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Personal budgeting: apps to help manage your money

Six great apps for personal budgeting

Having just splashed out far too much money on a new iPhone, you might want to keep a tight rein on the rest of your cash. Fortunately, your shiny new pride and joy can help, ensuring you stick to a budget – or at least figure out where most of your money’s going. Even if you haven’t just bought a new device, who doesn’t want to improve how they manage their money?

As ever, it all comes down to having the right apps installed – and ones you’ll be happy to use. Our selection therefore isn’t about the most feature-packed examples on the App Store, nor apps that double down on automation, threading their tendrils deep into your bank accounts.

Instead, they’re money management apps for the rest of us – dead easy to set up, simple to use, and able to save you quite a few bucks in the long run. Also, for those people really wanting to watch every penny, we’re providing freebie alternatives to each featured app – although we do recommend checking out the main trio if you can.

Pennies – best for ongoing budgeting

$3.99/£3.99 • v5.3 • 81.0 MB • By Emile Bennett

Spend time with Pennies and it’s obvious it wants to be the budgeting app for the rest of us. Rather than drowning you in complexity, it strips everything back to basics.

Set-up is simple: you create a named budget, assign a time period and start date, choose a currency and amount, and decide whether you want whatever’s left to roll over into the next period. When you’re done, the budget appears on screen, all chunky text on a vivid background you could probably see from across the street. A dial denotes how long’s left in the current time period.

Assigning income/expenses is easy, too – just a case of prodding the big plus button, choosing the appropriate action, tapping in the figure, and adding a note to describe the item.

Given that this is an app for managing money, its colourful interface initially feels disarming. But this design is a deliberate attempt to highlight what you’re spending – and how quickly. Churn through funds too rapidly and the background turns red; remain on target and it goes blue.

Beyond the main screen, you also get an overview – handy if you run a large number of budgets – and a spending history. The latter’s layout is more or less a big list of incomings and outgoings, and is easy to browse; however, it can’t be searched, which seems like a baffling omission in an expenses app.

Still, it’s a sole black mark in an otherwise pleasingly approachable app for managing your money. The lack of complexity in Pennies really works in its favour; and although you are admittedly manually adding expenses rather than getting any kind of automated helping hand, that in itself is beneficial, making you mindful of your spending.

Download Pennies

The freebie option: Spending Tracker

Technically, we’re in freemium territory with Spending Tracker, but the free version of the app does a good job at keeping an eye on your spending. Although not as graceful as Pennies, Spending Tracker makes it easy to add expenses and assign them to categories. They’re then added to a little chalkboard that tots everything up. Flip your iPhone into landscape and you can view graphs to see where you’re spending the most money, and how your cash flow has changed over previous months. The one-off IAP’s required to add repeat transactions and export data, but no other major functionality appears to be absent from the free version.

Soulver – best for one-off expenses lists

$2.99/£2.99 • v2.60 • 24.3 MB • By Acqualia

This app’s a notepad that thinks it’s a calculator – or perhaps the reverse. Either way, Soulver’s ideal for totting up expenses, in a very human and subsequently editable way.

Your calculations are written out in plain English, with Soulver intelligently extracting figures for line totals. So if you write ‘Hotel: 5 nights at $150’, $750 will appear in the totals column.

The really smart bit is that every line total can be added to subsequent lines as a live token. All you need to do is tap the relevant total to add it in this way. This means that you could, for example, create a quick ‘template’ for business trips, including hotel nights, taxi fares, and meals. You could then adjust figures within the document at any point, in order to get a new overall total for that set of expenses.

Because Soulver understands currency conversion, a range of units, variables, and functions, there’s potential to construct quite complex dynamic calculations. But even if you’re using it for basic lists, it’s a more logical – and beneficial – option than a traditional calculator (which doesn’t show figures in context) or the likes of Notes (which won’t add your figures up).

Along with enabling you to create calculations, Soulver wisely saves pretty much everything you write in a Drafts tab. Calculations you’d like to reuse can be more permanently stored in Saved. Additionally, any individual note can be shared as a styled email (essentially a table that also adds the original Souvler document to the message), or copied as individual lines. The lack of PDF export is a pity, but otherwise this is a superb app for ad-hoc money management lists.

Download Soulver

The freebie option: Numbers

Soulver is halfway between a notepad and a spreadsheet, but Apple’s Numbers is very much the latter. This means it’s hugely powerful in terms of the calculations you can make. And if you want visualisations of your money management, tables of figures can be converted into great-looking graphs. But because this is a full-fledged spreadsheet app, remember, it lacks the friendliness and immediacy of Soulver. That said, it does bundle a bunch of personal templates to help get you started; so if they fit the bill, Numbers isn’t too far from plug and play.

Elk – best for overseas travel

Free or $3.99/£3.99 • v1.2 • 41.4 MB • By Clean Shaven Apps

Trips abroad often involve staring at unfamiliar coins and notes, and slowly converting prices to your native country’s currency. It’s tempting to avoid doing this and just spend without thinking, but that way lies madness – or at least a nasty surprise on your return home. Short of fusing a calculator to your brain, you’re better off using Elk.

Most travel currency converters are workmanlike – the digital equivalent of currency exchange boards you see in banks and at airports. But Elk is different, focusing on what actual humans need from a currency app.

Choose two currencies and ten conversions are listed in a table. Swipe from the right to increment their values by ten. Tap a figure to see ‘in between’ values. This might lack the kind of precision you get from a traditional calculator-style interface – but it’s fast and efficient.

The app has additional tricks up its sleeve. If you buy the one-off IAP, you can set a custom rate for any currency. This means if you bought actual cash to take with you, conversions in the app will reflect the rate you got, rather than whatever it is on the day. Also, you can share the currently displayed conversion table as a standard wallpaper, or a Live Photo that shows the table only when you press the screen.

Assuming you can deal with its slightly quirky nature, Elk’s a joy to use. We’d perhaps nit-pick at the inability to select favourite currencies, and store them at the top of the list (which is currently reserved for pre-defined popular items). That gripe aside, Elk’s well worth a download – and you can even check out the IAP-locked features for free, using the 14-day trial.

Download Elk

The freebie option: XE Currency

This one’s not a pretty app by any stretch, and it’s devoid of the innovation found in Elk. However, if you want a more typical currency convertor, XE Currency does the job. You define a list of currencies, which can be switched between with a tap. Prod the calculator to change the base value. And if you’re the kind of person who enjoys tracking how rates have changed over time, there are loads of graphs to delve into as well.