It’s not the prettiest software around, and it’s slightly more awkward to use than many of its more refined cousins, although BankTree does produce very neat reports which you can break down by time, or by payee. It may be worth experimenting with the free trial before you choose to invest in this one.

The desktop software comes with one year of updates and support, though you are restricted to one PC and there is a charge for any additional PC you want to run the software on. There’s also a browser-based version available.

Whichever version you opt for, there’s a 30 day free trial available, so you can try before you buy to get an idea if BankTree will work for you.

4. Money Dashboard

The Money Dashboard iOS/Android app doesn’t try to reinvent the banking world or offer anything truly ground-breaking, but it is perhaps one of the most useful money management tools out there. Hook up every one of your UK bank and credit card accounts and you’ll be able to see each of your balances in a single place with a single login. That in itself is enough for us to recommend it.

But there’s more – Money Dashboard will track your spending, offering you an overall pie chart depicting your spending on loans, consumables, transport and the like. There’s an at-a-glance overall balance, showing exactly how much money you have available across all of your accounts, and you can compare this to the previous month’s figure to show how well you’ve been managing your funds. That’s a great motivator.

5. Moneydance

Made primarily for Mac users (but also out on Windows and Linux), Moneydance is a desktop money management package with a very neat single-window interface. Load it up and you’ll get an instant view of your finances, upcoming bills, recent expenses and more. Click an item in the left hand sidebar and the main content changes to reflect it.

Its reporting features are quite strong if not spectacular to look at, and one of Moneydance’s most useful sections is its account register. If you’re old-school and once managed a cheque book, this operates on a very similar principle. There’s also an iOS app for logging transactions on the go, which later syncs with the software on your desktop.

Unfortunately for UK users, Moneydance doesn’t support the connection protocols used by UK banks, so you’ll need to download your transaction history manually to keep on top of it and revert to your bank’s own app to move money around. US users, however, are well covered.

Budgeting software free

budgeting software
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Managing your money successfully includes keeping a close eye on your expenses. One way to do that is to take advantage of free software and services. Free personal finance software can be surprisingly robust, helping you track spending, create and manage budgets, and run reports.

Mint

Mint is a free online budget planner from Intuit, the makers of TurboTax and Quickbooks. This app brings all of your financial data together, showing you an overview of your budget, spending, bills, and credit score. You can create your own budget, set goals and reminders, and sync your data between web and apps. Security is enhanced by encryption and multi-factor authentication. You can also use Mint to track your investments and portfolio.

Access Mint via the web or phone apps for iOS and Android.

GnuCash

GnuCash is desktop software; its features include tracking bank accounts, stocks, income, and expenses. GnuCash is based on double-entry accounting for balanced books and you can run a number of reports to see your financial data. GnuCash also offers small-business accounting tools that let you manage customers and vendors, handle invoicing and bill payment, and even payroll.

GnuCash is compatible with Windows, Mac OS X, GNU/Linux, BSD, and Solaris. There is a companion app for Android that will let you track expenses on the go and later import them into the desktop software.

AceMoney Lite

AceMoney Lite bills itself as the best Quicken alternative. You can manage your budgets, track your finances in multiple currencies, keep an eye on your investments and analyze your spending habits. You can also do online banking. As this is the lite version, you’re limited to two accounts; the full version supports unlimited accounts.

AceMoney Lite is compatible with Windows and Mac OS X.

Personal Capital

Personal Capital offers free financial software for tracking investments and planning for retirement, in addition to its tools for cash flow, spending, budgeting and net worth. Personal Capital’s focus is on investments, showing you the performance of your portfolio over time and helping you make decisions for the future, so its budgeting components aren’t as robust as other software.

If you’re not an investor or prefer fine-tuning your budget to getting the broad view, Personal Capital may not be the best fit. However, if you want to save for college or retirement, its free tools will show you whether you’re on track.

Personal Capital can be accessed via the web or apps for Android and iOS.

Buddi

Buddi is an open-source budget software that runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux systems and has been translated into multiple languages. Buddi can encrypt financial data with a password, and it’s designed to be easy to use even if you have no financial background.

Features include budgeting, tracking accounts, and personal finance reports, but you will have to enter transactions manually. Free plugins add more features, and the online user manual is easy to read and use.

Buddi is compatible with Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.

Free Budget Spreadsheets

If you don’t need fully featured personal financial software and you’re just concerned about keeping a budget, there are some great free budget spreadsheet templates you can use with Microsoft Excel, OpenOffice Calc or Google Sheets. Just download and open them in your spreadsheet software to get a handle on your cash flow.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the best way to track personal finances?

Apps and budgeting software make it easy to categorize your spending so you can see when and where your money is going—at a glance. Knowing these patterns is the first step toward changing your behavior to start saving more.

Is personal finance software safe?

Go with trusted brands, and you can expect the same types of firewalls and encryption that you’d expect from a banking website. It’s often the human who does something risky rather than a flaw in the software.

Conclusion

Basing your budget on important financial items can help you save money on your everyday expenses and secure financial security in the long run. By making a list of your important financial items and tracking their status every month, you can keep track of your progress and make necessary changes as needed. Thanks to a well-budgeted lifestyle, you can be content with little extra income or space to save.

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