Making budgeting tools work for you

Blonde woman working on tablet
OCCU  -  02.03.2017

If you struggle with budgeting, you’re not alone. In fact, there might be a biological reason for it.

According to behavioral economist Dr. Barry Schwartz, we may be hardwired to live in the moment and put off thinking about the future until we get there. That could account for why we splurge on a new purchase even when we know we have a credit card payment due.

The good news is that we can overcome our natural programming with budgeting tools that help automate the things we struggle with. “By learning to use tools and life hacks to automatically make choices for our financial well-being, we’re removing one of the biggest barriers toward financial health: ourselves,” says one financial writer.

Ever since 35-year-old Gretel Going started using the free online financial tracking program Mint to monitor her spending, checking the app before work has become a part of her daily routine. “It's a habitual thing,” she says. “I like seeing all the little transactions.”

One in five smartphone owners use their phones for budgeting—and of those who do, 69 percent say budgeting apps have helped change their spending habits. When your budget app sits next to Facebook on your phone, it’s easy pop in each day for a quick peek at your finances.

Still not sure budgeting is for you? Learn your budgeting style and which tool will work best for you. 

Hands-off budgeter: Mint

Want to spend minimal time monitoring your budget? More than 20 million people use Mint, one of the most popular free budgeting apps. Enter basic info for each of your accounts, and Mint will automatically start tracking your money. Within minutes, you get a clear picture of where your income is going. Nerd Wallet named Mint the “gold standard for budgeting apps”—especially for hands-off users.

Hardcore budgeter: You Need a Budget
Ready to get hands-on with your budget? You Need a Budget is a paid budgeting tool that offers robust features for people who want to get serious about limiting their spending. It automatically imports your transactions but lets you categorize them, so you stay aware of your spending. An envelope-style system lets you put hard limits on how much you spend. Plus it encourages you to live on income you’ve already earned rather than basing your budget on future earnings. No more living paycheck-to-paycheck.

Old-school budgeter: Spreadsheet

Not comfortable with sharing your financial data? A good old-fashioned spreadsheet still gets the job done. “The power of good spreadsheet should never be underestimated,” says Forbes contributor Rob Berger. “One big benefit is complete control over the data you track and how you track it. You also avoid giving access to your financial data to an online account aggregator.” You can even download free budget templates in PDF format or for Excel and Google Sheets.

These are just a few of the tools you can use to become a more effective budgeter. No matter how you prefer to manage your money, there’s a budgeting tool for you. If you want to learn more, check out the Budgeting and Saving section on OCCU’s website.