Building a budget is a primary step toward achieving financial success for your family. Our family has used some homemade Excel spreadsheets as our “budgeting software” of choice for several years.
However, as I explained previously, our day-to-day money management has really grown stale recently, and it had a lot to do with the cumbersome way that we have tracked our personal finances…think piles of receipts accumulating until month’s end followed by hours of data entry among several spreadsheets.
Our system lacked efficiency, and it frankly got so boring and time-consuming that we let it slide.
I decided it was time for a change. So, I’ve spent a great deal of time lately researching and reviewing popular budgeting software. And, lucky for you, I am going to share with you what I’ve found. You will find below five of the top budget software tools available along with an overview of their features and my opinion on who may find them most useful.
The Best Budgeting Software I’ve Found
UPDATE: Since my original cursory review, I completed a detailed review of YNAB. Please read my full review of You Need A Budget.
I am thoroughly impressed with You Need a Budget (YNAB) and its mix of capabilities and simplicity. YNAB is a computer-based software that you buy for a one-time fee. It does all of the things a great budgeting software needs to do, but it goes well beyond the typical tasks of tracking income vs. expenses and planning for future purchases.
For starters, it allows you to directly import your transactions from your bank which allows you to say bye-bye to receipts and data entry. The YNAB community is also very impressive with free online classes, a blog and forums so you can learn all about effective money management. But what really sets You Need a Budget apart is that it has a powerful “Money Management Methodology” built right in. The four key rules of this method are reflected in the software’s set-up to make them easy for you to achieve:
- Rule One: Stop Living Paycheck to Paycheck
- Rule Two: Give Every Dollar a Job
- Rule Three: Save for a Rainy Day
- Rule Four: Roll with the Punches
The only drawback I saw with You Need a Budget is that it’s not web-based, so you’ll be limited to using it on a single computer. However, the ability to import your bank transactions makes it just as convenient.
Who This Software Is For: Anyone who is looking for a thorough budgeting program built on solid financial principles with good money management lessons included. This is not the software for you if you need a web-based platform.
Where You Can Get It: You can learn much more about YNAB and sign-up for a free 34-day trial at their website.
Pocketsmith is a web-based program that you pay for on a monthly basis, although a free version is available as well. Pocketsmith takes a unique approach to the budgeting interface by utilizing a calendar to forecast your future cash position.
It works like any web-based calendar, except the events are financial. You put in your scheduled salary, bill payments, rent, and grocery bills, etc. on the appropriate date and you can make them repeat as appropriate. As you go, PocketSmith takes the events and generates a 6 or 12 month cash forecast (depending on the level of detail you purchase), so you can plan your budget for the coming year.
Pocketsmith allows you to directly import your transactions from your bank as well. And since it is web-based, you can access your budget and make changes from anywhere that you have access to internet.
Who This Software Is For: Those who are looking for a web-based budget that operates on an intuitive calendar-based platform.
Where You Can Get It: You can learn more about Pocketsmith and sign-up for the free, premium or super version (depending on your need for accounts, budget events and length of forecasts) at their website.
3. Pear Budget
Pear Budget is another web-based budget that requires a small monthly fee. The creators of Pear Budget present it as “a really simple budgeting and expense tracking service.” Budgeting plus simplicity…sounds like a winning approach!
Pear Budget uses the classic “envelopes” approach to monthly budgeting but brings it online for ease-of-use and full access from anywhere you can get on the internet. You will have to enter your own receipts, but the program helps keep it as fun as possible. The built-in step-by-step set-up wizard will have your first budget ready to go in ten minutes, and the system is designed to make updates simple and quick as well.
Who This Software Is For: Those who are looking for a web-based budget that is simple, attractive-looking and based on the classic envelope system.
Where You Can Get It: You can read more about the features of Pear Budget on their (simple) site. You can also sign up for a free 30-day trial while you’re there.
Mint is a totally free, web-based budget and financial account hub. In addition to a detailed budgeting component, Mint also allows you to access information for all of your online accounts from a single location. This gives you a real-time snapshot of your cash, investments, debts and net worth so you can easily track your overall progress.
The budget portion of the Mint program is fairly intuitive and easy-to-use after the initial set-up. It automatically imports all of your bank and credit union transactions, and you can change their labels to correspond with the budget that you set up at the beginning of the month.
A cool feature is the ability to set alerts that will be emailed to you when your attention is needed (over budget, low checking account balance, large transaction amount, etc.).
Who This Software Is For: If you want a free web-based budget that gets the job done, you’ll want to check out Mint. However, keep in mind that free comes with a price…in the form of advertisements and “savings suggestions” where you’ll be offered products that could potentially save you money (like a different credit card or auto loan, which are not my idea of money-saving products).
Where You Can Get It: You can read more and sign up for a totally free account at Mint. You’ll need to feel comfortable providing the log-in information for your online accounts, although you will remain anonymous (they never ask for your name).
Let’s round-out this budgeting software review by taking a look at a classic player in this market. Quicken is a computer-based software that you buy for a one-time fee. It offers a full financial management picture rather than focusing solely on budgeting. In that way, it is a lot like Mint in a desktop (rather than web-based) application.
Quicken brings your accounts together all in one place and helps you set budgeting and savings goals, and it provides alerts for upcoming payments to help you avoid late fees (assuming you are accessing the software to see the alert).
While its budgeting approach is not as intuitive as the budget-focused YNAB software, it does have the added bonus of integration with TurboTax. This allows you to export your financial data directly to TurboTax for fast and accurate tax preparation (with the additional purchase of that software, of course).
Who This Software Is For: If you prefer a desktop-based software that provides a full financial picture (rather than focusing on budgeting alone) at the risk of being a bit complicated, then you’ll want to take a look at Quicken.
Where You Can Get It: You can read more about Quicken and its customer reviews on Amazon.
So, What Are We Using?
I hope you enjoyed reading about these popular budgeting software systems, and I trust that you found one that may work for you and your family. The difference in format, features and price in these products provides a great opportunity to find an awesome budget that serves your needs.
Remember, though, that having a budget and using it is much more important than which particular software you choose.
Personally, I am trying out Mint right now and enjoying its full financial summaries and online access. However, the usability and awesome money management principles built in to You Need a Budget are really drawing me in.
I’ll let you know when we make our final decision, and I’m sure a full review will follow. NOTE: We made the switch to YNAB and love it – here’s the full review!
I’m anxious to hear from the community on this topic. Have you tried any of these systems? Have I piqued your interest in any of them? How does your family handle your budgeting currently?
By the way, some of the links in this post are “affiliate links” so if you purchase that product after clicking through from here, I receive a small commission though your price is not affected at all. It’s a small amount, but I wanted you to know that upfront and let you know that any support you offer Engaged Marriage is always greatly appreciated.Photo by Don Hankins