Published July 13, 2015|8 min read
Like any other aspect of personal finance, managing a day-to-day budget is a skill that has to be learned, and then practiced regularly before it becomes second nature. Some of us are taught to do it as children thanks to our parents, and some of us are parents now and starting to teach our own children the importance of financial responsibility.
And some of us, even though we know we should know better, blow through $50 in a couple of days without quite realizing where the money went.
There are hundreds of finance apps that can do everything from track your investments to split bills with your roommates, and if you want a more robust solution, head over to our "Which money management app is right for you?" post. But for the person who just wants to make it to the end of the week knowing where her money went, here are several that fall into what could be called "allowance" apps for adults, because they help you hold yourself accountable to a daily budget.
Free for iOS and AndroidAutomated: YesCalculates Allowance: YesApple Watch: YesVerdict: This workhorse of an app does almost everything you need, and while the Watch app isn’t perfect, it does provide a daily allowance.Good for: Everyone
Anyone who has used Mint knows that when it works, it’s a great service. You can add credit cards, bank accounts, and student loans, and Mint will pull in your transactions automatically so you can track your spending and saving. You can set dozens of individual budgets and the brains behind the scenes do a good job of sorting your transactions into the right buckets. On the Apple Watch the features are stripped down, which leads to both good and bad results. Basically it lets you combine a few Mint-selected budget categories and lump them together into one "Watch" budget that tells you how much you can spend each day. It’s nice to be able to see what you’re spending on coffee, but unfortunately you can’t look at all of your budgets.
Free for iOS and AndroidAutomated: YesCalculates Allowance: YesApple Watch: NoVerdict: This app nearly matches Mint for functionality and looks nicer, with easy-to-read daily, weekly, and monthly budgets.Good for: People who want a strong visual way to look at their budgets, but who don’t need a Watch version
The first time we tried Level earlier this year, we had trouble figuring out how to categorize purchases manually, which was necessary sometimes because Level automatically pulls in your transactions from your connected accounts like Mint does, but Level was sometimes sorting them incorrectly. Because of that, it fell below Mint on our list of recommended apps. However, Level has updated the app and it now stands as a good competitor, and in fact is even better than Mint when it comes to keeping an allowance for yourself. Level’s budget screen displays three circles for daily, weekly, and monthly spending, and the circles fill with orange as you use up your budget. The app also displays the amount you can still spend within each circle. There’s no Apple Watch app, though.
Free for iOS, but you have to pay between $1 and $4 for the extrasAutomated: NoCalculates Allowance: YesApple Watch: NoVerdict: The "next three days" and "big purchase" features are nice, but otherwise it’s a bare bones app.Good for: People who just want to know how much they can spend today, and don’t care about any extra functionality.
Daily Budget does a neat trick with your budget where it calculates not just today’s allowance, but the next two. If you still have some money left over at the end of the day, the the app adjusts tomorrow’s allowance to give you a little more to spend (and if you spend too much, the next two daily allowances will shrink). Unfortunately you can’t track multiple budgets, for instance groceries and entertainment. But the app has a neat "Big Spendings" feature where you can add a future large purchase or expense, and it will start saving for it immediately by deducting a percentage from your daily allowance.
$2, iOSAutomated: NoCalculates Allowance: YesApple Watch: YesVerdict: The utilitarian approach can be disappointing if you want bells and whistles, but it’s fast and gets the job done.Good for: People who want something practical and fast.
The BUDGT app is one of those apps you either love or hate once you start using it. In some ways it makes entering a transaction incredibly simple, and you can turn off decimals and just deal with whole numbers if you want. But the design is so blocky and barren that it can feel like something important is missing. Eventually you realize that the developers have created an app that’s stripped of anything unnecessary for keeping a day-to-day budget, and once you get used to it, it’s very fast. One cool feature it has is it lets you adjust the "weight" of each day of the week so that when it’s calculating your daily allowance, it can for example reduce the weekday amount so that the weekend amounts can be higher. There’s no widget, and the Watch app is another example of this minimalist approach because the only thing it lets you do is add a new item, so you’ll still have to pull out your phone to see how much is left to spend.
$3, iOSAutomated: NoCalculates Allowance: NoApple Watch: YesVerdict: The deliberately sparse feature set will make detail-oriented people crazy, but it’s one of the better Watch apps.Good for: People who aren’t sticklers for details and who want a Watch app.
Pennies is another simple app like Daily Budget, but its developers have intentionally restricted the functionality so much that you might get frustrated using it if you want to track anything in detail. It lets you create multiple budgets and even set whether they’re recurring and on what day, which is something Daily Budget can’t do. On the other hand, Pennies doesn’t do any fancy calculating on how much you can spend. It just shows you the budget amount, how much is left, and then turns red if you’ve gone over your total budget. You also can’t adjust the date of transactions, they’re just "today" and in the general past. The Watch app is where this really shines, because it lets you add new transactions, review your past ones, and even change which budget shows up in the "glance" view. The iPhone widget shows the name and current amount of your budgets.
$4 for iOSAutomated: NoCalculates Allowance: NoApple Watch: NoVerdict: Very clean and easy to use interface other than the tiny number keyboard, and the Watch app is excellent, but ultimately it doesn’t work as a daily allowance app (and it’s the most expensive app on the list).Good for: People who just want the monthly big picture budget, not an auto-calculated day-by-day number.
Overall, Sumptus is a very easy-to-use budgeting tool, but unlike Mint and Level it is fully manual. This may appeal to some people who don’t want an app connecting to their bank account, but in real life it means you have to spend a lot more time manually entering each transaction, and if you don’t do it immediately, there’s a chance you’ll forget to add it in later. That said, for a manual entry app, Sumptus’s design is very clean and easy to use, and it has a widget for quick check-ins. You can set multiple budgets, and the big selling point is that the app lets you enter expenses in a "natural language" way, which is important because the number keys are too small and it’s easy to make errors. You can also export your information from the app, which is a great feature. Where Sumptus really shines, though, is on the Apple Watch, because it lets you enter new transactions either by tapping on the amount and the category, or by just speaking into the device, which overcomes a lot of the problems of a manual entry approach, and it has a great "glance" option too. A big downside is that Sumptus does not calculate a daily allowance for you, which means it fails at the most important feature we’re looking for.
Free for iOS, but you have to pay $2 for full functionalityAutomated: NoCalculates Allowance: NoApple Watch: YesVerdict: Has a very businesslike interface, and a solid feature set but nothing that stands out.Good for: People who want something practical and with all the expected features of a simple budgeting app, but don’t care about any extras.
A major downside of Spendio is that it’s not really "free" because you have to pay to get access to features you actually need for a budget app, like custom expense categories. Another possible con for some users is that the interface makes you feel like you’re putting together a sales report for your boss. On the other hand, this kind of detail and text-heavy display can appeal to those who want a no-nonsense approach like BUDGT, but need more functionality. The Watch app is as nice as Sumptus’s version and offers pretty much the same features. Finally, Spendio doesn’t automatically calculate a daily allowance, which puts it at the bottom of this list.
Now that you've got the tool to control your daily budget, are you ready to take the next step with managing your money? Check out which money management app is right for you.
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