Published October 12, 2016|6 min read
Budgeting seems to be one of those things that falls through the cracks of many households. When other priorities take precedence, like taking care of the kids, walking the dogs, getting home in time to cook dinner, laundry, cleaning and other tasks, it’s no surprise that finding the time to prepare a family budget may fall by the wayside. According to the Federal Reserve, 46% of Americans couldn’t cover a $400 emergency expense.We’ve previously talked about how important it is to have a budget in place to manage your finances, and how modern technology can simplify the process. On your smartphone or tablet, there’s an app for just about anything you can think of, and for family budgeting, it’s no different. We tested several options to find the best app for your specific needs. Looking to create a family budget, or save money on household expenses and big vacations? We have a tool for you.
We split this list into two sections of recommendations based on our personal finance and app-savvy expertise: budgeting apps to help your family control your spending and savings apps to help your family save money on everyday expenses.
The You Need a Budget, a.k.a. YNAB ("why-nab"), app has often been touted as a lifesaver for people struggling with debt or just looking to make sense of their financial picture. It’s not much more than a series of spreadsheets detailing your bank accounts and expenses, but the fact that they can all be imported into one place is both convenient and helpful to get the ball rolling on building a customized family budget, where you can create spending and saving categories of your choice. The most practical element YNAB offers is that you can sync the app between devices, so spouses or partners aren’t in the dark about the home’s finances, permitting you to share a budget with a spouse or other user, or simply devote one for your own personal money. Unlike a prior version of YNAB requiring users to access a desktop program to sync up with your phone, the current iteration is entirely web based. YNAB isn’t free ($5/month, $50/year), but once you’ve got any unnecessary expenses curtailed, it’s worth the price of admission.
Described as "Expense Management Software for the Home," HomeBudget sounds like some complex, sophisticated program, but it’s actually a simple, intuitive, and easy-to-use app that has one of the best user dashboards you’ll find in a budgeting app of its kind. HomeBudget’s existing categories (like groceries or insurance) are there to get you started, but you can then manually enter your own, whether it’s baby supplies, vacation savings, or gas. You can divide up categories and expenses onto an easily decipherable, color-coded interface filled with charts and infographics, and set bill due dates; transactions can also be entered by hand without having to import them from your bank statement. As for the "sync" part? Like YNAB, the HomeBudget app lets you connect various devices together to keep everyone abreast of spending habits and revolving expenses – family sharing at all financial levels. The app comes at a $4.99 cost per month.
Spendless Expense Tracker is a colorful, collaborative app that brings together multiple accounts (called wallets) to track expenses and budget family finances, so everyone synced up can join in on the household’s money management and be mindful of expenses. Spendless’ limitless categories allow users to track their spending down to specific needs, but the bookkeeping function, where you can categorize your budget and leave notes to shared users (i.e. "Let’s try to spend less on Starbucks this month") makes budgeting a true family effort between parents, kids, tenants and pets (if they’re money minded, that is). The free app backs up your data even if you get a new phone.
Finally, every money-minded frugal family would do well to download an app like GoodBudget, using the tried-and-true envelope method to keep track of finances, budgeting and spending. Normally, you’d keep a pile of envelopes on the kitchen counter, with money in each one for different spending categories; the GoodBudget app takes this to the next level and divides each envelope into its own separate expense group, which you can sync and share with other users. The smart, cloud-based system will also alert you when you’re under or over budget, and suggest a way to spend accordingly to rebalance your finances. GoodBudget is free, but a $5/month upgrade gives you access to unlimited accounts and envelopes, more devices capability, five years of account history, and email support.
Grocery iQ may not be the app for suggesting recipes, but it can help you save money when shopping for your ingredients at the store. Enter your shopping list into the app, and it will alert you when coupons or sales are available. The app is so intuitive that you’ll be left standing in the frozen foods section wondering just how its developers created it with such accuracy; for instance, enter the name of your store, and Grocery iQ will organize your shopping list by aisle, so you’re not left doubling back for items you forgot. It also utilizes predictive search and barcode scanning, so if one item is out of stock or not on sale, the app will suggest one that is. Coupons are printable and scannable, and can even be loaded onto your store loyalty card. Creating an account is free.
One way to save money on groceries is to not buy any, but then, you’ll need to eat out, and that can be overpriced, too. For those nights when it’s too late to cook a full dinner, but you don’t want to stretch your budget too thin with several small mouths to feed, the Kids Eat Free app for iOS compiles restaurants in your area with a free kids menu. This free app’s restaurant finder connects to a database of local eateries, allowing you to view menus, prices and distance from your house, so you’ll save money on groceries, gas, and the check in one fell swoop.
You might have some stuff in the basement or garage you’ve been looking to sell, but busy schedules have prevented you from listing them on Craigslist. Maybe you and your spouse are looking for some gently used baby clothes or furniture, but don’t know where to find them the most affordably. The VarageSale app connects users with other people in the area buying and selling the same, so you can save money on purchases and earn some extra cash on the items you list. The free app is compatible with both Android and Apple devices.
Part of the reason why we might lament that too-expensive summer vacation is that we’ll settle last minute for the best airfare and hotel fees we can find. An app like HipMunk hopes to remove any money wasting out of the equation by vetting the cheapest flights and hotels according to destination, time of year, and other options (like rental car size and pricing) to alleviate the financial pain and strain when booking a trip. Download the free app and find other neat features to aid your search, like a Facebook Messenger chat function and a calendar sync alerting you to the best travel deals during certain times of the year.
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