What Are the Basic Tools of a Budget
The notion of budgeting and proactive money management is not appealing to everyone. However, setting up a budget and following it are essential initial steps toward achieving financial objectives of all sizes. Given the state of the economy right now, it is also something that is becoming more and more crucial.
Consumers are paying more attention to their budgets due to rising inflation, according to Sonali Divilek, Chase’s head of digital products and channels.
Fortunately, you don’t need to spend a fortune on pricey software to track spending and keep track of your revenue if you have the correct tools.
This comprehensive guide covers related topics such as Personal Finance Budgeting Software, Budgeting software free and Project Budget Management Tools.
Tools to Create a Budget
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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 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 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 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 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.
Project Budget Management Tools
Best for customization capabilities
monday.com is a project management software with time tracking features that has done away with a lot of the trimmings of typical management tools and focused on simple, visually intuitive layouts that help clarify the sequence of work.
monday.com features for managing projects include resource and project management, time tracking software, collaboration, and reporting features. For example, users can upload and attach files to cards, make comments, mention teammates, and more. It also offers a great project reporting dashboard that can collect data from multiple boards, allowing better tracking abilities of progress.
And while monday.com doesn’t offer a complete set of tools for project accounting and invoicing solution as other tools, you can use monday.com to track every billable hour, employee productivity, and invoices. More than being a time tracking solution, you can also use it for your employee productivity needs. Easily assign owners to new tasks, prioritize each item, set due dates and know exactly how every work hour is spent on each project and task. You can also keep track of time on their mobile app.
monday.com’s integrations include business apps like Slack, Google Drive, Gmail, Google Calendar, Jira, GitHub, Trello, Dropbox, Typeform, and many more, accessible via Zapier.
monday.com costs from $6/user/month and comes with a free 14-day trial. They offer a free plan for up to 2 users.
2 Resource Management by Smartsheet
Best for mobile time tracking
Resource Management by Smartsheet, a high-level project and resource management software, helps modern teams make confident decisions about project planning, team capacity, budget forecasting, team utilization, and hiring needs in real time.
Its built-in timesheets, mobile time tracking, and expense tracking features, enable you to create rich project reports by filtering project data with just a few clicks, making it the best time tracking solution for a workforce with diverse operational setups. Get a detailed report that can give insight into historical data or offer a forecasted view of team utilization, actual vs. planned time reports, budget tracking, expense reports, and projects in the pipeline.
Over 1,000 of the most innovative companies in the world rely on Resource Management by Smartsheet, from 10-person shops and 100-person teams within global brands to 1,000+ person professional services firms. Resource Management by Smartsheet has been recognized for its design excellence with awards from FastCo, SXSW, IxDA + IDSA.
Resource Management by Smartsheet easily integrates with a variety of internal workflows and software suites. Additionally, it provides a flexible API and Zapier integration that can connect with top operational tools for analytics, communications, PM, ERP, and finance.
With a unique project and resource matching feature, Resource Management by Smartsheet helps match team members to the project’s requirements according to different criteria like disciplines, skills, availability, and more.
30 days free trial
3 Buddy Punch
Best online time clock for GPS and image tracking
Buddy Punch is a web-based time clock software. Its interface is fully customizable. You will be able to integrate the Buddy Punch with most of the payroll management products. It will help you with managing the projects by recording the time for a specific project and job codes.
Buddy Punch has a functionality of automatically splitting of calculated time into categories like regular time, overtime, and double time. The tool can also provide the flexible, reliable, and easy-to-use employee management, Buddy Punch will let you set up a unique overtime rule on a per-employee basis. Additional features include automatic breaks, vacation tracking, GPS tracking, and other time and attendance solutions.
Buddy Punch integrates with QuickBooks, ADP, Gusto, Paychex, Paylocity, PayPlus, SurePayroll, and Workday. A paid Zapier account can get you access to hundreds of other tool connections.
Buddy Punch costs from $25.99/month for basic time and attendance solutions (billed annually). They offer a 30-day free trial. You can contact the company directly for the requirement of more than 200 employees.
Best for managing employee time off
Timesheets.com is a fully-featured time tracking software tool, complete with hourly time clock, project time, mileage and expense tracking, time off / vacation, and stacks of powerful HR functionality to support managing your team. Timesheets.com is easy to use and they offer the option to brand the service with your logo.
Timesheets.com integrates fully with projects and tasks and they offer flexible entry options with tracking projects in real-time using timers feature, single project entries daily, or fill in their timesheet at the end of the week. Budgets are easily managed and reporting is simple with the ability to use live, up to the minute data to drill down to separate out specific employees, projects, and dates.
Timesheets.com has some pretty powerful HR tools if you’re looking for a more complete HR time tracking software solution that does more than just track time and expenses. The HR functionality includes powerful time off management with the ability to review accrued balances for vacation, and request approval for vacation time to manage and review the agency’s time off in a single view on a calendar. The HR functionality also includes a suite of standardized employee documentation including employee training manuals, performance reviews, staff communication, employee files, and notes.
Timesheets.com has a QuickBooks integration and the data can easily be exported for other accounting software.
Timesheets has a 15-day free trial for all users. Once activated, pricing starts at $4.50/user/month and $3.60/user/month for nonprofit organizations.
Best free time tracking tool
If you’re looking for a simple and free time tracking software, Toggl is a great place to start. It’s beautifully designed and incredibly easy to use. If you’re looking for a solution to get started today and to simply track time against different projects and clients, then Toggl is great.
Toggl allows you to create projects, tasks and track hours using your browser, Chrome extension, mobile, or desktop apps. While it allows tracking of accruals, there’s no way to set budgets and track against them. If you want to track against an estimate or create an invoice, you’d need to use a 3rd party tool.
Toggl has some good functionality to support helping people do their time tracking properly with automated reminders to keep people on track, and you can create required fields for time entries, to ensure people always add comments or tags to their timesheet entries. You can also enable auditing tools where you can trigger alerts for suspicious-looking timesheet entries, like if someone claims to have worked 10 hrs straight on a single task!
Toggl has some good out the box, which make it one of the best free time tracking software options available with integrations for Jira, Asana, Basecamp, Freshbooks, GitHub, and Teamweek among many others. So even though it’s lacking in some of the budget tracking and invoicing functionalities, you can easily tie it in with other tools that specialize in reporting and invoicing.
Toggl is a free time tracking software tool although paid versions cost from $9/user/month.
Bill4time is the full package – a full-featured time tracking software tool with time tracking, expense tracking, billing & invoicing, invoice templates, and online payments supported by a client portal, it’s more than just time tracking but billing software too.
Bill4time has created some well-designed and good looking tools with mobile and desktop apps to enable some pretty flexible and powerful time tracking; you can simultaneously run timers, record multiple time entries in one screen and automatically convert appointments into time entries. All of this makes time tracking easy.
What’s really unique about Bill4time is really the powerful back-end management functionality that allows you to keep better track of users, projects, clients, and accounting. Using the rich data and dashboards you can easily track financial performance, identify trends, review payment history, productivity, and more so you can more easily optimize performance. Reporting is powerful and flexible so you can be sure to stay on top of the productivity and financial status of your clients and projects.
Bill4time doesn’t have a large back-catalog of integrations but they do have the essentials; Quickbooks, PayPal, and Stripe, so if you’re using those systems, you’re in luck.
Bill4time offers a free 14-day trial and costs from $29/user/month.
Best for integration options
TimeCamp is a great free time tracking software tool (with freemium upgrades) that includes manual and automatic timesheets, a time diary, and automatic task detection capabilities. It’s well designed and easy to use with a clean and fresh design.
TimeCamp is based around projects and tasks, and you can set budgets for either so that you can easily track accumulated hours against projects and tasks. Vacation tracking and accrual tracking are supported with attendance and absence analysis so you can track who is in and who is out at any given time, see when they start and finish work and track their holidays.
Timecamp integrates well with invoicing and is able to automatically (or not) produce invoices based on billable hours with worked generated in TimeCamp. There is an integrated payment gateway and helpfully you can get a notification when a client views an invoice.
A great feature within TimeCamp is their pretty unique time management tools which give some great insights on what are people are actually doing; the most time-consuming websites and applications they’re using, with productivity analysis and detailed history on how people spend their time by using automatic computer usage tracking – this also enables you to evaluate time spent on documents, even tracking offline activity and the ability to approve or reject timesheets.
TimeCamp has got stacks of powerful integrations which make it a very flexible time tracking software tool. Integrations include project management favorites including, Jira, Wrike, Trello, Podio, Basecamp, and Asana – invoicing including Xero, Quickbooks, and Free Agent, as well as Insightly, Wunderlist, and Zapier.
TimeCamp is free time tracking software although paid versions cost from $6/user/month.
Best for agencies
Harvest is a very popular agency time tracking software tool used by thousands of agencies as their time tracking software solution. Its functionality covers everything from timesheets, invoicing, expenses, project budgeting, budget tracking, and reporting.
Harvest is popular because it’s easy to use and it’s been very well designed with a beautiful and intuitive interface that works across desktop and mobile. Harvest covers time tracking with clients, projects, and task tracking which power some powerful reporting so you can easily analyze your data including billable and non-billable time for specific staff, tasks, clients, and projects.
Helpfully, for complete budget tracking solution, Harvest supports expense tracking, invoicing, and timesheet approval; it’s a fully baked product covering the essential time tracking software tool functionality and stacks more. Harvest also has a sister product, Harvest Forecast, which has resourcing management features so you can schedule a team on projects, know who’s working on what and when and then easily compare estimates vs actuals and know exactly when a project hit its budget.
Harvest really excels at its integrations, offering more than 70+ integrations across project management with Jira, Asana, and Basecamp, accounting with Quickbooks, Xero, and Stripe as well as many others across issue tracking, CRM, productivity, communication, contracts and proposals, developer tools, and analytics and reporting. If you’re using industry-standard tools, you’re very likely to be able to plug in the Harvest add-ons to track time across your project workflow.
Harvest offers a 30-day trial and is a free time tracking software tool, although paid versions cost from $12/user/month.
Native time tracking feature built into all plans, free included.
ClickUp knows that time tracking is crucial for any business. This is why their native time tracking is available in all of their plans, including the free one! Tracking can be done within a specific task, or from any screen using the command center.
You can access the command center by going to the left menu and clicking on the lightning icon next to the search bar. Once you are ready to see time tracking reports though, you will have to upgrade your plan as the time sheet dashboards are part of the business and unlimited plans.
Note: you can still see time tracked in each task by looking at the activity log.
ClickUp offers native integrations with Slack, G Suite, Dropbox, and many more tools, as well as over 1,000+ integrations through Zapier.
ClickUp is free with limited storage for an unlimited number of users. Paid plans start at $5/user/month and offer a free-trial.
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.
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.