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Free Online Budgeting & Planning Software Tools

With the unceremonious shuttering of Microsoft Money [3] 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

You Need A Budget [4], 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

Mvelopes 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.

PearBudget: Really Simple Budgeting

PearBudget [7] 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).

PocketSmith: Budget Forecasting & Planning

PocketSmith [9] 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.

BudgetPulse: Free Online Budgeting

BudgetPulse [11] 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.

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.