Creating a budget and sticking to it aren’t the most exciting activities in the world, but they’re vital to effective money management and meeting your financial goals. And, with the wealth of budgeting tools available, making one is easy.
However, it’s essential that you pick one that works for you, as Paul Miller, CPA and owner of Miller & Company LLP, an accounting firm, explained. “It’s got to be a part of your life if you want to achieve (your) goals,” he told US News My Money.
Whether you prefer pen-and-paper or smartphone apps, US News My Month offers the best budgeting tools to help you improve your financial health for absolutely free.
Pen and Paper
Apps and online tools might be on the rise, but pen and paper can work just as well. Start by jotting down your expenses, be they bills, movie tickets, or other types of spending. Next, categorize them as either needs or wants. Then, total your monthly income. Allocate your income for needs, while the remainder you can put toward wants (or savings!).
Does your monthly spending surpass what you make every month? In that case, find out where you can cut costs. Maybe you don’t need that morning specialty coffee or membership to a boutique spin class. Sometimes, a more significant change may be required, like moving to a more affordable home.
The envelope system is a simple method that gives you a concrete look at where your money goes. It works like this: Get a few envelopes and label them with a specific budget category (groceries, gas, going out to eat, etc.), then put cash inside.
“The envelope method is a great tool for budgeting because it forces people to take control of their spending with cash in hand,” Howard Dvorkin, CPA and chairman of Debt.com, told US News My Money.
When you run out of money in a particular envelope, you know that you can’t spend any more in that category until your next paycheck.
If you like the idea of a detail-oriented, flexible budgeting tool, consider using spreadsheets. “People can download budgeting spreadsheet templates that come formatted with formulas, dates and labels,” Dvorkin noted. “This method helps take the guesswork out of organizing a budget, and it can also make it easier to edit a budget and track income.”
Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel are two places where you can find free budget templates. Microsoft also offers free lessons online if you want to learn how to make your own spreadsheet. You can also find help on YouTube.
Mint is one of the most popular budgeting tools available online and as an app. You can connect all of your bank accounts to your Mint profile, which categorizes your expenses for you. It also notifies you when bills are due and features a calculator that tells you how certain types of spending can affect your financial progress.
Like Mint, SoFi Relay connects to your bank accounts and tracks your spending to help you meet specific goals. According to Brian Walsh, a SoFi CFP, “SoFi Relay allows members to understand everything they own, owe and spend from the palm of their hand.”
Plus, it also allows users to check their VantageScore and even chat with experts to talk about financial targets and plans. When you sign up, Sofi gives you a free half-hour phone call with one of its finance professionals.
The envelop system is an excellent way to budget, but carrying around money envelopes can be risky. Goodbudget removes the hassle and the risk by digitizing this popular method. This app follows your spending, so when you add money to the virtual envelopes, it will notify you when you deplete your funds in a particular category.
Personal Capital is more than just a digital budgeting tool; it also helps you manage investments and gives you a bird’s eye view of your retirement funds. Scott Schleicher, senior financial advisor and financial planning specialist group manager at Personal Capital, said, “Users can get a complete picture of their money by seeing all of their finances in one place, including their investments.”
The creators of Albert designed it specifically for millennials and Generation Z who want to work on their financial savvy. It tracks expenses, develops a budget, and pinpoints areas where users can save money.
Albert’s financial advice manager, Trina Patel, noted, “Albert is a great go-to app to help you budget, track your spending and save.” It gives users an at-a-glance view of their finances, making it easier to meet your goals.
- LaPonsie, Maryalene. “10 Simple and Free Budgeting Tools.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, 16 Oct. 2020, money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/saving-and-budgeting/articles/simple-and-free-budgeting-tools.