Gone are the days of waiting for a printed bank account statement to drop through your letterbox, or making a visit to your local branch to move some money between accounts. We now have more control of our money than ever before. But that convenience could, for some, mean disorganisation, reckless spending, borrowing and debt.
Applying poor money management techniques to your personal accounts is one thing, but doing the same to your small business funds could be disastrous. And while we can’t help you to be sensible – that’s on you – we have selected ten tools which can make a difference to the way you think and act with your capital.
Take your pick of these packages and use them to stay on top of your money. A good overview will help you control your spending, grow your balance, and ensure you’ve always got enough in reserve to keep the taxman happy.
If you’re looking to keep your business books with a bit more detail, check out our guide to the best accounts and invoicing software of 2016.
Price: $104.99 (£80)
Available for Windows, OS X
Probably the biggest name in personal accounting, Quicken’s desktop tool is well-aged, feature-packed and – whisper it – starting to feel a bit out of date. So much so that parent company Intuit recently sold the rights to the software to a private equity firm in order to concentrate on its more modern properties like Mint.com and TurboTax.
The future, then, is not entirely clear. Will Quicken’s security systems, which partially rely on logging in with an Intuit account, need to be changed? Will it still be upgraded on a yearly schedule, and will Quicken’s new owner still provide three years of technical support and bank data compatibility with each release? We just don’t know.
It’s a shame we’re now having to treat Quicken with caution. The Premier edition is perfect for managing personal finances, business accounts and investments in one place provided you’re in the US – it’s not so hot for UK users, being geared more towards American finance options.
It neatly links transactions between your accounts – so transferring from savings into a current account is one entry, with a ‘from’ and a ‘to’ rather than a pair – and provides various budgeting and prediction tools to help you stay on track.
Price: Free, fee-based
Available for iOS, Android, online
Personal Capital’s primary function is to track your investments, assets and savings, rather than specifically looking after your current accounts. Are your assets working for you? Are you on course for a comfortable retirement? What can you do to be better off? Plug everything in and you’ll be able to see the big picture of your finances.
Personal Capital offers specific advice and statistics based on your goals and your current standing, but access to human financial advisors is where the company makes its money. While anyone is welcome to use its website, it will only accept you as a customer if you have at least $25,000 (£18,900) in liquid assets, and there’s an annual fee (a percentage between 0.89% and 0.49%) to pay if you want your assets managed – this is lower than most financial advice services.
UK customers will probably want to steer clear – Personal Capital is geared towards US investments like IRAs and the 401k – but for those State-side this could be the perfect way to grow your wealth.
Price: Free/$3.99/$4.99 (£3/£3.80) per month
An online service that’s not slathered in effects and colours, Buxfer does a good job of presenting your finances in a clean, professional manner. It cutely brags about the fact that it’s currently helping its users manage over $6 billion (around £4.5 billion, AU$8 billion) in funds, so it’s got a solid user base behind it.
You don’t have to give Buxfer your exact banking details if you’re uncomfortable doing so – you can opt for offline manual syncing with your bank account instead – but if you do trust it, there’s a layer of high-level encryption to protect your data and the company is regularly audited.
We like its budgeting tools best of all – the visual reporting is very strong, and the fact that it doesn’t force you into predefined categories and instead allows you to tag expenditures however you see fit means Buxfer should fit nicely into most people’s banking lives. The free version gets you five budgets and accounts, while the Plus version ($3.99 per month – that’s around £3) makes that unlimited, and the Pro version ($4.99 per month – around £3.80) deals with online payments and more besides.
You Need A Budget
Price: $50 (£38) per year
Available for Android, iOS, online
Just in case you need to be told explicitly what to do, along comes You Need A Budget (YNAB) because, hey, if you don’t want to spend every single penny you have and more, you absolutely do need one. And perhaps you have more money than you thought?
YNAB’s primary mission, as you might expect, is to help you curb overspending and avoid living from paycheck to paycheck. Stick to the program, temper your spending appropriately, and eventually YNAB will see you spending last month’s money rather than that which you’ve just earned.
It’s quick to install, supports the majority of transaction information downloadable from banks, and appropriately configures itself for personal or small business use by changing its monetary categories depending on your needs.
If you get off track, YNAB – which is reasonably forgiving and understanding for a bit of software – will tell you what you need to do to get back to where you need to be. You’ll have to make sacrifices, but if it’s guidance you need, this sets itself apart from the likes of Quicken.
Price: Free/$9.95 (£7.50) per month
Available for Android, iOS
There are various philosophies of budgeting. One time-honoured technique is the envelope budgeting system: splitting your funds, as they arrive, into various envelopes marked for specific purposes, never dipping into an envelope to spend cash on anything other than its designated use. You don’t need savings to start budgeting this way, just willpower and, er, envelopes.
Without a whole host of bank accounts you’re not going to be able to apply this technique effectively to digital money, but using Mvelopes is a good way to at least put a representation of your sectioned-off income in front of you. Designate an envelope for working capital or savings and you can grow your personal wealth or business funds surprisingly quickly. Anything you don’t spend in an envelope stays there, giving you more to play with in your next pay cycle.
Mvelopes’ free version will probably be adequate for most people, offering management of up to four accounts and 25 spending envelopes, but unlimited accounts and envelopes are available for a $9.95 (£7.50) monthly fee. It’s intuitive to use, and there are mobile apps for Android and iOS, essential for taking a peek inside your envelopes when it comes time to pull any money out of them…
Price: £35 ($46)
Available for Windows
UK readers will be pleased to know that unlike most accounting software, this is produced by a British company – not that other apps are terrified of good old Pound Sterling or anything, but it’s slightly easier to put your financial trust in home-grown software, and its support for data from UK banks is very strong.
Banktree is more than happy to support worldwide currencies, and in fact does a solid job if you’re working simultaneously with more than one, offering balances in multiple currencies rather than rounding them off into a single total. It’s also good for keeping track of everything, allowing you to scan receipts with its mobile app and import them later on.
It’s not the prettiest software around, and it’s slightly more awkward to use than many of its more refined cousins, although Banktree does produce very neat reports which you can break down by time, or by payee. Experiment with the free trial before you choose to invest in this one.
Available for iOS, Android
This iOS/Android app doesn’t try to reinvent the banking world or offer anything truly ground-breaking, but it is perhaps one of the most useful money management tools out there. Hook up every one of your UK bank and credit card accounts and you’ll be able to see each of your balances in a single place with a single login. That in itself is enough for us to recommend it.
But there’s more – Money Dashboard will track your spending, offering you an overall pie chart depicting your spending on loans, consumables, transport and the like. There’s an at-a-glance overall balance, showing exactly how much money you have available across all of your accounts, and you can compare this to the previous month’s figure to show how well you’ve been managing your funds. That’s a great motivator.
It’s super-safe, too: Money Dashboard locks down your login with an equivalent level of security to that of your bank, and it’s completely read-only – your money isn’t going anywhere.
Price: $49.99 (£38)
Available for OS X, Windows, Linux
Made primarily for OS X (but also out on Windows and Linux), MoneyDance is a desktop money management package with a very neat single-window interface. Load it up and you’ll get an instant view of your finances, upcoming bills, recent expenses and more. Click an item in the left hand sidebar and the main content changes to reflect it.
Its reporting features are quite strong if not spectacular to look at, and one of MoneyDance’s most useful sections is its account register. If you’re old-school and once managed a cheque book, this operates on a very similar principle. There’s also an iOS app for logging transactions on the go, which later syncs with the software on your desktop.
Unfortunately for UK users, MoneyDance doesn’t support the connection protocols used by UK banks, so you’ll need to download your transaction history manually to keep on top of it and revert to your bank’s own app to move money around. US users, however, are well covered.
Available for iOS, Android
The stuffiness of money management can negatively affect some. We’ve certainly been in the position of not wanting to even look at a spreadsheet full of depressing numbers. Coinkeeper boils it all down to a series of circular pots – drag coins from your current account, and you can allocate them to all of your spending needs. We wouldn’t exactly say it makes money management fun, but it’s cute at least.
Coinkeeper is free to download and try, although you’ll need to shell out for the $1.99 (£1.50) per month subscription option to really make the most of it and budget effectively. It’s brilliant for keeping track of your expenses, and don’t be fooled by its frivolous looks – you’ll be able to see at a glance where your money is going, and export your data in a CSV file to use in virtually any other finance app or spreadsheet.
Provided by This Is Money – an offshoot of the Daily Mail – PowerPortfolio is both a good way to keep track of the stocks and shares you own, and a great way to see if you’d make it as a market investor without risking any capital. Updated every few minutes, it contains info on all London-listed shares and UK-based funds, and even lets you track money put into alternative assets like wine and art.
When your individual investments are set up, be they real or virtual, you’ll be able to see what top brokers are saying about the stocks you’ve picked, get an overview of exactly where your money is allocated, and track the performance of your stocks over time. Basically everything you’d need for a play portfolio, but if you’re funnelling a lot of cash into shares you might be better off employing the services of a broker or investment manager and using this tool only for at-a-glance monitoring.