Four apps to better manage your finances

OnMAS looks at four of the best personal budgeting apps to see how they stack up.

Staying on top of your personal finances can be a tricky business. All those receipts, bills, credit card and bank statements can seem pretty overwhelming. Fortunately, the proliferation of personal budgeting apps has made managing your money much easier. The toughest job now is figuring out which is the right tool for your needs. Here are a few that might work for you.*

You Need a Budget

Platforms: web, iOS, Android
**Price: $121.66/y (student version available)
Support: forum / live chat
Site: youneedabudget.com
Pros & Cons:
+
very easy to use
+ excellent user interface
+ links directly to your bank accounts
+ large user base
limited reporting features

When setting up a new budget, you can check your actual spending from previous months to better estimate your likely future spending and set more appropriate limits. Alternatively, you can simply duplicate a previous budget and update your estimates as required. A useful option is the ability to flag items as off the books, meaning the software ignores them for budgeting purposes. This is useful for tracking investments and other accounts that you may not necessarily want as part of your monthly budget or balances. You Need a Budget (YNAB) is a web-based personal expense tracking and budgeting tool. Of all the software in this review, YNAB is the easiest system to use, with a well laid out and intuitive user interface. Creating a budget and manually adding transactions is a quick and simple process, especially with the help of the auto-save function, which remembers previous payees and expense categories.

One very useful feature is YNAB’s ability to link directly to your bank accounts and automatically track your transactions and balances. You can also upload your banking transactions in a range of file formats, including CSV, which most banks offer these days. You can track transactions from everyday, savings and credit card accounts. Whatever method you use, once YNAB has the data, you can edit categories, payees and other information about each transaction.

YNAB offers mobile apps for iOS and Android, and your data will automatically sync between devices. Each platform enables you to add, edit and view your transactions, categories and budgets, as you would expect.

Although the software offers limited reporting options, it does provide reasonable charting functionality, enabling you to quickly inspect your financial situation. If your budgeting needs are very complex, you may need to consider a more sophisticated tool, but for most personal budgeting applications, YNAB is an excellent choice.

Image of smart phone with You Need a Budget app displayed on screen
Image of smart phone with PocketSmith app displayed on screen

PocketSmith

Platforms: web, iOS, Android
Price: Basic – free; Premium – $9.95/m or $89.95/y; Super – $19.95/m or $169.95/y
Support: email
Site: pocketsmith.com
Pros & Cons:
+ links directly to your bank accounts
+ based in New Zealand
complex user interface

The only tool in the line-up developed in New Zealand, PocketSmith is a web-based personal expense tracking and budgeting tool.

PocketSmith has an attractive user interface, but new users may find it somewhat cluttered until they become accustomed to the range of functions it offers. The main dashboard enables you to quickly get an overview of your income, budgets and spending history. The free version restricts this to a six-month window, but the paid versions have no such limitation.

PocketSmith uses the concept of calendars to track your transactions. You can associate a calendar with each of your everyday, savings and credit card accounts, and link it directly to your bank to automatically track your transactions and balances. Again, the free version limits you to just two calendars, and therefore two accounts. As a New Zealand-based tool, PocketSmith supports syncing with more local financial institutions than any of the other tools in this review.

You can also manually add transactions to capture irregular or one-off expenses, or income that does not transact through your linked bank accounts.
Creating budgets is a straightforward process. As well as all the standard income and expense categories, you can create any number of your own and add them to new or existing budgets. Once created, you have all the usual options to edit and update your budgets.

One interesting feature is PocketSmith’s ability to create budgets over an arbitrary time frame. Most personal budgeting software limits you to daily, weekly or monthly budgets, which must often begin at a predetermined time, such as the first day of the month. Not so with PocketSmith. Although the predefined options are there, you can also create budgets of any time scale, beginning and ending at any time you choose.

PocketSmith also has a comprehensive set of reporting and forecasting functions. You can visually check your current spending against your budget targets and, if you are off track, see quickly and precisely where the discrepancy lies. Not only that, PocketSmith will use your targets and transaction history to predict how your spending is likely to change in the future, allowing you to compensate your budgets accordingly.

EveryDollar

Platforms: web, iOS, Android
**Price: Basic – free; Plus – $143.38 (free trial available)
Support: email / telephone (for Plus members)
Site: everydollar.com
Pros & Cons:
+ excellent user interface
+ telephone support for paying users
free account does not link directly to your bank accounts
free account requires a credit card

EveryDollar is a web-based personal expense tracking and budgeting tool specially created to help users save, eliminate debt and take better control of their finances. The software revolves around the idea that every dollar should be allocated a specific job, until all your income and expenses are working for you.

EveryDollar’s user interface is simple, yet well designed. It uses charts, graphs and other graphic devices to make information available at a glance and presents more complex information in an attractive and intuitive way, without becoming overwhelming.

When creating a new budget, EveryDollar offers eight expense categories to choose from, such as food, transport, lifestyle and so on. You can add your own categories as you require, although you are limited to predefined budget periods.

You can also set a category to be a ‘fund’ in your budgets. In EveryDollar, funds are used to save toward a specific goal, such as an overseas trip, house deposit and so on. You set a savings goal and allocate income to the fund, much like you do for expenses, except the money accumulates in your accounts until you reach your fund target.

As you add expenses to your budget, the software generates simple visual representations of your financial situation. You can use these to check how your spending is tracking against your budget estimates, and moderate your spending accordingly.

Like the previous tools, EveryDollar can link directly to your bank to automatically track your account transactions and balances. Unfortunately, this capability is limited to the paid version. Free users can still manually import their transactions using one of the file formats supported by their bank, but the process is far less convenient. Once transactions are synced, you can manually allocate them to a budget category.

EveryDollar offers mobile apps for iOS and Android, and syncs your data automatically between devices.

Image of smart phone with EveryDollar displayed on screen
Image of smart phone with Toshl app displayed on screen

Toshl

Platforms: web, iOS, Android, Windows Phone
**Price: Basic – free; Pro – $4.33/m or $28.95/y
Support: email
Site: toshl.com
Pros & Cons:
+ attractive user interface
+ multi-currency support
distracting themes
limited functionality on mobile devices
– free account lacks many features

Personal budgeting needn’t be boring. That’s the philosophy behind the Toshl personal expense tracking and budgeting tool.

The software uses an attractive, monster-themed user interface. It does a very good job of presenting information in an efficient, graphic format. However, the user interface was difficult to read at times and the monster theme became somewhat annoying.

You can create a budget for various time periods and add income and expenses under specific categories or just certain tags. If you choose to use tags, Toshl will automatically deduct any expenses with that tag from the remaining balance in your budget. Unfortunately, you can only create one budget using the free version, so you may need to upgrade to the paid version if you want to maintain more than one budget at a time.

One of Toshl’s primary draw-cards is its manual expense tracker. You simply enter a value, name and date and your expense is automatically captured and categorised. You have the option to add further information, such as tags, repeat flag and a full description, or edit the expense at a later time. Income is handled in a similar manner, but the free version is again limited to a single income source. That may not be a problem for some users, but forces anyone who wishes to track several investments and income sources at once to upgrade to the paid version.

Perhaps Toshl’s biggest drawback, however, is its lack of direct access to your bank to automatically track your account transactions and balances. The software can track transactions, but the data must be manually uploaded using one of the available file formats.

Where Toshl shines is in its compatibility, however it is again restricted to the paid version. The free version can export in CSV format, but the paid version can handle PDF, Excel and several other formats.

Toshl mobile apps are available on more platforms than any other software in this review.

* This review was originally published in the Summer 2016 edition of OnMAS and reflects versions of the app that were current at that time. Prices have been updated, but this review does not reflect any updates to the apps since originally published in summer 2016.
** Fees are converted from US $ to NZ $ as at 20/06/2018. Source XE.com

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