Ten years ago, there were no solid money apps out there. If you wanted to track your money, you didn't have many options.
I got my start tracking our budget and net worth with a spreadsheet. I would learn about Intuit's Quicken software but it felt silly to pay for software to help me save money. It wasn't until later that other options, like Mint, started to appear.
A great personal finance app can help you save more money and give you an instant snapshot of your financial situation in seconds. A lot of the problems we face when dealing with money have to do with decisions and information. We need to make a decision but we don't have enough information! To get it, we have to log into a lot of accounts, track a lot of data, and then analyze it before we make a decision. That's a tremendous amount of time that can be saved if you use a good personal finance app.
Today, you have free personal finance apps that are better than what you had to pay for years ago. Personal Capital, SigFig, Mint, YNAB, Mvelopes, … the list is long and distinguished.
Money apps have taken over and we all can benefit.
That's why earlier this year I polled the readers of Wallet Hacks for their “must-have, can't live without” money apps and here's what they said.
1. Personal Capital (My Favorite)
A financial dashboard is a place where you can see everything involving your money in one place. Your assets, your liabilities, your net worth – all your financial accounts visible on one convenient page.
This is important because when that information is easily accessible, it's easily remembered and understood. We use it to pull in all of our data, though we ignore the credit card debt piece because we pay off our bills every month in full.
What's easier – logging into one account or logging into a dozen?
When it comes to a financial dashboard, the clear leader is Personal Capital. It has a rich suite of tools built around investments, with a nod towards expense tracking similar to Mint, so you can get a sense of where everything is at a moment's notice. If you're interested in a consultation with a financial advisor, they have that built in as well and it's something that helps them stand out from other similar services. It's how Personal Capital makes the money that supports the free tool.
This app is for you if: You want an instant snapshot of your finances, from your investments to your budget, in one place. Personal Capital is free.
If you want to change your budget, You Need a Budget (YNAB) is one of the most powerful tools you can use because it does more than track your expenses – it actually helps you build and stick to a budget.
One of the biggest challenges in money management is in near-term planning. What are you going to do next week and next month?
Retirement can be decades away but you are spending money today and tomorrow. By getting the next month right, you go a long way towards getting your money situation under control.
YNAB has a four rule methodology that has worked well for its users.
- Give Every Dollar A Job
- Embrace Your True Expenses
- Roll With The Punches
- Age Your Money
Another reason why YNAB is powerful has to do with its educational tools and community. You will not find this with financial tools like Mint. There are no Whiteboard Wednesdays to help you understand your money a little better. This is what separates them from the pack in many ways.
This app is for you if: You want to transform your budget and get your spending in line with your financial goals. YNAB costs $6.99 a month after a 34 day trial.
It's this methodology around the tool that really makes it powerful.
For tracking a budget, Mint is one of the most popular budgeting tools out there.
If you don't have sizable investments, Mint is a very powerful tool that is better for budgeting but less effective for investments. Personally, I felt like Mint was fantastic up to a point. Once you focus more about investing than budgeting, Personal Capital has far more tools to help you succeed.
This app is for you if: You want to know where your money is going each month without having to log into multiple accounts. Mint is free.
Tiller is a service that will connect with your bank and credits card to pull daily transaction data into a sheet on Google Docs. No other service out there offers this. You can choose to start from half a dozen templates or roll your own, but Tiller will update it automatically from 100,000+ financial institutions.
Tiller automates your custom spreadsheet so it fits you perfectly. Don't change the way you do things to match a tool, plug in Tiller and bring your spreadsheet into the 21st century.
Tiller is a monthly subscription but it won't inundate you with advertisements or pitch you on their financial planning services as an upsell. (to be fair, other companies need to do that because they are free – the bills have to be paid!)
You get the customization of a financial spreadsheet but the automation piece so you don't need to login to all of your accounts and update everything manually. Removing that hurdle makes money management that much easier. They offer a free 30-day trial.
This app is for you if: You love spreadsheets or have one you've tailored but need a tool to help you pull the data for you. Tiller costs $4.92 per month after a 30 day trial. (here's more about Tiller)
The grandfather of personal finance tools, Quicken has been around for ages (since 1983!).
Unlike many of the other apps on this list, Quicken is not an internet-based tool and it used to be software that you buy once and install on your computer, PC or Mac. Nowadays, the latest versions are on a subscription model which gives you access to updates. It's a change a lot of folks absolutely hated, which led them to look for Quicken alternatives. Quicken was originally owned by Intuit but Intuit sold the business to H.I.G. Capital, a private equity firm in Florida. Intuit acquired Mint in late 2009 and shuttered Quicken Online, which was Quicken's online version, in mid-2010.
This app is for you if: Want a piece of software that will manage your finances, help you with billpay, and live on your computer.
CountAbout was built to solve all the problems Quicken users kept having (but Quicken didn't solve fast enough). CountAbout is often cited as a great Mint.com alternative because it's one of the few that can pull your information from Quicken and Mint so you don't lose it – which is a big pain point for long time users of both financial software packages.
It's not free though, $9.99/year for the Basic and $39.99/year for Premium. Premium supports automatic downloading of financial transactions.
This app is for you if: You want a software package that lives on your computer and can import data from Quicken or Mint.
If you see a list of “best apps” and it doesn't list a spreadsheet like Microsoft Excel at #1 — they didn't actually survey. They made it up. 🙂
That being said – Microsoft Excel is all about finding a template and customizing something that fits your exact needs. It can be a lot of work but that hands-on interaction means you know the data is pristine. You can rely on tools like Tiller to pull the transaction data too so you get the automation (it works with Google Docs).
The apps on this list are pre-built, faster to get into, and free. If you're starting from scratch, these apps will get you there faster but will not fit you like a glove. Excel is like a custom tailored suit, these are off the rack.
In the end, you want to find an app that will help you make better money decisions without costing you a ton of money and time to maintain. The apps on this list will help you achieve those goals and not cost you a penny.