Keeping track of a budget is hard enough for one person, let alone if you have a family. When you’re single it’s a little easier to make adjustments if need be, making sure that the amount you’re spending each month doesn’t exceed what you bring in. But like most aspects of life, once you have kids, things get a little dicey. There are always unexpected expenses, between soccer registration fees, trips to the doctor, and babysitting costs if you need to do something. And we haven’t even gotten to the holiday budget yet.
Even if you’re a pro at creating a budget, who has time to sit down with ledgers or a million spreadsheets? That’s where budget tracker apps come in. In fact, according to the latest online search data available, best budget apps are searched for nearly 49,500 times each month. You’re clearly not alone. With so much on your plate, it can help to have these little (usually free) tools in your pocket (literally). While it’s difficult to pick the absolute best budget app, there are several out there that excel in certain areas. For example, there are money saving apps if you want to focus on keeping more of your cash, as well as budget apps for couples, so you can both see what’s going on with your finances (and it’s not all left to one person). There are even special budget apps for travelers. We’ve gone ahead and offered a refresher on the best way to create a budget and included our picks for the best budget apps for your family.
How to make an easy household budget
Step 1: Write down your income. Jot down your take-home income from all reliable monthly income from job, alimony, child support, side-hustles, and any other revenue stream.
Step 2: Add up your essential fixed expenses. Essential expenses includes your rent, mortgage, healthcare costs, car insurance, child care, and any other monthly bills. These are where you tally expenses that don’t ever change month to month — so basically, this is not where you put your gas, groceries, or entertainment (even if the entertainment cost is fixed like it is for a music or video streaming service.) More on that ahead.
Step 3: Add up your essential variable expenses. These are monthly bills that you will have each month but the total expense of which changes each time. It includes food, transportation, utilities, and other such essential expenses.
Step 4: Make a list of nonessential expenses. This includes entertainment like movies, vacations, and eating out.
Step 5: Calculate your net income. Calculate how much money you have left once you’ve added up your expenses and subtracted it from your income.
Step 6: Make adjustments accordingly. If the figure you were left with after Step 5 is negative, you will have to make some adjustments to your expenses where you can. Best mode of action is to start with your nonessential expenses. Remember those streaming services we mentioned? Yeah, this might be where you might want to rethink them, at least for the time being.
Step 7: Make a monthly budget. You can do this yourself in a spreadsheet, or you can download any of the following budget tracking apps to take some of the stress off the process.
You’ve probably heard of the Mint app, and for good reason: it’s user-friendly and is a great budget app for couples, families, and individuals. “It comes with a wide range of features, the most useful being its budgeting tools, which lie front and center when you log in,” The Balance reports. “Mint automatically categorizes transactions from linked credit and debit cards and tracks them against a budget you can tweak and customize to your needs.” It’ll give you a good idea of where your money is going and help you keep track of various sources of income. Mint is free to download and use.
If you’re looking for a simple snapshot of your current budget, then PocketGuard is a good option for you. “PocketGuard boils budgeting down to the only thing many users want to know: how much they have for spending,” Nerd Wallet reports. “It crunches the numbers to show how much money is available after accounting for bills, spending and savings goal contributions. All users can view how much money is left “in my pocket” for the day, week or month. Those who want to dial down farther can track certain categories of spending — like groceries, clothing or eating out.” PocketGuard is also free to download and use.
If you’re a fan of the envelope system of budgeting, GoodBudget is the app for you. But instead of taking literal stacks of cash, you do everything virtually, moving money into categories for things like transportation and food. “As the month goes on, you can take money out of each envelope for each expense,” Forbes reports. “Stop spending in that category once you’ve emptied the envelope–or before, if you’re smart.” If you stick to 10 regular and 10 annual envelopes, using the app is free. According to The Balance, GoodBudget is a great budget app for couples.
If you are managing several subscription services — like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon or Pandora — then the Clarity Money app is for you. Similar to the other budgeting apps, it requires users to link their financial accounts — like savings, checking, credit cards, investments or loans — and then creates a pie chart to show you how you’re spending money. If you go over your budget, it sends you an alert. But what differentiates Clarity Money from other apps is a feature that identifies recurring expenses and then lets you easily cancel anything that you don’t use (ahem, that gym membership) so you can save money.
You Need a Budget
If you want a little more hand-holding with your budgeting app, You Need a Budget (or YNAB to those in the know) might be your best bet. Instead of creating different categories for how you’re going to spend your money, YNAB makes you assign each dollar of your income its own job in your budget — from living expenses, to food, to transportation, to savings. No dollar is left unaccounted for, minimizing the temptation to spend your money on splurge items. Per The Balance: “The app is great for individuals or couples working together on their budget. It offers both desktop and mobile interfaces, options to sync your bank accounts automatically or enter expenses manually, and includes debt payoff and goal tracking features to help motivate you to reach your money goals.”
This app is tailored for zero-based budgeting, which means the individual’s expenses equal their income every month. The app’s free version allows users to create a transaction each time they spend money and account for every single dollar with your budget in mind. The upgraded experience on the app will cost you nearly $130 annually.
YNAB is another zero-based budgeting app, except this one allocates every dollar earned to an expense. You can take it on a 34-day free trial, after which it will cost $84 annually. The paid version allows for a more streamlined user experience and allows users to link to cards and accounts.
Best budget apps for vacation and travelers
Saving up for a vacation or sticking to a strict budget while on the backpacking trip of your dreams are two very different things, and so each deserves a specific budget app. We’ve gone ahead and done some research for you so all you have to do is kick back and enjoy your wanderlust.
If you’re a frequent traveler, converting your expenses between all the different currencies is a pain. Trabee Pocket can not only convert to dollars, it can also differentiate between cash and credit card expenses, offer daily, weekly, and monthly views, and help account for every single penny you’ve spent on your trip.
Another great budget app for frequent international travelers, Trip Coin has the added advantage of working without a WiFi connection and recording the expenses based on the currency rate of that day. This is fantastic for travelers who have to fill out business expense reports for later reimbursement. It also documents all expenses and creates easy-to-read charts about your expense habits.