Okay, I know budgeting is rarely fun for anyone, but it can be especially hard on young adults. You’ve just wrapped up your formal education and received your first decent paycheck – way more than you’ve been earning between classes. What’s a common reaction? “I deserve a shopping spree!” Meantime, the necessary expenses add up too: food, clothing and shelter for today and tomorrow. You get to the end of the month and realize your new pile of money doesn’t stretch nearly as far as you imagined.
To balance spending some well-deserved fun-money with funding your ongoing lifestyle, one of your first orders of grown-up business should be … a budget.
Ugh, a budget. No one likes to hear that. But think of it like a pact between your current and future self. You want to take care of both of “you,” right? That’s what budgeting is for, so you can track where your money is going, and adjust as needed.
Budgeting doesn’t have to be a major time-suck either. It can be as simple as keeping and periodically reviewing a journal of expenses in a notebook or online spreadsheet. Or try one of these free budgeting apps to make it even easier – and maybe a little fun.
To help you track and understand where you are spending your money, Mint links together your checking and savings accounts, credit cards, loans and other saving and spending sources, and displays them on a single dashboard. It will then analyze your transactions and categorize them by type, such as groceries, entertainment, gas, rent/utilities, and so on. If its best guesses aren’t quite right, you can customize the categories, and then set goals for how much you want to spend in each one. Mint will then warn you if you’re about to blow past one of your goals.
Like Mint, Level Money links to your saving and spending sources and displays a bird’s eye view of them on a single dashboard. It then analyzes your income and expenses, and develops a recommended monthly not-to-exceed “spending allowance.” It also offers handy, per-day spending limits, as well as the ability to add personalized spending trackers. These trackers let you group different merchants together and track your total spending for the group. This is useful if you’re trying to cut back in certain areas. For example, it can give you a better idea of how much you’re really spending at Starbucks®.
Wally differs in that it does NOT link your accounts or automatically categorize your transactions. You instead enter transactions as they occur and assign them to categories and budget limits you create. It depends where you fall on the “control freak” scale whether Wally or one of the aforementioned apps will better suit your style. If you’re going to end up overriding many of Mint’s or Level Money’s defaults anyway, you may prefer Wally’s precision. Wally also lets you scan your receipts. It will then try to add the expenses to the spending categories you’ve established.
Qapital takes a back-door approach to budgeting. Instead of focusing on your budget, it helps you become a better saver, with rules you can use to spur your saving habits. For example, you can set the app to round each expense you incur to the next dollar, and put the difference into savings. So, if you spend $2.25 on that Venti®, Qapital moves 75 cents out of your checking account into savings. You also can set spending goals and try to fall short of them, with the difference going to savings. You can even set up little contests for yourself: For example, the app can sock away $5 every time you walk or run a mile. Before you know it, you’ll be a millionaire! Or at least not quite as impoverished.
Which App Is Where It’s At?
While none of these apps are likely to convert budgeting into a fun-filled event, they may at least lighten the load, and help ensure that you are enjoying today while still saving smartly and safely for tomorrow. There is no one best app for everyone, however there are best apps for you and your individual tastes. Go out and try a few on for size, remembering that almost any budgeting is better than none. Incidentally, Qapital can work well either as a stand-alone savings tool or to augment traditional budgeting.
Now, go forth and budget.
SAGE Serendipity: Here is a quick checklist from CNBC if you’re worried about the WannaCry global cyber attack. It covers “If You’re At Risk”, “What Should I Do To Protect Myself”, and “How Can I Prevent Ransomware Attacks?” There are good practice measures for all computer users.