Budget Apps vs. Spreadsheets: What's the Difference?

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Both serve the same purpose, but only you can decide which approach is right for you.

So you've decided to track your budget to improve your personal finance habits. Great! But before you can start, you have to decide how you're going to house your information. There are two main options: a budgeting app or a budgeting spreadsheet. Let's look at the pros and cons of each.

Budgeting app

Budgeting apps are designed to help you use smartphones or tablets to track your money. Some have online accounts as well.


Budgeting apps have two primary advantages over spreadsheets. First, they're ready-made systems, so all you have to do is plug in your information. There's no need to set up charts and reports, enter formulas, or decide which categories to track; it's all done for you. Just sign up and enter your information.

The other major benefit is that many budgeting apps can sync with your bank and other financial accounts. This makes it easy to track your finances all in one place, rather than bouncing back and forth between a bank account and a budgeting spreadsheet.


Some budgeting apps cost you money. Often, this is a one-time fee, but it may put some people off. There are also some free options.

The other downside to budgeting apps is that you're limited in how much you can customize them. Apps generally have built-in categories for tracking your spending, and may only generate certain reports. They may not provide all the features you need. But if you compare a few budgeting apps before you sign up, you may find one that can accommodate most, if not all, of your needs.


Spreadsheets are versatile tools you can use to track all kinds of information, including your personal budget.


Spreadsheets offer virtually limitless customization. If you want to add or remove a spending category you're tracking, you can do that easily. You can also use a spreadsheet's calculations and charts to help get a bird's-eye view of your spending based on any criteria you want.

Plus, spreadsheets are free. And if you choose one that offers cloud storage and a mobile app (like Google Sheets), you can access your information from any device, just as you would with a budgeting app.


To get the most out of a budgeting spreadsheet, you need to know a bit about spreadsheet formulas. Some things, like totaling up your monthly spending, are pretty simple. But if you want to do more complex calculations, it could take a while to work out the formulas you need. You may be able to simplify the process with a budget spreadsheet template that has formulas built in.

Budgeting spreadsheets also lack the ability to pull in data from your bank accounts, so you have to check your balances and transfer data manually. These extra steps can be a hassle, but how much hassle depends on how you use your budgeting spreadsheet. If you just track spending, for example, it might not matter that your spreadsheet can't tell you your current bank account balance.

Which is right for you?

The best budgeting tool is the one you'll actually use. You could try out a few apps and, if they don't provide the information you need, switch to a spreadsheet, or vice versa.

Once you find a method that works for you, stick to it and use the information it provides to help you reduce unnecessary spending and reach your long-term financial goals.

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