A look at the 5 most popular free budgeting apps

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A look at the 5 most popular free budgeting apps

I’m pretty old school with my budget. I manually plug everything into an Excel spreadsheet and add up all my expenses at the end of the month. Having a budget helps me stay on top of my spending, but I began to wonder if there was an easier way to keep track of it.

Most people don’t want to waste their time budgeting so they use a budgeting app. With a few clicks, you can track your spending, saving and investing anywhere. (Here are some other apps that may make your life easier.)

But which is the best? That depends on what you’re looking for. Some apps are loaded with features, while some just offer the basics. Some apps are more hands-on with reminders and coaching, while some just leave you be. Whichever your preference, there’s likely a budgeting app for you. The best part? Many of them are free.

To find out which budgeting app ruled supreme, I downloaded five of the free budgeting apps onto my phone and checked them out.

5. Fudget

About: A no-frills budgeting app
Extra costs: Pro upgrade is a one-time payment of $3.99
Availability: iOS, Android
Good for: The minimalist who doesn’t mind ads

Fudget gets straight to the point. It’s a bare-bones app for those who don’t want to waste time worrying about budgeting. The navigation is simple and gives you the ability to create and maintain multiple budgets (in case you want to make a specific budget for something, like a vacation.) Within each one, you record the amount of money available, and add expenses as they come. It’s a straightforward way to see how much money you have left.

Fudget has a Pro feature (for a one-time payment) that offers a built-in calculator, the option to export your budget to Excel or Dropbox and the removal of the annoying ads at the bottom of the screen.

While this app may be perfect for some, I found it to be a bit clunky. You can’t connect it to your bank account, and the idea of manually inputting my expenses seemed too time-consuming. Fudget has no extra features, so you may have to turn somewhere else for personal finance support and advice.

It’s the only budgeting app I reviewed with ads, which puts it behind the others. But if you want budgeting made extremely simple, Fudget is for you.

4. Buddy

About: A social-friendly budgeting app with an aesthetically pleasing interface
Availability: iOS, Apple Watch
Extra costs: There’s a premium option for $4.99/month or $34.99/year.
Good for: Millennials looking for an Insta-worthy budget

Buddy was one of the first apps I checked out, and I was immediately impressed. It was easy to navigate, and the sunset color scheme made the act of making a budget (almost) relaxing. You could select a number of emojis to represent each category of your budget, and there are a ton to choose from. Already have a budget in Excel? You can upload it to the app. Once you’ve created your budget, the home page tells you how much money you have left that month and what you’ve spent today.

One of the best things about Buddy is its emphasis on shareability, which is a big part of its premium feature. You can invite your friends or family to view your budget and create their own. Not only does it create accountability for you to stick to your budget, but it gets you talking about money (which is super important!). The premium feature also allows you to create multiple budgets and export your budget into an Excel spreadsheet.

One of the major drawbacks is that you can’t connect your bank account or credit cards to this app. Though you can input recurring expenses, you’ll have to remember to manually record everything else you spend.

3. Albert

About: Friendly budgeting tool with professional support
Extra costs: There’s a monthly cost to using the “Genius” feature — the recommended amount is $4.
Availability: iOS, Android
Good for: Those looking for a buddy with their budget

Albert is more than a budgeting app — it becomes your friend, acting like a buddy who helps you manage your finances.

Albert strives to add a personal touch to your budgeting and saving experience. After you download Albert, he requests to save his contact information in your contacts, and asks you questions like, “How does money make you feel?” He then links up with your bank account and suggests a weekly savings amount (in my case, it was $50).

Over time, Albert tracks your spending habits and comes up with ways you can save. The best part of a relationship with Albert? He offers up a feature called Genius that provides real-time financial advice from professionals. You can simply text in the app to get an instant response.

The interface is easy to manage, especially the chat feature. I wish the budget options were more robust, but I thought the personalized nature of the app made up for its flaws. If you are just starting to budget, it feels reassuring to have a friend. Albert provides that moral support.

2. Personal Capital

About: An in-depth investing and saving app
Extra Costs: The wealth management feature has fees that start at 0.89% for investment accounts under $1 million.
Availability: iOS, Apple Watch, Android
Good for: Those with complex finances

Unlike Fudget, Personal Capital isn’t an app for those looking to make a simple budget. It’s more like having a certified financial planner in your pocket. Not only can you track spending and saving, you can watch your entire net worth, including assets, liabilities, investments and loans. It also offers a fantastic portfolio feature that monitors your retirement savings and investments.

You can tap the “Retirement Planner” feature to see if you’re in good shape to retire. If you’re not, you can get tips on how to get there. You can set savings goals and investment checkups so you are never out of the loop. Got a complex financial question? You can schedule a call with one of Personal Capital’s financial planners.

This app has and does it all, but it may be too much for someone with simpler finances. I was overwhelmed by the number of options and the app is meant for people with more wealth. But Personal Capital would be a great app for families or the already financial-savvy.

Curious about investing? Check out our review of top investing apps Acorns, Betterment and Robinhood.

1. Mint

About: A comprehensive budgeting app
Availability: iOS, Apple Watch, Android
Good for: Just about everyone

Mint is one of the most popular budgeting apps out there, and for good reason. It’s straightforward, easy to use and encompasses basically everything you need to know about your financial health.

Connect your bank account with Mint, and the app will instantly tell you how much money you have on hand, how much debt you have, your most recent transactions and your estimated credit score based on your history.

Mint’s budget options are straightforward. You can set a monthly limit, and Mint will notify you automatically if you go over your allotted amount. The best part of the app is that it tracks month-to-month spending in certain categories. For example, it called me out on the fact I spent more on eating out than I did the month before. It also gives you new investment and credit card options.

Though the app can get overwhelming, it’s useful for just about anyone. As I learned from the emails I got, it will hold you accountable for overspending or not saving enough, which most of us need.

Budgeting can be difficult. Luckily, there are plenty of tools to help you get started. Want to learn more about budgeting? Check out how this doctor manages his money.

Image: Yura Fresh