Mint, Personal Capital and You Need a Budget (YNAB) are three of the best budgeting tools, but which one is right for you?
If you’re trying to get out of debt, stop living paycheck-to-paycheck or save more money for retirement, choosing the right budgeting app can help you reach your goals faster.
Best budgeting apps
I’ve been maintaining a budget for as long as I can remember. Tracking my expenses helped me pay off my mortgage in two years during my mid-20s and save more money ever since then.
In this article, I’ll review the pros and cons of my favorite budgeting tools. Let’s begin with the app I’ve been using the longest…
Table of contents:
Need to know:
- Connect financial accounts to see where your money is going
- Tools to set a monthly budget and monitor spending
- Receive bill payment alerts and reminders
- Check your credit score for free
- Mint is free, but there are credit card and banking ads
I’ve been using Mint since the early days and it’s evolved quite a bit. In addition to creating a monthly budget, you can set up bill reminders, check your credit score and make a plan for savings goals.
With Mint, you link all of your accounts (banking, credit cards, retirement) and transactions are automatically categorized.
I’m an analytical person, so I like the pie charts that Mint provides about my spending. You can learn how much you’ve spent in specific categories and how that compares to your average spending from previous months.
You can also set up notifications to get email alerts when you have upcoming bills or have spent too much money. Take a look:
Since Mint’s tools are free, the company has to make money somehow. The product is supported by ads, which some users may find annoying when they’re just trying to keep up with a budget.
Aside from occasional issues syncing my accounts, I haven’t had any other problems with Mint.
I would say that Mint provides a solid snapshot of my financial life. The mobile app makes it easy to see if you’re overspending in your categories for the month, while the pie charts can help you see the big picture.
Related content: 7 ways to get the most from Mint.com’s free budgeting tools
Need to know:
- Link your financial accounts to track your net worth over time
- Tools to set a monthly spending goal and track your progress
- See a list of upcoming bills for your linked accounts
- Free retirement planner lets you run multiple scenarios
- Tools are free, but expect a sales call for paid investment services
For several years now, I’ve used Personal Capital in addition to Mint.com to manage my personal finances.
When you sign in to Personal Capital, the dashboard displays your net worth in the upper left corner. Budgeting isn’t the primary focus. Instead, the website and app focuses more on investments.
In fact, that’s why the free money tools are offered. Personal Capital wants you to become a wealth management client.
For budgeting, you set a monthly spending goal and your transactions are categorized automatically as long as you link your financial accounts with Personal Capital.
You can also see a list of your upcoming bills. I check this regularly when I sit down to make credit card payments.
Personal Capital’s budgeting tools aren’t as robust as Mint or YNAB, but that’s not why I continue to use it. The free retirement planner is the most valuable thing that’s offered.
With this tool, you can set up lots of different scenarios to see whether you have enough money to retire by a certain age.
There are no credit card advertisements with Personal Capital, but you should expect to receive a sales call or email about its investment services. That’s a paid service.
If you’re not interested, politely decline and say that you just signed up for the free money tools.
YNAB (You Need a Budget)
Need to know:
- Built around four simple rules and focuses exclusively on budgeting
- Directly import transactions or manually enter them
- Access to free online workshops to help you learn the method
- Free trial period of at least 34 days
- YNAB costs $6.99/month, billed annually at $83.99
You Need a Budget, also known as YNAB, is a paid service that I tried out after hearing from so many people who absolutely love it.
According to its website, new budgeters save an average of more than $6,000 in their first year with the program. YNAB costs $83.99 per year after a free trial period.
YNAB is based on four rules that can help you take control of your money:
- Give every dollar a job: When you receive a paycheck, assign it to your expense categories before you spend it.
- Embrace your true expenses: Set money aside every month for non-monthly expenses (property taxes, insurance premiums, holiday gifts, etc.) so that you’re ready when the bills come in.
- Roll with the punches: Things can and will go wrong! Move money around to cover categories where you overspend.
- Age your money: Stuck living paycheck to paycheck? By consistently spending less than you earn, you’ll work toward using last month’s pay on this month’s expenses.
Like Mint and Personal Capital, YNAB links to your accounts to automatically import transactions. The service also has the option of adding unlinked accounts by starting with your current balance and manually entering transactions.
The YNAB mobile app is excellent and makes it easy to check in with your budget before making purchases.
Since YNAB is a paid product, there are no advertisements like with Mint. You also have access to free workshops that will help you master the method. Here’s an example:
The main downside is that YNAB costs money, but you can take advantage of the free trial to see if it’s a good fit. If you pay for the service and don’t like it, YNAB will give you a full refund.
Related content: Is YNAB (You Need a Budget) better than Mint?
If you don’t like the idea of giving up your bank usernames and passwords to use any of these tools, try a simple budget spreadsheet.
I like the budgeting template that comes with Google Sheets. With this free budgeting tool, I set spending limits for my budget categories every month and then record expenses on the go using the Google Sheets app.
Although I still use Mint and Personal Capital regularly, Google Sheets is my preferred way to budget. Learn more here.
Do you use any of the budgeting tools on this list or another one that we didn’t highlight in this article? Leave a comment below and let us know what works for you!