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Personal Finance

These top budgeting apps can help you spend and save smarter

A budgeting app can be a quick fix to getting your finances back on track.

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Many financial experts and personal finance gurus agree that making a budget is key to taking control of your financial future.

If the "B" word seems daunting, however, you're not alone. That's why many companies have created apps that do the grunt work for you. Budgeting apps typically link to your banking and credit card accounts, automatically tracking your purchases and payments. Many categorize spending into different buckets (transportation, food, entertainment, etc.), so you know where your money is going. A good budgeting app can save you time and energy while helping you to spend smarter and save more.

CNBC Select set out to find which budgeting apps are the best. We reviewed more than a dozen and narrowed down our list to the top ones, focusing on those that offer unique budgeting features and at least a free trial or refund to test the app out. We also favored those with a considerable number of user reviews and high ratings. (See our methodology for more information on how we chose the best budgeting apps.)

Best budgeting apps

Best app for beginner budgeters

Goodbudget

  • Cost

    Free for 20 total envelopes; $8/month (or $70/year) for unlimited envelopes

  • Standout features

    Allows couples to use the envelope system digitally for budgeting, and allows couples to track their debt

  • Categorizes your expenses

    Yes, but users must manually input transactions since the app does not sync to your bank account

  • Links to accounts

    No, users must manually input purchases and transactions

  • Availability

    Offered in both the App Store (for iOS) and on Google Play (for Android) and as a version for laptops

  • Security features

    Information is secured using bank-grade 256-bit SSL

Terms apply.

Pros

  • Free version of the app
  • Helps couples manage their money together, track spending and track debt
  • Ability to share budget with your partner
  • Digital envelopes help couples save for big goals that matter to them
  • Money management courses and resources available

Cons

  • Can't connect bank accounts so users must manually enter transactions

Who's this for? Goodbudget is the app to use when you're dipping your toes into budgeting. The app stands out for helping users utilize a digital version of the tried-and-true envelope budgeting method — a method where you budget by divvying up your cash into different spending categories with each category having its own envelope.

[ Jump to more details ]

Best app for serious budgeters

You Need a Budget (YNAB)

  • Cost

    34-day free trial then $99 per year or $14.99 per month (college students who provide proof of enrollment get 12 months free)

  • Standout features

    Instead of using traditional budgeting buckets, users allocate every dollar they earn to something (known as the "zero-based budgeting system" where no dollar is unaccounted for). Every dollar is assigned a "job," whether it's to go toward bills, savings, investments, etc.

  • Categorizes your expenses

    No

  • 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

    Encrypted data, accredited data centers, third-party audits and more

Terms apply.

Pros

  • Offers a 34-day free trial, and college students get 12 months free
  • Designed to help you get out of debt
  • YNAB website claims average user saves $600 in their first two months and $6,000 in their first year
  • Syncs to your bank accounts and credit cards
  • Users can set goals, customize spending categories
  • Offers educational resources, such as budgeting advice and free, live workshops
  • Personal customer support
  • Security features include encrypted data, accredited data centers, third-party audits and more

Cons

  • Costs $99 per year or $14.99 per month
  • Customer reviews note that it takes longer to set up than other apps

Who's this for? Determined budgeters should consider the app YNAB. YNAB stands out for its zero-based budgeting system where every dollar is essentially assigned a "job." Whether it be to pay off your student loans, to cover that month's car payment, etc., users allocate every dollar they earn to something so no dollar goes unaccounted for.

[ Jump to more details ]

Best app for planners

Simplifi by Quicken

  • Cost

    $2.99 per month; no free trial, but users can request a full refund within first 30 days if not satisfied

  • Standout features

    Lets users run fully customizable reports based on their spending, income and savings. Offers a personalized spending plan that adjusts in real time

  • Categorizes your expenses

    Yes, but users can modify

  • Links to accounts

    Yes, bank, credit cards, investments and loans

  • Availability

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

  • Security features

    Financial data from bank servers transmitted using 256-bit encryption

Terms apply.

Pros

  • Offers full refund if not satisfied within first month
  • Users can easily track finances with customized reports
  • Automatically categorizes spending
  • Syncs to all sorts of financial accounts
  • Offers educational blog, investment research tool and financial calculators
  • Security features include 256-bit encryption

Cons

  • Costs $2.99 per month
  • Security features seem limited

Who's this for? Simplifi by Quicken stands out for those who love using a budget to plan — be it saving up for a vacation or tracking their retirement nest egg. At any time, users can generate fully customizable reports based on their spending, income and savings to get a good look at where they stand and how they're tracking. Simplifi also gives users a personalized spending plan based on their income and expenses and adjusts it as they spend in real time. Users can add that month's planned spending, too, like birthday dinners.

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Best app for over-spenders

PocketGuard

Information about PocketGuard has been collected independently by CNBC Select and has not been reviewed or provided by PocketGuard prior to publication.
  • Cost

    Upgrade to a Pocketguard Plus monthly subscription, for $12.99 per month, or a yearly subscription for $74.99 per year, which broken down equals $6.25 per month giving members an over all 50% savings.

  • Standout features

    Taking into account your estimated income, upcoming expenses and savings goals, "In My Pocket" feature uses an algorithm to show how much you have available for everyday spending

  • 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

    Major bank-level encryption, PIN codes and biometrics like Touch ID and Face ID

Terms apply.

Pros

  • Syncs to your bank accounts and credit cards
  • "In My Pocket" feature uses an algorithm to show how much you have available for everyday spending
  • Users can create savings goals
  • Has bill payment tracker and bill negotiation feature (negotiated bills cost a fee)

Cons

  • Basic version costs $74.99/year and premium version costs $155.88/year
  • Some user reviews report that transactions are categorized incorrectly on occasion

Who's this for? If you need something to hold you accountable and prevent you from spending beyond your means, PocketGuard is for you. The app notifies you whenever one of your spending categories is almost over its limit and when you've gone over budget. With these alerts, you can get a better idea of how much you can afford to spend.

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Best app for investors

Empower

On Empower's secure site
  • Cost

    App is free, but users have option to add investment management services for 0.89% 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

Terms apply.

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 and an investment checkup tool
  • Syncs to your bank accounts and credit cards as well as other financial accounts
  • Offers The Currency 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

Who's this for? Empower is a budgeting and net worth tracker all in one, making it the perfect choice for people who want an investment tool that tracks both their spending and their wealth.

[ Jump to more details ]

Best app for couples

Honeydue

Information about Honeydue has been collected independently by CNBC Select and has not been reviewed or provided by Honeydue prior to publication.
  • Cost

    Free

  • Standout features

    Allows couples to see both partners' bank accounts, credit cards, loans and investments (and each partner can select what to share with the other) so you can manage money together and see everything at one glance

  • Categorizes your expenses

    Yes, but users can customize

  • Links to accounts

    Yes, you and your partner's bank and credit cards

  • Availability

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

  • Security features

    Data encryption, Touch ID and multi-factor authentication

Terms apply.

Pros

  • Free to use
  • Helps couples manage their money together, track spending, coordinate bills
  • Syncs to you and your partner's bank accounts
  • Choose what accounts you want to share
  • Users set up monthly spending limits in each category and are alerted when they or their partner is reaching limit
  • Bill payment reminders
  • Chat and send emojis to your partner through the app
  • Offers joint bank account
  • Security features include data encryption, Touch ID and multi-factor authentication

Cons

  • Some reports of app being buggy and transactions not showing up immediately

Who's this for? Couples looking to budget better together can use the Honeydue app. Honeydue allows both partners to view each other's bank accounts, credit cards, loans and investments, if they choose to share. It's easier this way to see everything together versus logging into separate accounts, and it allows couples to see their progress on shared goals like saving up for a vacation or a down payment on a home. Plus, partners can use the app's chat feature to text each other about specific bills directly within the app itself.

[ Jump to more details ]

More on our top budgeting apps

Goodbudget

Cost

Free for 20 total envelopes; $8 per month (or $70 per year) for unlimited envelopes

Links to accounts

No, users must manually input purchases and transactions

Categorizes your expenses

Yes, but users must manually input transactions since the app does not sync to your bank account

[ Return to summary ]

YNAB

Cost

34-day free trial then $99 per year or $14.99 per month (college students who provide proof of enrollment get 12 months free)

Links to accounts

Yes, bank and credit cards

Categorizes your expenses

No

[ Return to summary ]

Simplifi by Quicken

Cost

$2.99 per month; no free trial, but users can request a full refund within first 30 days if not satisfied

Links to accounts

Yes, bank, credit cards, investments and loans

Categorizes your expenses

Yes, but users can modify

[ Return to summary ]

PocketGuard

Cost

The app offers a free version, but users can upgrade to a Pocketguard Plus monthly subscription, for $12.99 per month, or a yearly subscription for $74.99 per year, which broken down equals $6.25 per month giving members an over all 50% savings.

Links to accounts

Yes, bank and credit cards

Categorizes your expenses

Yes, but users can modify

[ Return to summary ]

Empower

Cost

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

Links to accounts

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

Categorizes your expenses

Yes, but users can modify

[ Return to summary ]

Honeydue

Cost

Free

Links to accounts

Yes, you and your partner’s bank and credit cards

Categorizes your expenses

Yes, but users can customize

[ Return to summary ]

Compare offers to find the best savings account

FAQs

Once you download a budgeting app to your mobile device, tablet or computer, the app helps you track your money. The basic budgeting apps show you how much you earn and organizes your expenses into separate categories so that you can see where and how much you spend.

Many budgeting apps offer much more than that, however. The best ones come with other services, such as monitoring your savings, your investments, your debts and/or your credit score. They will offer alerts when you have an upcoming bill due or recommend ways you can save.

Budgeting apps often sync with your bank accounts so they can automatically track your spending. Some require that you input your transactions manually.

Many budgeting apps are free, offer a free version or have a free trial for users to test out before signing up.

After a free trial, or if you want to upgrade beyond the free option, budgeting apps can cost anywhere between $1 per month for very basic budgeting features to $15 per month for more advanced tools and customized tips for users. Sometimes, you can get a discount if you pay an annual fee instead of monthly.

You don't need to pay for a budgeting app. There are plenty of free budgeting apps on the market if you don't want to invest in one. Free budgeting apps can, however, have limited features or a bunch of in-app ads.

If you want a more robust budgeting app that offers a variety of premium services (such as a retirement planner tool) or if you simply can't stand all the ads, consider a subscription-based app where you pay a monthly or annual fee. You might find that paying for an app encourages you to use it more since you have some monetary stake in it. If that means you get serious about trimming your spending and saving more, the fee could be worthwhile. Be sure to check if the app offers any sort of free trial so you can test it out before paying for it.

Bottom line

Budgeting is a surefire way to get a handle on your finances. If you need help getting started, consider downloading one of the top budgeting apps that can make the process easier. Getting smart about your money doesn't need to require much time and effort.

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Why trust CNBC Select?

At CNBC Select, our mission is to provide our readers with high-quality service journalism and comprehensive consumer advice so they can make informed decisions with their money. Every budgeting app review is based on rigorous reporting by our team of expert writers and editors with extensive knowledge of personal finance products. While CNBC Select earns a commission from affiliate partners on many offers and links, we create all our content without input from our commercial team or any outside third parties, and we pride ourselves on our journalistic standards and ethics. See our methodology for more information on how we choose the best budgeting apps.

Our methodology

To determine which budgeting apps offer the best user experience, CNBC Select analyzed over a dozen apps offered by the top companies in this market and looked at their pricing, features, user reviews and ratings.

We narrowed down our ranking by only considering apps that offer unique budgeting features and at least a free trial or refund to test the app out. We looked for apps that are easy to use and accessible on multiple devices, as well as considering apps' syncing with bank accounts, their security features, user customization and educational tools offered. We favored those with a considerable number of user reviews and high ratings.

The apps we selected for this ranking are either free, offer a free version, have a free trial or offer a full refund within the first month. All of the apps in our round-up have a sizable number of user reviews and high ratings. Each app on this list has at least 3,500 reviews in both the App Store (for iOS) and on Google Play (for Android) combined, as well as a rating of over 4 stars (out of 5) on either platform.

Catch up on CNBC Select's in-depth coverage of credit cardsbanking and money, and follow us on TikTokFacebookInstagram and Twitter to stay up to date.

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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