It’s no secret that many Americans struggle to keep up with their bills. 64% of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck, according to a LendingClub survey.
Budgeting tools like Mint, You Need A Budget, and others work to break the stressful paycheck-to-paycheck cycle. Which tool is best for you comes down to each product’s features and costs, alongside your personality.
Best Budgeting Tools For Your Personality
Everyone has a unique money management style, learned from parents, mentors, and friends. When looking at the right budgeting tool for you, look for one that best fits your personality and money management style.
Best For General Budgeters: Mint
Mint is an excellent tool for traditional budgeting. Its features are intuitive. Once you connect your financial accounts, Mint automatically analyzes your spending and helps you track it to a budget. You can customize financial categories, budget category spending targets, and sign up for free bill reminders.
Mint automatically categorizes your spending and calculates the totals, allowing you to see your overall spending habits. It does a pretty good job of categorizing but sometimes does require a little help to correct mistakes. The app notifies you if you are close to overspending in any category and offers recommendations on cutting excessive spending. With Mint, you can easily create a simple spending pattern-based budget that fits your lifestyle.
Mint is free and ad-supported.
Best For Type-A Personalities: Lunch Money
For the analytical mind, Lunch Money is a go-to budgeting tool. Lunch Money’s budgeting features allow you to categorize your spending, automatically track recurring expenses, and share access to your budget with others, like a spouse or roommate. The stats and trends feature analyzes your spending and offers insights on your particular habits, which you receive in a monthly summary.
Lunch Money includes a net worth calculator for those who want a complete look at their financial picture. Freelancers, travelers, and anyone using multiple currencies can utilize Lunch Money’s multi-currency support. It’s also the first personal budgeting app to include cryptocurrency portfolio tracking in its automated net worth tracker.
Lunch Money doesn’t use any ads or trackers. Your data is completely private. It costs $10 per month or $100 per year.
Best For Confident Investors: Empower
Tracking your spending and investment portfolio requires a different set of tools. Empower (formerly known as Personal Capital) can help you budget while also breaking down your investments. It offers a free investment checkup tool that analyzes the risks and strengths of your portfolio, plus a net worth tool that links all of your financial assets and liabilities to show your worth in real-time.
Empower can also help you plan for retirement. Its retirement planner helps you anticipate significant expenses, project how far your savings will go, and run scenarios on what retirement could look like based on income and investments.
Empower is free to use and works best for those who don’t need a detailed monthly budget. They will offer you access to a paid investment planning service if you have an investable net worth of $100,000 or more. But the free budgeting tools are great either way.
Best For Giving Every Dollar A Job: YNAB
Rules keep you on track and disciplined. This mindset is YNAB’s bread and butter. Its money philosophy revolves around four simple rules detailing making your money work for you. Plus, it offers resources like blog posts, video courses, live Q&As, podcasts, money challenges, and more to help you make their money philosophy a reality.
YNAB’s app offers a powerful budgeting tool, loan calculator, net worth and spending reports, goal tracking, and more. You can share your budget with others and keep track of multiple budgets simultaneously.
YNAB offers a 34-day free trial so that you can decide if it’s the right tool for you. After the free trial, it costs $14.99 per month or $98.99 per year.
Best For Treating Your Money Like A Business: Quickbooks
Whether you’re the CEO of your household or running a small business, QuickBooks is a reliable tool to consider. QuickBooks is designed for small businesses, so it works well if you want to be the CFO of your household with budgeting, money tracking, and accounting features.
You can pay all of your bills from the Quickbooks dashboard and save your receipts, making expense tracking seamless. This powerful business budgeting tool also creates invoices, runs reports, and maximizes tax deductions.
The best version for most people is QuickBooks online. Plans cost $25 to $180 per month, depending on the features you want, after a 30-day trial.
Why Budgeting Is Important
Breaking the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle is difficult, especially if you’re unsure where your money went. It’s even more difficult if you don’t know where your money is going. Paying off debt and building savings becomes more manageable with a clear picture of how you’re allocating your resources.
Budgeting allows you to see where your money comes from and goes. To create a budget, start by listing your sources of income and totaling them up at the bottom of your “income” section. Once you see how much money you bring in each month, you can assign your income into specific budgeting categories based on your financial needs and wants. As the month progresses, you can adjust your budget amounts as needed, but always be careful not to spend more than you earn.
Budgeting With Crypto And Other Investments
Paying yourself first is the key to financial independence. That’s why budgeting for investments is just as important as budgeting for typical expenses like food, housing, and utilities. It’s up to you to decide how to allocate your investments, though many new investors look to low-cost robo-advising platforms to manage their funds.
You can start by creating an investment category in your budget, dedicating a particular amount or percentage of your monthly income. Experts recommend setting aside at least 15% of your income to maintain the same standard of living in retirement.
These investments can include ETFs, mutual funds, cryptocurrencies, stocks, bonds, real estate, and just about anything else that has the potential for growth over time. Some people invest in farmland, artworks, wine, and collectibles. Just be careful not to invest more than you can afford to lose, particularly with risky assets like cryptocurrencies
Don't Spend Your Money Without A Plan
Finding the right budgeting tool can help you make the best saving, spending, and investing decisions. Finding one that matches your personality on top of your financial goals makes it even likelier that you will stick to a plan and get your finances on track for your biggest financial goals.
Eric Rosenberg is a financial writer, speaker, and consultant based in Ventura, California. He holds an undergraduate finance degree from the University of Colorado and an MBA in finance from the University of Denver. After working as a bank manager and then nearly a decade in corporate finance and accounting, Eric left the corporate world for full-time online self-employment. His work has been featured in online publications including Business Insider, Nerdwallet, Investopedia, The Balance, HuffPo, Investor Junkie, and other fine financial blogs and publications. When away from the computer, he enjoys spending time with his wife and three children, traveling the world, and tinkering with technology. Connect with him and learn more at EricRosenberg.com.