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Every time a paycheck clears your bank account, you may feel pretty powerful. But if you’re not paying close attention to your spending, that money could be gone just as quickly as it hit your account.
As dull as it may seem, creating a budget is crucial. In fact, ignoring your cash flow and spending patterns are among the dumbest things you could do with your money.
But budgets don’t have to be rigid. Believe it or not, once you establish the habit of tracking your money, the effort can be minimal.
Below, Business Insider rounded up five apps that make it surprisingly easy to keep tabs on your money.
Why it’s good:Mint, the popular budgeting app from Intuit, is an all-in-one resource for managing your money. Sync your bank accounts, credit cards, and monthly bills to one account and get a snapshot of your net worth at any time. It also keeps track of your investment portfolio and flags unnecessary fees.
The app categorizes your spending into several categories and calculates your average monthly spending for each, which becomes your budget. If you’re spending too much already, you’ll want to manually reduce the limits. The charts and graphs make it easy to see where you stand at any given time. Plus, Mint sends notifications if you go over your budget or if you have bills coming up.
Best feature: You can check your credit score for free inside the app, and get an easy-to-understand explainer on credit.
Why it’s good: Capital One’s Level Money does the work for you.
After linking your bank accounts, credit cards, income, and how much you want to save, the app will crunch the numbers and give you a “spendable” amount – how much money you can afford to spend each day, in whichever way you decide.
Level Money breaks the numbers down into smaller amounts, rather than taking a monthly approach to budgeting.
Best feature: Easily compare your month over month spending and set up custom “trackers” to keep an eye on specific types of purchases over time, like how much goes toward Uber or Lyft rides, for instance.
Why it’s good: Penny, an AI chatbot, can text with you about your finances. After linking all the appropriate accounts, she can answer any money question you ask. Penny will also give you information you didn’t know you needed, from how much you spent today to what bills are coming up and what subscriptions are raising their rates.
For certain responses, she’ll include simple charts, graphs and even the occasional gif. You can only respond with pre-populated messages – like, “Breakdown for category” or “Thanks, Penny!” – so the bot will understand and be able to answer quickly, which keeps the interface as simple as possible.
Best feature: There’s minimal clutter since it’s just a long text thread, and you only see what you ask for.
Cost: Free, but there’s a premium membership available called Penny+ that allows you to edit transaction names, create new spending categories, refresh balances at any time, and set custom bill reminders.
Why it’s good: If you’re prone to overspending, Pennies can help. Create one-time, weekly, monthly, and payday budgets with a start time – and for something like a holiday budget, an end time – and a specific amount.
Pennies has a simple interface that shows you how much spending money in each category (food, entertainment, etc.) you have left for today and for the entire budget period. Any money you don’t spend today rolls over into the next, and your daily budget is recalculated.
Best feature: Categories change colors based on how close you are to your spending limit making it quick and easy to see where you’re at in relation to your budget.
Cost: $3.99 download fee.
You Need a Budget (YNAB)
Why it’s good: You Need a Budget (YNAB) stresses flexibility. After connecting your accounts to the software, you’re prompted to assign each and every dollar you have in the bank to a category – from food to travel to fitness and everything in between. Using the money you have today, rather than income you expect to earn in the future, helps you break out of the habit of overspending.
Then comes the flexibility: As you spend throughout the month, you can move money from one category to another to re-establish budgets. In other words, there’s no overspending, just smarter spending. This makes it easy to recognize patterns and come to terms with the fact that you routinely spend $200 more on food a month than you’d originally thought, and $100 less on clothes.
Best feature: YNAB has several resources beyond it’s budgeting program. There are podcasts, YouTube tutorials, free workshops, written guides, and a weekly newsletter that will give you tips and tricks for managing your money.