Much like you can’t build a house without a hammer, a car without a wrench, or a cake without a spatula, you can’t build your empire with the wrong budgeting tool.
A proper budgeting and investment tracking tool is a no-brainer for anyone who wants to get their financial house in order. Let’s explore the best budgeting tools to help you reach financial independence.
Free Budgeting Tools
Being budget-conscious people, we want to start out with the free tools. After all, what’s better than free when you are trying to save money?
If you’re looking for a free tool with a few more bells and whistles, Personal Capital is sure to be your go-to. Their comprehensive budgeting and investment tool has a full range of connectivity, from mobile and tablet to a desktop version.
Personal Capital’s free financial dashboard is unbelievably comprehensive in and of itself, offering such tools as budgeting, cash flow analysis, 401(k) analysis, retirement planning, and even access to a personal financial advisor. (However, please read our Investing page to hear our thoughts on working with an advisor.)
Our favorite things about Personal Capital are:
- Net worth tracking and visualization
- Analyzing your investments to understand the fees you’re paying using their Retirement Fee Analyzer.
- Asset Allocation Analytics: Easy to read graphs and charts
EveryDollar was created and developed by the finance guru himself, Dave Ramsey. It is a simple budgeting tool with an easy to use interface featuring customizable categories. It is an easy tool for helping people to get on track with their spending and to start saving money.
Easy to navigate tabs show you how much you have planned in your budget, how much of it you have spent, and how much you have left. It also features an option to track your progress along with Ramsey’s signature “Baby Steps” journey, building your financial foundation for lifelong wealth. One of our favorite features from this app is the ability to budget for more than just the current month. Tracking sinking funds and planning future expenses is very easy.
EveryDollar is a great free option, however there are no investment tracking features included in this one. The other drawback is unless you’re willing to shell out the $99/year for the paid version (with a 15-day free trial to get your feet wet), you will be stuck entering your transactions manually into either the app or the website. We personally liked the ability to plan future months ahead of time. This tool also allows you to easily set-up sinking fund tracking and savings goals.
Mint is a web-based software with easy accessibility on any device. It is completely free to sign up and set up takes nearly no time at all. Keep in mind that this is primarily a budgeting software designed with the financial novice in mind. For this reason, their investing tools won’t match up to the offerings of Personal Capital and the like. If you have investing on your mind, you may be better off looking elsewhere.
From a budgeting and finance reconciliation standpoint, Mint has a couple of really great offerings. Once you have synced your accounts, it will automatically download transactions and sort them into their corresponding budget categories.
You can set your financial goals and it will keep you on track with weekly email updates and alerts on pending bills. As an added bonus, Mint also offers credit score tracking, allowing you to view and monitor your credit score and payment history.
Overall, it gives the user a fulfilling hands-on approach to reigning in their spending and building a solid foundation for managing their finances. By enabling you to visualize your financial goals and track your credit as it improves, you are handed the motivation to carry on your positive spending habits.
Check out our article on YNAB vs Mint to see if either of these budgeting tools are right for you!
Spreadsheets are a classic tool for reconciling expenses and income, dating back to the logbooks of yore. Think King Richard collecting taxes from peasants and Captain Black Beard logging the booty from his pillages.
Once set up, they are incredibly easy to continue customizing as you work with them and your financial situation evolves and improves. Track your expenses, your income, your financial goals, and even your investment portfolio easily with a completely free and simple to use spreadsheet. It’s time to start making some serious money moves on your journey to financial independence.
Budgeting Tools that Require an Investment
Don’t panic if you have outgrown your free budgeting tool. Growth is good! Growth means you have your finances under control and you are ready to start making a larger investment in your journey to financial independence.
Financial growth is a great reason to seek a paid budgeting tool. Maybe you just need more functionality than the free tools can provide.
While companies that have developed cloud-based tools are constantly updating their security settings – such as Mint’s two-factor authentication – some people might simply find more peace of mind with software that stores all of their data onto their own hard drive. If you’re one of these people, a couple of paid tools might be worth checking out.
YNAB, or You Need a Budget, isn’t simply a budgeting tool. It is a fully developed method for ending your paycheck-to-paycheck living cycle and get you on the road to wealth.
The software was developed by CPA and author, Jesse Mecham, in his quest for a budgeting solution for him and his wife. In so doing, he created a comprehensive system that anybody can follow for only $6.99 per month with a free 34-day trial.
From sign up, YNAB makes you feel like you are part of a community driving you toward your financial goals. Access to the program provides you with a multitude of free resources on budgeting, prioritizing your goals and making your money work harder for you, as well as a forum that you can use to connect with others in a similar situation to yours.
The welcome email entreats you to use the method “along your road to budgeting glory.” Is there a more empowering way to approach your finances?
YNAB is primarily a budgeting tool, and it does that well, so don’t expect a whole lot of help with your investments. It does sync seamlessly with your bank accounts and credit cards, and it has an easy to use bill payment system integrated.
What started as a desktop-based application is now available on mobile. Depending on your preference, you can use either, or you can use both, as they sync perfectly with each other.
Until 2015, Quicken and Mint were siblings owned by Intuit. Despite being purchased by H.I.G Capital, not much has changed for Quicken in terms of functionality and financial planning. In terms of cost, you are looking at paying between $35 and $90 per year, depending on which program you choose. Included in that cost is a comprehensive budgeting, investment tracking, bill payment, and reporting tool, as well as desktop, web, and mobile access.
What drives Quicken beyond most other budgeting tools is their small business solutions. With Quicken’s “Home and Business” software, you have access to a basic bookkeeping program, complete with custom invoicing.
How To Pick the Best Budgeting Tool For You
It’s no secret that it’s very hard to choose the one that best fits your needs. There are so many different options and features between all of these budgeting tools.
Our Recommendations For You:
- Identify what your needs are. Look at which ones include those features. Everyone has their own budgeting style preferences.
- Some of these are free, others cost money – try the free ones and see if they’re robust enough.
- Pick an app and try it! Give it at least a month, preferably two so you can get a good feel for all of its’ features.
- After you’ve tested it, examine how well you did using the app. If you don’t like the look and feel of it, don’t worry – there are several other options to try next.
We’ve found our sweet spot to be a combination of Personal Capital and the paid version of EveryDollar. Whichever tool you decide to use for your budgeting – give yourself a huge pat on the back and maybe a hug for taking this ginormous step in the right direction. Building a budget, and sticking to it, are vital components to retiring early and wealthy. Having full control of your finances means knowing exactly what your money is doing at all times.
So, good for you on deciding to take financial independence into your own hands! If you have any budgeting questions or need some advice on which tool to use, we are here for you.
Have it figured out? Let us know what your favorite budgeting tools are in the comments!
Hi, I’m John Hawrylack! I’m a husband, dog dad and FIRE enthusiast. My love and passion for personal finance started when I was a teenager. My goal is to help others discover their version of FIRE. I’m an admin of the ChooseFI Philadelphia group. I have a BS in Computer Science and MS in Software Engineering. Our blog has been mentioned in Forbes, MSN, Yahoo, Fox Business, U.S. News & World Report, Ladders, GoBankingRates, Debt.com, VOYA, ChooseFI and many more!