Whether you call this the good old days or the “new normal,” the thing to remember about budgeting is that it doesn’t really work. You can not make more in any given year or less.
The best budgeting software can try to approximate that though, through other tricks — line breaks, tables, advances in algorithms — but they don’t succeed in making it easy. At best, a good piece of software will allow you to calculate a flat line at the end of a year, that is to say — a function of how much money you have to spend, the best the software can do. The following four tools will let you try to do that, but it won’t be easy.
This app costs $4.99, but after that it’s free.
It costs money because it provides a more complete budgeting system than any of the others we looked at here. It’s one of those sort of projects that defies easy explanation. GEMS requires you to enter all sorts of variables and formulas, a process that requires not just your usual math skills but also a mastery of computer language.
But there’s an upside. Some of GEMS’ core functions are also supported by more affordable methods.
First, GEMS is a single-function app; you can’t configure it so it does everything you need. But it has a single document, which lets you save everything you need to budget. Second, it shows a chart showing the categories of spending and how they differ by year. Third, GEMS presents this data in a form that can be easily understood. And last, the text in the chart is relatively clean. The charts in GEMS, though, are almost entirely split up into different categories. These are all weaknesses. They aren’t so big, after all, that your life wouldn’t be better if you set up a few different grids, which might show you better. They’re so small, actually, that they’ll probably make it easier for you to cheat on your budget. To be sure, this assumes you’re actually going to use this app. And not everyone is going to do that.
The basic idea here, though, is that GEMS is so great at doing one thing that it can be much better at doing much more. It’s a return to one of the key elements of finance: if you love a thing enough, you can set it free.
The GEFG app
You can now look into the future and set up a budget for everything you’re going to need to live on. You pick your year, you enter your total income and all your expenses. You plug in all of your income categories and wish lists, then you get everything you need to get by. Simple, isn’t it?
This isn’t a cheap idea, though, and that’s because your system needs to keep up with inflation. GEMS doesn’t offer real-time guidance on where prices are going, so you’re going to need to adjust everything occasionally, assuming you don’t move in the near future. But if you build the system correctly, you’ll be able to take time out from major decisions like buying a house to make sure you’re living on the money you have.
I spent a lot of time here, and for good reason. I still won’t pay $10 to use this app, but it’s the most fun I’ve had so far.
If you ever have a friend over for dinner and you want to show him/her how much you’re spending, there’s a good chance you have some real potatoes. For every meal, you can adjust how much money you’re spending.
I also particularly like FizzVue for its ability to look at your budget in sequence. Say, over a year. Normally you’d take the items you’ve budgeted, and account for those in separate categories and fractions. This app goes through the whole year, line by line, looking at your total budget for the year.
Which is really great for two reasons. First, it simplifies your task. If you’re trying to keep your budgeting to a low total and your emotions in check, I’d say it doesn’t make much sense to get into the weeds for each of your expenses. If you’re the kind of person who likes to get lost in planning, it’s a fine choice. (What kind of person?) Second, it provides an easy overview of your spending that, if you’re already a budgeter, is incredibly helpful.