Whip your finances into shape with a free money app
Apps that track your money give you power over your financial life. They clue you in to where you can cut back and where you could be putting more money away. Sure, you (or you and your partner) can do it with old-fashioned pencil and paper—and I do love a ledger—but in the digital age, you have options. And while your bank may have some basic spending tracking tools within its own free app, here is a closer look at the pros and cons of the most powerful, big-picture mobile budgeting apps, including an old favorite, Mint, and a few other fintech options.
Pros: With Mint, you can safely and securely pull together your checking and savings accounts, as well as credit cards, loans, and investments—including 529 college savings accounts for your kids, your 401(k), or an IRA. Mint’s overview of your finances, displayed in easy to understand graphs, charts, and lists, is the gold standard. It can also set up a monthly budget using preexisting categories, like “groceries” and “rent.” You can also create custom budgets, which is great for a family vacation, back-to-school spending, or holiday gift-buying. As your spending transactions come in via your credit card or checking account, they’re automatically deducted from these different budgets. When you spend beyond what you’ve allocated, Mint can send you an alert, nudging you back on track.
Cons: Mint’s investing and personal loan sections consist of just a few advertiser-placed product recommendations that amount to a pretty limited selection of what’s actually out there. If you’re looking to start an IRA or take out a loan, check out NerdWallet or Bankrate for independent reviews of a wide range of brokerages and lenders.
Pros: Like Mint, this sleek, free app links up all your accounts into one personal financial clearinghouse. Clarity can also send you notifications (low balance alerts, spending updates, bill due dates, etc.), track bills, and help you set and meet savings goals. Unique to Clarity, the “Anything you’d like to cancel?” screen suggests potentially wasteful recurring charges you may want to lose. You can also open a high-yield saving account with Marcus, the online bank from Goldman Sachs, which owns Clarity. (Current interest rate: 1.7%.)
Cons: Unlike Mint, Clarity does not track all bills; for example, it excludes insurance and utilities. And you can’t manually add in cash transactions, even big ones like rent you paid in cash, or payments to babysitters or other services.
Pros: If you’re hyperfocused on knowing what you have available to spend at this very moment, consider this handsomely designed app, which calculates a single figure that combines your income and your balance across all accounts, minus any upcoming bills and recurring charges. PocketGuard is also a great communicator of next-level information. One helpful instant alert read: “We detected a large spending [sic] of $273.40 on your credit card. This could cost you $47.82 in interest per year.”
Cons: PocketGuard’s “Find savings” section sends you directly to a single advertised option for things like car insurance, renters insurance, and robo-advisors. For a monthly charge of $4.99, PocketGuard Plus allows you to track the amount of cash you have on hand—allowing you to log cash transactions that the app, which links only to your electronic accounts, wouldn’t know about. I must say, it’s an odd choice for a “premium” feature. Why should you pay anything to do that?
Paid budgeting apps
Although I recommend opting for a free app, two recent paid entrants bear mentioning. Copilot ($2.99/month) attempts to make categorizing (and recategorizing) charges—always a chore no matter what spending tracker you use—more seamless, and more fun, with emojis and easy controls. Simplifi by Quicken ($2.99/month) is a fine, no-frills, all-in-one personal finance resource. The moment you sign up, Simplifi works to identify recurring charges within your linked accounts to quickly discern where your money is going. Another welcome feature: It doesn’t push sponsored financial products on you.