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Best budget app reviews – Find an expense tracker for better money management

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If returning to good old fashioned pen and paper feels too strange for you in this age of mobile phones, budget apps can be a great way to help you get in control of your finances.

As of the time of this article, September 2019, the only major NZ bank to have a dedicated budget app is Westpac, with their CashNav app (reviewed below). The other large banks, BNZ, ANZ, ASB, Kiwibank, TSB Bank didn’t have dedicated budgeting apps.

While ASB doesn’t have a dedicated budget app, it has taken steps to incorporate a spending tracker feature (called ‘Track My Spending’) into its internet banking tool. This allows users to set up spending allowance categories, to keep an eye on each category, like a kind of spending diary. ASB also encourages customers to code their transactions for enhanced reporting and analysis.

It’s fair to say that other big banks will similarly be continuing to enhance their online banking platforms with budgeting and spend tracking features.

It is predominantly non-bank players who provide dedicated spending tracking apps and budgeting apps, with some of them integrating with bank transaction feeds. Also, many have developed apps for the iPhone (iOS-based Apple devices, download through App Store) and Android devices (download through Google Play), so if you’re looking for the best free budget app out there (or even prepared to pay for a premium service), we’ve put together a review of some of the best budget apps available today.

PocketSmith – Personal Finance App

PocketSmith is New Zealand-made budgeting software and offers a companion app for both iOS Apple devices (download at the App Store) and Android (download at Google Play).

Pocketsmith has been developed to give a clear picture of your present spending, helping you understand where money is going out to, in order to get control of your spending. You can break down your home budget into the most useful time-spans for you: monthly, weekly, daily, etc.

It boasts powerful search capabilities to crawl your spending history to help you to easily find old transactions. Pocketsmith also offers a budget tracker calendar to give projections of your future financial health (taking into account the ‘what-ifs’, e.g. what if you spent less on takeaways). The budget calendar can also be used as an expense tracker, to plan and schedule upcoming bill payments.

Pocketsmith offers reporting consolidation (the dashboard gives summaries of all activity in one place) – You can connect to your bank and get up-to-date account statuses feeding in with their Live Bank Feeds feature. As transactions occur they can be categorised, with notes made against them, to help for when you analyse your spending.

Major NZ banks supported by the Live Bank Feeds feature are ANZ, Westpac, ASB, Kiwibank, BNZ, TSB Bank, Sovereign, NZHL, along with 12 other banks in New Zealand.

As of 1 Sept 2019 there is 3 pricing plans available, including a free plan for the casual budgeter.

– Basic (Free). This includes manual imports, 12 budgets, 2 accounts, 6 months’ projection.

– Premium ($9.95 per month with annual payment discount). This includes automatic bank feeds, automatic and manual transaction importing, automatic categorisation, unlimited budgets, 10 accounts, 10 years’ projection.

– Super ($19.95 per month with annual payment discount). This includes all the premium features, plus unlimited accounts, and 30 years’ projection.



Westpac’s CashNav App

Westpac offers a money management app called CashNav (with the only catch being you have to be a Westpac customer). It’s designed to help users as a spending tracker, to get better control over their finances.

CashNav is easy to install and set up, connecting to your everyday and credit card accounts after you login using your regular online banking details.

Cashnav’s most powerful feature is the comparison of your current month’s spend, to your typical monthly spend (or previous months), to give you an idea about how you are tracking and when to rein in eftpos card and pull back or relax a bit.

Another feature is the push notifications through to your mobile phone at the moment of purchase, with an automatic categorisation of transactions into typical groups such as groceries, transport, health, shopping, travel and eating out.

This is a good app that won’t overwhelm you technically and make you feel like you need to be an accountant to understand it.



YNAB – Personal Budgeting Software

YNAB is a provider that puts as much stock in its methods and support as its software. There is a lot to be said for this, since leaving users to flounder with unfamiliar software is a recipe for high-drop off rates. YNAB is well-known for using the envelope system of budgeting. This is where incoming money gets categorised into envelopes that create a simple and effective overall view and make overspending easy to identify on a category basis. They follow the ‘Four Rule’ budgeting method, which is as follows:

  1. Give Every Dollar a Job – Making a concrete plan that encompasses the totality of your incomings
  2. Embrace your True Expenses – Breaking down and planning ahead for large, irregular costs.
  3. Roll with the punches – Staying flexible and making adjustments for overspending in one category.
  4. Age your money – Achieving breathing space by having money in your account for longer than a month (i.e., getting out of the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle).

One of YNAB’s prominent features is real-time info. This means that, in a multiple-user scenario such as with couples, one user will see figures that have been immediately updated if another user made a purchase. They also boast about the presentation of their reporting (graphs and charts are describe as ‘eye candy’), their superior support, and high-level encryption and security.

The main downside to YNAB for New Zealand users (especially when compared to PocketSmith) is that bank transactions need to be manually imported (this had to be done through the website rather than the app at time of writing). This won’t be a problem for those committed to the app and diligently sticking to a home budget, but might be a turn off for others.



Sorted Budgeting Tool

Sorted.org.nz offers a simple but effective free budgeting tool. It’s not a mobile app, but a web-based interface. To be able to save your budget to return to later, make sure you sign up to sorted before you begin (we lost our budget work when we signed up after working on the budget for a while).

It’s features are an easy-to-understand pie chart of your monthly spend that automatically updates as you add and change expenses. You can add master categories such as everyday, living, regular, irregular, savings, personal, and also add subcategories under these. For example, everyday expenses subcategories might include fuel, groceries, dining out, entertainment, and takeaways.

When you enter spending details, you can choose to enter each amount as weekly, fortnightly, 4 weekly, monthly, or yearly (you can use different options for each entered amount), and the system will do all the calculations towards factoring it into the overall budget.

The Sorted budget tool takes a little while to set up and enter all the details, but it pays off to pore over your banking transactions so as not to miss anything, to get the most complete and accurate idea of your actual outgoings.



Pocketbook – Free Personal Finance tool

Pocketbook provides an app that has automatic categorisation of spending, and allows the setting up of budgets for each of these categories to be able to view balances and transactions. Pocketbook also features smart notifications when fees are changed to your accounts (in order to minimise these and eliminate late payment penalty fees).

Pocketbook is an Australian company, and has integration with all of the major Australian banks. For those in other countries, manual import of bank data is the way to use this service.



Toshl Finance app. – Centralised card and cash tracking

Toshl offers a free basic plan. It features goal-setting capabilities (for example, create an emergency fund) and budget goals. It has automatic and manual spend tracking, and claims to connect with 13062 banks around the world, including 20 financial institutions in New Zealand.



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