If you’re like me, the start of a new year is time to recommit to spending less and saving more. For me, that means apps that can make it easier to track expenses and stash away some savings.
In recent years, my husband and I have fallen off the budgeting wagon.
Before we had a baby, my husband and I were avid budgeters. Every other week or so, we’d sit down and pore over our spending using Quicken’s personal finance software.
The biweekly ritual was comforting and surprisingly cathartic: It felt good to audit our spending and proactively come up with ways to better manage our expenses.
That all went out the window once we moved to California, where the cost of living was frighteningly high, my husband’s job was more demanding and our quiet, low-key infant morphed into an energetic and mobile toddler who needed our undivided attention.
As a result, we stopped using Quicken and rarely combed through our bank statements.
After just a few months of going without a financial management system, I missed multiple credit card payments, racking up late fees and putting my credit score at risk. (Luckily, I paid the cards early enough that the slip-ups didn’t affect my credit.)
Then, when I tried to deal with my forgetfulness by setting up automatic payments, I mistakenly set up one card so that I sent just the minimum amount due. I didn’t realize my mistake until months later after I had paid a significant amount in unnecessary interest.
I also repeatedly overspent, lost financial paperwork and made numerous other financial mistakes that I likely wouldn’t have made if I had been paying closer attention. As it turned out, I needed a financial management app to help me stay on track.
My husband and I have since reinstalled Quicken and are making a good-faith effort to get our finances back in order. But Quicken isn’t for everyone. There are numerous other financial apps on the market that are free and are typically much easier to use.
If you’re looking for some extra help managing your finances, here are some of the best free financial apps I’ve come across:
Mint: A comprehensive window into your spending.
The granddaddy of budgeting apps, Mint has been helping people track expenses and stick to a budget for over a decade – long before most of its competitors hit the market.
I remember linking my bank and credit accounts to Mint when I was still in my mid-20s and having a hard time reconciling my meager editorial salary with my taste for eating out. Mint’s colorful pie charts helped me visualize how much of my spending was going toward frivolous purchases in a way that scanning my bank accounts did not.
Mint also now sends you reminders when a bill is due and allows you to schedule payments straight from the app.
Wally: A simpler way to track expenses.
The Wally app is also a good choice if you want to track your purchases on your phone and visualize your budget, but don’t want to link your financial accounts.
Rather than download data from your credit card and bank accounts, Wally uses only data you enter. Like other expense tracking apps, it makes it easy to track spending, monitor your progress and visualize how close you are to achieving your goals.
In addition, Wally lets you compare your progress by automatically comparing spending and saving patterns with other users who are near your age and share a similar income.
The biggest downside is you have to manually enter your expenses or scan a receipt, which can be tedious. However, if you make a habit of entering what you spend, you may find yourself becoming more mindful of your purchases.
Dollarbird: The ultimate financial calendar.
Dollarbird, similar to Wally, doesn’t require you to link your accounts. Instead, you input your spending and expenses yourself. But what sets Dollarbird apart from other apps is its calendar interface, which displays your daily spending in a monthly calendar format rather than a chart.
What makes this so useful is that it helps you see how you’re spending money over a period of time and get a sense of whether there’s a pattern to your choices.
If you tend to be an emotional spender, for example, this can help you think back to specific moments or events that might have set you off.
Another cool feature: Dollarbird lets you “schedule” upcoming expenses, so you have a better idea of how much cash you’ll have available.
Qapital: Turn saving into a daily game.
Qapital is a good app for the goal-oriented and for people who like to “gamify” their lives.
Qapital helps you boost your savings by setting aside money in an FDIC-insured Qapital account each time you’ve taken a specific action and marked it in the app.
The app is fully customizable and allows you to spell out goals you’re striving to achieve as well as specific “rules” you’ll follow in your quest to increase your savings.
So, for example, you can configure the app so that it sets aside $15 each time you’ve eaten at home instead of ordered takeout. Or you can have it put $5 into your rainy day fund each time it rains.
Qapital has a long list of whimsical suggestions for how you can use the app to make saving money more fun.
Prism Bills and Money: Never miss a bill again.
Prism is an ideal app for people like me who need help remembering when a bill is due, but don’t want to put all their bills on autopay.
Prism’s interface, like Wally’s, is relatively simple to use, but what sets this app apart is its focus on organizing and keeping track of your bills.
The app helps you visualize when bills are due and sends reminders so you are unlikely to forget to pay them.
Prism also lets you pay bills directly through the app. To get the most out of this app, you’ll have to set aside time to input all your bills, but Prism makes the process relatively painless.
FileThis: Keep your bills in one place.
FileThis may be a good alternative if you need help tracking bills, but don’t want to only use your phone.
You can use FileThis on your laptop, desktop, phone or tablet to help organize your statements and keep all your bills in one place.
Prism automatically downloads your statements for you so you don’t have to waste time digging for them. It also makes it easy to upload receipts as soon as you receive them.
In addition, the FileThis app will send you bill reminders so you don’t miss paying your bills, dinging your credit.
Your bottom line
No matter which personal finance apps you choose, make sure you follow through and use them.
It is easy to download a lot of apps and then forget to use them or put off setting them up. But if you’re serious about cleaning up your finances, take the time to set one or two up and really use them.
Spending less and saving more will make a big difference to your bottom line through the year and beyond. Apps can help us achieve our goals – if we use them.
See related: 7 tips for using budgeting apps safely, Couples sharing finances? There are apps for that, 7 things you never budget for (but need to)