Best Budgeting and Saving Tools

Budgeting, Personal Finance
BestBudgetingTools

Everyone wants to save and budget better, and the tech world has taken notice, releasing a steady stream of tools to lend a hand. The field is so packed, in fact, that it can be hard for consumers to wade through and find the apps that are truly worth their time.

We sifted through these budgeting and saving tools, selecting the most helpful in a variety of categories. Whether you need something that actually pays your bills for you, or simply lets you know when your bank account is running dry, you’ll find the solution on this list. Bonus: Many of these tools are free.

The best budgeting and saving apps overall

Mint and Acorns are hands-off tools to help users save more and spend less.

Mint has been the gold standard for budgeting apps for some time, and the company takes the top spot here for a few reasons: The app automatically updates and categorizes transactions, creating a picture of spending in real time. Users can add their own categories, split ATM transactions into the purchases made with that cash, and set budgets that issue alerts when they start to top out. The service also comes with a free credit score.

Acorns — which NerdWallet reviewed in full here — isn’t a budgeting app, but a savings tool. It helps users save more money by automatically harvesting the change each time they swipe a linked card. So, for instance, if a transaction adds up to $1.50, Acorns rounds it up to $2 and sends that 50 cents into an investment portfolio diversified with ETFs. It’s a mindless way to invest, with pretty reasonable fees: Users under 24 and students of any age qualify for free management; others pay $1 a month on account balances below $5,000 and 0.25% per year on balances of $5,000 or more.

Mint logo
  • The market leader in budgeting management syncs with user accounts to track spending.
  • Free
  • iOS, Amazon, Android, Windows Phone
Get started
Acorns logo
  • Acorns automatically rounds up purchases and invests the change.
  • Free* (*Investment management fees apply)
  • iOS, Android
Get started

The best budgeting app for hands-on users

You Need a Budget is robust software for the die-hard budgeter.

You Need a Budget is for the committed user, no doubt. It requires a financial investment, with a hefty price tag of $50 a year or $5 a month. The software’s latest iteration directly imports transactions from bank accounts, but they still need to be manually categorized by the user, an action YNAB says will help maintain awareness about spending. Users willing to put in the work will benefit from the tool’s envelope-based system, which allocates the exact amount of income available, putting a lid on spending. You can now run YNAB in any browser (in addition to the mobile app).

You Need a Budget logo
  • This budgeting app helps users learn to live on last month’s income.
  • $50 a year or $5 a month (34-day free trial)
  • Browser-based, apps for iOS and Android
Get started

The best simplified budgeting app

Level Money delivers for users who want a bare-bones budgeting system.

Level Money boils budgeting down to the only thing many users want to know: how much they have to spend. Like Mint, it links to bank and credit card accounts to sync transactions, then crunches the numbers to show how much money is available to spend after accounting for bills and savings contributions. Users can view their “spendable” money for the day, week or month. Those who want to dial down further can track certain categories of spending to see how much of their money goes to things such as transportation, groceries or even alcohol.

Level Money logo
  • Level Money gives users a snapshot of how much they can spend at any given moment.
  • Free
  • iOS, Android
Get started

The best app for paying and tracking bills

Mint Bills takes the pain out of bill paying.

An extension of Mint, Mint Bills allows users to see their account balances and bills in one platform. Bills can be paid directly from the app or scheduled for payment later. The service sends an alert about impending due dates or low funds.

Mint Bills logo
  • An extension of Mint, this app is the easiest way to organize and pay bills.
  • Free
  • iOS, Android
Get started

The best tool to evaluate investment accounts

Personal Capital gives users an investment checkup.

Personal Capital is an investment management service that combines the algorithms used by robo-advisors with human financial advisors. There’s a fee for clients who invest assets with the service, but the company also has a selection of financial tools available free. An investment checkup tool looks at the asset allocation in a user’s investment accounts and recommends a target allocation; DIY investors can then make adjustments within their accounts. Personal Capital also offers a 401(k) fee analyzer and a retirement planner, which crunches numbers to tell users whether they’re on track to meet their savings goals.

Personal Capital logo
  • Personal Capital’s tools help users optimize their investment strategy.
  • Free
  • Browser based; apps for iOS, Amazon, Android
Get started

The best service to do the work for you

Levanto is for users who want a personal assistant for their money.

Levanto is the service for people who want to outsource their cash-flow planning. Clients are paired with a dedicated “household CFO” who will build a budget, track and categorize spending and even pay bills. This person is available for questions via phone and video. All of that comes at a premium: The monthly fee depends on the complexity of a client’s situation, but generally falls between $100 and $250. Levanto says its service saves clients an average of almost 15 hours a month, plus increases annual cash flow by over $11,000 by helping them stick to a budget, reduce debt, improve their credit scores and eliminate late fees.

Levanto logo
  • Levanto takes care of it all, from bill pay to budgeting to debt reduction.
  • Fee varies; average $200/month
Get started

NerdWallet is a free tool to find you the best credit cards, cd rates, savings, checking accounts, scholarships, healthcare and airlines. Start here to maximize your rewards or minimize your interest rates. Arielle O'Shea

KEEP YOUR SPENDING IN CHECK

  • Get an up-to-date snapshot of your spending, bills, and income in one place.
  • Know how much is left to spend each month based on your income and expenses
  • Set alerts for when you spend too much on a particular category

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Arielle O’Shea is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: aoshea@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @arioshea.

This post was updated Nov. 21, 2016.


Image via iStock.