The best app for tracking your daily spending

This story is part 2 of a series that started with Do you know where your money goes? I do, now.

After years of languishing on Mint, I decided this year that it was time to switch apps for tracking my day-to-day spending. I asked for recommendations on Facebook, and came up with five front-runners. Here are the results.

Winner: Empower

This one screenshot is everything I needed. Empower includes a trend-line graph where you can enter a total amount of money you want to spend for the month. Then, you can see in (nearly) real-time how your actual spending is trending against that total goal for the month. Win! I don’t actually use any other Empower features, but this one graph has entirely changed my spending habits.

Here’s a quick example budget that shows the power of Empower:

In this example budget, you’d enter 2190 as your Spend Limit in the empower graph shown above, and then you’d want to spend no more than an average of $71 a day to stay below the line.

Power-user tips: Here are a couple of things that I had to work through:

  • In my opinion, Empower tries to be too smart by adding recurring expenses on top of the monthly spending goal you set. For instance, if you set a goal for $1500 in the month, but have recurring expenses on the 1st, 10th, and 30th that total $500, then Empower will set your total spending goal to $2000, and there will be lumps in the trend line on those dates (you can see that the line in the above screenshot is not linear). I found this less clear, so instead excluded all of my recurring expenses (they are fixed anyway) which gave me a linear trend line to work against.
  • There seems to be a one-day delay in syncing expenses, so be aware of that.
  • Empower doesn’t have a web version, only the app. I haven’t found this to be a challenge.

Runner Up: Clarity Money

My most-used feature in Clarity Money is similar to the Empower trend line. With Clarity, you can choose to see total spending for the month (September in the above screenshot), week, or previous week. Because my new goal is to think in terms of total spend rather than spend by category, this is still pretty helpful. For instance, if my budget is $1500 for the month, then I know I need to hit about $350 per week. I can track that within each week, and then toggle to the month total spending to see how I’m doing for the month overall.

A couple other nice features

  • For those who still want to be able to hold on to a level of categorization, Clarity makes it easy to scroll through a handful of high-level categories for whatever spending time frame (e.g. month, week) you’re looking at.
  • Clarity also has a web version, which can be helpful if you need to recategorize or exclude a large number of expenses.

In the end though, Clarity just didn’t provide quite the clarity that Empower did. It’s harder to see at a glance exactly how you’re trending vs your monthly total spending goal.

Valuable Mentions

YNAB

A few friends, and tons of loyal users across the internet, love YNAB. It’s a paid app, which is kind-of refreshing (presumably no selling my user data or constantly trying to upsell me to make money). That said, YNAB is definitely for those who prefer to organize money by category, which is different than my latest approach of grouping everything together. If you’re a category organizer, I’d definitely check out YNAB

Personal Capital

I think I’ll look into Personal Capital down the road. The value prop here seems to be a single dashboard for all of your finances — investments and accounts as well as spending. The budgeting feature does seem to do the basic function of tracking spend vs goal, but I didn’t check it out in detail. Since I’m really focussed right now on solving the daily spending challenge, I figure “less is more” and think Personal Capital would be a bit too much for my needs.

Mvelopes

Another favorite app for the category organizer, Mvelopes seems to have a good mobile app and also a detailed, highly-customizable, web application for categorizing and tracking spend.