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Free Online Budgeting & Planning Software Tools

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With the unceremonious shuttering of Microsoft Money a few months ago, a lot of former Microsoft Money customers are looking for alternatives. If you were using Microsoft Money Essentials, Plus Deluxe, Plus Premium, or Plus Home & Business, your software will still work but support will be gone.

Fortunately, there are a lot of alternatives in the online budgeting tool chest. After a recent Personal Finance Hour show all about budgeting, I took a look at several software tools. This post will cover all of them briefly to help you decide which might be right for you (and they are not ranked in any predefined order).

You will notice the absence of larger money management tools like Mint, Quicken Online, and a few others. The reason is because I wanted to focus just on tools that handled budgeting. If you need help budgeting, you don’t want to have to deal with a whole bunch of other bells and whistles distracting you.

Take Advantage of Free Budgeting Software Trials

I list several budgeting and planning software tools below and each one has a trial (or it has a free version), I recommend that you take advantage of the trial to see if the budgeting package is right for you. Each one also operates off a slightly different budgeting methodology. Some work off envelope budgeting, others rely in forecasting and planning, while others are a simple replication of what Excel brings, plus a few pretty graphs and reports along the way. If you have a budgeting method, you’ll want a tool that mimics it. If you don’t, find one that you believe you can stick with and use for the long haul.

Microsoft Excel: Old Reliable

No discussion of budgeting tools, online or offline, can be completely with a tip of the hat to the old trusty spreadsheet. When I track our monthly financial “state of the household,” I track it in Excel (using Quicken to pull the data for my accounts) because it’s quick, it’s secure, and it’s easy once I had it all setup. The weakness of Excel is that you don’t get any statistical or analytical tools right out of the gate. You have to set it up by hand, which can be both educational and frustrating. That being said, once you have it all set up, there may be little motivation for you to switch to an online or desktop budgeting tool, free or otherwise.

You Need A Budget: Desktop Budgeting Tool

YNAB LogoYou Need A Budget, also known as YNAB, is a desktop budgeting software application that offers both a budgeting methodology and a tracking and planning tool. YNAB works off a four rule system that moves you away from the paycheck-to-paycheck mentality and onto the right path, proactively planning your finances. The tool is a desktop application so you don’t have to worry about transmitting your financial data and it offers a rich set of reporting charts that can help you see your spending.

Mvelopes: Online Envelope Budgeting

MvelopesMvelopes is the envelope budgeting system packaged up into an online tool. Envelope budgeting is the idea that you set up your spending categories, put your budgeted amount into an envelope representing that category, and only spend what you have inside. Mvelopes isn’t free but there is a trial offer so you can test it out.

  • Application Type: Online
  • Cost: $10.80/month (annual subscription)
  • Trial Period: 14 days

PearBudget: Really Simple Budgeting

PearBudget LogoPearBudget is a “really simple budgeting” tool that does exactly that. It’s a very simple online budgeting tool that helps you plan and track your spending on a monthly and yearly basis. I think it’s a great tool for someone just starting to budget who doesn’t want a lot of up front work. It’s an online tool so your data is being saved elsewhere with 128-bit encryption (but it contains little sensitive information).

  • Application Type: Online
  • Cost: $3/month
  • Trial Period: 30 days
  • Review: PearBudget Review

PocketSmith: Budget Forecasting & Planning

PocketSmith LogoPocketSmith is a budget forecasting tool that uses calendars to help you plan and project your finances. Rather than working off a month by month system, though it supports that approach, PocketSmith helps you plan out your finances across a whole year. Calendars are used to track your spending and project how you are performing against your goals.

  • Application Type: Online
  • Cost: FREE to $12/month
  • Trial Period: None
  • Review: PocketSmith Review

BudgetPulse: Free Online Budgeting

BudgetPulse is a free online budgeting application that is simple to use and secure. In addition to the standard tracking features you expect from any tool, free or otherwise, there is a rich set of reports you can use to get a better handle on your finances.

  • Application Type: Online
  • Cost: FREE
  • Trial Period: None

Have I missed a tool that brings something new to the table? I wanted to avoid listing a million tools all doing the same thing, so I chose ones that offered something different to the conversation. There’s a mix of online and desktop tools, some that charge a fee and others that are free, hopefully I captured a nice mix of what’s available. If there is one that you absolutely love, please share it in the comments.

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37 Responses to “Free Online Budgeting & Planning Software Tools”

  1. yodie says:

    Thank you for the much needed information….I track my budget on paper. I need to update my system to an online service. So, I can allow the computer system to do the calulations for me. (to help avoid human error) lol.
    The info. is very informative. Thanks!

  2. matk54 says:

    I just recently signed up for PearBudget and think its great. It is my first “budget” program and good for a first timer. I wanted to start simple and then move onto a more encompassing program (maybe YNAB) and PearBudget has worked wonderfully.

  3. lostAnnfound says:

    Pear Budget also has the spreadsheet that they started with that is used as a desktop application (for those that would rather not use an online tool).

  4. Cole Brodine says:

    I believe that Mint has some budgeting capabilities if you like it.

    I also think I should mention Open Office Spreadsheet. It is a free open source alternative spreadsheet program to Microsoft Office. It handles every spreadsheet need that I have just fine, and it can open and save .xls files. A pretty good way to save a couple of hundred bucks straight out of the gate.

  5. Soccer9040 says:

    I’ve been a longtime Quicken user. With Mint being bought by Quicken you can expect the Quicken online and Mint functions to be merged in the future. I think this might be the right time for me to try the online version.

    I’m just worried I will be inundated by advertisements for mortgages, insurance, etc.

    For people who use Mint, does it get annoying after awhile or is it worth it?

    I still have to have Quicken for a small business I run, so the cost of Quicken is not an issue for me in making this decision.

    • mike says:

      the ADs don’t get annoying in Mint.com you only see them when you go to the Ways to Save Tab which isn’t something I use anyway. I mainly use it for the alerts and budgeting capabilities and I’m still waiting for them to iron out the details for the Investment feature

    • mikestreb says:

      I clicked on your link and see you do Cornhole stuff. I just played last week for the first time and loved it (although I am terrible). Your website says you are busy. When do you expect to start taking orders again? I am going to be building some boards in the next few weeks and need a good set of bags to go with.

      • Soccer9040 says:

        We just moved recently and we took a month off of making cornhole bags. The website had a place holder on it, but Jim actually told me yesterday there was an error. I had my web team take a look and it was fixed sometime yesterday. Any day now we will have it back on and accepting orders. Thanks for checking it out.

  6. zapeta says:

    I used Excel for a long time, but I switched a couple weeks ago to YNAB and I really like YNAB. I feel like I’m in better control with YNAB and I can better visualize where my money is going. One of the things I really like is that YNAB’s philosophy is to get you to stop living paycheck to paycheck and so using their system has helped me save extra money.

    I think that if you’re starting out it doesn’t matter what you use to budget, just pick something and get started. If you don’t like it you can always switch later.

  7. mikestreb says:

    I used mint, but it just became too time consuming to keep up with. Now that Quicken bought them out, I assume they will make mint more quicken-like (which in my opinion is not good). I will end up dropping mint and going through these to see which one I like best.

    • Soccer9040 says:

      But what you don’t know is that the Mint founder was named President of Intuit’s online division. So it looked like Mint will be calling the shots as to the direction they go not the other way around like you said.

      • mikestreb says:

        Yea but the brass at intuit will make him push all of their ads and ‘accept credit cards with Quicken’. What the hell would I need to accept a credit card for?

        • Soccer9040 says:

          Even the desktop version of quicken has little suggestions (ads) all over the place. I guess I expect ads on an online platform, but not in my software.

        • Soccer9040 says:

          Plenty of people need to accept credit cards. I even know a few people who can do it right from their iPhone. I personally just use PayPal if I need to. I can’t imagine why I would need to accept a CC from my phone.

          • Soccer9040 says:

            At Jim – I don’t have it on my work computer so I can’t speak to where is it, but I knows its just peppered in on the various screens. I use 2007 Home & business. I guess I’m due for an upgrade.

          • mikestreb says:

            That is cool. I should get an iPhone.

            Doesn’t paypal kill you on the rates though?

  8. Craig says:

    Thank you for including BudgetPulse in your list of excellent budgeting tools. We have just released a new site that includes a savings goals/online fundraising function where users can raise money via PayPal, Amazon, or pledged money to help them reach their goals. If anyone has any questions, please feel free to contact me.

    Craig Kessler
    Marketing Director at BudgetPulse
    craig@budgetpulse.com

  9. fishboyridesagain says:

    Excel for Free does leave out a few whistles and bells, but you’re not completely alone. I have found multiple templates for both budgeting and tracking overall monthly expenditures. I haven’t looked for a day to day template (did that on my own), but I wouldn’t be surprised if those were out there too. The work isn’t completely done, but there is tutorial help if you know what kinds of information you’d like to produce.

    With a quick Google search this morning I found an Excel based program at http://www.simpleplanning.net/Financial%20Calculators/BudgetPlanner.html
    There is a one time fee of $9.95 to buy the ¿templates?, but you may get some of those pretty graphs and charts that you were missing if you were just using Excel on your own. ¿Has anyone used this product before? I may check out their free demo.

  10. Bill says:

    I’ve always used excel but I’m transitioning to Google doc’s. It’s free and accessible from anywhere and there are a ton of free templates. You can import and export .xls spread sheets.

  11. jsbrendog says:

    mint.com is great and has only bene getting better since I signed up. As someone stated earlier quicken online is being closed and they’re going with the mint interface, whihc is good.

    the main issue with mint is that their ING support is spotty and rarely is able to connect. other than that i highly recommend it. oh yeah, and it is free

  12. eric says:

    I really liked YNAB when I did the trial.

  13. Kevin says:

    Mint.com is excellent. Been using it for the past year or so and it’s really helped get everything under control and viewable in a single place.

  14. stuarsj says:

    I have been using excel, but might try some of these free trials. Thanks!

  15. Chris says:

    Mint is great as long as your bank participates in allowing the third party connection. Many community banks do not do this.

  16. vtomar says:

    ingDirect does not participate with mint. So it’s a big hassle to budget using mint for me!

    • Jill says:

      They do now! They used to not be supported, but go and add them again or update your login credentials and you will see it is now supported.

  17. Jill says:

    I personally find that budgeting and tracking spending by hand/in Excel is the best way – having to enter in the data myself makes me very aware of how I am spending my money, and gives me instant feedback.

    • Soccer9040 says:

      How do you keep track of your daily spending? Do you throw your receipts in your pocket and sit down at the end of the day to tally it all up?

      That sounds like alot of work to me.

      I use my credit card for EVERYTHING. Every day or so I fire up quicken sit back and wait for it do download my recent transactions and then I categorize each item so I know how I’m spending $$$. It can then take that and create all sorts of great reports to analyze your spending?

      I’m all about the instant feedback, but without the significant effort to do all the manual data entry and remembering receipts.

      What if you loose a receipt? Do you reconcile this to your bank statement each month?

      • Jill says:

        I also use my credit card for everything and sit down every day or two to record transactions – I pull up the online statement and then record the amounts in the proper categories in my spreadsheet.

        • Soccer9040 says:

          Whatever works best for you. Everyone has their own way of doing it. What really matters is that you are actually doing something about it.

          So many people have NO CLUE how much they spend.

  18. I tried Mint, but honestly giving my password scared me too much. I definitely need to try something new now though.

  19. Craig says:

    @centsandthecity BudgetPulse.com is free and is a manual system where we do not sync with personal bank or credit card information. Feel free to email me directly if you have any questions I could ease your concerns with. craig@budgetpulse.com

  20. James says:

    Anyone have a suggestion for Investment Portfolio web sites? I really liked MSN Money web site’s portfolio software (which is very similar to MS Money box version), it was very comprehensive and included all the features that I would want.

    However, they recently updated the web version and it seems more of a downgrade than an upgrade. The look and feel is not as clean as the older version.

    Thanks for any tips!

  21. jdrock says:

    Mint has been my first budgeting tool and its working great for me. Its especially helped me cut my spending on eating out/drinks which I was wasting way too much money on. Its also helpful in giving reminders for credit card bills and when you go over budget. I can’t see myself switching to anything else in the near future.

  22. Ken says:

    I use an older form of MS Money and it works for me. I might try one you recommend just to compare features.

  23. aua868s says:

    mint has been working out great for me.


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