Budget Software Reviews: Choose Your Tool for Successful Money Management

Best Budget SoftwareBuilding 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

1. You Need a Budget

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.

2. Pocketsmith

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.

4. Mint

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).

5. Quicken

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
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Comments

  1. Personally, we use the Excel plus money envelopes system…..we use Excel to make a budget, and money is taken out for any expenses beyond mortgage/utilities/etc. If there is no more money in the envelope, you have to take money from savings, and that of course is no fun!

    Simple for us, but I appreciate the review of different softwares! I tried Mint for a while and loved the snapshot of my spending, but our current approach keeps me on track better.

    • Thanks for your input, Lacey! We used a system similar to yours and it worked well for us for several years, but the switch to trying out these software programs has been really exciting for me. Yes, I am nerd. :)

  2. You’ve gotta add Mvelopes to the list. It’s an amazing online tool that works perfectly and goes along very well with an envelope-style budget. It really helps you plan out your spending rather than just track it. Also auto-imports from all your financial institutions. There is a fee but it’s entirely worth it for the simplicity for me!

  3. I’ve been a Quicken user for almost 20 years, so I am biased. I pay 98% of our bills online with it and use the financial planning and budgeting tools on a frequesnt basis, but truthfully I probably only use 25% of it’s full capability. I download everything from various bank, credit card and retirement accounts so it makes keeping up with things pretty easy. That being said, one thing I’ve learned over the years is that sometimes less is more. This probably goes for any tool or method you use. Don’t try too hard to strain at every penny or create too many intricate budget categories. You’ll overwhelm yourself and become discouraged.

    We now also use a cash envelope system for discretionary spending. Back when we were using credit cards regularly we actually set up a system with Monopoly money. Each day (or so) we’d take out whatever we spent from the appropriate envelope. It was our method of real-time tracking. The cash system works better. Handing over cash does have an emotional impact and will reduce how much you spend. We’ve cut our discretionary spending almost 25% since taking Dave Ramsey’s course, budgeting more strictly and using cash.
    .-= Scott´s last blog ..The Audacity of the Bridal Paradigm – Part 2 – The Myth of Equality =-.

    • Thanks, Scott! Yeah, I’m a big Dave Ramsey fan, and I do believe his statements about using cash over using a debit card. However, we just haven’t been able to stick with a cash envelope system very well in the past. It was probably mostly laziness that prevented it, but we settled on using our debit cards and tracking with receipts. I think these software options can be handy under either approach, but they are particularly attractive if you are using receipts/transactions for tracking your cash flow.

  4. We are kinda in between programs right now. We were using Quicken but I reloaded Windows on my computer recently and haven’t gotten around to reinstalling and using my Quicken backup yet. I would use Mint but they don’t have my bank and I’ve requested they add it, but that was 4 months ago… Quicken Online is OK, but I’m not sure if I want to stick with that. Pocketsmith costs after 2 calendars and we don’t really want to pay for it.

    We will probably just end up continuing to use Quicken 2008 on our PC, primarily because we already own it and unless we want to upgrade to 2010, there is no expense associated.

    • Thanks, Beckey! I am a little surprised at all of the love for Quicken, but it seems many people are more comfortable with a desktop-based application as opposed to a web-based program. I am just the opposite. In fact, if YNAB was web-based, I would have already bought it (but probably will anyway since I love the interface so much).

  5. Quicken. Downloads from bank and investment accounts, budgeting, memory assignment of charges to expense categories. I haven’t used it for is debt elimination, yet. But considering setting my lines of credit as additional accounts to track.

    The only issue I have is that I don’t find I need the upgrades that come out annually. However, I have been forced on occasion to upgrade due to my bank dropping support of older versions. Currently using 2008 and may not upgrade until 2011 version is out.

    Although I make my living in accounting, this tool is far easier to use than my commercial accounting software.

  6. I have Quicken 2007 for Mac. I have used earlier versions of Quicken and was familiar with how it worked; but I don’t like how the payroll / paycheck entry is done in this version. The payrool autofeeds are fine once they are set up; but when one has to edit / override for variable work weeks or a bonus check, ugh.
    .-= Monroe on a Budget´s last blog ..Only temporarily quiet … =-.

    • Thanks, Monroe…great to hear from a budget master! It’s funny how sometime software developers can try to fix what isn’t broke and make things worse.

  7. We’re very happy YNAB users. My husband does most of the budgeting and bill paying and he can’t say enough about it. Definitely worth the investment! I think I’d rather pay a one time price as opposed to paying more and more the longer I use a program with a monthly fee, ya know? Good luck!!
    .-= Nicki at Domestic Cents´s last blog ..Homemade Isn’t Always For Me =-.

    • Thanks for the comment, Nicki! I agree with you that a one-time fee makes more sense IF you are going to stick with your budget for the long haul…and of course you should. ;)

  8. As a follow-up to your summary of YNAB …

    You mentioned that YNAB is not available on multiple computers – but actually there are some very useful ways to get around this …

    1. You can load the program onto a USB key that you can carry anywhere. Anytime you have access to a computer with a USB port, you have access to your YNAB. You can remain secure by password-protecting YNAB AND the key itself.

    or

    2. You can load YNAB onto Dropbox. Dropbox is a service that gives you an “online” drive and will provide 2 GB of storage for free. Then all you have to do is install a very, small Dropbox program on any computer that you plan to use YNAB on and you’ll full access to your file and the program. This is the way I currently use YNAB and it works great on my home and work computers.

    Both of these options are discussed and supported to some extent in the extensive YNAB support forums.

    YNAB is great too, because they only require one purchase and you can use that license key multiple times.

    Anyway … hope that helps!!

    • Thanks so much, David! Those are some AWESOME tips and your Dropbox idea really takes care of my “portability” concerns with YNAB. Maybe it is the perfect budgeting software! :)

  9. Great post with some good reviews. I’ll definitely check out the online budget tools. It seems like a lot of work up front trying to get a budget figured out, but I don’t know in the end it will definitely be beneficial! Thanks for doing some of the dirty work and writing reviews!

    • You’re welcome, Mary! Actually, for any of these programs that allow you to download transactions, figuring out your first budget shouldn’t be too bad. As long as you get the categories that the software uses straightened out, it’ll go back and show you what you HAVE been spending each month on each category. Then you can use that information to set your budget for your first month going forward.

      It’s totally worth it! Please let me know if you have any questions as you get started.

  10. husbandversuswife.com says:

    Hi there! I really like your blog, it’s very interesting to me! My husband and I have just started a blog of our own at http://www.husbandversuswife.com, it’s about our marriage and our frequent disagreements, we’re posting in the hope that our readers will give us some relationship advice and I’d love you to check it out! Thanks, Annie x

    • Thanks for visiting, Annie! I just checked out your blog and love the concept. However, you may not like that my first comment there was strongly siding with your husband. :)

  11. Peter Jay says:

    Maybe I should try this budget software. For now I still using budget software release by MSN – Money 2007. It’s cover all my management required..
    .-= Peter Jay´s last blog ..Our Very Very Own BRC Toolbar =-.

  12. Hareiana says:

    Great articled, I am using Out Of The Dark (OOTD) free online budgeting to implement all these tips and more, because it’s completely anonymous and safe to use with all the online benefits. I find that with a good budgeting and money management tool, the budgeting chore becomes easier to take on and stick with, which is the only way to benefit from budgeting.

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