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One of the most anxiety-provoking things in your college life is money.
That’s why college is the perfect time to learn financial habits that will serve you well for the rest of your life.
And, one of the best financial habits to learn is budget management.
With this skill firmly under your belt, you’ll keep your finances from spiraling out of control.
Then, you get to decide where your money goes instead of wondering where it all went.
Build Your Decision-Making Muscles
Budgeting can also help you build up your decision-making muscles.
That’s because budgeting involves making LOTS of difficult decisions.
However, these decisions become easier the more you practice.
For example, when you budget, you have to set limits on your spending.
And, you’ve got to prioritize what you purchase.
For example, are you going to buy that expensive latte, or use those funds towards spring break in Cancun?
Prepare for Unexpected Expenses
A budget also helps you prepare for unexpected expenses such as your car needing a new transmission.
If you’ve budgeted for an emergency fund, you’ll be covered.
Managing a budget isn’t the easiest thing in the world.
It’s time-consuming, and you’ve got all that studying to do.
If you want to make the job easier, use a budgeting app.
Since most of our transactions happen electronically, it’s easy to lose track of our finances.
Budgeting apps are a convenient way to keep track of expenses so you can meet savings targets and other financial goals.
Apps make budgeting a breeze!
This makes it incredibly easy for even the most disorganized student to keep track of her spending and savings.
With a budgeting app, you can see how much you spent on eating out last week, and perhaps make a goal to cook more this week.
Here are the six best apps for college students:
Mint is a one-stop financial dashboard and an incredibly powerful budgeting tool that makes it super easy to monitor all of your spending.
Setting up a budget is a relatively effortless process because Mint does it all for you.
And if you’re spending too much money, it’ll give you expert advice on ways to cut back.
See All Your Accounts in One Place
One of the very best things about Mint is that you can see all of your accounts in one place.
This includes your savings, checking, retirement, and any other accounts you have.
With a single glance, you’ll be able to know the state of your financial health instantly.
Make sure you connect as many of your financial accounts as possible.
That’s because the more accounts you’ve linked, the more accurate a snapshot of your financial health you’ll get.
If you link your accounts, it automatically categorizes transactions into various spending categories.
You can stick with the default categories or create your own customized ones.
Awesome Customization Options
And speaking of customization options, there are some awesome ones on this app.
For example, you can create your own savings goals, such as for a car, vacation, or a new fridge.
Maybe you’ve done a bang-up job of budgeting, and you have money left over at the end of the month.
If so, the app will show you how applying this money towards your goals will help you achieve them sooner.
Other Sections and Features
The “Investments” section lets you track all of your investment accounts and compare them to indexes such as the Dow and the S&P 500 to see how well they’re performing.
You’ll also get offers for new savings and checking accounts.
Mint gets a little cash for every person who signs up for these accounts.
Since the app is free, it’s how they pay the bills.
You can compare options of the various accounts at a glance, so you can see which one is best for you.
You can even get a free credit score provided by TransUnion.
And if you need help not getting in over your head with credit card debt, there’s an invaluable feature that lets you see all of your credit card balances and how long it’ll take to pay them off.
This will help ensure you never borrow what you cannot pay back.
The Transactions Section
In the “Transactions” section, you’ll see all of your spending and income in all your accounts.
You can categorize your transactions here and add any notes you’d like.
Add tags to your transactions to keep better track of them.
For example, if you’re going on a Hawaiian vacation, you could create a “Hawaii” tag to add to all relevant purchases.
In the “Overview” section, you’ll get a quick look at the major parts of your financial picture.
Here is where you look at everything you need to know to master your financial life. These are things like recent transactions and your cash flow.
Upcoming bill due dates are listed in this section in calendar form.
This is a tremendously helpful feature!
Mint also lets you know your net worth.
You can do this yourself with old-fashioned pencil and paper but letting the app do it automatically for you saves you time.
Knowing your net worth gives you a better idea of your overall financial health.
If you don’t know what net worth is, it’s the amount your assets exceed your liabilities.
Basically, it’s the difference between what you own and what you owe.
If what you owe is greater than what you own, your net worth is negative.
And if what you owe is less than what you own, your net worth is positive.
You can also set up alerts.
There are default alerts like if you have a low balance in one of your accounts or if you’ve exceeded a limit in a budget category.
You can also create your own customized alerts.
For example, create an alert when someone is using your account to make large purchases.
Or if your bank is suddenly charging you exorbitant fees.
If you never want to miss a bill payment date, create reminder alerts.
You have two options when setting up these notifications.
You can connect your billing accounts to the app.
Lots of companies like Comcast and Verizon let you do this.
Connecting these accounts lets Mint automatically update bill totals and due dates.
How cool is that?
If you don’t want to connect a particular account, you can manually set up due date reminders.
You can also set up reminders for offline bills you have to pay, such as rent.
Setting up reminders ensures that you’ll never, ever miss a payment again.
This should save you a TON on late fees!
Stick Mostly to the Website
The desktop version has greater functionality than the app.
That’s why I recommend managing your budget on the desktop site and using the app for updates and alerts.
So Many Awesome Features
These features and many others Mint offers helps you cultivate keen insights into your spending habits.
These insights will help you do what it takes to persevere with your budgeting efforts.
Mint has so many awesome features that help you maintain robust financial health.
I cannot recommend it highly enough!
Many apps take an overly complicated approach to budgeting.
However, PocketGuard does away with layers of unnecessary complexity by only showing one thing:
How much moolah you have in your metaphorical “pocket” after every single one of your bills is paid.
And whether you can spend this cash.
That’s all most would-be-budgeters want to know anyway.
This information is easy to access, so it effortlessly integrates into your busy life.
“Pocket,” of course, is metaphorical, because pockets are actually pockets, but are spending categories.
Every transaction you make gets placed into one of these pockets.
When you check out the “Overview” screen, you’ll see how much money is in your pocket today.
This is what you have left over after you paid your bills and met your savings goal.
You can see pocket amounts for both the current week and month.
This is also where you’ll find your net worth and net income.
You’ll have to set a limit for each category.
If you overspend in a particular one, you’ll get a notification informing you of this fact.
Also, the line underneath what you overspent will turn bright orange.
You can add more context to your transactions by adding hashtags.
For example, if you went to three different stores to get furnishings for your dorm, you can add “dorm room furnishings” as a hashtag to each of these transactions.
This helps you organize your expenditures better.
The “Find Savings” Button
Besides the innovative use of “pockets,” another thing that differentiates this app from others of its kind is its unique “Find Savings” button.
When you click on this button, a screen opens where you can try to renegotiate your loan and other types of payment by working with third parties who specialize in that sort of thing.
These are companies like Billshark, Lending Tree, Ameritrade, and others.
Although PocketGuard is free to use, you’ll be limited to only tracking bank transactions.
If you want to track other kinds of transactions, splurge for a PocketGuard Plus membership.
This costs $20 a year.
Who It’s Not Good For
It relies heavily on forecasting future cash flow, so it’s not suitable for freelancers with irregular income.
It’s also not good for households where couples both need access because there’s no way to share a budget.
And those with complicated financial situations will find the app’s budgeting tools to be a bit on the primitive side.
3. Personal Capital
Personal Capital’s primary focus is on investing, but it’s also one of the best apps out there for managing every aspect of your financial existence.
And, it’s like having your very own personal financial advisor without having to pay any exorbitant fees.
Like Mint and PocketGuard, Personal Capital combines all of your accounts into one integrated platform.
On its innovative dashboard, you can see a graph of your cash flow.
This is how much money is coming in versus how much is going out.
There are also graphs for your investments.
To take advantage of Personal Capital, you’ll have to link to one or more of your bank and investment accounts.
This will take about ten minutes.
Personal Capital has visually stunning graphs that let you see how well your portfolio is performing.
This helps you manage your overall asset allocation.
There’s also a retirement fee analyzer to see if account fees are holding up your retirement date.
The app will also show any fees hidden in your mutual funds.
You’ll also get an analysis of the market both now and well it performed in the past.
This makes sure your portfolio is made up of the best possible mix of assets.
Personal Capital also includes powerful budgeting tools to track your spending and set monthly goals.
Then, it displays all this data in easy-to-read charts.
The Personal Capital net worth report puts your balances, cash flow, and investment holdings in one place.
It seamlessly integrates with Zillow to give you daily property value updates.
If simplicity is what you need in a budgeting app, take Wally out for a spin.
The app lets you compare income with expenses for better control over your finances.
And best of all, Wally is 100% free without any annoying ads.
It’s available for both iPhone and Android.
Wally has three convenient-to-use tabs: home, income, and review.
The home tab is what greets you when you first open the app. It’s where you record your expenses.
You can choose from expense categories, including transportation, clothing, and entertainment.
Each category has its own subcategories.
For example, under the home category, the subcategories include mortgage and rent.
If a category isn’t on the list, you can create your own.
The second tab is for entering all of your income.
The third and final tab on the app is to look at your budget.
This area shows a basic analysis of your spending by category each week, month, and year.
Keep in mind is that it doesn’t actually link to your bank accounts.
So, what the app says you have and what’s actually in your account might not match if you forgot to add an expense.
Who It’s For
Wally is perfect for someone who wants a no-frills, budgeting app to track necessary expenses and cut down on excessive spending.
If you’re looking to dissect your spending habits in amazingly granular detail, this isn’t the app for you.
Dollarbird is a budgeting app available for iOS, Android, and desktop.
Unlike virtually every other personal finance app, it doesn’t use categories to track your spending.
Instead, it uses a calendar-based system.
It allows you to track income, expenses, and also forecast cash flow.
It doesn’t link to your bank account, because all information is entered manually.
The app automatically sorts your spending into categories.
If you think the app placed an expense in the wrong category, you can override the system and enter it yourself.
You can add whatever categories you want and get rid of the ones you don’t use.
Use the calendar to compare spending in one month to other months.
The app will project how much money you’re likely to have at the end of the month based on your spending habits.
And by tapping on a day in the future, you can see how much money the app projects you’ll have by this date.
The Different Plans
The free version comes with one calendar.
The Pro Plan is a collaborative option and costs $39.99 a year.
You get 20 calendars, and you can have three team members.
There’s also a business plan with unlimited calendars and as many team members as you want.
If you want this plan, call the company for pricing.
A company called Happy Money unleashed the Joy app on the world in 2017.
Their mission is to help people be happier, and the Joy app is one of the ways they’re doing that.
Joy is only available on iOS, so Android users will have to find another way to get more bliss into their lives.
The app is inspired by the axiom that psychology powerfully influences our spending habits.
As such, it helps you see the emotional connection between your own personal happiness and your spending.
It also encourages you to beef up your savings.
Download the app if you want personal finance to be a joyous experience.
And not something to be avoided at all costs because it makes you miserable.
Happy and Sad Faces
You’ll rigorously review every spending decision you make by rating them with either a green happy face or a red sad face.
For example, if you order food at a restaurant and can’t eat it all, this might compel you to rate this transaction as “sad.”
The next time you’re at a restaurant, you might decide to order only food you know you can eat.
The theory is that over time, you’ll make more purchases that make you happy and less that make you sad, which will increase your overall happiness.
It also helps you save because every day you open the app, you’ll be greeted with a reminder to sock away a little money in your Joy Savings account.
This is called a “Daily Save,” and it’s FDIC-insured.
It feels really great to hit the “save” button, knowing that this will turn into a habit that will last long past your college years.
You can set up several kinds of reminders.
For example, you can set up a time to rate your spends.
You might want to do it at a time you’ll know you’ll be relaxed and reflective.
For example, right before bed.
And since the suggested savings amount isn’t automatically made, set a reminder so that you won’t forget to make this decision.
Your Money Personality and a Chatty Robot
The Joy app features fun colors and a chatty robot.
To personalize your experience, the app will help you figure out your money personality.
Then, it’ll assign you one of four robot coaches—Dash, Gem, Ava, or Atom.
Your coach’s style of interacting with you is based off your money personality.
So, depending on the approach the app determines works best for you, it might give you an intense and challenging money workout.
Or, just a few baby steps with LOTS of positive reinforcement.
You can chat with your coach whenever you want to find out your current stats or how others with your money personality are doing.
These are the budgeting apps that I think are best for college students.
Download one of these today, so your finances don’t spiral out of control.
You’ll not only stay on top of your finances, but you’ll also learn financial habits that’ll serve you well your entire life.
Most of them won’t cost you a thing. So, you don’t have much to lose.