Searching for "budgeting tools" on the Internet will yield a staggering number of websites, software choices, and corresponding mobile apps that are available. It also yields an overwhelming number of reviews for these sites and products. What is the best choice for you, and with all of these choices, how can you avoid paralysis through analysis?
Start by asking yourself a few questions about what you want your budgeting software to do and what properties and features you are comfortable with. Consider these issues:
- Cost – There are plenty of free sites online, so for anything that requires purchase or subscription, do a feature comparison.
- Expense Categorization – Virtually all products will categorize expenses, but some offer a greater level of detail than others do. Greater detail in categorization can really help you to see where you can save the most money by altering spending habits.
- Ease of Use – Are the menus clear and intuitive? Check the online product reviews to avoid potential frustration.
- Reporting – Are the reports clear, with easy-to-understand graphics? Generally, more graphics and less text drive points home.
- Investment Support – Can the program include tracking of your investments [stocks, 401(k) accounts, IRA's, etc.]? And, do you need this feature?
- Bill Payments – Will the program make automated bill payments for you? Are there calendar functions for you to set up regular bill payments and reminders?
- Security vs. Functionality – The vast majority of products are excellent at tracking your accounts and updating them regularly – but to do this they require your username and password for any financial account you want to track. All claim to be secure, but it is wise to check reviews. You certainly do not want to use a product with security problems, and in some cases, security issues may make connecting to certain accounts difficult.
If you cannot bear to connect your accounts to any of these sites and prefer to enter information manually, you may want to consider BudgetSimple. It is a classic spreadsheet-style product with graphical breakdowns added.
- Mobile Apps – Most of the software packages and sites have mobile app capability – check with the individual product to find out which operating systems are supported. Keep in mind when using mobile apps that you are applying another level of risk if you are checking financial information on a public Wi-Fi spot or in a generally unsecure area.
- Tax Information – Does the program retain and report all the tax information you will need for the coming year?
You will have no trouble finding online reviews that summarize these factors, as well as others that you may find useful. We suggest looking at several to check for commonly recommended products.
As you search, make sure you include "2015" in the search term and watch the date on any search results. You may see reviews for defunct products such as Wesabe.com, Microsoft Money, or Geezeo.com, which now provides services for financial institutions instead of individuals.
The site mentioned most often as the best choice is Mint.com, which offers virtually every feature, has a proven track record, generally gets good customer reviews, and is also available as an app for iPhone, iPad, Android and Windows 8. Best of all, it is one of the free ones.
Other frequently mentioned sites and software products are BudgetTracker, Yodlee, Mvelopes, Quicken (Starter Edition or Deluxe), YNAB (You Need a Budget), Moneydance, Buxfer, and AceMoney. This is nowhere near a comprehensive list.
Do your own searching with your own goals in mind, and try out some sites to find the package that works best for you. Choosing a free budgeting tool will certainly help you balance your budget!