Free Budgeting Software and The Best Online Planning Tools
Published 4/29/09 (Modified 12/14/11)
Review Of Free Online Programs To Help You Budget And Track Spending
Unless you are a billionaire like Warren Buffett with an endless supply of cash to draw upon, chances are you're operating under a monthly budget like the rest of us are. In most cases, the best way to keep your finances in order and save money for the long haul is to devise a sensible budget, track your monthly spending habits, and stick to your laid out plans without frequent deviations. The problem with offering suggestions about setting personal spending budgets is that there usually isn't one way that works best for everyone. It's a highly personal and customized affair due to the great differences in how we all each handle tasks and micro manage events in our lives.
I personally use a variety of online based financial tools to help me chart out my monthly net worth reports and personal balance sheets. They help to encourage me to make better financial decisions for myself and to continuously plan for the future. As a strong advocate of using streamlined software based tools that automate and aggregate one's finances, I particularly recommend using programs like Quicken Online and Yodlee. Both budgeting programs are free and offer great convenience - automatically pulling income and expense data from your bank and credit card accounts into a single viewable source without requiring you to manually compile the data by hand.
But at the same time, I understand that there are lots of people out there who prefer to lay out their budgets and plans the old fashioned way. Those who shun online automation and prefer to do their budgeting by hand may want to try out some of the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet based budgeting tools below. Many have found that by having to manually enter transactions into their checkbooks and budget programs every week, that they tend to more careful in monitoring their spending habits. To credit financial guru Dave Ramsey's spoken philosophy involving cash versus credit card spending, it simply hurts more when you have to write out your expenses by hand as opposed to having the spending transactions automatically populated into a computer program like my free annual credit report . For some people, this forces them to think long and harder about certain spending choices during the budget building process.
Test Try Each Free Budget Software Out To Find The Best Personal Fit
Over the years, I've attempted to come up with the best way to budget, but I don't think there is any single one tool or popular method that works for everyone completely. But while I realize that everyone has their own unique way of doing things, I've decided to provide a list below of some of the best free online budgeting tools (in my opinion) to help get you started. All of the software tools listed below are available off the Internet free of cost (or available for a free test trial) to help just about anyone set up a working budget for his or her home, or small business. I recommend tinkering with each one for a few minutes to get some ideas on on how you can make it your own. Many of the account aggregation and online budgeting programs reviewed are customizable to your individual needs and I'm confident you'll find something that works for you.
As the whole notion behind budgeting and smart financial planning is to cut costs and save money, it seems sort of counter-intuitive to go out and spend a lot of money on expensive accounting or budgeting software. While premium software packages like Microsoft Money, Quicken, and QuickBooks are highly recommended accounting and budgeting solutions for those who can afford them, there are plenty of free alternatives available for those with modest budgeting needs. Those with simpler needs can easily establish monthly and yearly budgets for their business or home by turning to free budget software programs online to chart their finances and track their net worth changes. At the very least, utilizing budgeting software tools may help to encourage you to take a more pro-active approach to personal financial planning.
In terms of the ones I've selected as recommended programs, just so you are aware, I'm highly partial to online software tools that are not only great for budgeting purposes, but are also cleanly designed and pretty on the eye in terms of graphics and website layout. Feel free to provide some suggestions and recommendations of your own!
List Of Popular Free Online Budgeting Software Programs and Excel Spreadsheet Templates (Not ranked in any particular order)
1) Quicken Online (Free) - I absolutely love Quicken products as they always seem to nicely meld form with function. Quicken Online in particular is a free, web based budgeting tool run by popular software maker Intuit that helps users chart their net worth progress and spending habits. With Quicken Online, users get access to a one stop source for all of their account aggregation needs. By having their bank account balances and credit card transactions automatically pulled into the Quicken online system, users can chart their financial progression over time and plan out monthly budgets with the aid of Quicken-fied charts and graphs.
2) Mvelopes Personal (Free Trial) - Taking financial guru Dave Ramsey's cash envelope system to heart, the Mvelopes system provides users an online envelope budget management solution. By dividing your income into online envelope spending accounts for expenses like groceries, entertainment, and bills, you can budget for the future by setting money aside in advance and increase the money you save. The Mvelopes Personal tool is not free, but they do offer a free trial offer to give you a chance to kick the tires a bit before driving it off the lot.
3) YNAB - You Need A Budget (Free Trial) - YNAB, aka the You Need A Budget spreadsheet program, is a popular budgeting tool for those struggling to get out of debt and attain financial peace. The downloadable YNAB spreadsheet software offer is not free, but does offer a 60 days free refundable deal if you decide to return after the test trial. Aside from getting a host of powerful budgeting tools, you'll also get additional bonus spreadsheets to help you get acquainted with using a debt snowball, a mortgage analyzer, and even a handy car maintenance scheduler.
4) Yodlee MoneyCenter (Free) - Yodlee offers the best account aggregation technology available in the market today. With its well honed account consolidator service, users are able to automatically sort their account transactions into specific categories to meet their budget planning needs. Currently the company has major partnerships with numerous corporate banks, brokerages, and credit institutions like Fidelity, HSBC, Mint, Scottrade, and Capital One. This one is a must have and must use. Highly recommended.
5) Pear Budget (Free) - Calling itself easier to use than Quicken or Microsoft Money, Pear Budget's a popular and highly touted intuitive budgeting and expense tracking tool (with over 100,000 claimed downloads). Pear Budget's original free program is still available for download in Excel spreadsheet format, but those desiring a more "pretty-fied" version may want to try out the new web-based version, which offers a free introductory 30 day trial period but then costs $3 a month (still very affordable however).
6) SimpleD Budget (Free) - SimpleD is a simple, open source budgeting software designed for personal household financial management. The free downloadable program allows users to plan out personal budgets and track expenses by allocating income into specific spending categories. The application is quite customizable and allows for the use of multiple currencies and language types.
7) AceMoney Lite (Free) - This is the freeware version of a more premium personal finance manager. It's equipped with all of the fancier features of its bigger sibling except multiple accounts management. AceMoney Lite supports all of the basic features needed to help any beginner to personal finance get started with financial budgeting, expense accounting, and investment tracking. AceMoney Lite even offers a special eBay feature to help small businesses manage their eBay auction transactions.
8) Mint (Free) - Mint is a very popular and rapidly growing online money management tool. This minty fresh online service uses well-established Yodlee account consolidation technology to power its account aggregation feature, but pairs it with a variety of free online budgeting tools. If you're looking for a very beautiful online interface with easy to understand charts and graphics for your budget planning needs, Mint should be one of your top picks. However, as the service runs off of affiliate advertising income, be prepared to receive a fair share of product pitches on occasion.
9) Buxfer (Free) - Offering a beautiful online budgeting interface, Buxfer's an online personal finance software you should take a look at. Buxfer offers the usual account aggregation functions and free budgeting tools for users, but even throws in useful features like group shared expense tracking for friends or roommates that share bills. The basic version is free but you'll need to upgrade your membership to get unlimited account access to other more enhanced features. But even then, we're only talking about $1 to $3 a month for the extra budgeting perks.
10) BudgetTracker (Free) - The free limited version of Budget Tracker allows for basic budget tracking, bill payment, and transaction recordation tied to calendar dates. However, more enhanced account data import and export functions and stock chart access does require the user to upgrade to a paid $2.95 per month subscription version. Still, it's a fairly cheap, and feature-rich way to budget.
11) BudgetPulse (Free) - Developed with simplicity in mind, BudgetPulse touts its user friendliness and comprehensiveness in providing budgeting value for its customers. Best of all, the web based budget tracking software is indeed free. The company is also uniquely fanatical about privacy and user data security (big pluses), indicating on its website that for security reasons, the company has no���� intention of ever linking directly to user banking accounts or credit cards.
12) My Spending Plan (Free) - MySpendingPlan's currently a free online budgeting software for users who need help managing their budgets and reaching their financial savings goals. The online site can be used to plan out entire household budgets or just for specific tasks like weddings or home improvement projects. The free tool allows you to create shopping lists, set up bill payment dates, and create savings goals. The site even offers an interesting predictive Auto-Assign Budget technology to help recommend ongoing budgets based on past and present spending habits, matching them with your income limits.
13) Expensr (Free) - Acquired by MoneyStrands not too long ago, Expensr is currently a free online personal finance application, still operating in beta mode it seems. Resembling somewhat of a Quicken and Microsoft Money lite of sorts, it looks to be a fairly basic but useful tool for those with simple finances and budgeting needs. The service is free so worth at least a quick peak.
14) Money Trackin' (Free) - Yes the domain name's missing a letter "g" at the end, but that's to make it sound hip I guess. Money Trackin's a free online webapp that allows you to track all of your expenses and income sources automatically, thus allowing you to have a clear view of your financial situation at all times. Along with the usual household budgeting tools, the free site also offers functions to help track shared expenses and provides accounting tools for small business needs.
15) Buddi (Free) - On its website, the developers of Buddi references the program as a personal finance and budgeting program aimed at those who have little to no financial background - perfect for beginners. Simplicity with basic functionality's the name of the game here. While offering nothing too fancy, it does offer the essentials of budgeting, account tracking, and financial progress report generation. As an open source budgeting software tool, Buddi will run on any machine with Java installed. The software is indeed absolutely free but does welcome donations and contributions from happy customers.
16) GnuCash (Free) - Compatible with Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux, GnuCash is a deceptively complete personal finance tool for ordinary consumers and small businesses alike. This freely available budgeting and accounting tool offers users a very powerful and flexible software-based platform to track bank accounts, stocks, income sources, and expenses. GnuCash is indeed free to use and offers much of the same professional accounting features you would expect from premium paid personal finance packages - such as balanced double entry notations and accurate financial reports. The free budgeting software program's regularly updated and maintained so the program's bound to continuously improve over time.
17) PLCash (Free) - Honestly, I'm not the biggest fan of home made budgeting tools, but PLCash is a very well put together budgeting program. Plus it's also completely free and routinely updated and maintained. PLCash offers the basics of what you would need in any budget tracking tool - the ability to manage multiple accounts, juggle balances, allow for the importing and exporting of financial data to other programs like Quicken, with even extra bonus features like the ability to print checks in a variety of ways. As a Java based program, this free budget software tool is compatible with almost all computer operating systems.
18) Microsoft Office Accounting 2009 (Free Trial) - This free software download is provided courtesy of Microsoft, so we can expect a pretty well put together budgeting software program. This rather extensive small business accounting package may be a bit much for ordinary household consumers looking for a free/cheap budgeting software tool, but the free 60 day trial offer is worth a test run at the very least. Keep in mind though, it's not cheap.
19) Microsoft Office Online (Windows) - Excel Budget Templates (Free) - If you prefer to run your personal budget projections by hand and track your expense estimations and actuals manually, Microsoft provides a wealth of freely available Excel spreadsheets and Word based tables for your budget downloading pleasure. Many of the freely available templates are compatible for running complete household budgets and even for specific budget plans for special events like weddings. Did I mention that they're all free?
20) Microsoft Office Mactopia (Mac) Budget Templates (Free) - For the Apple Mac fans out there, there are also free Excel spreadsheet budget templates for you as well, however your pickings via the Mactopia site are significantly slimmer compared to the wider variety available to Windows users. Thus it's time to ditch the Apple and switch to the PC. Just kidding.
Search Online For More Free Budgeting Software Options To Download
Visit Download.com and SourceForge.net for even more assorted free downloadable home and small business budgeting tools. In particular, I recommend checking out the ones that have garnered the most positive approval from users and editors - usually denoted with exceptionally high review rankings and star ratings.