Best Budgeting Apps For College Students in 2024

by Jalen

College is expensive. Between sky-high tuition fees, rent, and those everyday expenses like groceries and textbooks, our wallets feel the pinch. If you’re tired of scrambling to make ends meet or just want to get a grip on your finances, you’re in the right place. This is your go-to guide for the best budgeting tools and apps to help you manage your money like a pro. Let’s dive in and start adulting the smart way.

Traditional Budgeting Tools

Pen and Paper Budgeting

Before all these fancy apps came along, students everywhere were scribbling down their incomes and expenses in notebooks. So, how does this old-school method work for today’s college-goers?

Instead of having to manually write up columns and draw lists like before, nowadays you can just buy a budget planner notebook off of Amazon. Using these, you can easily map out your monthly income and expenses. Everything from your part-time job and scholarships to tuition fees and your midnight snack runs. An upside to this method is that you don’t have to entrust your financial information to a third party, as well as not having to pay any management or convenience fees because you would be doing all the work. On the other hand, while this method of budget tracking feels simple and tangible, it’s easier to make errors or lose track, especially if you’re not the ‘journaling’ kind. 

Still, in the digital age, there’s something grounding about going analog with finances. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for those looking to really get hands-on with their money, this method has served humanity for thousands of years.

Excel Spreadsheets

Making a budget sheet in excel is a step ahead of writing everything down in a physical notebook and makes tracking everything a bit more efficient. First, you’ll want a column for dates, a column for descriptions, and then columns for income and expenses respectively. Every time money comes in or goes out, it gets its own row. The cool thing about using spreadsheets or excel is that you can take advantage of the auto-sum formulas to tally up your totals. To write a formula in excel, you need to start off with the equal sign “=” followed by the function, and then a parenthesis to select the data or data range you want excel to use in its calculation.

While spreadsheets can be super useful, it does take a bit more technical savvy to be able to realize its full advantages, and thus sacrifices some level of simplicity as compared to physically tracking your budget with a notebook. In addition, when you consider computer loading times, and the multiple points of failure when it comes to digitized information, it may be slightly more impractical to use than pen and paper as well.       

Modern Budgeting Apps and Tools


  • Features: Primarily a budgeting tool, Mint categorizes and visualizes spending, sends bill reminders, tracks credit scores, and offers financial product suggestions.
  • Cost: Free, but includes ads for financial products.

At its core, Mint is like having a 24/7 financial assistant in your pocket. Once you set up your account, it effortlessly tracks where every dollar you earn (or spend) goes. Fast-food runs, monthly rent, or the latest SNKRs drop? Mint’s got tabs on them all. 

For Mint to be able to track your purchases, you need to link your bank accounts and credit cards with their platform. I know that may seem somewhat sketchy, but Mint uses bank-grade security, and they cannot see what you type when you link your accounts, nor can you initiate any transactions through the service. When you have everything connected, you’re able to get real-time updates on your spending and a complete, up-to-date overview of your financial landscape. No more manual entries, no more guesswork. Just automated, accurate insight.

What makes Mint extra useful is its goal-setting feature. Dreaming of a spring break getaway? Maybe that new laptop for next semester? Set your financial goal, and Mint will help guide you there, showing you how much to save and how close you’re getting to your target. And the best part about Mint is that it’s 100% free to use! However, because the service itself is free, Mint monetizes itself by showing ads, offers credit monitoring services for a premium, and sells anonymous user data to other companies. 

If you’re looking for a way to automatically track your budget in college, Mint might just be your ticket. 

YNAB (You Need A Budget) 

  • Features: YNAB emphasizes giving every dollar a job and ensuring you’re allocating money towards specific goals. It offers detailed budgeting tools and reports while encouraging users to live on the previous month’s income.
  • Cost: $11.99/month or $84/year, after a 34-day free trial.

YNAB is all about the “envelope budgeting” philosophy, but digitally. Imagine you’ve got virtual envelopes for rent, food, social life—each getting a slice of your income pie. The app helps you prioritize where your money should go so you’re never caught short (or worse, overdrafting).

When you first launch YNAB, it’ll walk you through creating your budget. You get to set up all your spending categories (like “textbooks,” “beer money,” and, “actual food”). From there, as you get paid, you allocate money to each category. If you overspend in one category—like you went a little too wild on a night out—you can easily shuffle money from another category to cover it without it feeling guilt-trippy. 

For this app to work you also need to link your bank account. You can see your spending in real-time and know instantly if you’re on track or need to cut back on certain things. YNAB, unlike Mint however, does charge a fee for their service, but it comes with a month long free trial, and is a more fleshed out automated budgeting platform in my opinion. 

Personal Capital

  • Features: While offering budgeting tools, Personal Capital is stronger in wealth management and investment tracking. It provides a net worth view by linking financial accounts and offers a Retirement Planner for retirement insights.
  • Cost: The financial dashboard, with budgeting and tracking tools, is free. Wealth management services have fees starting at 0.89% for accounts under $1 million.

This app is a budgeting beast and a great Mint alternative. It can do almost everything that Mint can, but where it really shines is how it effortlessly blends budgeting with investment tracking. Got a tiny portfolio started? You can see it grow right alongside your day-to-day budget.

A great feature of this app is the net worth tracker. It pulls all your financial stats onto one dashboard. It tallies everything from your checking accounts, to your student loans, and even your crypto investments (if you’re into that sort of thing). With Personal Capital, you can set and track financial goals that make sense for you, whether it’s paying down debt or saving for that backpacking trip after graduation.

III. Expense Tracking Apps


  • Features: Expensify is primarily designed for professionals and businesses. It offers receipt scanning, expense reports, and integrations with accounting tools. It’s ideal for tracking work-related expenses and reimbursements.
  • Cost: There’s a free basic plan with limited features. Paid plans start at $4.99 per month for individuals, with business pricing varying based on needs.

Expensify, as hinted by its name, is really good at helping you track your expenses. Bought a textbook, grabbed a bite with friends, or purchased some supplies for a class project? Snap a quick pic of the receipt with the app, and it automatically logs and categorizes the expense for you. Expensify also works great for people with roommates or for group projects that require shared expenses.You can easily split and track who would owe what. No more awkward convos about who hasn’t paid their share of the pizza bill. 

For those with more of an entrepreneurial side, Expensify can be your mini accounting team for your small business. It can help keep track of all of your business-related expenses which helps doing your taxes much easier. 


  • Features: PocketGuard is centered on personal finance. It links to bank accounts, provides an overview of your finances, and categorizes spending. It also offers insights into recurring bills and potential savings.
  • Cost: The basic version is free. PocketGuard Plus, with advanced features, is $3.99/month or $34.99/year.

PocketGuard is another expense tracking app, but it is tailored more for the individual instead of small businesses. Every single time you swipe your card, whether it be for that caffeine fix or that concert ticket, PocketGuard is tracking and categorizing everything. No manual input needed, it’s all automated and streamlined. It’ll do all the heavy lifting so you can focus elsewhere.

PocketGuard is especially keen with tracking recurring payments. Everything from your streaming subscription to your monthly gym membership. This means you get a clear snapshot of your monthly bills and subscriptions, ensuring you don’t get lost in the sea of auto-renewals.

IV. Savings and Investing Apps


  • Features: Acorns is an investment app designed around the concept of “round-ups,” where it automatically invests your spare change by rounding up transactions to the nearest dollar. Additionally, Acorns offers retirement accounts and a cash-back rewards program from certain purchases.
  • Cost: There are three tiers:
    • Lite: $1/month (basic investment account)
    • Personal: $3/month (includes retirement and checking)
    • Family: $5/month (adds kids’ investment options).

Acorns is awesome because every time you make a purchase with a card linked to the app, it rounds up the total to the nearest dollar and invests that spare change. Bought a coffee for $2.75? Acorns will tuck away the extra 25 cents. It might seem minuscule at first, but imagine this happening for every purchase. Those dimes and quarters add up quickly!

The beauty of Acorns is its simplicity. You don’t have to be the next Wolf of Wall Street to invest. It takes your micro-investments and sprinkles them across a diversified portfolio, which has the potential for long-term growth. Over time, as you consistently spend and round up, you’ll see your Acorns account grow. Just as its name would imply, It’s the financial equivalent of planting a seed and watching it sprout.

Diving into the world of investing can seem daunting, but Acorns can offer you a low-stakes introduction. If you’ve ever thought investing wasn’t for you, or you simply didn’t have enough to start, this app might just change your mind. If you would like to learn more about investing as a college student, check out our introduction to stocks and the stock market!


  • Features: Stash allows users to start investing with as little as $5. It offers fractional shares in stocks and ETFs, themed investment options, retirement accounts, and banking services with a debit card that earns stock-back rewards.
  • Cost: Three plans are available:
    • Beginner: $1/month (basic investment account + banking)
    • Growth: $3/month (adds retirement account)
    • Stash+: $9/month (additional features like kids’ accounts and exclusive content).

Stash can be another accessible way to break down the barriers in investing. You can start with as little as $5. That’s one less boba drink per week. Stash curates investment options that make it easier for you to choose how to stash your money. They offer a large selection of stocks and ETFs for you to invest in, and if you want a more hands off approach, they offer a service called Smart Portfolios. These automatically invest your money for you in a well diversified portfolio that reduces your risk while setting you up for some pretty substantial gains. However Stash charges an increased premium compared to Mint’s services, which is something to also consider. 

In summary, both platforms focus on micro-investing with unique approaches. Acorns emphasizes passive, spare-change investing, while Stash offers more active investment choices starting with a small amount.

Final Word

From the tried and true method of pen-and-paper budgeting to the conveniences of modern day pocket accountants, we’ve explored the vast realm of tools available to you that would help you craft a budget and even help get you started on your investing journey. Learning and practicing money management skills isn’t just about surviving until the next paycheck, it is setting the stage for your financial future!

If you found the information in this article to be useful, subscribe to the Frugal Student Newsletter for more insight on how to handle your college finances in a smarter way.

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