The Two Best Budget-Building Apps, Compared and Contrasted

by | BiggerPockets.com

If you’re looking for the best online tools to help you stick to a budget, you’ve come to the right blog post. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is accounting software! We’re not talking about tools that will help you reconcile transactions and balance checkbooks — these are budgeting aids at their finest, not accounting tools.

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Mint: Comprehensive, Automated, and Easy

Mint is an amazing piece of software. You have to feed it all of your financial account information — it has a nearly-comprehensive understanding of accounts offered throughout the United States and Canada — but it has no ability to use the accounts. (Well, you can authorize it to pay bills for you, but that’s the only interaction it has with the accounts other than harvesting data. That authorization is off by default and requires special interaction from you to activate.) Mint even plays nice with PayPal, Venmo, and BitCoin!

The data Mint harvests from your financial accounts is obtained in real time, so seconds after you swipe a card, Mint knows. But it does so much more than just track your purchases. You can (and should!) tell Mint about your bills, your loans, your investments, your mortgages, your home equity — basically everything you do that involves your income, assets, liabilities, and outgo. The more access you give it, the more accurate and useful a tool it becomes. (It should be noted that any cash you withdraw and spend must be entered manually, for obvious reasons.)

Your spending habits are calculated almost instantly when you attach your accounts, as Mint pulls the past few-to-several months’ data and analyzes it. You’ll be able to see right away if an excessive amount of your money is going to, for example, coffee shops or into the AppStore. But that’s not the glory of Mint. The real glory of Mint is that once all of your information is put in, it keeps a real-time tally on its main screen of your total net worth. When you’re working in real estate investment, it’s easy to get lost in the details and take your eye off the ball — with Mint, it’s right there in front of you every day.

Related: The Foolproof Monthly Budget: How to Save Up Money to Buy Investment Properties

For shorter-term milestones, Mint offers an aptly-named “goals” feature that allows you to set any number of, well, goals. “Save $12,000 for vacation” — or more likely for this crowd, “Save $12,000 to remodel the kitchen and bathroom of the Westfield property” — for example(s). Mint won’t move any money itself — remember, it doesn’t do that — but if you give it an amount you want to save, a date you want to save by, and account to track, it will tell you how much you need to save per day, remind you if you start to fall too far behind, and (depending on the nature of the goal) give you advice related to your specific endeavor.

Tl;dr: If what you need is an understanding of where your money is going, when, why, and how — along with a few great tools to make sure no bills are missed and your fiscal goals are met — Mint is a great option.

You Need a Budget: The Windows to Mint’s Mac

If Mint is the easy-to-use, free budget-assistance app that comes with a variety of pre-built tools that can guide you forward, You Need A Budget (YNAB) is the easy-to-use, not-free budget-assistance app that comes with a huge variety of resources — not just tools, but tutorials and even general “philosophical” guidance — that allows you to customize the app in a much deeper fashion. YNAB costs a relatively minor $5/month (or $50/year), which is almost certainly less than you’ll save by using its powerful tools.

Like Mint, YNAB asks you to connect all of your various accounts, and it harvests transaction data from them. But where Mint “starts” with the spending of the money, YNAB starts with the earning of the money, asking you to give each dollar a “job” the moment it is earned. Also unlike Mint, YNAB allows (requires) you to build your own set of spending categories. So, where Mint will automatically assign all money spent at AutoZone to “transportation,” YNAB will ask you what to call the money spent at that location, so if you’re into classic cars as your hobby, you can totally call that “entertainment” or even “’76 Charger restoration” if that’s how you roll.

Because you assign “jobs” to each dollar before you spend it, YNAB’s major purpose is to inform you when you’re nearing, reaching, and overspending the limits on each of your self-created categories. The fact that you personally create and set the limits on these categories makes you far more intimately aware of your own spending habits than Mint’s one-size-fits-all setup, but it obviously also requires far more time and effort invested to put together as well.

Perhaps the greatest aspect of YNAB, however, isn’t the “budgeting” part of the app at all — it’s the education that comes with running through the process. Not only will using YNAB make you comfortable with thinking about the future, but the various “rules” and other hints and tips will show you how to think about the future in a way that is maximally useful.

For example, one of YNAB’s big themes is “embrace your true expenses.” The essence of this concept is to look at your expenses not in terms of predictable monthly bills, but in terms of “unpredictable” long-term expenses as well. By breaking down things that will eventually happen and will impact your income — car repairs or water heater replacements — into X “chunks” and adding a “chunk” for each of those expenses to each month, you can easily see how those long-term expenses can be saved for and turn them into a non-issue rather than a chaotic stress-ball.

Related: Donโ€™t Forget To Budget For These 3 Overlooked Expenses

Perhaps the best way to decide between using Mint and using You Need a Budget is to not decide — after all, there’s nothing keeping you from using both, and, in fact, the two cover each other’s weaknesses quite effectively. Mint’s historical perspective will give you an instant idea of where your money is going, and YNAB’s income-planning perspective will help you take that information and deliberately sculpt your future income. Mint’s auto-generated categories will help you decide how to set up YNAB’s user-generated ones without having to pore over the tomes that YNAB provides as guidance.

By using the two together, you can reach financial stability — and more importantly, financial comprehension — far more effectively than with either alone. Good luck!

What budgeting tool do you use? Which of these do you prefer and why?

Let’s discuss in the comments section below!

About Author

Drew Sygit

Drew is the manager of Royal Rose Property Management, a fairly high-tech solution for Detroit Metro area property owners & investors.

19 Comments

  1. Peter Mckernan

    Hello Drew,

    Great article about the budgeting tools that are available for users. I have been using everydollar.com for about a year now, and that seems to be the same as mint. You can throw all your income in for the month and then plan accordingly, along with planning a certain amount for those unexpected expenses (i.e. car repair or medical bills). As the user you can throw in all your debts and car payments, the list goes on. That app works great, and it is free with manual input.

    Thank you for sharing!

  2. Christopher Neeson

    Both these systems are available through one app Personal capital, well mostly. Personal capital tracks any accounts you have from the stock market like ETrade or even 401k plans. You can link any account anywhere in the United States or Canada. It doesn’t use your accounts to transfer any funds,and is free. It shows your monthly income and expenses as well as cashflow. Your net worth is very easy to see, and by keeping your spare cash in say ally at .98% interest you can then link and track all your spending as well. It automatically deciphers most every transaction correctly. Categorizing items under many different areas such as entertainment, mortgage, loan, credit card, bank transfer, returants, even personal products when you purchase items like soap or deodorant. It’s crazy in depth and 95% accurate in most of its categorization. Also what’s nice about utilizing Ally online banking is that you get to visualize the interest paid out. A dollar a day adds up for extra play. You can also input your own numbers as well for things like private loans as well. Or even a vehicle you might be purchasing from a friend.

    It’s amazing to visualize your true net worth. When investing in real estate you might think your in the positive net worth range due to equity , when really if you watch how personal capital does it you might be negative by a lot. But whoever says debt doesn’t pay is full of it. Watching that negative $200,000 or $3,000,000 net worth get paid down by renters and not utilize working income is very motivating. It lets you keep track of your leverage with ease thus keeping your goals in sight and obtainable.

    We were going to utilize mint, but instead went with personal capital because of its in depth breakdowns along with ease of use.

    I’m sure mint is great but we have chosen Personal Capital and love it!

  3. We love Personal Capital, especially for the net worth component. It does everything that mint does for budgeting and adding in accounts but I like their dashboard more. They pull in zillow’s zestimate for your real estate or you can change it manually if you feel the zestimate is way off. We also love watching the net worth tick up and up.

    • James Free

      Tried Personal Capital after using Mint. Couldn’t make the switch. Personal Capital doesn’t allow manual account and transaction adding, or even something as simple as tracking my tenants’ security deposits as a liability. Way too rigid. All of the pros you mentioned for Personal Capital are in Mint too. The only thing I can see that Personal Capital wins at is stock market analysis.

  4. Keith Robinson

    I have been using Mint since late 2009. Two major highlights for me is watching my Net Worth and seeing the “Trends” with my money either monthly, annually or over the course of the time I’ve been tracking it.

    I have only watched videos of YNAB. It looks like a solid site but I’m already set up with Mint so i wont be making the transition.

  5. I love Mint as I can monitor all my accounts. I can see when money is spent (my wife is not always so happy with the app), and my net worth. It will also up date houses and cars by integrating with zillow for houses and I think KBB for the cars.

    • Drew Sygit

      @KYLE KAPP: Great question! We didn’t research that, but can’t recollect hearing anything in the news. With banks, credit cards and pretty much every business being a hacking target, not sure what can be done – other than being smart about your passwords!

  6. Ramon Purifoy

    I was ready to come on here and rant how you should add YNAB to your list and now I see it already is.

    I’ve been using YNAB for a few years and it is great. While I do use an older version (before they moved to the subscription model) I highly recommend the software in general. It is very flexible, has a great companion smartphone app and is easy to use.

  7. Jeremiah Purdum

    YNAB has been my go to for personal spending tracking and forward looking budgeting for years. It is what has helped me move from fly by the seat of my pants to extra money in the bank. The power comes in the planning aspect of future expenses. If you aren’t planning you are planning to fail (not my thought, but can’t remember who said it). I started using YNAB for a rental unit and it has helped with planning. We have used the budgeting function to put away for cap-ex, repairs, vacancies, etc. and then throw any additional cash flow in to a “to be invested” category for future purchases/investments. I can look at the app at any time and know exactly how much I’m willing to put in to a new endeavor without sacrificing the reserves I’ve set for myself in those other categories. Now I’m starting to teach small business owners (1-2 unit investment property owners, tradesmen, etc) how to use the software to gain control of their finances.

    Biggest point, track and plan, don’t fly by the seat of your pants like I used to. ๐Ÿ™‚

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