To help you find the best budgeting strategies for 2014 financial success, here's a breakdown of popular budgeting tools.
Best For: Visual learners who don't want to enter every transaction manually
Mint.com is made by the same company that makes the Quicken personal finance software called Intuit. But it's much simpler and more streamlined than the popular Quicken software.
Mint.com uses a graphical interface to track your budget. Your home page will include a bar graph for each section of your budget, which you can set to suit your specific needs. As you get closer to capping that particular budget, the bar graph will change colors: green means you have money left; yellow means you're getting close; red means you've gone over budget.
Mint's other major selling point is that it downloads your transactions automatically. You can link it securely to all your bank accounts, credit card accounts and even accounts for your car payment, mortgage or student loans. Whenever you log in you can tell Mint to update your transactions, and it will.
Mint's main weakness is that it doesn't let you plan ahead. In other words, you can't budget for December until the first of the month.
2. Quicken Deluxe
Best For: Detail-oriented individuals looking to do more than create a monthly budget
Quicken Deluxe is a more complicated budgeting program, and it's a bit costly. But if you're looking to plan for retirement, pay down debt, save money or track investments, Quicken Deluxe is the budgeting program for you.
Despite its complex nature, Quicken has a surprisingly clean, intuitive interface. Tabs across the top of the screen take you to different pieces of your financial plan – from monthly budgeting to debt payoff to retirement planning. You can choose to use or not use each function.
Quicken allows for long-range, detailed financial planning, but its visual interfaces – very similar to Mint – make it easy to get an at-a-glance view of your money. Similar to Mint, Quicken also automatically imports your bank transactions, making budgeting simpler.
If your financial New Year's resolutions are more complex than just staying on budget, you may want to check out Quicken Deluxe.
3. You Need a Budget
Best For: Freelancers and others on a variable income
You Need a Budget is downloadable software like Quicken, but it functions differently. It is set up to simply track your budget using an innovative program that's especially helpful for people with a variable income.
Unlike other budgeting software programs – which are usually only about budgeting – YNAB is about the method behind the budget. The YNAB philosophy focuses on creating a zero-based budget, saving for emergencies and, most importantly, living on last month's income.
The goal is to spend January's income in February and February's income in March. This helps give you an automatic financial cushion. While living on last month's income could be helpful for anyone, it's especially beneficial for individuals who don't get a regular paycheck.
YNAB can work off downloaded bank statements like Quicken, or you can input transactions manually. It also allows you to plan your budget months ahead. Overall, YNAB is a streamlined software that's worth checking out, especially if you're ready to be done living paycheck to paycheck.
Best For: Those who want a simple budget and don't like synching bank accounts
The basic version of BudgetSimple is just that – a simple online budgeting software based on older spreadsheet-style budgets. The paid version ($3.99) of BudgetSimple will synch with your bank account, but the free version will not.
While some of us hate having to remember to add in every single transaction manually, others prefer to not have budgeting software linked directly to a bank account. The free version of BudgetSimple is similar to Mint except that it doesn't link to your bank account. It offers graphical representations of your spending and will generate reports to show your finances.
This software was specifically created to help users get out of debt. If paying down credit cards and other debts is on your New Year's to-do list, this list this could be the software for you.
Abby Hayes is a freelance blogger and journalist who writes for personal finance blog The Dough Roller and contributes to Dough Roller's weekly newsletter.