5 budgeting apps road-tested

posted by in Budgeting, Saving money

Making a budget and actually sticking to the budget are two entirely different things. We all start off with good intentions but then life happens and sometimes it all goes out of the window.

Keeping track of your spending using your smartphone is a good way to try and stick to your budget. Or at least it’ll tell you exactly why you’re not able to keep to your budget. They don’t put any more money in your pocket but it could make you more organised about how you spend it.

We’ve picked five budgeting apps and each member of the MoneyAware team has test-driven one of them for a week to see what they think of them. Here are our opinions about the apps we tried out:

Wally – tested by Jenny

Jenny

The Wally app (iPhone/iPad & Android) is easy on the eyes. It’s got colourful bands for each day of the week for you to add your spending to.

You can add your income and set saving targets. I did this wrong somehow as the app calculated that I had more than I got paid per month left to spend. That was a sad moment.

It’s a good spending tracker but there are a few things I’d change. The categories for spending such as ‘gift’ aren’t specific enough for me. I’d like to add notes to my purchases so I know what I bought. However you can take photos of your receipts, so that helps.

Overall, if you’re willing to commit to the app, read the instructions and understand how to enter your income I’d say it’s pretty useful!

Toshl – tested by Rory

Rory

Toshl (iPhone/iPad & Android) is very well designed with a simple user interface that becomes familiar very quickly. It’s very straightforward to categorise your spending into different areas, including ones you can create yourself.

The app lets you visualise how much you spend by category which can be a bit of an eye-opener! The budget calculator shows your remaining money left for the month, or alternatively you can set a goal amount to spend which will leave you enough left over for savings or other areas.

You can set a push notification each day in case you forget to add your spending, which is helpful some of the time but can feel a bit like you’re being nagged after a while.

Monefy – tested by Rachel

Rachel

Monefy (iPhone/iPad & Android) is very nice to look at. It’s for this reason that I found it more engaging than some of the other budgeting apps I’ve tried (I think the scientific term for the look those other apps were going for is “ugly”).

The Monefy menu screen has cute icons for the various items in your budget, and can be easily customised to your liking. In order to change the icons, however, you will need to either upgrade to the Pro version or opt-in for adverts. I went with the advert option, and I didn’t find them too invasive.

Another thing I liked about Monefy was the ease in adding new spending records. Because there are icons for lots of everyday stuff – coffee, groceries, magazines – you can tot up those expenses as you go. What’s more, each item is colour-coded, so you can see where the majority of your spending is going over a period of time.

Money Manager – tested by James

James

Money Manager (Android only) is an ugly looking app and it’s tricky to get used to. There’s no tutorial, so you just dive in and press buttons until you get the hang of it. The brown colour scheme is pretty drab and it feels a bit dated in its design.

Despite the poor first impression, it’s a perfectly good spending tracker. You punch in what you spend and it keeps track of it. There are also some useful graphs to visualise your spending.

The major drawback of Money Manager is the ads. The banner ads aren’t too bad but the ones which pop up and fill the screen are quite annoying. You can get rid of these by upgrading to the premium app but reading the other reviews makes me think there are better budgeting apps out there for free.

Pocket Expense – tested by Laura

Laura

This is an American app but you can change the settings to pounds instead of dollars. Pocket Expenses’ (iPhone/iPad only) spending categories are also a bit American-sounding, so I had to log what I spent on gas instead of petrol.

I liked the bar charts which quickly show you where your money is going. I was quite surprised about how much of my money goes on boring household expenses.

Logging expenses can be quite tricky at times and I sometimes got a bit stuck with the navigation. I found myself forgetting to log things and would use my online banking app instead to keep track of how much money I had.

The verdict

All the apps we’ve test-driven have their strengths and weaknesses so there isn’t a stand out winner. Toshl and Monify both received the most positive reviews, so they’re our recommended picks of these five apps. As they’re free, there’s no harm in downloading them both to see which you prefer.

BONUS SUGGESTION: Track spending the old fashioned way

It’s also worth remembering that despite all the technology available to us, you can still use the tried and trusted method of tracking your spending with a pen and paper. You might not get pop-up reminders or colourful graphs using this method but you might find it easier than using your mobile phone.

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James Winterbottom has been a debt advisor for six years. Away from work he is an amateur app developer and writes fiction. James is a lifelong supporter of Huddersfield Town football club, which suggests he is either very loyal or very daft. He also likes to talk about himself in the third person in bio pages.

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Tags Budgeting Saving money
  • Keith

    All very well and helpful I am sure for single accounts but is there one that will allow you to sync with a partners app for joint accounts?

    • moneyaware

      Hi Keith,

      It’s a good question. I’m not sure about the others but I think a couple could share an account on the Toshl app and jointly log their expenses.

      As long as you both log in using the same user account then the information you put in should sync between the two devices.

      Kind regards

      James

      • Keith

        Thank you

    • Debt Camel

      yes YNAB does this beautifully.

      See this http://debtcamel.co.uk/ynab-review/ for some real life reviews of it.

      • Keith

        Tks and I have just had a quick look at your website a good site for sound advice.

  • SaveFerris101

    I cannot believe that the best budgeting app in the market is not in this review. YNAB http://www.youneedabudget.com is without a doubt a complete life changing app. I have no affiliation with them by the way! But cannot recommend highly enough. I’ve used for around 4 years I think and my life evolves around it. It turns your head around on how to budget effectively. It is a life changer.

    • moneyaware

      Hi there,

      That’s a strong recommendation – I’ll have to check it out. I think I’ve seen people on MoneySavingExpert.com forums talking about YNAB too.

      Looking at the website it looks like it costs $60 to use. Is there a free alternative and if not do you think it’s worth the money?

      Thanks for commenting.

      James

      • SaveFerris101

        Hi there,

        Yes it is around that price… however… you can give it to as many people as you like I think (check out their licensing, I’m unsure but they like to spread the love). You can build that cost into your YNAB buffer. It is definitely worth every single penny, probably the single best software purchase I have ever made.

        The cost is minimal, it a change in mindset more than anything and if you use the mobile app along with the desktop version they sync perfectly. That said, for reviewing and setting the budget their iPad app is super slick. Yes, you do have to purchase the apps separately though. The mobile app is great, with gps so it knows where you are and recommends the payee by distance etc. my opinion is you must use the mobile app otherwise it could be a pain to get transactions in there. I just add things to the app as I leave a store or make sure I have a receipt and add it on the tube or bus etc.

        As I said, I don’t work for them (it does sound like I do as I recommend them so highly) but it has changed my life forever. I think moneysavingexpert has mentioned them many times before.

        I was super bad with money but now I know where I am. If you follow the philosophy and build up a month of salary you never need worry about bills again. I have to admit that I don’t always follow my budget, but the premise is that you re-allocate funds from one pot to another and try overall to keep on track. For me nothing is set in stone, it’s all fluid and this app lets you do that really easily. It’s scary to see the reporting sometimes of where money goes though!

        I’d recommend to anyone, there are easy to follow videos too for those that don’t find it easy reconciling budgets etc. available on their site. I think they do free online classes and webinars too.

        I spend around 10 mins a month just setting my budget. Love it!

        PS You can have as many accounts as you like in YNAB, it does allow bank file imports but tbh I have never used as it’s easer and very straightforward to regularly reconcile and the transactions are already there from the mobile app. I tend to do once a week in a few minutes with my online banking open on screen.

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  • Angelina Coley

    I recommend MoneyHub as a simple but effective budgeting app. It links to all your accounts and allows you to categorise and re-categorise as needed. There is a financial analysis tool and a budgeting tool so you can see how you’re doing overall and how you’r doing compared to the spending goals you set. You can see all your accounts and credit cards in one place as well as your net worth. Subscription is £2.99/month so an affordable and effective tool to manage your money.

    YNAB is a great app, but everyone should know that they are not set up to link with banks outside the US and Canada yet nor have they finished developing the import capability to get your transactions uploaded. While the app is great, the cost is very high for one that requires all the data to be manually entered. Until there’s a solution to give users the convenience the price demands, I wouldn’t recommend it.

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