This article on free budget software is part of a financial planning series called How to Make a Budget. To start this series from the beginning, read the introduction.
There are as many ways to make a budget as there are people. The budgeting basics are the same, but many of us like to manage our money with a known entity. Enter the big world of free budget software.
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Free Budget Software Choices
The big player in the financial software space is Quicken or Quicken Canada, and to a lesser extent there is Moneydance (read my Moneydance Review here). While these packages offer possible solutions for those looking to count cash, many of the features offered — like synchronized investment data and portfolio analysis tools — can be overkill for the newbie budget builder. If you don’t need all that functionality, then why pay for it? Enter the world of free budget software tools.
Free budgeting tools can be a hit or miss adventure, depending on how you budget, your operating system (Mac OS, Windows, UNIX), and your currency. Many of the free budgeting options are specific to Americans, leaving the rest of the world wishing for a solution, eh! To help, I’ll round-up some of the best free budgeting tools with international support. The budgeting software listed here can be used by everyone. Group hug.
Wesabe is a free web-based tool that comes with a pleasant surprise — full support for all international currency formats and most international banks with deposit or credit accounts. I tested this feature by linking my chequing account in Wesabe and had no difficulty bringing in the data. The key is your financial institution must provide an export or download accounts option in OFX, QFX, QIF, or OFC format. Wesabe offers budgeters many robust tools for keeping on track. As a bonus, you get access to a huge community looking to master their money too. For Canadians and other international users, this is my top pick.
UPDATE: As of July 31st, 2010 Wesabe has shut down, discontinuing their Accounts features and all of their related personal finance tools.
Budgetpulse is a another free web-based tool that aims to help you manage your budget. You can’t sync your bank accounts with this easy-to-use freebie, but it boasts international currency support, so a global audience can sign up and get tracking with basic budget functionality.
GnuCash has features that go beyond simple budgeting — it’s free accounting software for personal and small business use. Downloads are available for Windows, Mac OS, and Linux. GnuCash lets you track bank accounts, stocks, income, and expenses in a way similar to a classic checkbook register. There is multiple currency support and currency movements between accounts are fully balanced when double entry accounting is enabled.
The PearBudget Spreadsheet is a free downloadable spreadsheet that’s loaded with budget friendly cells, tables, and features. It’s a lot more complex than my Free Budget Spreadsheet, which can be good thing if you’re more than a beginner budget maker. The PearBudget Spreadsheet has been downloaded over 100,000 times by people all over the world, so it’s got some serious followers. And you don’t need to worry about giving a third party your personal banking data since the spreadsheet is downloaded straight to your computer’s hard drive.
PearBudget is a web-based application for creating a household spending plan and record. After the success of the PearBudget Spreadsheet, husband and wife team Charlie and Sarah Park decided to “make a good thing better” by launching their budgeting tools online. PearBudget is not trying to be the next Quicken by offering lots of complex features. The goal of PearBudget is to give beginner budgeters a simple way to get started by “paring down” the complexities of other budgetary tools. If you’re looking for a way to integrate your online banking and budgeting with a single solution, PearBudget may not meet your needs since this online app does not link bank accounts. I wrote a PearBudget Review in 2008 and loved the application then. PearBudget is free to try for the first 30 days, and costs $3 per month afterwards.
Thrive wants you to save and watch your money grow by offering free online budgeting tools to anyone in the world, including: budget features, bank account linking options, and bill payment reminders. There’s plenty of weasel words when it comes to who in the world can use the tool though.
The site says, “Thrive certainly works outside the US; in theory, it works from anywhere in the world. We can only support the banks that support us, however, so while you can still access Thrive from anywhere in the world, it may be that we don’t have the banks in your country in our system.” My take is if you don’t need to link your bank or credit accounts, then go ahead and try Thrive.
There are many other budgeting tool available across the interwebs — like Mint (the biggest of the bunch), Geezeo, MoneyStrands, and AceMoney — but none of these offer international currency support. The Mint forums are filled with Canadians begging Mint staff for Canuck buck support. Mint seems to be the one the world is waiting for.
UPDATE: Mint is now available in Canada and supports multiple currencies. The big banks and credit unions are now supported. There is limited support for discount brokerages. See www.Mint.com/Canada for more information.
Squawkback: I’d love to know from the readers which budget software or online budgeting tools work best for you. Which ones aren’t worth the time?