Very few actually enjoy the task of budgeting. Understanding and maintaining a cash flow system for income, bills and savings each month takes equal parts effort and time – and when the numbers fail to create a surplus, the big bad “b” word turns into a despised chore. Fortunately, the fusion of technology and innovation in the realm of personal finance has birthed a number of online budget software solutions, meant to reduce the time spent on and pain inflicted by managing your cash flow. While this list is not all inclusive, it represents the top three picks for online budget software based on ease of use, features and cost.
By far and large, Mint.com is the queen of online budget software. Established in 2006 and currently serving more than 10 million users, Mint is a no-cost personal financial management tool that leaves conventional budgeting in the distant past. With access both online and via mobile, Mint works to help individual users track where their money is going, for better or worse, by providing account aggregation and real-time updates on spending, saving and bill management. Once the simple set-up process is complete (which consists of signing up with an e-mail address and password), users have the ability to add bank accounts, credit cards and debts from multiple financial institutions in a single place. Why does this matter? Well, customizable budgeting is made substantially less daunting when all of your financial data is in a single location and tracked – without a spreadsheet or checkbook balancing – every minute of every day.
Through Mint, users pick and choose which accounts to add to the dashboard, and the platform syncs transaction data as money is earned and then spent. Mint users can categorize any transaction under the program’s preset list of purchase types or by creating unique categories of their own. The more detailed users are in categorizing money movement, the better the budgeting tool works. Mint allows each user to create unique budgets for an endless number of categories, all which are easily changed as financial habits or obligations shift over time. One of the best parts of Mint is the alerts and advice that come with the software – if you’ve overspent in one category or failed to save toward an established goal, fret not. Mint will let you know.
In addition to intuitive budgeting and categorization, Mint offers a robust set of features to its users. Access to a free credit score every few months helps users stay on top of changes, and investment tracking highlights performance and growth over time. Additionally, Mint offers helpful tips and opportunities to save money as users continue to utilize the software. For instance, if your credit card has recently assessed a finance charge, Mint may offer a suggestion for a lower-interest-rate card or balance transfer offer from one of its partners.
And in case you missed it, Mint.com is free. Users do experience a relatively heavy ad presence throughout the site, but focusing on the tools available make that only a slight annoyance. The combination of these features and the ability to track money movement against designed budgets makes Mint.com one of the strongest online software applications for personal financial management.
You Need a Budget (YNAB) comes in as a close second to Mint for online budget software options. Created in 2004, YNAB is an online budget software based on four foundational rules:
- Give every dollar a job – categorize where money is spent and how much
- Know your true expenses – incorporate quarterly, semi-annual and annual payments into a monthly budget
- Be flexible – establish overspending “buckets”
- Break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle – pay bills as they come in and work toward living off money earned last month
YNAB offers users a different experience than Mint based on its underlying principals, but the software platform works in a similar manner. Users of the online budget software simply sign up through the website and are immediately given access to both the desktop and mobile applications. Thousands of financial institutions can be synced with the YNAB software, from checking accounts to credit cards, making the task of budgeting far easier. YNAB updates regularly, so users have the flexibility to check progress in terms of sticking with a budget anywhere, at any time.
One clear difference between YNAB and Mint is the cost. While enrolled students can utilize the power of YNAB at no cost for one year, all other users are assessed a fee for access. The monthly option is billed at $5 while paying in full for the year equates to a $50 charge. Part of the justification for the cost of YNAB can be linked to its educational resources provided to users. Classes on budgeting and money management are made available, offering expert advice and tips on how to effectively utilize not only the software but create new habits as well. YNAB also maintains a blog which goes into depth on budgeting topics in a lighthearted but educational way. Through the site, users also have access to a number of guides focused on debt management, prioritizing financial goals, and aging your money. Individuals looking for a more hands-on approach as it relates to budgeting may consider YNAB a better choice than Mint.
Touted as a financial GPS, Level Money is another online budget software meant to lend a digital hand when it comes to spending. Unlike Mint and YNAB that focus on the basic principals of budgeting – establishing category limits for spending and sticking to it – Level Money replaces a user’s bank account balance with a spendable amount each month. Users sync bank accounts and credit cards like they would in Mint or YNAB, but Level Money focuses more on how much one has to spend based on bills and savings goals input into the software.
Level Money provides users the opportunity to establish simplistic trackers for a wide variety of spending habits, like dining out, ride shares (Uber, Lyft or cab service), travel and gas. These trackers work to inform users of ongoing spending habits on either a month-to-month or annual basis. In addition, Level Money offers intuitive predictions as it relates to bank account balances and upcoming bills to make it easier to maintain control over spending. Like Mint, Level Money is available via desktop and mobile at no cost.
Budgeting is one of the critical components of sound financial management, but without outside help, the task often becomes a chore. Utilizing one of the online budget software options listed here can help take the pain out of budgeting, no matter your goals or spending habits, paving the way for a much better understanding of how your money works for you.