Why use a budget app to help break down - and then build up - your personal finances?

Why not?

Personal finance mobile apps are a handy, easy, and effective way to improve your budgeting skills at the flick of a fingertip, and without an Excel spreadsheet or yellow legal pad in sight.

You want to track your spending in real time? A mobile phone budgeting app can do that.

You want to get a better grip on personal debt, and create a plan to pay that debt down? Guess what - a budgeting app can do that, too.

You want to save for a specific life event, like a wedding. Boom - there you go.

With mobile app technology improving by leaps and bounds, mobile budgeting apps have spread their wings and have helped hundreds of millions of user spread their financial wings and learn to fly right, from a personal budget point of view.

Make no mistake, personal financial phone apps are becoming more pervasive in 2018. According to Bankrate.com, 63% of smartphone users have at least one financial app on the device, and the app data tracking site App Annie estimated approximately 200 billion personal financial app sessions globally across iOS and Android alone, in 2017.

With all that activity in the mobile budgeting app world, anyone who cares about cares about their personal financial situation, but aren't using budget apps, should ask themselves this question: can 200 billion personal financial app sessions be wrong?

The 9 Best Budget Apps

That's where smart, efficient and effective budget apps can carry the day.

A good budget app can take away the mystery - and the complexity - of managing your personal financial life. It can shine a light on specific trouble spots in your finances, like excessive credit card debt, a lack of savings for retirement, or spending on things you don't really need, like gym memberships or that loaded cable television package, among other items.

Think of a budget app as an Apple (AAPL) watch for your money life. Instead of reporting the time, and your heartbeat on a light jog, your budget app can tell you how much money you have coming in and going out, and at what rates that cash crossover is occurring.

Which budget apps make the grade as the best in class? Try these 11 selections on for size, each of which brings the strengths common to great budget apps to the table, along with unique features and benefits that really make them stand out:

1. Mint

What's not to like about Mint? The budget app syncs to your bank account and tracks all of your incoming money, and all of your outgoing money. The app easily creates a personal budget for you, tracks your bills and provides alerts so you're never late paying a bill, and even reports your credit score on an ongoing basis, along with special tips and strategies to boost your credit profile - without having to use a credit card. The app works across multiple personal financial platforms - your bank account, credit card account, even your brokerage and retirement savings account - all on a secure platform from the people who gave you QuickBooks and TurboTax. Mint is free of charge to use.

Unique Feature: Mint takes your budget seriously, issuing you alerts when you're spending too much money, and going over your budget.

2. Acorns

This budget app is built upon a single premise - you can actually invest your spare change and improve your financial situation doing so. Acorns is a great budgeting tool as it takes any extra cash you have laying around - from spending or from extra dollars in your checking account - and invests it for you in a portfolio created and managed by investment experts. Let's say you spend $49.10 at the grocery store - Acorns takes the "spare change" - the 90 cents, and invests it for you. Imagine all of your loose change being put to work for you each month. Easy-peasy, right? The cost is $1 per month, until your Acorns account hits $5,000 - then the charge is 0.25% of your Acorns account balance.

Unique Feature: Acorns is rolling out its own debit card that will not only round off and invest your spare change from card spending, but it also gives you free ATM transactions across the U.S.

3. PocketGuard

This budget app acts as your own personal financial advocate, studying your debts and bills and recommending strategies to curb those bills and do a better job of paying down that debt. PocketGuard tracks and records all of your spending - even that $5.00 latte at the coffee shop - updating your transactions as they happen, and provides not only a snapshot of your outgoing cash, but also a strategy on cutting better deals on ongoing debts like your cell phone or your auto insurance. The app is visually appealing, with plenty of easy-to-understand charts and graphs that break down your financial picture for you. After a free trial, PocketGuard costs $3.99 a month, and $34.99 for the year.

Unique Feature: The app builds your own personal budget for you, based on your income, your debts, and your future financial goals.

4. Wally

If you're looking for a mobile financial app that does budgeting, and only budgeting, Wally is your man. The app does what good budget apps do - balancing your income and expenses and giving you a glimpse of where your money goes and why. Wally offers extra services like letting you know when a bill is due and when you've reached a financial goal. The app is free of charge.

Unique Feature: What's unique about Wally is that it focuses on doing one thing - giving you a great budget tool - and doing it well. In a market where bells and whistles are the rage, there's something to be said for sticking to the basics.

5. Every Dollar

This personal financial app, from financial guru Dave Ramsey, blends budgeting into your bank account to give you a snapshot of where you stand financially, and where you're going. With it, you can access multiple devices with bank-level security, create unlimited budgets, track transactions against your budget, and connect to your bank for faster expense monitoring. This budget tool is free of charge.

Unique Feature: The app is based on Ramsey's "Baby Steps to Wealth" concept - if you're a fan, this apps for you.

6. You Need a Budget (YNAB)

Do you want to put your money to work? Then give your cash an actual job, with YNAB. The budget app enables users to create a personal financial budget that's income-based, but one where each dollar in that budget is assigned a specific task, like focusing on debt payments or being steered into living expenses. This "bucket approach" accounts for every dollar you earn and puts that dollar to work for you. YNAB is free for 34 days, then it costs $6.99.

Unique Feature: The app's debt payoff feature gives you a great target to aim at, along with the adrenaline rush from knowing you're getting closer to paying off a big debt.

7. Goodbudget

For couples, unmarried or living together under the same roof, Goodbudget is a solid budget planning and management option. The app (it used to be called Easy Envelope Budget Aid, which was a mouthful) enables couples to work together on a household budget, and get proactive together about curbing household debt. While the app is geared toward merging two different personal financial accounts and scenarios, singletons can use Goodbudget, too. With Goodbudget, you can plan for different financial categories via the app's "envelopes", dropping money in and taking money out of the envelopes as you need it. The app offers two plans - a free one for basic services and a more advanced app for $5 per month.

Unique Feature: It's got to be the "envelope model", which allows users to open an envelope, fill it with money, and use it for specific monthly purposes (i.e., eating out or buying gasoline for your family vehicles.) Having your cash designated for one specific function seems to be a developing theme for budget apps, but why not? After all, it makes things easier for users, and that's what a budget app should be all about.

8. CountAbout

Linking your app to your bank should also be a priority for mobile budget app users, and CountAbout provides exactly that, and then some. CountAbout has deals with thousands of financial institutions, so the chances are very good that you can sync your bank account to the app. That allows you to track transactions, track spending, and give you a head start on building a personal budget that works for you. The app costs $10 per year (not per month) and an advanced version goes for $40 annually.

Unique Feature: CountAbout is the only mobile financial app that allows you to sync to Quicken and Mint.

9. Clarity Money

This financial app, recently purchased by Wall Street behemoth Goldman Sachs, (GS) is an elegant, crossover way to track your spending and debt. The app features a dashboard that tells you where you stand financially right now, an account screen that lists your financial accounts that are linked to Clarity Money, and a screen that lists and monitors your spending transactions. Everything is right in front of you, making Clarity Money one of the best "all-in-one" apps in the marketplace. The app is free of charge.

Unique Feature: While there are several worthwhile features, a favorite is the ability to save specifically for a single event - a wedding, a vacation, or a new car purchase.

 

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