The Pros & Cons of Budgeting Apps
by Kevin Sun
Whether you’ve mastered the art of tracking your spending or have yet to take your first steps towards building a budget, you’ve probably heard of at least one budgeting app that supposedly saves you heaps of money. Maybe you got this from an ad, a social media post, or word of mouth from a friend who swears by its benefits. But do budgeting apps really work as advertised? Here are some pros and cons to know before you hit that download button.
Pros of Budgeting Apps
There are a lot of budgeting or personal finance apps out there for Canadians, but in the end, they’re all there to do the same thing – help you manage your money better. Before starting your search for the budgeting app that best fits your needs, it’s helpful to know what benefits they offer in general. Here are 3 pros to consider:
1. User Friendly Budgeting
Any good app or software needs to be user friendly to get people using it, and budgeting apps are no different. Of course, it’s not just about being pretty. A good personal finance app should give you clear budgeting guidelines with the categories that your hard-earned cash goes into. A big benefit of having it on your phone might also be instant notifications when there’s something you need to know. For example, getting a buzz or ping when you approach your budget’s monthly limit can help avoid overspending.
2. Save Time on Number Crunching
In order for an app to give you notifications like the above, you’ll have to connect your accounts like your chequing and credit cards to it. The benefits of this are big, though the drawbacks are too (more on this later). By connecting your accounts, you’ll allow the app to do the heavy lifting of entering numbers for you; naturally, it should also take care of all calculations. The time and effort this saves makes keeping up with your budget much easier.
3. Make Saving Money Fun
Budgeting isn’t exactly the most exciting activity in the world, but the right apps can make it more engaging with features like what you might find in your favourite video game. This could include assigning regular activities for you to do, displaying colourful bars to help track progress towards your savings or debt repayment goals, and even giving you cash rewards for meeting those goals. Your money is serious business, but that doesn’t mean managing it can’t be fun. Following your budget like how you’d play a game could help you stay motivated to follow your spending plan.
Cons of Budgeting Apps
While the best budgeting apps will give all the benefits above, they also tend to share a few general cons. These can include limitations and even risks for users, and knowing these before you get invested into a specific app can save you trouble down the road. Here are 3 important warnings to keep in mind:
1. One App Doesn’t Fit All Budgeters
When designing their apps, it’s normal for companies to try and get as many users as possible. By casting that wide net, a budgeting app might roll into the ballpark of what you need; however, it probably won’t be an exact fit for your financial situation. This is especially problematic if your situation falls outside of whatever the app considers “normal.” For example, if you get paid weekly and the app only supports biweekly or monthly pay cycles, then you’ll have to change how you organize your budget to fit with the app’s limitations. Even the most minor differences could throw you off your budgeting rhythm and cause problems down the road.
3 Ways to Budget with Irregular Income
2. Too Many Features Can Be Overwhelming
Speaking of differences, many budgeting apps today are not just budgeting apps – they are investing, bank account, or credit card apps too. If you’re dealing with debt or struggling to keep your spending under control, the last thing you need is a barrage of enticing offers for a new credit card or investment account. If you’re used to a simple budgeting system, then all the bells and whistles of a modern app could also overcomplicate or distract you, making it harder to focus on your primary financial goals.
3. Another Security Risk to Worry About
To get the full benefit of a budgeting app, you’ll probably want to link your financial accounts to it. However, this means that if the app gets hacked or your password gets stolen, all of those other important accounts will be at risk. If you lose any money in the hack, or your credit card gets compromised, you could be on the hook because you violated the terms and conditions of your banking and card holder agreements. Be sure to read the fine print of all of your agreements to see if disclosing your passwords and account information to an app is allowed. Even if you don’t link your accounts, you may be worried about how the app collects, stores, and shares your personal information. For many Canadians, these kinds of security and privacy concerns are simply not worth the benefits of using a budgeting app.
Our Budgeting Calculator Spreadsheet
A Simple, Offline, and Free Alternative to Budgeting Apps
Still not sure if a budgeting app is right for you? Another thing you can do is compare it to other budgeting options like personal finance software or whatever tool your bank, credit union, or lender provides. Just be sure to stick with the Canadian versions of whatever you choose. Rather than break out the old pen and paper, however, consider trying our free Budget Calculator Spreadsheet. Our spreadsheet will work for you whether you earn money weekly, biweekly, semi-monthly, monthly, or even seasonally. It’s just a downloadable file, so there are no security or privacy risks and you’re free to tinker with it for your own personal use. You can download our Interactive Budget Calculator Spreadsheet now for either Excel, OpenOffice, or Numbers. If you’re a student, then check out this special Canadian student budget template and worksheet that makes it easier to manage your money during your post-secondary years.