Despite knowing that increasing financial literacy is one of the most basic ways to begin closing America’s wealth gap, financial products still don’t yet cater to those who are underserved and underrepresented. Putting a price tag on budgeting tools is just one way in which the system is designed against those who don’t traditionally have a seat at the table. Plus, free online budgeting tools exist everywhere nowadays.
How do we know this? According to recent statistics, just under a third of Americans actually maintain a household budget. Only 30% of the population has a long-term financial plan that includes savings and investment goals. If we know that budgeting helps improve our finances, why are so few of us doing it? Didn’t realize that budgeting is important? Now you do!
For example, did you know that saving only $50 per month and using that money to pay down a credit card at 18% APR could mean that you’re able to pay off $700 in debt in just one year? And $5,000 in debt in only five years! That’s just the tip of the budgeting benefit iceberg.
To help you start the New Year with some financial sense, we’ve rounded up our list of the best free online budgeting tools for 2021. These budgeting apps are also available for mobile downloads, making it easier than ever to take control of your financial future.
What to Look for in a Free Online Budgeting Tools
First thing’s first, what should you be looking for in a free budgeting app? It ultimately depends on your financial goals, but here are a few core things that any good budgeting app should include:
- The ability to link to all of your financial accounts
- Basic budget reports that you can view or export whenever you want
- Customizable spending and saving limits
- Automatic offers and tie-ins to other financial products that can help you achieve your goals
- Alerts when you’re close to overspending or get charged a fee
- Tips and resources that go beyond simple money management features
Really, what you’re looking for is the ability to customize your spending categories according to your lifestyle. As long as those basic features are there, then you’re able to explore the pros, cons, and differences between the best budgeting apps available to you.
Free Online Budgeting Tools to Use in 2021
This app is best for those who: Need help combining all of their budgeting and tracking tools in one place.
Mint is easily one of the most well-known budgeting apps. It’s because it provides you with numerous different tools you need to help you manage every area of your finances (including free credit monitoring, which is a crucial tool to use if you’re trying to improve your credit to purchase a house, apply for an auto loan, and more).
Mint allows you to set spending limits for different categories, and the app will send you an alert when you’ve gone over your budget for the month. On top of that, you can also link mortgage loans, credit cards, and other accounts to ensure you’ve got a good overview of where your money is going.
2. YNAB (You Need a Budget)
This app is best for those who: Work well following a zero-based budgeting system (where you account for every dollar you earn).
Not sure about zero-based budgeting? It’s a system where you plan for every dollar that you earn. While it’s essential to look for a budgeting app that suits your savings and spending styles, the zero-based budgeting system is a great one to start with if you’re the type of person who seems to “lose track” of money each month.
With YNAB, you budget every dollar you earn, whether that means allocating it towards paying off student loan debt or putting it towards savings. The only drawback is that YNAB is only free for 34 days. However, most users seem to think that 34 days is just enough to learn how to budget effectively to then continue using the zero-based budgeting system on their own afterwards. In fact, you can get free zero-based budgeting templates here.
This app is best for those who: Are intimidated by complex budgeting apps and just want something simple and user-friendly.
While budgeting apps such as Mint and Goodbudget provide you with additional financial tools such as an investment calculator, credit monitoring, and bill tracking, not everybody views that as a good thing. In fact, it can be overwhelming to most who are just getting started budgeting. If that’s you, don’t sweat it.
PocketGuard is one of the best free budgeting apps of 2021 for those looking for a scaled-back app that is straightforward and easy to use. You won’t be distracted by credit score updates, IRA contributions, or investing tips. You’ll simply be able to track your bills, spending, and savings.
4. Personal Capital
This app is best for those who: Want to optimize their budget as it relates to investment capital.
Assuming you’ve been fortunate enough to learn a bit about finance (or are a recently retired veteran and keep getting emails about taxes, investing, and personal loans), you might have some investment capital that you need to manage. If that’s the case, Personal Capital is the best budgeting app for you in 2021.
Personal Capital shines in the additional tools it offers its users, such as the Fee Analyzer, Investment Checkup, and the Savings Planner. The Fee Analyzer is particularly helpful to millennials who travel around a bit or those who incur lots of bank fees due to overdrafts. It’ll help you see just how much money you’re losing each month so that you can plan and adjust accordingly.
However, the best part is that the basic features are easy to use, and you can choose which add-on tools fit you best.
This app is best for those who: Want to account for every dollar they earn and spend. This app uses the envelope budgeting system to help you really track every penny.
The term “envelope budgeting” comes from the idea of placing cash into an envelope to spend in a specific category. This means that you’re forced to really optimize your monthly budget as you plan for specific spending categories.
You’re even able to authorize different users, making it a great way to engage in family budgeting (teach the next generation how to budget, please! It’s a great way to end generational cycles of wealth gaps and poverty and helps you invest money back into your local community).
The only drawback is that the free version only allows you to create one budgeting account and connect two users with limited envelopes. However, if you’re using the app alone or with one child, it’s a fantastic tool that helps guide you along the way.
This app is best for those who: Need help budgeting with their partner.
Seeing as 88% of millennial couples say that finances are a source of stress in the relationship, you’ll definitely wanna take a look at this one. Honeydue is easily the best budgeting app for couples in 2021 and beyond. The goal is to reach a point of “fewer arguments and more savings with your better half.” And, the app allows you to do just that!
Besides incorporating a fun emoji and chat feature into the app, you’re also able to categorize expenses and receive updates when either you or your partner are about to go over budget for the month. The app allows you to connect both of your bank accounts, joint accounts, credit cards, and more to receive a more up-to-date overview of your financial status as a couple.
Other Apps & Products to Help You Budget
Budgeting isn’t just about learning how to save more money, although that does help. Learning how to budget correctly requires you to look at the big picture that is your finances. This means looking at your debt owed, your credit score, savings goals, and current expenses. Once you begin to do this, you’re in control. As Every Dollar points out, when you budget, you’re “telling your money what to do instead of wondering where it went.” That’s real freedom.
All of this will affect how much you save and where you allocate your available money.
Taking advantage of free credit monitoring apps, free online budgeting courses, and other tools can help you form a comprehensive overview of your finances. Then, it’ll be time to optimize your savings and investment strategies to maximize your budget.
How do you do that? We’re offering free resources, guides, and additional learning materials for those who sign up for the Wealth Stack app before June 1st, 2021. Get it for free on the App Store or on Google Play.