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Simple and Free Budgeting Tools | Saving and Budgeting


Not everyone relishes the idea of proactively managing money and maintaining a budget. However, creating a budget – and sticking to it – are key first steps toward reaching financial goals large and small.

Having the right tools is essential to being able to track expenses and monitor income and, fortunately, you don’t have to break the bank buying expensive software to do that. There are many free options available, but don’t simply download the first app you see.

“If you can’t keep it (updated), it doesn’t get you to the end goal,” says Hong Bloom, head of customer engagement and experience at TD Bank.

And the goal is being able to comfortably purchase the things you need while saving for the things you want, whether that be a fabulous vacation or an early retirement.

To help you reach that level of financial freedom, here are nine simple and free budgeting tools to keep your spending on track – from old-school methods to the latest apps.

  • Pen and paper.
  • Expenses OK.
  • Envelopes.
  • Goodbudget.
  • Spreadsheets.
  • Worksheets.
  • Banking tools and apps.
  • MoLO.
  • SoFi Relay.

Please note that the popular app Mint will be shut down by owner Intuit as of Jan. 1, 2024, so it’s not in this list; Intuit will integrate its user base into Credit Karma.

1. Pen and Paper

While budgeting apps and software are popular, you don’t need anything more than a pen and some paper to write a budget.

That’s the preferred method of budget tracking for some clients of Annette Harris, owner of Harris Financial Coaching. “Logging in to a computer is difficult, and they may let updating (a) spreadsheet go by the wayside,” she says. Instead, some of her clients keep a notebook by their bedside and jot down the total from any receipts or bills they paid during the day.

Using this method, the basic budgeting process involves writing down all your expenses, from monthly bills to small discretionary purchases, such as morning coffee or lunches. Then, categorize those expenses according to whether they are needs or wants. Next, add up your income. Earmark your income for your needs first and any money left over can be spent on wants.

If your expenses exceed your income, you’ll need to determine what changes to make. You may be able to balance your budget by cutting out wants, such as dining out or a gym membership. But in some cases, you may need to consider more significant changes, such as moving to an area with a lower cost of living.

2. Expenses OK

The free app Expenses OK mimics the process of budgeting with a pen and paper but the recordkeeping is digital.

“It does not link to your bank accounts; you manually enter each transaction,” says Lisa Whitley, an accredited financial counselor and owner of the website MoneybyLisa. “It’s like using a notebook and pen, but more convenient and just a bit more fun.”

Unfortunately for Android users, the free Expenses OK app is available only for iOS devices.

3. Envelopes

An envelope system involves placing cash into envelopes marked for major budget categories, such as groceries, clothing and dining out. It makes it easy to see how much money is available for each spending category. When money in a particular envelope is gone, it signals that no more spending should occur in that category until the cash is replenished.

Young Pham, a project manager with business finance publication BizReport, used this method as a college student. It was a system his dad taught him, and it ended up being easier than trying to manage the digital options that were available 15 years ago.

“The only thing you have to do is write down a list of financial expenses that you have for a given month on an envelope,” he explains. “When the salary or the money comes in, you decide how much you want to spend on each expense and then go ahead and set that money aside in the envelope.”

Pham also recommends creating a final envelope for “leftovers.” At the end of each month, he would move any money remaining in other envelopes to this envelope to see how much he could save. Then, cash in the leftovers envelope could be used for any purpose.

4. Goodbudget

This savvy budgeting software is intended for those who like the idea of an envelope cash management system but don’t want the hassle of carrying physical envelopes.

“You can create virtual envelopes for your regular expenses, such as rent, groceries, or utilities, and fill them with your income,” says Gene Caballero, co-founder and CFO of GreenPal, an on-demand lawn-mowing platform. “Goodbudget is great for people who want a visual and intuitive way to budget and save.”

The app will track expenses and sync and share budget information across devices too. The free version includes 10 regular envelopes, 10 more envelopes, one year of account history and access to community support forums.

5. Spreadsheets

While Bloom has used a free budgeting app in the past, she eventually decided it couldn’t compare to a spreadsheet. “I really like being able to customize,” she says. Her initial budgeting spreadsheets were very basic, and she has since added some features. However, they continue to be focused mainly on adding income and subtracting expenses to keep her on track for her financial goals.

She isn’t alone in her love of spreadsheets.

“I’ve tried many apps that allow you to put in future expenses and estimated income, but seeing the numbers and a history of income and expenses took a lot of work,” Harris says. So today, she uses an Excel spreadsheet for her individual account and joint family account. Using built-in formulas makes it easy to automate calculations, and spreadsheets can be quickly updated if numbers need adjustment.

Both Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets offer free budget templates to users. Free budget templates are also available on websites such as Life and My Finances and Vertex42. You can also create your own, though there can be a learning curve to using the programs. Microsoft provides free online training lessons on its support website for Office products. Otherwise, plenty of tutorials can be found on YouTube.

6. Worksheets

If you’re making a budget for the first time, a worksheet can eliminate some of the guesswork. These papers often have recommended percentages to indicate how much of your earnings should be spent on each category each month.

Several organizations offer free budgeting worksheets online. American Consumer Credit Counseling, a nonprofit credit counseling provider, has sheets for household budgeting, expense tracking and budgeting for specific needs.

Meanwhile, Regions Bank has free worksheets anyone can download from its Next Step Financial Education website, including a personal spending plan worksheet and daily spending tracker.

7. Banking Tools and Apps

Free budgeting tools may be as close as your bank’s website. Bank of America, Chase and even local credit unions are among the institutions to provide customers budgeting resources that can track expenses, run spending reports and export data to spreadsheets or computer software.

For instance, Bank of America has an AI-driven virtual assistant, called Erica, within its app. “(It) helps millions manage their financial goals by providing proactive and personalized insights to optimize their cash flow, monitor transactions, alert clients of saving opportunities and more,” says Teron Douglas, chief digital executive at Bank of America.

Meanwhile, the TD Bank app allows users to set up personalized alerts, pay bills automatically and transfer money between accounts. With the Chase Mobile app, customers can use a budget feature to track their spending throughout the month and determine how much is available after bills and transfers.

8. MoLO

Standing for Money Left Over, MoLO is a relatively new app that, unlike many free apps, is ad-free.

“MoLO provides a simple method for users to gain a better understanding of their spending, predict their monthly cash flow and identify unnecessary or non-essential spending,” says Brad Stroh, co-CEO and co-founder of Achieve, a digital personal finance company that offers the app as one of its services.

Users can connect all their financial accounts to MoLO which will automatically track spending, organize it into categories and predict how much you’ll have left each month. Achieve promises that it does not sell personal data and uses bank-level security within MoLO. The app is free for both Apple and Android devices.

9. SoFi Insights

Previously known as SoFi Relay, this is another free budgeting app. SoFi Insights allows users to link accounts, review balances and set spending targets. It aggregates accounts and makes it easy to review spending by category.

The app also provides access to VantageScore 3.0 credit scores and makes it simple to connect with a professional to discuss financial goals and strategies. SoFi Insights users are entitled to a complimentary 30-minute call with one of the company’s in-house financial planners.

“There are many different budgeting methods and what we find is that different types of budgets work best for different personality types,” says Kendall Meade, a certified financial planner with SoFi. Talking to an advisor can be a good way to review budgeting options and decide what approach is best for you.

Regardless of which budget tool you use, Bloom encourages people not to wait to begin tracking their finances. “Don’t start tomorrow,” she says. “Start right now.”


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