When Mint.com hit the market about ten years ago, it was the cool new way to manage your money. The old, stodgy idea of “balancing a checkbook” and “making a budget” suddenly seemed passé and out-of-date. Why go to all that trouble when the computer can do most of the hard work for you? Within five years, Mint had surpassed ten million users and had established itself as the leader in cloud-based money management software. Since then, however, several other solid alternatives to Mint.com have been introduced, and Mint’s growth has leveled off in the intervening years.
In fact, anyone looking for a website/app to help organize their money in today’s world will find themselves surrounded by quality alternatives. What’s more, there’s now an app for every lifestyle–whether you’re a just trying to get control of your budget to climb out of debt or a DIY-finance wiz looking for the latest and greatest in fintech — either way, you’re in luck.
There’s an app for that!
Find the Best Personal Finance App for You
When it comes to something as personal as your money, there’s no one-size-fits-all method or product. In my fifteen years in the financial planning industry, what I’ve seen is that what works best is what works best for you.
This is true for a pretty straightforward reason: to get the benefits from any personal finance application, you have to use it–you have to use it consistently. You really have to learn the software and customize it to your individual lifestyle.
That might sound extremely obvious, but I can’t emphasize it enough. Find something that works for you and stick with it. And, if it costs the equivalent of a Starbucks or two each month, so what? Most of us spend ten times that amount on mindless entertainment each month.
So, with that in mind, I’m going to approach this from several different angles, but the common thread is that all of the software that I’m going to discuss are quality alternatives to Mint.com. (Why Mint.com? It’s arguably the leading cloud-based personal finance software around, and it’s the system I personally use to track my finances. Read my recent review of Mint.com for more insight into it’s capabilities in 2018.)
All of five software options below are quality alternatives; they wouldn’t make this list otherwise. None of them are perfect, and none of them are good at everything. (As a side-note, these are alternatives to Mint.com, not Quicken, and since Mint.com is a web-based personal finance solution, I’m not including desktop-based personal finance options.)
Best Money Management Software At a Glance
There are many additional options other than Mint.com out there to explore. In this article, we’ll explore five tools that might just work for you: Good Budget, YNAB, Every Dollar, Tiller, and Personal Capital.
To get started, here’s a quick glance guide to the most important features of each:
Top Budgeting App for Hardcore Budgeters
For most people, getting control of their spending and budget is the first step to financial well-being. In our consumerist culture today, it’s so easy to lose control of where your money is going, which can lead to mounting debt and eventually, financial ruin.
So, whether you’re an extreme minimalist pining for financial freedom (like the now semi-famous “Mr. Money Mustache“), or just someone who wants to keep tabs on their money, there are several good budgeting options out there for you.
The obvious leader in this category is appropriately named “You Need a Budget,” or YNAB for short. YNAB is built on a tried and true budgeting system — the “envelope method.” Think back to your grandmother’s time: she didn’t worry about credit cards, online subscriptions, or her credit score. Life was simpler and so was managing your bank account.
In the old days, when grandpa got paid, grandma would go to the bank, withdraw the cash needed for that month, and fill an envelope full of cash for each category of her budget.
As the month went on, she would then pull from the appropriate envelope for expenses in that category. For example, if she received $1000 at the start of the month, Grandma might break that up into three envelopes: groceries, rent, and fun.
Occasionally, she might run out of money for the “fun” category before the end of the month. In this case, she has only two choices: transfer money from another category or stop spending on that category until the next payday.
YNAB operates on this same principle, but updates it for the modern world. You set the categories in the app and then track your spending on the fly, making adjustments as needed when you hit up against your limits for each category during the month.
It syncs with your bank and automatically downloads your transactions, as well as offers a handy smartphone app that let’s you track things on the go. But most importantly, YNAB provides a structure and discipline to budgeting that makes it actually work. It’s a simple as 1, 2, 3 basic rules:
- Rule 1 – Give Every Dollar a Job
- Rule 2 – Embrace Your True Expenses
- Rule 3 – Rule With the Punches
This isn’t meant to be a deep-dive into the software, but suffice it to say that I’ve heard more praise for YNAB than any other solution from hard-core budgeters. If you really want to whip your budget into shape, YNAB is probably the first place to look. That being said, it does not offer some of the key features of other alternatives, such as investment analysis and planning calculators, but what it does do, it does really well.
Best Money Management App for Investors
If you’re anything like me, you like watching your money make more money. Yes, budgeting and cash-flow are important, but that’s just one part of the overall financial picture. You also need to know how your money is invested, how it’s performing, and how much you’re paying in fees.
You’re even possibly willing to trade some features in the budgeting/cash-flow area to make sure you have all the investment charts, graphs, and widgets necessary to make good investment decisions. If that’s you, you might want to consider Personal Capital.
Personal Capital is a complete, all-in-one, money management solution. And on top of that, it’s completely free. (They do have a premium investment service you can opt-in on, but the core software itself is free to use.)
I’ve personally signed up for the service several times through the years, and have always been impressed. (However, since I work in the wealth management industry, I have access to plenty of software to help analyze my investments. For that simple reason, I’m personally sticking with Mint.com for now, but that’s just me.)
Unfortunately, Mint.com is sadly really lacking when it comes to investment analysis. So if you want a lot more than Mint can offer, and still want to have your budgeting and cash-flow tools available too, Personal Capital just might be the tool for you.
So what can Personal Capital do? Well, for starters, you can link up all your financial accounts, just like in Mint. That way Personal Capital can track not only your spending, but also your net worth and investments. It’s hard to overestimate the important of having a holistic, 360-degree view of your finances. In fact, I’d argue that it’s impossible to make good financial decisions without it.
For example, let’s say you want to pay off your mortgage early. That’s a good goal for anyone to have, of course. However, the money to do that has to come from somewhere, right? From this viewpoint, paying off the mortgage is probably a bad move if the funds have to come from retirement plans. The taxes, early withdrawal penalties, and lost future investment gains make this decision a no-brainer when considered in context.
That’s why I love any money management software that helps you see the big picture of your money in a simple, easy-to-understand format. Personal Capital does this just as well, if not better, than Mint.com does.
Speaking of planning, Personal Capital also offers a range of handy calculators to help you figure out how much you need to save for retirement, college, or a down payment on your next house. In addition, they have calculators that reveal the fees hidden in your 401k plan at work, which is important in knowing how much you should save there versus other options.
All of this is on top of the budgeting and cash-flow features that Personal Capital offers. Time does not allow me to go into all of the features here, but I do plan to have a deep-dive review into Personal Capital coming out soon.
Next-Level Budgeting Help for Couples
Good Budget, YNAB, and Every Dollar are three simple budgeting apps that can help couples get on the same page financially. Combining your life with another adult who has different habits and ways of doing things is hard enough on it’s own; you don’t want to allow bad spending and mounting debt to derail your relationship.
That’s why a budgeting solution needs to be easy-to-understand, convenient, and affordable. All three of these fit those criteria and follow a very similar philosophy.
All three apps mentioned work similar to the classic envelope system, except using modern technology. As already discussed, YNAB is probably the most advanced budgeting system on the market, but it does cost $6.99/month to use. Both Good Budget and Every Dollar work on a freemium model, which allows you to use a basic version for free, but you have to pay to upgrade to the full-service version.
For example, if you’re okay with hand-entering each one of your transactions, Every Dollar is free; however, automatic sync with your bank account requires upgrading to Every Dollar Plus, which is $99/year. For Good Budget, it’s free to use for up to 10 categories (or “envelopes”) and 2 devices, but if you need more, you will have to upgrade to the $50/year version. Importantly, Good Budget does not offer a bank auto-sync feature, so if that’s important to you it’s probably best not even to get started with a system you won’t ultimately be satisfied with.
They say that communication is one of the most important components in any successful relationship, and a good budgeting app can help you stay on the same page with your money. Check out these options and let me know in the comments below which one works for your family.
Best Budgeting Solution for Spreadsheet Lovers
No matter how advanced the financial software is, there’s just no replacing the flexibility of a good spreadsheet for many people. I myself enjoyed using spreadsheets for many years, even if it meant I had to manually hand-enter each transaction.
However, a new service now allows a spreadsheet-lover the best of both worlds. Tiller is a website that allows you to download all your transactional data into your own custom-built spreadsheet. That way, you can get the data out conveniently and then manipulate it however you like.
Want to focus more on your spending/budgeting goals? More interested in paying off debt? Have intense savings goals that you want to hit each month? With Tiller, you can customize the spreadsheet to focus on what’s important to you.
But Tiller doesn’t just spit out data at you without any guidance and expect you to figure it out. They provide pre-built spreadsheet templates you can use to get started. From there, you just tweak them to get your desired format, without having to build anything from scratch.
As a spreadsheet lover, this app is right up my alley. The only downside is the cost, which is only about $5/month. But for me, since I’m already up and running on Mint.com (which is free), I’m not quite ready to switch. For someone else, however, it just might be the perfect blend of convenience and customization.
There’s no excuse any more for not finding a money management system that works for you, because there are tons of good apps, websites, and spreadsheets available. Check out some of the options above and let me know in the comments which you like the best!