People often think of starting a new budget as something you do when you're saving for a specific goal or making a New Year's resolution. But the truth is you can start taking charge of your spending anytime! There are many ways to create a budget, but if you're new to the whole thing you might consider using a budgeting app. These apps can do a lot of the math and expense tracking for you, which leaves you with more time and energy to focus on actually saving money.
There are a lot of budgeting apps out there, but we're going to look at two of our favorites: Mint and Level. Both apps are free, secure, and fairly easy to use, and they have all of the essential tools you need to keep a budget. However, these apps do work a bit differently from one another, which means they're better at different things.
Mint is probably the most comprehensive free budgeting tool out there. After you've given it permission to look at your bank transactions, Mint automatically sorts your expenses into categories like groceries, restaurants, and bills. This helps you understand exactly what you're spending money on, which should also make it easier to decide which expenses to cut. Once you've decided how much you want to spend, you can set a detailed budget with limits on each spending category.
Mint does an excellent job of visualizing your data. It automatically creates beautiful charts and graphs that let you see your spending habits and history at a glance. Mint also does a really good job of sending alerts when something's wrong, like if you've overspent or if your bank has charged you a fee.
That said, Mint has a few drawbacks. First, it has so many features that you might find it overwhelming. Second, while Mint is supposed to automatically categorize your spending expenses it doesn't always get all of them right. Because Mint relies on these categories to track your spending, you'll need to do this part manually from time to time.
These faults are minor, though. If you're looking for a budgeting tool that will give you a fine-grained look at your spending habits, Mint is a great choice, especially if you're willing to put in some time to set it up correctly.
Like Mint, Level tracks and categorizes your purchases and bills. However, its approach to budget management is quite different. Level is set up to answer one question: How much money do you have left to spend this month? When you sign up for Level, it imports all of your financial information just like Mint. You'll then confirm all of your bills and regular expenses: rent, utilities, gym membership, and so on. Next, it helps you determine how much money you'd like to save each month.
Level then subtracts your bills and intended savings from your monthly income and tells you how much money you're free to spend on everything else. In other words, when you look at Level, you're really only looking at the spending you can control from month to month—the money you spend on food, entertainment, gas, and other variable expenses. It breaks your spending down by monthly, weekly, and daily limits, so you can really get a sense of how much you can afford to spend while still meeting your savings goal.
Like Mint, Level does a great job of visualizing your financial data. Its minimal interface is a bit less intimidating than Mint's, and the app is generally easy to use and quick to update. However, Level isn't perfect. Compared to Mint, Level has sparse notification options. It's also not very useful if you exceed your budget for the month. When this happens, the main screen will simply show a negative balance, which—in our experience—can be a little discouraging.
Despite these drawbacks, if you want to think of saving in very simple terms, Level is a great tool to help you keep track of how much you should be spending in order to meet your goals.
Remember, there's no "best" budget app—you should choose the one that works best for you. If you have a fairly complex financial situation, Mint might be the best choice. If you are just getting started with saving, Level's simple focus on limiting your spending can help you change your habits quickly.
You might even try using both apps for different tasks. For example, you could check Level on a daily basis and use Mint once or twice a month to see more detailed breakdowns of your spending history and habits.