The best budgeting software helps you manage your money in a way that is organized, provides the detail you require and displays the information that you need in a way that allows for quick comprehension and analysis.
Here are four budgeting software systems that meet those criteria. Each system is distinguished by how it could best fit your personal approach to managing your finances. (For more on budgeting, see our tutorial: Budgeting Basics.)
Best for Fans of Zero-Based Budgeting
You Need A Budget (YNAB for short) is built on the zero-based budgeting principle that calls for you to “give every dollar a job.” With YNAB you need to be involved in your finances and willing to change old habits to make the system work.
In addition to the central mantra, “give every dollar a job,” YNAB follows three additional rules:
- Embrace your true expenses
- Roll with the punches
- Age your money
According to YNAB, following those four rules will help you pay off debts, save money and stop living paycheck to paycheck. It’s a tall order, but YNAB users say it works.
This browser-based subscription system runs on both Windows and Mac computers. Android and iPhone apps are available and are able to sync data back to your desktop. YNAB also connects to bank and credit card accounts to download transactions, but it does not offer a way to track investments. Following a 34-day free trial, YNAB costs $83.99, billed annually.
Best for Envelope Budgeters Anxious to Go Digital
Mvelopes is based on the familiar (pre-computer) budgeting system of putting cash in envelopes each pay period. Each envelope is labeled for an individual bill or discretionary expense. For discretionary expenses, when an envelope is empty, spending in that category is done for that pay period.
At its core Mvelopes provides you with a familiar system of using envelopes on a digital platform, but that is not all the software service provides. It is also able to link to bank and credit card accounts, allowing you to see past spending and assign money to future “mvelopes.” You can set up the system to move money out of your spending envelope into a credit card payment envelope so that you don’t run up your credit card balance.
Mvelopes Basic is the simplest offering from the budgeting site and costs only $4 per month. Pricing ranges as high as $79 per month for Mvelopes Complete, the software’s premier service. The system is online and works with both Macs and PCs. Android and iPhone apps let you manage your accounts, add and edit transactions, adjust your budget and monitor expenses on the go. (For more, see: How to Create an Effective Budget.)
Best for Tracking Spending for Free
Mint is a quintessential and wildly popular free online budgeting and expense-tracking software system. The Intuit-owned program lets you track expenses across credit cards, bank accounts (checking and saving) and even investment accounts.
Additionally, you can use the program to sign up for alerts informing you if you are overspending in a specific category or to remind you when bills are due. In short, Mint gives you a ton of information but does not make suggestions or give any advice. It provides a great overview of your financial health, and the customizable alerts could be very helpful if you tend not to pay attention to your finances on a regular basis.
In addition to the browser-based online system, Mint has both iOS and Android apps. The software offers online synchronization and includes bill-payment options as well as limited investment monitoring. There’s even a free credit score tracking option. (Also see: 8 Best Personal Finance Apps.)
Best for Those Who “Want It All”
Quicken Premier 2018 is, by most accounts, the most complete personal finance and budget software tool available. That also makes it one of the most complex software packages available. The complexity is mitigated somewhat by the fact that there are a few different Windows versions plus a Mac version available, allowing you to at least use it on an operating system you are comfortable with.
All versions of Quicken, which you must install on your computer, allow you to create and follow a budget. All versions of Quicken let you track your spending, import bank transactions, pay bills and more. As you upgrade to more complex and in-depth versions, you gain access to an increasing number of additional features that can be very useful for your budgeting. The Premier version adds future financial planning, debt reduction, retirement planning, portfolio maintenance and management, a mutual fund finder and tax advice on investments.
The Quicken 2018 mobile app is free and available in iOS and Android versions. The app syncs with all Quicken versions. In 2018 Quicken has introduced a membership program. The membership program allows for a lower cost through one-year and two-year memberships. In 2018, the one-year Quicken Premier membership for both Windows and Mac costs $74.99 and the two-year membership costs $119.99. (For further insights, see: The 3 Best Alternatives to Quicken Software.)
The Bottom Line
With the exception of the Quicken products, most budgeting software today is online and subscription-based. That makes it easily compatible with any computer system and also available on just about any device.
The Quicken advantage is mostly in the depth of the features offered. There’s almost nothing about managing money in a home that Quicken does not cover extremely well. Many people, however, don’t require or want that degree of complexity.
Any of these applications would work well for most people. Decide which approach best fits the personality and goals of yourself or your clients, download or sign up, and enjoy the financial peace of mind that comes from taking control of your budget.