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Contents

The 7 Best Budget Apps for 2020

Almost everyone wants to improve how they save and budget their money — and the tech world has taken notice by releasing a steady stream of financial tools to lend a hand. We sifted through several budget apps and selected the most helpful ones.

Whether you need an app that subscribes you to a specific budgeting method or one that simply lets you know when your bank account is running low, the solution is on this list. Bonus: Many of these tools are free, and all are available on iOS and Android devices.

Manage Your Budget With NerdWallet

NerdWallet has a free app that helps you track your cash, discover new ways to save and even build your credit score. To remain unbiased we chose not to include ourselves in the list below, but we think you’ll love us anyway.

Mint, for saving more and spending less

  • About: This budgeting management tool syncs with user accounts to track spending.
  • Cost: Free.

Mint has been the gold standard for budgeting tools for some time, and the app takes the top spot here for a few reasons: It automatically updates and categorizes transactions, creating a picture of spending in real-time. Users can add their own categories, track bills, split transactions and set budgets that alert them when they’re exceeding their maximum spending threshold. The service also provides free credit scores and credit score monitoring.

YNAB and EveryDollar, for zero-based budgeting

  • About: This robust, hands-on app and software helps users learn to live on last month’s income.
  • Cost: $84 a year or $11.99 a month (after a 34-day free trial), free for students for 12 months.

EveryDollar

  • About: EveryDollar says users can make their first budget in less than 10 minutes.
  • Cost: Free or $129.99 a year for Plus.

YNAB is for the committed user, no doubt. It’s based on the zero-based budgeting system, and users must make a plan for every dollar they earn. It also requires a financial investment of either $84 a year or $11.99 a month, after a 34-day free trial. (Students who provide proof of enrollment get an additional 12 months free.) Those who pay this price can benefit from YNAB’s many features. You can connect bank accounts, set goals, contribute to savings and customize spending categories. You can also access resources, like app user guides, budgeting advice and free workshops.

EveryDollar is a budgeting app that helps users track their spending and plan for purchases. It’s tailored for zero-based budgeting, which is a method where your expenses equal your income. With the free version of the app, users can create a transaction each time they spend money to account for it in their budget. Or, for a more streamlined experience, upgrade to EveryDollar Plus to connect your bank account and expenses. EveryDollar Plus costs, though. It’s billed annually for $129.99.

PocketGuard, for a simplified budgeting snapshot

PocketGuard

  • About: PocketGuard gives users a snapshot of how much they can spend at any given moment.
  • Cost: Free.

PocketGuard boils budgeting down to the only thing many users want to know: how much they have for spending. It crunches the numbers to show how much money is available after accounting for bills, spending and savings goal contributions. All users can view how much money is left “in my pocket” for the day, week or month. Those who want to dial down farther can track certain categories of spending — like groceries, clothing or eating out.

Clarity Money, for all-inclusive budgeting

Clarity Money

  • About: Clarity Money tracks spending and subscriptions.
  • Cost: Free.

Clarity Money is a comprehensive budgeting and saving app. Users can link financial accounts from thousands of institutions, organize expenses, track spending and bucket their spending into different categories. There are other features, too, like subscription canceling and credit score monitoring, which provide a more inclusive financial picture beyond just transactions.

Goodbudget, for shared envelope-budgeting

Goodbudget

  • About: Goodbudget users allocate their money toward specific spending categories.
  • Cost: Free for a basic account; $6 per month or $50 manually for the Plus version.

Goodbudget is based on the envelope system, in which you portion out your monthly income toward specific spending categories. The app allows multiple devices to access the same account, so partners and family members can share a budget. Unlike other apps, Goodbudget doesn’t have you sync bank accounts. You manually add account balances (that you can pull from your bank’s website), as well as cash amounts and debts. With accounts and income entered, you assign money toward spending categories, known as envelopes. The free version allows one account, two devices and limited envelopes. The Plus version, which is $6 per month or $50 annually, offers unlimited envelopes and accounts, up to five devices and other perks.

Personal Capital, for tracking wealth and spending

Personal Capital

  • About: Personal Capital is an investment tool with budgeting features to help users optimize their investment strategy.
  • Cost: Free.

Personal Capital is an investment management service that combines the algorithms used by robo-advisors with access to human financial advisors. While Personal Capital is primarily an investment tool, its free app includes features helpful for budgeters looking to track their spending. You can connect and monitor checking, savings and credit card accounts, as well as IRAs, 401(k)s, mortgages and loans. The app provides a spending snapshot by listing recent transactions by category. You can customize those categories and see the percentage of total monthly spending that category represents. Personal Capital also serves up a net worth tracker and portfolio breakdown.

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More budgeting resources from NerdWallet

If you want to work on your budget but aren’t sure an app is the right way to go, there are other options you can try, such as:

  • Use a free budget worksheet to record your expenses.
  • Explore other online budget templates to help with a quick check of your finances.
  • Estimate how to divide your monthly income using the 50/30/20 rule .
  • Read up on how to make a budget .
Automate your budget with NerdWallet

Track spending by category, compare months and spot ways to save.

Reviews: The best budgeting apps and services in 2020

You may have heard of some of these budgeting and saving apps, but are they worth the memory to download? Find out which is a fit for you.

There are a lot of budgeting and financial apps out there, and it can be hard to decide which money app is the best for you.

Should you choose a free app that helps you set up a basic budget, or pay for an app that offers a few extra features? What about those financial apps that automatically transfer money into a savings account? Are those safe to use, or do you run the risk of not having enough cash at hand when the bills are due?

We’ve put together the details, pros and cons of 10 of the best financial apps out there, to help you decide. No matter what your long-term financial goals are, there’s a financial app that will probably work for you.

Acorns®

How it works: Acorns isn’t your traditional budgeting app. The concept is simple — connect your bank accounts and start rounding up all your purchases to save small, affordable amounts. For example, you could round up your daily $2.51 coffee to $3 and save $0.49 every day, automatically investing that cash in Acorn’s smart portfolios. Acorns also offers a feature called Found Money that partners with popular brands like Expedia™, Nike™ and Lyft. If you shop with Found Money partners via a credit or debit card that is linked to your Acorns account, the partner will deposit a bonus into your Acorns account.

Price: $1, $2 or $3 per month depending on the subscription tier you choose.

Pro: Acorns may appeal to someone who wants to tackle both saving money and investing in the same mobile app, and who likes the idea of saving money without needing to really think about it.

Con: Acorns might not be the best choice for someone who makes very few transactions in a typical month. If you only make ten transactions and the round-up amount averages $0.50 per transaction, you’re paying at least $1 in monthly subscription fees to invest $5. That equates to a 20 percent fee.

Testimonial: “I’ve had this app on my phone for about two and a half years, and right now, my account has grown to about $1500, with nearly $150 in earnings. I love the graph-like feature and a way to see the way the market works. I have other investment accounts for specific financial goals like retirement, but I consider this one a fun rainy day fund.” — Anna Davies, Haven Life contributor

Albert™

How it works: Albert analyzes your income and expense patterns to figure out the optimum amount of money to automatically set aside in savings — but that’s just the start of what this app offers. With Albert, you can automate savings, begin investing, advance cash on your next paycheck and even renegotiate bills. Albert also offers a feature called Genius, which is a text-based, add-on financial planning tool. Got a question about the best student loan repayment option? Text the question to Albert Genius and a real, live financial planner will text you back with answers.

Price: Free for the basic budgeting and saving app; if you want to use the Genius feature, you’ll pay a monthly subscription fee of your choice (Albert recommends paying at least $4).

Pro: Albert is a good match for someone who wants budgeting guidance and who also needs some motivation to save. Albert is also a good option for people who often have financial questions and will like the ease of having personalized answers coming from a financial planner over text.

Con: Albert has so many different features that it might take a while to become familiar with how they all work.

Testimonial: “Excellent for those of us that are budget impaired. It’s really helped me understand my spending and cut out unnecessary costs. And the auto savings/investing option is perfect for me.” — camilasmami, reviewing on Apple™’s App Store

Clarity Money™

How it works: Clarity Money is an AI-powered financial app that uses machine learning to track your spending habits and help you make financial decisions to help bring you closer to your long-term goals. The app includes dynamic visuals to illustrate your budget and account balances, and helps you find ways to save money (such as canceling unwanted subscriptions). You can even set up custom savings goals and transfer money to a high-yield Marcus by Goldman Sachs™ savings account.

Price: Free.

Pro: Clarity Money is a straightforward, visually-driven app for users who want to understand their spending and income at a glance.

Con: Clarity Money used to negotiate lower bill payments on your behalf, but has recently discontinued that service.

Testimonial: “Clarity has allowed me to really take a look at my finances and visually see where I’m overspending. I don’t know why I didn’t use this app sooner.” — Jaminican23, reviewing on Apple’s App Store

Digit™

How it works: Digit automatically transfers small amounts of money from your checking to your savings account based on your available income and spending habits, and assigns that money to one or more designated savings goals. The idea is that you won’t miss money you don’t see, and that automating savings makes it easier to set aside money than manually saving. The app has a no-overdraft guarantee, and the money in your Digit account is available for withdrawal whenever you need it — though you might want to keep it in there until you hit one of your financial goals.

Price: Free for 30 days, then $5/month.

Pro: Digit is best for people who have steady income and who regularly use their debit card or checking account for everyday purposes. People who have fluctuating income might also love it if they use their debit card or checking account regularly.

Con: If your account balance stays steady until you pay all of your bills at the end of each month, you may find that Digit has moved too much into savings because the software thinks you’ve got plenty of money to spare.

Testimonial: “As a freelancer with multiple contracts and invoices, it’s been hard for me to develop a solid savings strategy, and my automated savings is set at a standard amount I set based on the lowest amount of money I bring home a month. I like that Digit can find additional ways for me to save.” — Anna Davies, Haven Life contributor

Goodbudget™

How it works: Goodbudget uses the tried-and-true envelope budgeting system to help you allocate, manage and spend your money. The app also helps you save for big expenses and pay off debt — and you can even sync and share budgets with spouses and partners, so everyone knows exactly how much cash is available to spend.

Price: Free for the basic app; $6/month or $50/year for Goodbudget Plus.

Pro: People have been using the envelope budgeting method successfully for generations; Goodbudget allows you to practice this classic money-management technique from your phone.

Con: The envelope system works really well for people who can stick to it; if you’re the type of person who will make a big purchase even when you don’t have enough money in the designated envelope, this app might not be the best choice for you.

Testimonial: “I’ve been using this for five months now, and this is the best app for a digital version of the old cash envelope system … It’s great because some budget categories get spent completely every month to a zero balance, whereas other categories may accumulate over time, like savings, and this app accounts for these growing “envelope” balances – something that every budgeting app I’ve tried lacked. As long as you, and your spouse, enter EVERY transaction, it’s a dream to use.” — Tricksterinator, reviewing on Apple’s App Store.

Life insurance is more affordable than you think

How it works: Mint is an extraordinarily popular free budgeting app that is frequently named as a go-to across financial articles and blogs. Mint is owned by Intuit, the company behind TurboTax®, and it is designed to present a clear picture of your finances on a single dashboard.

After you link your bank accounts, investment accounts and loan balances, Mint will automatically track and categorize transactions, sending notifications whenever you go over the budget you’ve set for yourself. Mint also sends email or SMS alerts when bills are due, flags suspicious transactions and provides credit score updates.

Price: Free.

Pro: Mint is right for someone who wants a free app that shows your entire financial picture in real-time.

Con: Mint is a fairly basic budgeting app, and doesn’t include the bells, whistles and features that other apps provide.

Testimonial: “My husband and I use Mint, it helps us keep an eye on our expenses. We even caught a fraud recently. Somebody used my account number and routing information to transfer $998 to a PayPal account I didn’t recognize. Once we saw it in Mint I contacted my bank and they confirmed that it was a fraudulent transaction and filed a claim.” — Srishti Gupta, Haven Life employee

Personal Capital®

How it works: Personal Capital feels like a financial planner in your pocket. The service offers two different platforms —- a free personal finance app and a paid wealth management platform. The personal finance app allows you to view your spending and income as well as track your investments and calculate your net worth. You can set spending targets to help you stick to a budget, keep track of upcoming bills and outstanding balances and visually analyze where your money is going.

Price: Free for the basic personal finance app; the wealth management app has fees that start at 0.89% for investment accounts under $1,000,000.

Pro: Personal Capital is great for someone who is looking for a robust all-in-one financial planning platform with a focus on tracking investments.

Con: Since this app is so heavily built around investments, it might not be ideal for everyone.

Testimonial: “Fantastic tool for getting and keeping your financial house in order. Easy to set up, and once you do, you can get both a bird’s eye view and a detailed look at where you stand with regard to cash on hand, investments, loan debt, and credit card debt. This is the most useful general finance app I’ve come across.” — Jen Barnes, reviewing on Trustpilot

Qapital™

How it works: Qapital is a saving and investing app that uses the IFTTT (if this, then that) formula to create goal-based saving rules. Maybe you want to transfer a specific amount of money to savings every Saturday or every payday, for example. Or you can set a “guilty pleasure” rule to transfer money to savings every time you’re out having happy hour drinks with your friends. Qapital offers free FDIC-insured checking and savings accounts, plus a Qapital investment account and a Qapital Visa debit card, to help you save, grow, withdraw and spend your money.

Price: Free for 30 days; then pay $3/month for a Basic membership, $6/month for a Complete membership or $12/month for a Master membership.

Pro: Qapital is great for the person who is serious about setting different savings goals, and who is on board with the idea of opening savings and checking accounts connected to the app.

Con: You could regularly deposit money into your own savings account (by setting up an automatic transfer every two weeks, for example) without joining Qapital and paying the monthly membership fee.

Testimonial: “It’s a really good savings app! Making your own goals are great, and the pause breaks when your account balance is low helps a great deal. I’ve referred several people.” — C. Lap, reviewing on Apple’s App Store

Tip Yourself®

How it works: Tip Yourself is exactly what it sounds like — an app that allows you to give yourself a tip every time you execute a good habit, like going to the gym or avoiding an impulse purchase. The money you tip yourself goes from your checking account into a Tip Jar, and you can add and withdraw money from your Tip Jar as often as you want (though each Tip Yourself transaction takes roughly three business days to process, so your deposits and withdrawals won’t transfer immediately). You can also set savings goals and watch as your Tip Jar slowly fills with cash.

Price: Free for the basic app; $9.99/year for Tip Yourself Pro.

Pro: Tip Yourself is excellent for the person who is self-motivated enough to reward their own good habits.

Con: If you don’t remember to regularly tip yourself, the app won’t save you any money.

Testimonial: “Downloaded this app to try to save money. ‘Out of sight out of mind’ mentality has worked so far for me. The app is nice, but the transfers take some time, so I would suggest doing withdrawals ahead of time if you plan on using the money for a trip.” — Lizalis23, reviewing on Apple’s App Store.

You Need a Budget®

How it works: You Need a Budget, often abbreviated to YNAB, is a comprehensive budgeting software program based around the idea of “giving every dollar a job.” Once you set up a budget that includes not only your day-to-day expenses but also sinking funds for expenses like car repairs, health insurance deductibles and holiday travel, YNAB asks you to allocate every dollar in your bank account to one of those upcoming expenditures. That way, you know exactly how far your money could go, if necessary — and from there, you continue to allocate and adjust your budget as income is earned and spent.

I use YNAB myself, and it has completely changed the way I manage my finances. Knowing that I have already assigned dollars to jobs like “new laptop” and “summer vacation” makes me feel more confident in my everyday spending. As long as I stick to my budget, I’ll be able to afford everything I need — and if my income changes, or a new expense comes up that isn’t in the budget, I can use YNAB to make smart, forward-thinking decisions about how to reallocate my money.

Price: Free for 34 days, then $11.99/month or $84/year.

Pro: You Need a Budget is for someone who wants to take a long-term approach to budgeting and get focused on paying off debt and saving towards goals. It’s also an effective tool for couples looking to merge their finances and budget as a team.

Con: Although YNAB’s core principles are fairly intuitive, the app itself is not. Expect to spend some time exploring YNAB tutorials before setting up your budget; YNAB also offers free online workshops every day, so you can learn the process directly from the YNAB team.

Testimonial: “YNAB’s system forces you to pay attention to the consequences of every single purchase. The learning curve is difficult at first, and it does take an hour or two to get everything set up. But the payoff is literal – managing my money tightly with YNAB lets me spend more comfortably by making sure I have what I need for expenses and savings. This is hands-down the best budgeting system available.” — hellojeffmclean, reviewing on Apple’s App Store

Choosing the best app for your goals

Selecting the best budgeting app really comes down to what you hope to get out of the program. Are you looking for a quick, free overview of your finances and your credit score? Mint might be a good choice. Want to make a spending plan with a significant time horizon? YNAB might be right for you. If you’re simply looking to set aside a little extra cash every month, Acorns and Digit can help you get the job done.

So ask yourself why you want to sign up for a budgeting app, what you hope the app can offer and whether you can afford to pay a monthly subscription fee — and then choose the best app that meets your needs. From there, you can start using the app to work toward achieving your financial goals.

Life insurance needs aren’t one-size-fits-all.

About Nicole Dieker

Nicole Dieker has been a full-time freelance writer since 2020, with a focus on personal finance and habit formation. In addition to Haven Life, her work regularly appears at Lifehacker , Bankrate , CreditCards.com , and Vox . Dieker spent five years as a writer and editor for The Billfold , a personal finance blog where people had honest conversations about money, and is the author of Frugal and the Beast: And Other Financial Fairy Tales .

Our editorial policy

Haven Life is a customer-centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our editorial policy

Our content is created for educational purposes only. Haven Life does not endorse the companies, products, services or strategies discussed here, but we hope they can make your life a little less hard if they are a fit for your situation.

Haven Life is not authorized to give tax, legal or investment advice. This material is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or investment advice. Individuals are encouraged to seed advice from their own tax or legal counsel.

Acorns is a registered trademark of Acorns Grow, Inc.

Expedia is a trademark of Expedia, Inc.

Nike is a trademark of Nike, Inc.

Lyft is a trademark of Lyft, Inc.

Albert is a trademark of Albert Corporation.

Apple is a trademark of Apple, Inc.

Clarity Money is a trademark of Goldman Sachs & Co. LLC.

Marcus: By Goldman Sachs is a trademark of Goldman Sachs & Co. LLC.

Digit is a trademark of Hello Digit, Inc.

Goodbudget is a trademark of Dayspring Technologies Inc.

Mint is a registered trademark of Intuit, Inc.

TurboTax is a registered trademark of Intuit, Inc.

Personal Capital is a registered trademark of Personal Capital Corporation.

‎Qapital is a trademark of Qapital, Inc.

Tip Yourself is a registered trademark of Tip Yourself Co.

YNAB and You Need a Budget. are registered trademarks of Steine LLC.

Our disclosures

Haven Term is a Term Life Insurance Policy (DTC and ICC17DTC in certain states, including NC) issued by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual), Springfield, MA 01111-0001 and offered exclusively through Haven Life Insurance Agency, LLC. In NY, Haven Term is DTC-NY 1017. In CA, Haven Term is DTC-CA 042020. Haven Term Simplified is a Simplified Issue Term Life Insurance Policy (ICC19PCM-SI 0819 in certain states, including NC) issued by the C.M. Life Insurance Company, Enfield, CT 06082. Policy and rider form numbers and features may vary by state and may not be available in all states. Our Agency license number in California is OK71922 and in Arkansas 100139527.

MassMutual is rated by A.M. Best Company as A++ (Superior; Top category of 15). The rating is as of Aril 1, 2020 and is subject to change. MassMutual has received different ratings from other rating agencies.

Haven Life Plus (Plus) is the marketing name for the Plus rider, which is included as part of the Haven Term policy and offers access to additional services and benefits at no cost or at a discount. The rider is not available in every state and is subject to change at any time. Neither Haven Life nor MassMutual are responsible for the provision of the benefits and services made accessible under the Plus Rider, which are provided by third party vendors (partners). For more information about Haven Life Plus, please visit: https://havenlife.com/plus.html

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Level Money App Promises Spend Tracking Without A Budget, But Does It Work?

Modified date: April 29, 2020

Level Money, an app recently acquired by Capital One, aims to track your “spendable” money—i.e. the amount that’s left over after you’ve paid all fixed expenses, and set aside some money for savings. This happens to be how I manage my own finances—only I track my “spendable” in a clunky spreadsheet, and manually enter all transactions. When I heard about Level Money (or just Level), I was excited! Maybe I wouldn’t need to do all that tedious manual budgetingВ anymore. I really wanted to like Level. I want to make that clear. Because, despite its promising premise, LevelВ the app doesn’t live up to Level the concept.

In its mechanics, Level works like a lot of other apps

Level, like Mint or Prosper Daily, has you connect your various accounts—checking, savings, and credit cards—and then downloads your transactions. (While Mint does this pretty much continuously, or whenever you open the app or log into the desktop interface, Level seems to only do this about once a day—a strangely sluggish schedule in the world of real-time updates.) Level also has youВ create a “plan” where you enter your expected monthly income, your bills, and your savings. From that plan, Level determines your “spendable” money—i.e. anything that’s left over. Then it will tell you how much you have to spend for the day, the week, and the month. In theory.

Level can’t handle more complex (or unusual) financial situations

I’ll admit, March wasn’t the best month to start a new expense tracking app. I had more freelance income than normal, as well as tax refunds from two different states, and birthday money from my mother. I closed my Digit account, so the almost $1,000 I had there got dumped back into my checking account. Part of that I used to buy a new iPhone, a long-planned purchase, and with some of my freelance money, I bought a DSLR, a birthday gift to myself. Oh, and I had to replace my windshield, and pay to get my car inspected and registered in Maine. Thus March was an exceptionally unrepresentative month, in terms of both my income and my spending. But much of that extra income was already flagged for certain purchases or for savings (for instance, much of my smallish tax refund would go to pay for using TurboTax to file three returns and for paying my federal tax bill, and half of the Digit money had long been meant for the iPhone), and I didn’t consider any of it part of my “spendable” as I conceived it. Level, however, did, and the numbers it was giving me bore absolutely no resemblance to the amount I knew I had to spend on everyday things. Moreover, I had no idea where it was even getting this number, and there was nowhere I could go within the Level app for it to tell me.

Level allows you (in theory) to exclude income, but the language is confusing

I went to their website and searched for something along the lines “spendable amount makes no sense.” There was a (pretty thin) answer about how sometimes the number is off, but mostly because it hasn’t updated in a while. The suggestion was simply to close the app and reopen it. This did not solve, or really even address, my problem. The rest of the FAQ was also unhelpful, with no answer longer than a few sentences. They had a blog, but it was a content marketing operation, with posts about savings that had multiple links to Capital One 360’s bankingВ products. Not knowing what to do, I went into “credits” in my transactions, and tried to change the “type” of my freelance income, birthday money, and tax refunds. Level has three options, and they are all vague and difficult to differentiate:

What’s the difference, I wondered, between “Normal” and “Income”? Isn’t your regular paycheck pretty “normal”? And it wasn’t exactly like I wanted that money not to “count” since Level would also be tracking my purchases, which would include, for instance, that new iPhone and DSLR, and not counting my freelance income or the Digit dump would make me look like I was spending way more than I had.

In sum, IВ never trusted the numbers Level gave me

Just to see, however, I went in and changed all my non-paycheck income to “don’t count.” The number was still nowhere near what it should be. Was the app counting my high-yield savings account, which was where I stashed my emergency fund, and which was definitely not “spendable”? I disconnected the account. My spendable somehow went up. Having gotten nowhere with their website, I @-ed them on Twitter. A very helpful and nice person DM’d me and said I should probably just up my auto-save for the month. Upping it as high as it could go got me somewhat closer to what I knew to be my “spendable,” but by this time I basically did not trust anything Level was telling me, primarily because there was no way I could check how it got its numbers. It listed a certain amount as what I “began” March with, but I couldn’t find where it was getting that figure. Was it just my checking account balance on March 1? I tapped the amount with my finger, hoping it’d show me its math or explain its sources, but my tap did nothing. You can easily see your transactions for the month, but if you can’t understand where they got their beginning balance, it doesn’t really matter. Frustrated, I eventually figured that I had been fiddling for so long, it was possible there was still income listed as “don’t count” when it should be back to “normal.” (Or to “income”?) I decided to give up and start over. I deleted my account and created a new one with a different email address. Though I was now mildly more familiar with Level’s inner workings, I still had no idea why it was giving me the numbers it was. And while upping my autosave had seemed to work before, my autosave was now capped at a much smaller number, and putting it as high as it could go didn’t get close to where I needed my spendable to be.

If an app requires constant fiddling, it’s not that helpful

I returned to Level once April rolled around, and wondered if maybe the whole problem had been my wackadoo finances for the month of March. At first, my hunch was correct: The numbers for April looked right. The “spendable” was around what I knew to be my available money. Huzzah! Alas, my joy was short-lived. I had bought my iPhone on March 31 st (the iPhone SE), but the charge didn’t show up until April, so that immediately threw my amount for the month off. And the money meant to pay for the iPhone had been earned (or transferred) in March, so there was nothing extra in my April income to set off this additional charge. (This is a good time to mention how arbitrary it is that we organize our financial lives into months, especially when most of us are paid on a biweekly basis. A mere day or two and suddenly the means to pay for something is completely severed from the payment itself.) Two days later, my “spendable” looked even worse, as I had charged the phone to a credit card, and then immediately paid it off. While most apps, like Mint, usually count a credit card payment as a neutral transaction (your checking account balance goes down, but your outstanding debt goes down by an equal amount, so your net worth is unchanged), Level didn’t seem to, or didn’t in this case. My spendable went down by another $500, and then by another $500 a little later, as the credit card payment was somehow downloaded twice. Strangely, other credit card payments are listed under “credits” which meant that paying off those balances bumped my “spendable” up by the same amount, even though my real spendable had stayed exactly the same. I thought, perhaps, this was a temporary glitch, and, given enough time, Level would realize the error, eliminate the duplicates, and pair the charge with the payment. I went in to check a couple of days later, and I got a pop up telling me there was a server error, and that Level was very sorry. It has given me that pop up error every time I’ve opened it since. I could, of course, go in manually and delete the duplicate payment, and modify the date for the original iPhone purchase. (Or I could in theory, before the server snafu.) But isn’t the point of an app that it does these things for you?

Level’s bright spot: Category tracking

While I could never get Level’s primary feature to work, I did really love one of their secondary ones: the ability to track spending by categories. Now, of course, services like Mint are happy to categorize your transactions and spit out a pie chart at the end of the month showing you how you spend your money. But Level’s quite ingenious approach is to let you build your own categories from the bottom up, by going through your existing vendors and flagging them as you’d like. I could scroll through old transactions, check all the coffee shops I frequent, and create a category for “Coffee shops.” Unlike with Mint, which tries its best but often goes seriously astray with its category guesses, this allowed me to make sure tracking caught all the appropriate transactions, and nothing else. I could go in and flag all my monthly bills (the “nut,” as it’s sometimes called) and easily see how many of my fixed expenses had been processed. I set up trackers for groceries, gas, and restaurants. In a glance, I could get a quick sense of my overall spending, as well as a sense of how that spending was distributed. Category tracking actually took a rather tedious aspect of my spreadsheet system—manually adding up category totals—and made it simple, customizable, and easy to use. Unlike the baffling math behind my mysterious “spendable” amount, it’s a nice, if not mind-blowing, innovation.

Summary

The ideas behind the Level app are sound, but until these considerable kinks are worked out, I can’t see myself using it for anything other than basic tracking. That tracking is nice, but it’s not enough to tempt me away from the more overwhelming, somewhat outdated, but ultimatelyВ reliable Mint.

Read more:

  • TheВ Best Apps For Budgeting And Tracking Your Spending
  • No More Budgets! How To Live Within Your MeansВ Without Counting Every Penny

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You can trust the integrity of our balanced, independent financial advice. We may, however, receive compensation from the issuers of some products mentioned in this article. Opinions are the author’s alone, and this content has not been provided by, reviewed, approved or endorsed by any advertiser.

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