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8 Best Budgeting and Personal Finance Tools

Laura reviews eight of the best personal finance tools to make sense of your money, stay organized, and achieve your financial goals.

By
Laura Adams, MBA
7-minute read
Episode #560
budgeting tools

Taking control of your personal finances is simple in theory. But if you’re struggling with budgeting, saving, or investing, trying a new tool may be the ticket to making better decisions and improving your success.

Here are eight of the best personal finance tools to make sense of your money, stay organized, and achieve your financial goals.

8 Best Budgeting and Personal Finance Tools

Keep reading to learn more about each of these budgeting and personal finance tools.

1. Quicken

Quicken has been around a long time and is considered the gold standard in personal finance software. They have a suite of products that connect to multiple types of accounts, such as banks, credit cards, lenders, and investments, to aggregate your transactions.

Like many companies, they’ve moved to a subscription model where you pay an annual fee and get automatic updates for new features and services.

The Starter version gives you a lot, including automatic expense categorization, limited budget tracking, and a bill dashboard, for $35 per year. Upgrading to Deluxe ($50) or Premier ($75) gives you the Starter features plus customizable budgeting, loan tracking, investment tracking and analysis, bill pay, and online backup.

Quicken has far more features than I’ll ever use, but it’s my favorite way to manage money.

You can use Quicken on your PC or Mac, but PC users can also get a Home & Business version for $100 per year. It helps you manage a small business or freelance work by separating personal and business expenses, emailing custom invoices with payment links, and tracking business tax deductions.

You can enter transactions manually into Quicken if you don’t want to connect to your financial accounts online. And there are Quicken mobile apps to sync up with your desktop version, although you can’t see all your data.

Quicken has far more features than I’ll ever use, but it’s my favorite way to manage money. Every week I import new transactions and make sure they’re categorized correctly, especially those related to taxes, so I can easily create reports at tax time.

2. Mint

Mint is one of the original web-based personal finance management programs. It’s free to sign up and connect your financial accounts, such as a bank, credit card, loans, and investments through an easy-to-use dashboard.  

The Mint mobile app has a lot of functionality, allowing you to check account balances and monthly budgets.

Once Mint aggregates your transactions, you can easily categorize them, create a budget, and even set up automatic bill payments. You can set alerts for unusual charges, create goals, and even get a free credit score.

The Mint mobile app has a lot of functionality, allowing you to check account balances and monthly budgets. But the downside to most free financial apps is that you’ll see lots of ads.

Plus, users sometimes complain about not being able to connect Mint with all their financial institutions. However, I haven’t used a personal finance tool that doesn’t experience some connectivity glitch from time to time.

3.  Excel or Google Sheets

If you know how to use spreadsheets, you may find that Excel or Google Sheets is all you need to stay on top of your money. One way I use Excel is to update my Personal Financial Statement, which lists my major assets and liabilities and calculates my net worth. I also have an amortization spreadsheet to track loan payments on a real estate investment I own.

Excel is part of the Microsoft suite of products, which costs about $150. Or you can get it by subscribing to Office 365 for about $70 per year.

Google Sheets is a free cloud-based service with online sharing features. With Excel or Sheets you can enter simple formulas to add up rows or columns, create charts and graphs for a customized picture of your finances, and export data to a variety of popular formats, such as PDF.

Check out a service called Tiller that aggregates your financial transactions into Google Sheets. Tiller offers several free templates, such as an expense tracker, a business spreadsheet, and a build-your-own spreadsheet.

Tiller gives users 30 days for free and then charges $59 per year. It looks like they’re rolling out a beta product for Excel users as well. If you enjoy spreadsheets, using them with Tiller is probably the most customizable financial tool you’ll find.

4. You Need a Budget (YNAB)

If you’re looking for a specialized tool to manage a budget, YNAB is a popular product with a loyal following. It imports your financial transactions and helps you create a budget based on your goals, with flexibility for unexpected expenses.

Students who submit proof of school enrollment get a generous year-long free trial.

You can use YNAB to generate charts and graphs to see your progress and where you might need to cut back. They offer loads of tutorials and education on budgeting best practices, plus a great mobile app.

YNAB offers a 34-day free trial and then charges $84 per year. Students who submit proof of school enrollment get a generous year-long free trial.

5. Personal Capital

If you need a financial dashboard that manages every aspect of your finances for free, give Personal Capital a try. It aggregates all your financial accounts to track cash flow, investments, and helps you plan for retirement.

Personal Capital specializes in analyzing your investments by breaking out data such as asset allocation and fees. This gives you a nice overview, especially when you have multiple brokerage and retirement accounts.

You can add goals such as saving for a child’s education and enter tangible assets, such as the value of your real estate. If you enter all your assets and liabilities, Personal Capital is a great way to monitor your net worth on a day-to-day basis.

This free tool doesn’t push ads for revenue but offers investment accounts and wealth management advice. Personal Capital charges one all-inclusive annual fee based on a percentage of your assets under their management. They charge 0.89% for balances over $100,000, but a range of 0.49% to 0.79% if you have over $1 million.

6. Acorns

If you don’t have a lot of money to start investing, try the original micro-investing app, Acorns. Once you link it to debit or credit cards, Acorns automatically sweeps and invests the difference between your purchase cost and the nearest whole dollar amount you set.

For example, if you spend $20.50, the app could round up to $21, deduct $0.50 from your bank account, and then invest it. Or you could set Acorns to round to the next $5 increment and invest $4.50. This is a tech-savvy way to invest your spare change in a computer-managed portfolio of exchange-traded funds (ETFs).

Acorns also offers tax-advantaged retirement accounts, such as an IRA and an SEP-IRA, called Acorns Later. Using only the investing app costs $1 per month, but if you add a retirement account to the mix, you’ll pay $2 per month (up to a $1 million balance).

They also have a no-fee, FDIC-insured checking account, called Acorns Spend. You can use all three Acorns services for a total cost of $3 per month. But it’s free for college students with a valid .edu email address.

Acorns is a great way to ease into investing when you’re starting out or struggling to save. You can even sign up for Found Money rewards, which pays cash back when you shop more than 200 brands in Acorns’ partner network. 

7. Betterment

If you want a large online investing platform with low fees, I’m a huge fan of Betterment. They’re a robo-advisor that uses a diversified portfolio of ETFs based on your desired level of risk and your investing goals. You get access to their team of licensed financial experts for advice and support.

Betterment offers regular investing accounts and tax-advantaged retirement accounts. They automatically manage your investments by rebalancing, reinvesting dividends, and handing recurring deposits. The experience on your desktop or mobile device is streamlined and easy to navigate.

The annual cost to use Betterment is 0.25% of your balance, which makes it affordable even when you’re just starting out. Once you have more than $100,000 the fee increases to 0.40%, but you also have unlimited access to their Certified Financial Planners for more personalized advice.

I’ve enjoyed using Betterment for a decade now and am always impressed with their customer service, communications, and affordable fees.

I’ve enjoyed using Betterment for a decade now and am always impressed with their customer service, communications, and affordable fees. The only downside is that they offer a limited menu of investment options. But that works for me because I’m a hands-off investor who prefers using global, diversified funds.

8. Online bill pay

Using your bank account’s online bill pay is one of the most overlooked free personal finance tools. Having all your bills in one place makes the often-dreaded task of paying them much easier.

Your payments are sent electronically or by a paper check, so you can pay any company or individual with a mailing address. Most banking institutions guarantee that your payments will arrive on time and reimburse any late fees if they don’t.

You can create one-time or recurring payments for the entire balance due or send a partial payment. Between your online bill pay and apps such as PayPal or Venmo, there’s no need to carry paper checks anymore.

I have e-bills sent to my USAA bill pay center so I’m notified about due dates, can set up payment dates far in advance, and choose specific accounts to deduct the payment from. Centralizing bills inside your checking account allows you to see where your money is going and make sure you have enough to cover future payments.

How Secure Are Personal Finance Apps?

If you’re reluctant to try a personal finance tool or app because you’re worried about security, here’s what you need to know. Apps typically have read-only access and high-level encryption, which means they can see your financial transactions, but can’t change them.

The exceptions are online bill pay services, which do make requests to move your money. This is one reason why I stick to my bank account’s bill pay instead of authorizing another service to do it.

There’s always a risk to using financial websites or buying something with a credit card. But I don’t believe the risk is high enough that it should stop you from using personal finance tools or online services. In fact, the benefits of using them to manage money, save more, and build wealth far outweigh the downsides.

About the Author

Laura Adams, MBA

Laura Adams received an MBA from the University of Florida. She's an award-winning personal finance author, speaker, and consumer advocate who is a trusted and frequent source for the national media. Her book, Debt-Free Blueprint: How to Get Out of Debt and Build a Financial Life You Love was an Amazon #1 New Release. Do you have a money question? Call the Money Girl listener line at 302-364-0308. Your question could be featured on the show. 

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