May 19, 2022

Twelve Month Payday Loans

The Passionate Pursuit Of Business

Best Free Budgeting Tools

10 min read

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Understanding how much you earn and spend is key to getting control of your finances.

Taking the time to write down your expenses and earnings will give you a snapshot of your cash flow each month. Not only does creating a budget give you a greater sense of control and awareness over your money, but it can also help you reach certain financial milestones, such as buying your first home.

Depending on your needs, there’s a budgeting tool out there that can guide you. To help you get started, Select reviewed and compared a variety of different free budgeting tools. When choosing our top five, we identified three types of budgeting tool categories: spreadsheets, desktop software and smartphone apps.

There’s no a one-size-fits-all approach to budgeting, and these picks we ranked reflect that. At the end of the day, it’s important to choose the budgeting tool that works best for you.

These three categories (spreadsheets, software and apps) offer different approaches to tracking your money with varying degrees of how hands on you need to be. We narrowed down our best picks for just about anyone: beginners, investors and small business owners. The selections we chose all come at zero cost to use and have strong user reviews. (See our methodology for more information on how we choose the best free budgeting tools.)

Best free budgeting tools

Free budgeting tool FAQs

Best free spreadsheet for anyone

Google Sheets

Information about Google Sheets has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by Google Sheets prior to publication.

  • Cost

  • Standout features

    Gmail account users can access a variety of free budgeting templates to help get started

  • Categorizes your expenses

    Users manually input their expenses, but some budgeting templates offer preset categories

  • Links to accounts

    No, but some templates offer third-party add-on software that automatically pulls financial transactions into Google Sheets

  • Availability

    Offered on web browser and smartphone devices

  • Security features

    Google server protection: Unless you’ve shared your Google Sheet with someone, nobody can access your files without your Gmail account username and password. For this, Google offers two-factor authentication and physical security keys like YubiKey

Pros

  • Free to use with your Gmail account
  • Google Sheets can be accessed from anywhere via the mobile app
  • Templates help users navigate making a budget
  • Hands-on approach forces users to really think about each transaction they make
  • Third-party add-on software available on some templates to import your banking transaction data
  • Security features include Google server protection

Cons

  • Requires users to manually input transactions and other data, unless third-party add-on software is available with template
  • Offers so many different budgeting templates that it may be overwhelming to choose the best one for you

Best overall free smartphone app

Mint

Information about Mint has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by Mint prior to publication.

  • Cost

  • Standout features

    Shows income, expenses, savings goals, credit score, investments, net worth

  • Categorizes your expenses

    Yes, but users can modify

  • Links to accounts

    Yes, bank and credit cards

  • Availability

    Offered in both the App Store (for iOS) and on Google Play (for Android)

  • Security features

    Verisign scanning, multi-factor authentication and Touch ID mobile access

Pros

  • Free to use
  • Syncs to your bank accounts and credit cards
  • Users can create savings goals, track investments
  • Customized alerts when over budget, for large transactions, ATM fees, etc.
  • Bill payment reminders
  • Credit monitoring service
  • Offers blog and education tools, such as a loan repayment calculator
  • Security features include Verisign scanning, multi-factor authentication and Touch ID mobile access

Cons

  • Some user reviews complain of ads, glitches in app, expenses assigned to wrong category

Best free smartphone app for beginners

Goodbudget

Information about Goodbudget has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by Goodbudget prior to publication.

  • Cost

    Get 20 envelopes for free; for unlimited envelopes, you need to upgrade to Goodbudget Plus, which is $7 per month or $60 per year

  • Standout features

    Allows users to plan their household’s spending using the “envelope method,” where they allocate a certain amount of their income into categories like groceries, rent and debt payoff. Users are only supposed spend what’s in their envelopes and if they go beyond their budget the envelope will show red to indicate that they overspent

  • Categorizes your expenses

    Yes, but users can customize

  • Links to accounts

    No, users manually create “envelopes” and input their transactions

  • Availability

    Has a web-based version, and also offered in both the App Store (for iOS) and on Google Play (for Android)

  • Security features

    256-bit bank grade encryption in a secure data center

Pros

  • Free to use for creating 20 envelopes, one account user on up to two devices, one year of transaction history, debt tracking and community support
  • Envelope feature allows user to visualize their spending and prioritize meeting different goals
  • Users can customize the envelope categories according to their needs, such as saving for an emergency fund or a vacation
  • Requiring manual entry of data helps users to really analyze their spending habits versus it being automated (users can also download their recent activity from their bank’s website and import that into Goodbudget)
  • App provides real-time updates of how your transactions impact your budget and personalized reports
  • App offers educational resources like a blog, a podcast and online courses people can take
  • App plans to launch a pandemic-inspired feature allowing people to prioritize “envelopes” based on their most urgent expenses, such as housing, utility bills, etc.
  • Security features include 256-bit bank grade encryption in a secure data center

Cons

  • Costs $7 per month or $60 per year for unlimited envelopes with Goodbudget Plus, unlimited account users on up to five devices, seven years of transaction history, debt tracking and email support
  • Doesn’t sync to your bank accounts or credit cards, which can be a downside for people who want automation
  • Requires that users use the “envelope method” to track their spending
  • Some user reviews report experiencing technical issues with the app

Best free smartphone app for investors

Personal Capital

On Personal Capital’s secure site

  • Cost

    App is free, but users have option to add investment management services for 0.89{3c469f9fd78f2eaf6f4d0dc733f3cac116bbb4fd623f97421c823e27a2df7dab} of their money (for accounts under $1 million)

  • Standout features

    A budgeting app and investment tool that tracks both your spending and your wealth

  • Categorizes your expenses

    Yes, but users can modify

  • Links to accounts

    Yes, bank and credit cards, as well as IRAs, 401(k)s, mortgages and loans

  • Availability

    Offered in both the App Store (for iOS) and on Google Play (for Android)

  • Security features

    Data encryption, fraud protection and strong user authentication

Pros

  • Free to use
  • Includes money-tracking dashboard, plus a net-worth tracker as well as a breakdown of your investment portfolio
  • Offers free investing tools, such as a retirement planner, education planner and fee analyzer to check portfolio fees
  • Syncs to your bank accounts and credit cards as well as other financial accounts
  • Offers Daily Capital blog for financial planning tips
  • Security features include data encryption, fraud protection and strong user authentication

Cons

  • Budgeting features aren’t as comprehensive as other apps
  • Investment management services come with cost

Best free desktop software for small business owners

GnuCash

Information about GnuCash has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by GnuCash prior to publication.

  • Cost

  • Standout features

    Desktop software that uses double-entry accounting method to tracks users’ bank accounts, income, expenses and investments. It also offers basic accounting functionality for small businesses to manage invoicing, bill payment and payroll

  • Categorizes your expenses

  • Links to accounts

    Allows users to import their bank account information

  • Availability

    Compatible with Windows, Mac OSX, GNU/Linux, BSD and Solaris, as well as an app for Android users

  • Security features

    GnuCash is not an online, cloud-based program so no one has physical access to your data; the software runs on your computer and your data lives wherever you store it, such as on your desktop, a hard drive or Dropbox

Pros

  • Free to use
  • Compatible with most computers
  • Good accounting option for startups and small businesses with limited budgets
  • Offers helpful data visualization of your budget with graphs and reports
  • Available in multiple languages and tracks multiple currencies
  • Website offers an extensive FAQ section for user support
  • Users can create recurring transactions and set reminders when things are due
  • Finder tool allows users to easily search for specific transactions
  • Security features include not being an online, cloud-based program

Cons

  • Double-entry accounting method used may be more helpful for small business owners versus individuals trying to manage a budget
  • Desktop software interface looks outdated

Free budgeting tool FAQs

What does a budgeting tool do?

How do you create a budget?

Making a budget can be done in as little as five steps:

  1. Calculate your net income: First, find out how much money you make each month (your cash inflow). Your net income is the amount of money you earn after taxes and can be found on the pay stub you receive through your employer.
  2. List your monthly expenses: Next, you want to look at your monthly costs (your cash outflow). Common monthly expenses include rent or mortgage payments, utility bills, loan payments, insurance costs, transportation, child care, groceries, dining, household goods, travel, streaming subscriptions and memberships. Also include in this category your savings contributions, such as in a 401(k) or high-yield savings account.
  3. Label the monthly expenses as fixed or variable: Go through your list of monthly expenses and now label each as a fixed (essential items) or variable cost (nonessential items). Examples of fixed costs are rent, utility bills, transportation, insurance, food and loan payments. Your dining, travel, clothing (beyond the basics), subscriptions and memberships are variable costs. This is an important step in the process because it helps you see where you can cut back if you need to.
  4. Determine the average monthly costs for each expense: List how much you spend on each expense per month and add them all up. It’s easiest to do this step while looking at your bank account and credit card statements from the past month.
  5. Make adjustments depending on what your budget reveals: The final step in creating a budget is the most telling. This is when you compare your net income to your monthly expenses to see where you stand. If your expenses exceed your income, this means focus on finding line-items in your budget that you can remove or cut back spending on. On the other hand, if your income is higher than your expenses, reevaluate what you should be doing with those excess funds. They’ll earn more interest in a high-yield savings account than your checking account. But you might also want to consider increasing your contribution to your 401(k), making bigger payments on your debt or investing for a future expense.

Once your budget is created, the bulk of the work is done and from then on you are just revisiting it to make tweaks as your spending habits or income change.

Our methodology

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.

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