9 MIN READ

We Tried 7 Budgeting Apps So You Don’t Have to. Here’s What We Thought

Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder


For years, I’ve been on a quest to find the best budgeting app.

I’ve traveled far and wide through the internet and app store to find one that lets me adjust my income and expenses, and that will sync my transactions.

That’s it. That’s really all I’ve been looking for.

But while there are great apps available to manage your overall finances, finding one to make a budget has proved to be much more difficult.

Let me rephrase that: Finding a budgeting app that meets my needs — and is affordable — has proved difficult.

I’ve used EveryDollar for three years. Its free version requires you to manually input transactions, which was helpful while my husband and I were paying off $78,000 in student loan debt.

But now we’re debt-free. And because we’re not throwing every extra penny toward our debt, we have more discretionary spending, which makes it harder to manually track expenses.

Now I want to keep a fluid budget that allows me to be a little spontaneous while staying on track to reach long-term saving goals.

I don’t need a financial adviser, a bill cutter, money-making app or recommendations for the best credit cards. My specifications are simply to make a budget, track my spending and check in on my progress.

EveryDollar charges a $99 annual fee for automatic transaction syncing. Sorry, but I can buy 14 burritos at Chipotle for that.

People rave about You Need a Budget, but it’s not much better at $83.99 per year.

So, the journey to find the best free budgeting app began.

Best Budgeting Apps

Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

Here are seven free apps with upgrades that cost $50 or less per year. That way, if you end up loving the free version, you won’t feel guilty about upgrading.

Mint

Price: Totally free

Syncs with accounts: Yes

Let’s start with the most well-known on our list: Mint. It has no paid version, so you won’t have to deal with the limits other free apps impose. In return, you will have to deal with a plethora of ads and offers.

Transactions are easy to see. You can sync as many accounts as you want and make as many budgets as you want. (Most apps consider one “category” to be one “budget.”) Mint can even predict your bills based on past expenses and tell you what it thinks will be due soon.

It’s easy to make a zero-based budget through the app, because you can change values based on what you anticipate making.

What I don’t love is all the fluff. So many ads and offers make the app feel cluttered, and you have to scroll down to find your budget on the home page. But if you’re looking for a free app with premium features, it fits the bill.

Final verdict: I’m a fan, but I feel like we can do better.

Mvelopes

Price: Free 30-day trial, $39.99 per year

Syncs with accounts: Yes

It doesn’t have a free version, but Mvelopes does have a free 30-day trial. And given its popularity, I thought this list would be lacking without it.

Off the bat, what I liked about Mvelopes is the ability to access it on my laptop. When I’m figuring out my budget, it helps to have it on a bigger screen. But I will say that the Mvelopes desktop interface looks like it came straight out of Windows 2000.

Another cool feature is “sweeping envelopes.” At the end of the month, if you have cash left over in an envelope you can “sweep it” to your savings, debt payoff or investment envelope.

What I didn’t like is that after syncing my bank accounts, neither the web nor the app would upload my previous transactions. If you want to start from scratch, this is fine, but if you’re trying to start a budget midmonth? Not so good.

The basic version of Mvelopes is $4 per month, or $40 if you pay for a year upfront. There are two higher tiers: For $190 per year, you get debt reduction tools and a quarterly meeting with a personal finance coach. For $590 per year, you’ll get those meetings monthly.

Final verdict: Has some of the same limitations as the free apps, but you have to pay for it.

GoodBudget

Price: Free version or $50 per year

Syncs with accounts: Technically…

Where GoodBudget seems to excel is for people using the envelope system, Dave Ramsey’s method for paying off debt.

It has some features EveryDollar doesn’t. For example, it lets you roll over any unused cash to the next month’s envelope, and it reports on your spending by envelope or month.

The biggest downside is that it doesn’t sync your transactions. Not even with the paid version. It connects with your bank account but only keeps your balance up to date. You then have to upload your transaction history or manually input transactions.

Final verdict: I can see why this app is popular, but there are some new kids on the block that may make this app obsolete.

Honeyfi

Price: Free

Syncs with accounts: Yes

From the moment I downloaded all these budgeting apps, Honeyfi was the one I was most interested in. It’s a budgeting app for couples, but before single people write it off, you can easily add two emails that you own and be your own domestic partner.

Honeyfi has no web-based budgeting option, but the capabilities of the app more than make up for it.

When you open it, your budget is the first box displayed, followed by your transactions — which is the order I prefer. Once you link your accounts, Honeyfi will automatically make a budget for you based on your past spending. You can easily change it by clicking on the header.

You can have as many categories and subcategories as you want, or even create your own. The app automatically identifies recurring bills, but you can also manage them manually. If you do have a partner, you can communicate about transactions within the app and limit what transactions your partner can see.

Final verdict: My worry is that the app is only 2 years old, and in the world of financial apps, good things usually come to an end. But I’ll definitely be embracing this good thing for as long as I can.

Buxfer

Price: Free version or $23.88 to $59.88 per year

Syncs with accounts: Not on the free version

Buxfer has three payment tiers from $1.99 to $4.99 per month, billed annually. The free version only supports manual transaction uploading, but unlike other apps, it lets you import a CSV from your bank or another tracking app like Mint or Personal Capital.  

In short, the free version of Buxfer really annoyed me, because manually uploading transactions — even with a CSV file — was cumbersome.

If you make it past uploading your transactions, or if you spring for the paid version, the app is quite nice.

Your dashboard gives you your net worth, income and expenses right at the top, and then shows your recent transactions. The budgets section gives you a running update and even shows your expected savings for the month.

In the free and first-tier paid version, you can only have five budgets and five accounts, so if you wanted to make a detailed budget with many categories, you’d have pay for the middle or premium tier.

Final verdict: Not a fan of the free version. The Plus and Pro plans are probably nice, but at over $47 per year, you can find apps that do the same thing at a cheaper price.

Spendee

Price: Free version or $14.99-$22.99 per year

Syncs with accounts: Not on the free version

This is a really good-looking budgeting app. Spendee has great colors, pie charts and graphs. It lays out your transactions and budgets really well, too. It definitely has the best user interface of any app on the list.

Unfortunately, you can do very little with the free version, and transaction syncing is $22.99 per year.

I tried the free seven-day trial of Premium and immediately found that the app won’t sync with the bank I have my checking account with, which I’ve never experienced before. I tried to connect my credit card, and it wouldn’t allow me to select a method to complete two-step verification — so I was unable to connect that as well.

I emailed Spendee about how to get around this, and while a rep was prompt to respond, they have yet to fix the issue.  

Final verdict: You should always have two-step verification activated on any site that offers it, especially involving your bank accounts. Don’t turn it off for a budgeting app.

PocketGuard

Price: Free version or $34.99

Syncs with accounts: Yes

You can do a lot with the free version of PocketGuard. So much, in fact, that I don’t really see the need for the paid version unless you want very specific budget categories.

Instead of “budgets,” PocketGuard uses “spending limits.” You can have a limit for every budget category, or “pocket.” The app will automatically build a personalized budget for you based on your income, bills and goals.

It won’t correlate with your income, so to make a zero-based or 50/20/30 budget, you’ll have to get out your calculator.

Overall, the app and website are really nice. You can make a monthly savings goal, mark bills as recurring and see how much you have in your “pocket” for the day, week or month. You’ll have to play around with it to make sure PocketGuard is sorting everything right, but once you do that, it’s very hands off.

The downfall to PocketGuard might be its “In My Pocket” feature. I get paid on the last day of the month, but my mortgage comes out on the first. So even though I had money in the bank, PocketGuard had me starting the month in the hole until I got more income. I won’t use this feature, but I’d use everything else.

Final verdict: Great accompaniment, but I wouldn’t use it as a sole budgeting app.

Jen Smith is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She gives money-saving and debt-payoff tips on Instagram at @savingwithspunk.

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