Posts with «banking & budgeting» label

Quicken Simplifi subscriptions are half off through April 21

Subscriptions to the budgeting app Quicken Simplifi are half off through April 21. The price has been brought down to just $2 per month, which is billed annually at $24. The deal also extends to Quicken Classic, which adds more features for investments and tracking taxes. This tier now costs $4 per month, instead of $8 per month. It’s also billed annually.

Quicken Simplify is pretty much the budgeting app to beat all budgeting apps. There’s a reason, after all, that it topped our list of the best budgeting apps and our collection of the best apps to replace Mint. We’ve consistently praised the user-friendly interface that makes it easy to get started and keep an eye on things. Users have instantaneous access to various metrics, like top-line balances, net worth, recent spending, upcoming recurring payments and more.

We also loved how simple (pun intended) it is to set up customized savings goals and the like. The UI is clean, yet offers playful visualizations to keep things interesting. It integrates with most financial institutions, including Fidelity. Users can also invite a spouse or a financial manager to co-manage the account.

There’s no integration with Zillow, so people can’t track fluctuations in home value, which is something that competing apps like Monarch Money and Copilot Money offer. It requires manual entry of real estate information, just like any other asset. We also experienced some small errors during use, in which the app miscategorized some expenses, though this was in line with other products we tested. There’s no option for a free trial, so $2 per month is about as close as it gets. Just remember to cancel before the year is up if things don’t work out.

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This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/quicken-simplifi-subscriptions-are-half-off-through-april-21-190006927.html?src=rss

Get an Echo Pop speaker with a free TP-Link smart light bulb for only $23

If you like the idea of turning on a light just by talking, here's an affordable smart home starter bundle. For those already comfortable with the automated life, this deal will give you one more thing to control and one more receptacle for your demands. Amazon's smallest smart speaker, the Echo Pop, bundled with a TP-Link Kasa smart bulb is now $23. The speaker goes for as much at $40 at full price, though the lowest we've seen it drop is $18 for Black Friday last year. The bulb has a $23 list price, but dropped to $15 a few times before. In all, the bundle marks a $40 discount off the full price and a $22 savings over the two items' current sale prices. The Kasa bulb made the cut in our guide to smart bulbs

The larger Echo Dot speaker is also on sale, bundled with the same bulb. The set is down to $40, a 45 percent discount over buying the two items separately and at full price. Since they're both on sale individually right now, getting the set saves you $22 over current sale prices. The Echo Dot is our top pick for a smart speaker under $50 because it puts out big sound for its size, has handy physical controls and grants access to Alexa's helpfulness — a selling point if you prefer that assistant's capabilities over another. 

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This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/get-an-echo-pop-speaker-with-a-free-tp-link-smart-light-bulb-for-only-23-160052418.html?src=rss

The best budgeting apps for 2024

I recently found myself on the hunt for a new budgeting app. As a former Mint user, I knew I'd be forced to track my finances elsewhere come March 2024 when Inuit planned to shut down the service for good. I used Mint as a trusted place to track all of my accounts, monitor my credit score, follow a monthly spending plan and even set goals like building a rainy-day fund and paying down my mortgage faster. After giving Inuit's other financial app, Credit Karma, a shot and being unimpressed, I decided to immerse myself in the world of budgeting apps. Mint had been around for more than 10 years, but in that time, many other apps popped up that claimed to help you do all of the same things with your money and more. I set out to try the top competitors in the hopes that I'd find a new one that I could turn to for all of my financial needs, and to help you find the best budgeting app for you.

How we tested

Before I dove in and started testing out budgeting apps, I had to do some research. To find a list of apps to try out, I consulted trusty ol’ Google (and even trustier Reddit); read reviews of popular apps on the App Store; and also asked friends and colleagues what budget tracking apps they might be using. Some of the apps I found were free and these, of course, show loads of ads (excuse me, “offers”) to stay in business. But most of the available apps require paid subscriptions, with prices typically topping out around $100 a year, or $15 a month. (Spoiler: My top pick is cheaper than that.)

All of the services I chose to test needed to do several things: import all of your account data into one place; offer budgeting tools; and track your spending, net worth and credit score. Except where noted, all of these apps are available for iOS, Android and on the web.

Once I had my shortlist of six apps, I got to work setting them up. For the sake of thoroughly testing these apps, I made a point of adding every account to every budgeting app, no matter how small or immaterial the balance. What ensued was a veritable Groundhog Day of two-factor authentication. Just hours of entering passwords and one-time passcodes, for the same banks half a dozen times over. Hopefully, you only have to do this once.

FAQs

What is Plaid and how does it work?

Each of the apps I tested uses the same underlying network, called Plaid, to pull in financial data, so it’s worth explaining what it is and how it works. Plaid was founded as a fintech startup in 2013 and is today the industry standard in connecting banks with third-party apps. Plaid works with over 12,000 financial institutions across the US, Canada and Europe. Additionally, more than 8,000 third-party apps and services rely on Plaid, the company claims.

To be clear, you don’t need a dedicated Plaid app to use it; the technology is baked into a wide array of apps, including all of the budgeting apps listed in this guide. Once you find the “add an account” option in whichever one you’re using, you’ll see a menu of commonly used banks. There’s also a search field you can use to look yours up directly. Once you find yours, you’ll be prompted to enter your login credentials. If you have two-factor authentication set up, you’ll need to enter a one-time passcode as well.

As the middleman, Plaid is a passthrough for information that may include your account balances, transaction history, account type and routing or account number. Plaid uses encryption, and says it has a policy of not selling or renting customer data to other companies. However, I would not be doing my job if I didn’t note that in 2022 Plaid was forced to pay $58 million to consumers in a class action suit for collecting “more financial data than was needed.” As part of the settlement, Plaid was compelled to change some of its business practices.

In a statement provided to Engadget, a Plaid spokesperson said the company continues to deny the allegations underpinning the lawsuit and that “the crux of the non-financial terms in the settlement are focused on us accelerating workstreams already underway related to giving people more transparency into Plaid’s role in connecting their accounts, and ensuring that our workstreams around data minimization remain on track.”

Why did Mint shut down?

When parent company Intuit announced in December 2023 that it would shut down Mint, it did not provide a reason why it made the decision to do so. It did say that Mint's millions of users would be funneled over to its other finance app, Credit Karma. "Credit Karma is thrilled to invite all Minters to continue their financial journey on Credit Karma, where they will have access to Credit Karma’s suite of features, products, tools and services, including some of Mint’s most popular features," Mint wrote on its product blog. In our testing, we found that Credit Karma isn't an exact replacement for Mint — so if you're still looking for a Mint alternative, you have some decent options.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-budgeting-apps-120036303.html?src=rss

Walmart makes a rare CES appearance to promote AI-powered shopping

When Walmart announced it would be holding a CES keynote for the first time, we were admittedly a little skeptical. Now it all makes sense, though: America’s largest retailer came to CES 2024 in Las Vegas to talk about AI. In a joint announcement on Tuesday, the company said that it’s teaming up with Microsoft to build what it bills as AI-powered shopping experiences. In his keynote, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon described how the integration of AI across its website and apps will be used to study shopper behavior and suggest future purchases.

As you might expect, given Microsoft’s involvement, the artificial intelligence underpinning these experiences will be powered by large language models made available through this partnership with Microsoft. The AI it plans on deploying will use a combination of retail-specific search functions based on Walmart’s own proprietary technologies and Microsoft’s Azure OpenAI service.

Walmart’s new generative AI-powered search functions will be available on iOS and Android mobile devices as well as through the company’s website. The new search features will give shoppers more options for interacting with the retailer’s digital inventory. For example, instead of searching for items like soda and chips, a shopper can look for product recommendations for specific events like a birthday celebration or game day watch party by telling the website, in natural language, what they need help shopping for.

During the keynote, McMilon said that the algorithms are designed to highlight relevant product categories after a search that will “serve up a curated list of the best items.” These new algorithmic shopping initiatives will directly compete with Google’s AI search tool SGE and Amazon’s large language model-powered product listing program.

While it seems that most of the efforts on the AI front are consumer-facing, the company said new AI search functions will not just help shoppers. It will also expand tools available to store associates intended to help streamline job-related tasks and workflows. This can also be seen in its announcement that at Sam's Club, which is owned by Walmart, employees will soon no longer need to check shopping receipts as people leave stores. Instead, it will deploy an AI tool that verifies customer purchases.

Walmart

Additionally, Walmart teased ‘Walmart InHome Replenishment,’ which also will use artificial intelligence to predict what items in a shopper’s cart need to be replenished in a timely manner. This offering will be added as an extension to its ‘InHome’ program that became available to Walmart+ shoppers in 2019.

Aside from AI, the retailer also teased plans to weave augmented reality into its shopping experience. The company teased ‘Shop with Friends,’ a beta social commerce offering that uses augmented reality to allow shoppers the option to share virtual outfits with friends for feedback while shopping. Lastly, Walmart will expand its drone delivery testing program to more shoppers in Texas as a starting point. 1.8 million additional households will get access to drone delivery services that help shoppers get items as fast as 30 minutes.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/walmart-makes-a-rare-ces-appearance-to-promote-ai-powered-shopping-005538465.html?src=rss

The best budgeting apps to replace Mint

If you haven’t heard, the popular budgeting app Mint is about to go away. Parent company Intuit will shut down the service on March 24, 2024. The company suggests folks migrate to its other personal finance app, Credit Karma. Mint had 3.6 million active users as of 2021, according to Bloomberg, and I’m one of them. I use the app to track all of my accounts in one place without having to log into too many disparate banking apps. But I’ve also used it to monitor my credit score, stick to a monthly budget, and set goals like building a rainy-day fund or paying down my mortgage faster.

Intuit has not commented on whether it intends to fold Mint’s budgeting features into Credit Karma but as it stands, Credit Karma is not a Mint substitute: It’s meant to monitor your credit and, Intuit hopes, steer you toward credit cards and various other financial products.

So, over the past month, I’ve downloaded a good half-dozen competing money apps to see if any might cut it as a permanent Mint replacement. What follows is the guide I would have wanted to read: a comparison of budgeting apps that promise to track your net worth and spending in one place. Join me as I fall down a rabbit hole.

How we tested

First, I had to do some research. To find a list of apps to test, I consulted trusty ol’ Google (and even trustier Reddit); read reviews of popular apps on the App Store; and also asked friends and colleagues what budget tracking apps they might be using. Some of the apps I found were free, just like Mint. These, of course, show loads of ads (excuse me, “offers”) to stay in business. But most of the available apps require paid subscriptions, with prices typically topping out around $100 a year, or $15 a month. (Spoiler: My top pick is cheaper than that.)

Since this guide is meant to help Mint users find a permanent replacement, any services I chose to test needed to do several things: import all of your account data into one place; offer budgeting tools; and track your spending, net worth and credit score. Except where noted, all of these apps are available for iOS, Android and on the web.

Once I had my shortlist of six apps, I got to work setting them up. For the sake of thoroughly testing these apps (and remember, I really was looking for a Mint alternative myself), I made a point of adding every account to every tracking app, no matter how small or immaterial the balance. What ensued was a veritable Groundhog Day of two-factor authentication. Just hours of entering passwords and one-time passcodes, for the same banks half a dozen times over. Hopefully, you only have to do this once.

What is Plaid and how does it work?

Dana Wollman / Engadget

Each of the apps I tested uses the same underlying network, called Plaid, to pull in financial data, so it’s worth explaining up top what it is and how it works. Plaid was founded as a fintech startup in 2013 and is today the industry standard in connecting banks with third-party apps. Plaid works with over 12,000 financial institutions across the US, Canada and Europe. Additionally, more than 8,000 third-party apps and services rely on Plaid, the company claims.

To be clear, you don’t need a dedicated Plaid app to use it; the technology is baked into a wide array of apps, including the budget trackers I tested for this guide. Once you find the “add an account” option in whichever one you’re using, you’ll see a menu of commonly used banks. There’s also a search field you can use to look yours up directly. Once you find yours, you’ll be prompted to enter your login credentials. If you have two-factor authentication set up, you’ll need to enter a one-time passcode as well.

As the middleman, Plaid is a passthrough for information that may include your account balances, transaction history, account type and routing or account number. Plaid uses encryption, and says it has a policy of not selling or renting customer data to other companies. However, I would not be doing my job if I didn’t note that in 2022 Plaid was forced to pay $58 million to consumers in a class action suit for collecting “more financial data than was needed.” As part of the settlement, Plaid was compelled to change some of its business practices.

In a statement provided to Engadget, a Plaid spokesperson said the company continues to deny the allegations underpinning the lawsuit and that “the crux of the non-financial terms in the settlement are focused on us accelerating workstreams already underway related to giving people more transparency into Plaid’s role in connecting their accounts, and ensuring that our workstreams around data minimization remain on track.”

How to import your financial data from Mint

If only importing data from Mint were as easy as entering your credentials from inside your new budgeting app and hitting “import.” In fact, any app that advertises the ability to port over your stats from Mint is just going to have you upload a CSV file of transactions and other data.

To download a CSV file from Mint, do the following:

  1. Sign into Mint.com and hit Transactions in the menu on the left side of the screen.

  2. Select an account, or all accounts.

  3. Scroll down and look for “export [number] transactions” in smaller print.

  4. Your CSV file should begin downloading.

Note: Downloading on a per-account basis might seem more annoying, but could help you get set up on the other side, if the app you’re using has you importing transactions one-for-one into their corresponding accounts.

The best budgeting app overall: Quicken Simplifi

No pun intended, but what I like about Quicken Simplifi is its simplicity. Whereas other apps try to distinguish themselves with dark themes and customizable emoji, Simplifi has a clean user interface, with a landing page that you just keep scrolling through to get a detailed overview of all your stats. These include your top-line balances; net worth; recent spending; upcoming recurring payments; a snapshot of your spending plan; top spending categories; achievements; and any watchlists you’ve set up. You can also set up savings goals elsewhere in the app. I also appreciate how it offers neat, almost playful visualizations without ever looking cluttered. I felt at home in the mobile and web dashboards after a day or so, which is faster than I adapted to some competing services (I’m looking at you, YNAB and Monarch).

Getting set up with Simplifi was mostly painless. I was particularly impressed at how easily it connected to Fidelity; not all budget trackers do, for whatever reason. This is also one of the only services I tested that gives you the option of inviting a spouse or financial advisor to co-manage your account.

Dana Wollman / Engadget

In practice, Simplifi miscategorized some of my expenses, but nothing out of the ordinary compared to any of these budget trackers. As you’re reviewing transactions, you can also mark if you’re expecting a refund, which is a unique feature among the services I tested. Simplifi also estimated my regular income better than some other apps I tested. Most of all, I appreciated the option of being able to categorize some, but not all, purchases from a merchant as recurring. For instance, I can add my two Amazon subscribe-and-saves as recurring payments, without having to create a broad-strokes rule for every Amazon purchase.

The budgeting feature is also self-explanatory. Just check that your regular income is accurate and be sure to set up recurring payments, making note of which are bills and which are subscriptions. This is important because Simplifi shows you your total take-home income as well as an “income after bills” figure. That number includes, well, bills but not discretionary subscriptions. From there, you can add spending targets by category in the “planned spending” bucket. Planned spending can also include one-time expenditures, not just monthly budgets. When you create a budget, Simplifi will suggest a number based on a six-month average.

Not dealbreakers, but two things to keep in mind as you get started: Simplifi is notable in that you can’t set up an account through Apple or Google. There is also no option for a free trial, though Quicken promises a “30-day money back guarantee.”

The best budgeting app (runner-up): Monarch Money

Monarch Money grew on me. My first impression of the app, which was founded by a former Mint product manager, was that it's more difficult to use than others on this list, including Simplifi, NerdWallet and Copilot. And it is. Editing expense categories, adding recurring transactions and creating rules, for example, is a little more complicated than it needs to be, especially in the mobile app. (My advice: Use the web app for fine-tuning details.) Monarch also didn’t get my income right; I had to edit it.

Once you’re set up, though, Monarch offers an impressive level of granularity. In the budgets section, you can see a bona fide balance sheet showing budgets and actuals for each category. You'll also find a forecast, for the year or by month. And recurring expenses can be set not just by merchant, but other parameters as well. For instance, while most Amazon purchases might be marked as “shopping,” those for the amounts of $54.18 or $34.18 are definitely baby supplies, and can be automatically marked as such each time, not to mention programmed as recurring payments. Weirdly, though, there’s no way to mark certain recurring payments as bills, specifically.

Dana Wollman / Engadget

The mobile app is mostly self-explanatory. The main dashboard shows your net worth; your four most recent transactions; a month-over-month spending comparison; income month-to-date; upcoming bills; an investments snapshot; a list of any goals you’ve set; and, finally, a link to your month-in-review. That month-in-review is more detailed than most, delving into cash flow; top income and expense categories; cash flow trends; changes to your net worth, assets and liabilities; plus asset and liability breakdowns.

On the main screen, you’ll also find tabs for accounts, transactions, cash flow, budget and recurring. Like many of the other apps featured here, Monarch can auto-detect recurring expenses and income, even if it gets the category wrong. (They all do to an extent.) Expense categories are marked by emoji, which you can customize if you’re so inclined.

Monarch Money uses a combination of Plaid and Finicity, a competing network owned by Mastercard. Similar to NerdWallet, I found myself completing two-factor authentication every time I wanted to get past the Plaid screen to add another account. Notably, Monarch is the only other app I tested that allows you to grant access to someone else in your family — likely a spouse or financial advisor. Monarch also has a Chrome extension for importing from Mint, though really this is just a shortcut for downloading a CSV file, which you’ll have to do regardless of where you choose to take your Mint data.

The best up-and-comer: Copilot Money

Copilot Money might be the best-looking budget tracker I tested. It also has the distinction of being exclusive to iOS and Macs — at least for now. Andres Ugarte, the company’s CEO, has publicly promised that Android and web apps are coming in 2024 (more likely the second half of the year, Ugarte tells me). But until it follows through, I can’t recommend Copilot for most people with so many good competitors out there.

Copilot Money for Web and Android!

Thanks to the support from our users, and the overwhelming positive reception we're seeing from folks migrating from Mint, we can now say that we'll be building @copilotmoney for Web and Android with a goal to launch in 2024.

We'll continue to…

— Andres Ugarte (@chuga) November 15, 2023

There are other features that Copilot is missing, which I’ll get into. But it is promising, and one to keep an eye on. It’s just a fast, efficient, well designed app, and Android users will be in for a treat when they’ll finally be able to download it. It makes good use of colors, emoji and graphs to help you understand at a glance how you’re doing on everything from your budgets to your investment performance to your credit card debt over time. In particular, Copilot does a better job than almost any other app of visualizing your recurring monthly expenses.

Behind those punchy colors and cutesy emoji, though, is some sophisticated performance. Copilot’s AI-powered “Intelligence” gets smarter as you go at categorizing your expenses. (You can also add your own categories, complete with your choice of emoji.) It’s not perfect. Copilot miscategorized some purchases (they all do), but it makes it easier to edit than most. On top of that, the internal search feature is very fast; it starts whittling down results in your transaction history as soon as you begin typing.

Dana Wollman / Engadget

Copilot is also unique in offering Amazon and Venmo integrations, allowing you to see transaction details. With Amazon, this requires just signing into your Amazon account via an in-app browser. For Venmo, you have to set up fwd@copilot.money as a forwarding address and then create a filter, wherein emails from venmo@venmo.com are automatically forwarded to fwd@copilot.money.

While the app is heavily automated, I still appreciate that Copilot marks new transactions for review. It’s a good way to both weed out fraudulent charges, and also be somewhat intentional about your spending habits.

Because the app is relatively new (it launched in early 2020), the company is still catching up to the competition on some table-stakes features. Ugarte told me that his team is almost done building out a detailed cash flow section, which could launch before the end of 2023, but more likely in early 2024. On its website, Copilot also promises a raft of AI-powered features that build on its current “Intelligence” platform, the one that powers its smart expense categorization. These include “smart financial goals,” natural language search, a chat interface, forecasting and benchmarking. That benchmarking, Ugarte tells me, is meant to give people a sense of how they’re doing compared to other Copilot users, on both spending and investment performance. Most of these features should arrive in the ne

Copilot does a couple interesting things for new customers that distinguish it from the competition. There’s a “demo mode” that feels like a game simulator; no need to add your own accounts. The company is also offering two free months with RIPMINT — a more generous introductory offer than most. When it finally does come time to pony up, the $7.92 monthly plan is cheaper than some competing apps, although the $95-a-year-option is in the same ballpark.

The best free budgeting app: NerdWallet

You may know NerdWallet as a site that offers a mix of personal finance news, explainers and guides. I see it often when I google a financial term I don’t know and sure enough, it’s one of the sites I’m most likely to click on. As it happens, NerdWallet also has the distinction of offering one of the only free budget tracking apps I tested. In fact, there is no paid version; nothing is locked behind a paywall. The main catch: There are ads everywhere. To be fair, the free version of Mint was like this, too.

Even with the inescapable credit card offers, NerdWallet has a clean, easy-to-understand user interface, which includes both a web and a mobile app. The key metrics that it highlights most prominently are your cash flow, net worth and credit score. (Of note, although Mint itself offered credit score monitoring, most of its rivals do not.) I particularly enjoyed the weekly insights, which delve into things like where you spent the most money or how much you paid in fees — and how that compares to the previous month. Because this is NerdWallet, an encyclopedia of financial info, you get some particularly specific category options when setting up your accounts (think: a Roth or non-Roth IRA).

Dana Wollman / Engadget

As a budgeting app, NerdWallet is more than serviceable, if a bit basic. Like other apps I tested, you can set up recurring bills. Importantly, it follows the popular 50/30/20 budgeting rule, which has you putting 50% of your budget toward things you need, 30% toward things you want, and the remaining 20% into savings or debt repayments. If this works for you, great — just know that you can’t customize your budget to the same degree as some competing apps. You can’t currently create custom spending categories, though a note inside the dashboard section of the app says “you’ll be able to customize them in the future.” You also can’t move items from the wants column to “needs” or vice versa but “In the future, you'll be able to move specific transactions to actively manage what falls into each group.” A NerdWallet spokesperson declined to provide an ETA, though.

Lastly, it’s worth noting that NerdWallet had one of the most onerous setup processes of any app I tested. I don’t think this is a dealbreaker, as you’ll only have to do it once and, hopefully, you aren’t setting up six or seven apps in tandem as I was. What made NerdWallet’s onboarding especially tedious is that every time I wanted to add an account, I had to go through a two-factor authentication process to even get past the Plaid splash screen, and that’s not including the 2FA I had set up at each of my banks. This is a security policy on NerdWallet’s end, not Plaid’s, a Plaid spokesperson says.

Precisely because NerdWallet is one of the only budget trackers to offer credit score monitoring, it also needs more of your personal info during setup, including your birthday, address, phone number and the last four digits of your social security number. It’s the same with Credit Karma, which also does credit score monitoring.

Related to the setup process, I found that NerdWallet was less adept than other apps at automatically detecting my regular income. In my case, it counted a large one-time wire transfer as income, at which point my only other option was to enter my income manually (which is slightly annoying because I would have needed my pay stub handy to double-check my take-home pay).

Budgeting apps we also tested

YNAB

YNAB is, by its own admission, “different from anything you’ve tried before.” The app, whose name is short for You Need a Budget, promotes a so-called zero-based budgeting system, which forces you to assign a purpose for every dollar you earn. A frequently used analogy is to put each dollar in an envelope; you can always move money from one envelope to another in a pinch. These envelopes can include rent and utilities, along with unforeseen expenses like holiday gifts and the inevitable car repair. The idea is that if you budget a certain amount for the unknowns each month, they won’t feel like they’re sneaking up on you.

Importantly, YNAB is only concerned with the money you have in your accounts now. The app does not ask you to provide your take-home income or set up recurring income payments (although there is a way to do this). The money you will make later in the month through your salaried job is not relevant, because YNAB does not engage in forecasting.

The app is harder to learn than any other here, and it requires more ongoing effort from the user. And YNAB knows that. Inside both the mobile and web apps are links to videos and other tutorials. Although I never quite got comfortable with the user interface, I did come to appreciate YNAB’s insistence on intentionality. Forcing users to draft a new budget each month and to review each transaction is not necessarily a bad thing. As YNAB says on its website, “Sure, you’ve got pie charts showing that you spent an obscene amount of money in restaurants — but you’ve still spent an obscene amount of money in restaurants.” I can see this approach being useful for people who don’t tend to have a lot of cash in reserve at a given time, or who have spending habits they want to correct (to riff off of YNAB’s own example, ordering Seamless four times a week).

My colleague Valentina Palladino, knowing I was working on this guide, penned a respectful rebuttal, explaining why she’s been using YNAB for years. Perhaps, like her, you have major savings goals you want to achieve, whether it’s paying for a wedding or buying a house. I suggest you give her column a read. For me, though, YNAB’s approach feels like overkill.

PocketGuard

PocketGuard is one of the only reputable free budget trackers I found in my research. Just know it’s far more restricted at the free tier than NerdWallet or Mint. In my testing, I was prompted to pay after I attempted to link more than two bank accounts. So much for free, unless you keep things simple with one cash account and one credit card. When it comes time to upgrade to PocketGuard Plus, you have three options: pay $7.99 a month, $34.99 a year or $79.99 for a one-time lifetime license. That lifetime option is actually one of the few unique selling points for me: I’m sure some people will appreciate paying once and never having to, uh, budget for it again.

From the main screen, you’ll see tabs for accounts, insights, transactions and the “Plan,” which is where you see recurring payments stacked on top of what looks like a budget. The main overview screen shows you your net worth, total assets and debts; net income and total spending for the month; upcoming bills; a handy reminder of when your next paycheck lands; any debt payoff plan you have; and any goals.

Dana Wollman / Engadget

Like some other apps, including Quicken Simplifi, PocketGuard promotes an “after bills” approach, where you enter all of your recurring bills, and then PocketGuard shows you what’s left, and that’s what you’re supposed to be budgeting: your disposable income. Obviously, other apps have a different philosophy: take into account all of your post-tax income and use it to pay the bills, purchase things you want and maybe even save a little. But in PocketGuard, it’s the “in your pocket” number that’s most prominent. To PocketGuard’s credit, it does a good job visualizing which bills are upcoming and which ones you’ve already paid.

PocketGuard has also publicly committed to adding some popular features in early 2024. These include rollover budgeting in January 2024, categorization rules in February and shared household access in March.

Dana Wollman / Engadget

Although PocketGuard’s UI is easy enough to understand, it lacks polish. The “accounts” tab is a little busy, and doesn’t show totals for categories like cash or investments. Seemingly small details like weirdly phrased or punctuated copy occasionally make the app feel janky. More than once, it prompted me to update the app when no updates were available. The web version, meanwhile, feels like the mobile app blown up to a larger format and doesn’t take advantage of the extra screen real estate.

Of note, although PocketGuard does work with Plaid, its primary bank-connecting platform is actually Finicity. Setting up my accounts through Finicity was mostly a straightforward process. I did encounter one hiccup: Finicity would not connect to my SoFi account. I was able to do it through Plaid, but PocketGuard doesn’t make it easy to access Plaid in the app. The only way, as far as I can tell, is to knowingly search for the name of a bank that isn’t available through Finicity, at which point you get the option to try Plaid instead. Like I said: the experience can be janky.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/the-best-budgeting-apps-to-replace-mint-143047346.html?src=rss

What we bought: How YNAB gives me peace of mind and keeps my money in check

I’ve always been pretty money-conscious, but I didn’t really get into budgeting until I was in my mid-twenties. “Budgeting” is generous — I thought I was budgeting, but really I was using a crude Google Sheet system to track my expenses every month. I didn’t truly understand the difference between those two things until I started looking into ways to upgrade. It had been working fine for me, but as I got older and wanted to grow my savings, save up for a home down payment and a wedding and generally do more “adult” things with my money, I started to scour the internet for alternatives. I settled on You Need a Budget (YNAB) about four years ago and I’ve enjoyed it so much that I keep using it even after achieving some of those milestones.

The YNAB Method is an approach to budgeting that resonated with me then and still does today. I won’t belabor the basics here, but put simply, you’re to give every dollar a “job” as soon as you get paid by taking care of immediate needs first and then accounting for the rest of your true expenses. The way YNAB does this is basically by acting like a digital envelope system where you can customize all of your envelopes (or “categories”) and the amount of money you need for each (“targets”), and dump money into all of them every time you get paid. For example, I know I need $65 each month to pay for internet, so I have an internet category in YNAB with a target of $65 each month that’s due by the 15th, since I’ll need that money to pay the bill on the 20th of every month.

Follow that example for all of the rest of your expenses like rent or mortgage payments, groceries, electricity, insurance premiums and you’ll have a full YNAB budget in place. You can (and should) also do that for “true” expenses, which include things like hair cuts and car maintenance in the YNAB system. You may not need a specific amount of money for things like that every month, but you can plan for them by saving a little every time you get paid — so by the time you need to get that hair cut ahead of a wedding or unexpectedly need a new set of tires, you have at least some, if not all, of the money necessary to pay it.

YNAB

I was already taking stock of my standard expenses and setting aside money for those first and foremost, but YNAB made the process much easier. It’s worth noting that was already part of my routine. I was privileged enough to get a decent financial education from my parents growing up (mantras like “pay yourself first” come to mind, and I see taking care of your most necessary expenses as a way of accomplishing that).

The game-changer for me was considering my “true expenses,” which added up quickly. The inevitable weekly takeout order, veterinary bills for our cat, train and rideshare fees and the like were all things I knew I needed to pay for but didn’t previously deal with until the time came. In YNAB, you can create categories for all true expenses and plan for them each month (or week, depending on how you budget/get paid) so there’s (hopefully) never a question of how you’re going to pay for any of them.

If you’re able to do this and get your expenses in order, it’s possible that you’ll find you have money left over each paycheck. Then you can expand your budget to think about other true expenses or sinking funds you may want to address. My line between true expenses and sinking funds is blurry at best, but the latter are just allocated monies you set aside for variable expenses that you know are inevitable like home maintenance or insurance premiums.

Holiday gifts were big for me; every year, I have even more people in my life that I need to buy gifts for during the holiday season and I never planned for that in advance before using YNAB. Now, I have a “holiday gifts” category with a generous target that I put money toward every month and set to be “due” every year in early October. As soon as sales start to kick in during the fall, I have a pool of money with which I can buy all of my loved ones’ gifts.

I should say that YNAB appeals to my Type-A, über-organized personality, but you can’t plan for everything. A few years back, I unexpectedly had to spend about $500 for some car repairs and I didn’t have quite that much in my “car maintenance” sinking fund. Instead of panicking, I moved some money over from my “clothing” category to cover the remainder of the costs. It was a bit painful psychologically (I love seeing those little green progress bars in the YNAB app), but it didn’t impact my finances at all. YNAB accounts only for the money you actually have, regardless of which category it’s in, so I wasn’t spending anything that I couldn’t afford. That’s really important to me, as someone who tries to live within their means — and as much as possible, below it — to avoid lifestyle creep.

YNAB

Getting back to those “adult” priorities I mentioned before: YNAB was one of the key things that helped me and my partner save up a home down payment and the funds we’d need to pay for our wedding simultaneously, without feeling too stretched along the way. We cut down (not cut out, mind you) on all unnecessary expenses and aggressively saved during this five-year period, and YNAB made keeping track of it all easy.

But I would like to stress that the service was just one of the things that helped, and there were other factors that contributed as well. It’s not realistic to suggest budgeting alone is the answer to all of one’s money prayers. But it’s certainly a step in the right direction and a good habit to build over time.

I consider YNAB up there with 1Password as one of the few services I’m happy to pay for every year because of how much it adds to my life. However, it’s worth noting that you don’t have to pay for YNAB to start budgeting using its tenants. The YNAB method, the envelope system and zero-based budgeting are all very similar and you can do them all with less expensive tools, and even manually with physical envelopes and cash. There are plenty of online communities with flourishing examples of how you can get started without paying for yet another subscription. I recommend checking out Taylor Budgets, Budget Treasures and other similar YouTube channels for more inspiration.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/what-we-bought-how-ynab-gives-me-peace-of-mind-and-keeps-my-money-in-check-140049410.html?src=rss

The best 15 last-minute Christmas gifts for 2023

The holidays are right around the corner and you might be a little more behind on your shopping than you’d like to admit. We don’t blame you — between family gatherings and the final work rush before PTO kicks in, it’s hard to find the time to go to a store to pick out presents. And once you get there, you could find half-empty shelves and very few choices. But that’s why we have the internet: you still have time to buy holiday gifts online.

USPS, UPS and FedEx have laid out their holiday shipping deadlines for 2023: Ship your items via USPS by December 16 to have them safely arrive before Christmas, while FedEx and UPS have deadlines of December 15 and December 18, respectively, for standard shipping. At this stage in the game, we recommend picking up small, affordable gifts that will ship quickly so you have plenty of time to wrap them up nicely and make it look like you had everything well-planned from the start. Here are the best last-minute Christmas gifts you can get right now and still have in time before the holidays.

Amazon Echo Dot with Clock

Freelancers

Anker 511 portable charger

JLab Go Air Pop

TP-Link Kasa smart lights

PopSocket Phone Wallet

Amazon Smart Plug

UE Wonderboom 3

Stanley IceFlow Tumbler

Anker magnetic power bank (10,000 mAh)

Apple AirTag

Tile Mate

Blink Mini Pan-Tilt Camera

8Bitdo Pro 2

Audible Premium Plus

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-15-last-minute-christmas-gifts-for-2023-140037362.html?src=rss

The Meta Quest 2 VR headset is still on sale in an Amazon Black Friday deal

Good things come to those who wait, and if you decided to hold off on buying the Meta Quest 2 when it was discounted by $50 as part of Amazon’s early Black Friday sale, your patience is about to be rewarded. Now that Black Friday has come and gone, not only is the headset still on sale for $249, but Amazon is also throwing in a $50 credit toward future purchases. To claim the credit, tap the “Redeem” button below the product price. Once you go to pay for the Quest 2, a message will appear explaining that the coupon will arrive in your email inbox within 24 hours of Amazon shipping the headset to you.

Although the Quest 2 is a few years old now, it’s still one of the best VR headsets on the market, and for good reason. Although its successor, the Quest 3, arrived earlier this fall, the new model starts at $500. In fact, most other VR solutions cost about that much. What’s more, the Quest 2 remains capable, thanks to its 6GB of RAM and Snapdragon XR2 processor. And although it could offer a wider field of view, the Quest 2 still features a decent display, with the headset’s two LCD screens producing a resolution of 1,832 x 1,920 per eye and refreshing at a smooth 90Hz. Best of all, the Quest 2 is one of the comfortable VR headsets on account of it being completely cordless.

As for games and experiences, the Quest Store has one of the strongest libraries in the business, and it’s even possible to connect the Quest 2 to a PC to play medium-defining titles like Half-Life: Alyx. Add the headset's excellent motion controls, and at $249, the Quest 2 is the best value in VR. An extra $50 gift only sweetens the deal.

Your Black Friday Shopping Guide: See all of Yahoo’s Black Friday coverage, here. Follow Engadget for Black Friday tech deals. Learn about Black Friday trends on In The Know. Hear from Autoblog’s experts on the best Black Friday deals for your car, garage, and home, and find Black Friday sales to shop on AOL, handpicked just for you.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/the-meta-quest-2-vr-headset-is-still-on-sale-in-an-amazon-black-friday-deal-154752345.html?src=rss

The best Black Friday deals under $50 for 2023

Big-ticket tech devices can get crazy expensive, but there are plenty of gadgets and accessories that are surprisingly affordable — and happen to make great gifts and stocking stuffers. We gathered up the gear we’ve tested and reviewed to come up with a big stack of Black Friday deals under $50. Thanks to sales at retailers like Amazon, Walmart and Target, as well as deals directly from manufacturers, there’s a slew of gadgets and gifts we recommend that are $50 or less for Black Friday. Check them out and start crossing off your holiday list — or stock up on a few things for yourself — while hanging on to more of your money.

Biolite PD 40 power bank

Moft Sit-Stand Desk

Roku Streaming Stick 4K

Tile Mate

Echo Dot

Echo Dot Kids

Echo Show 5 (3rd Gen, 2023)

Anker Nano power bank (USB-C)

Blink Mini

Amazon Smart Plug

Kasa Smart Plug

Otterbox Fast Charge

Tribit Stormbox Micro 2

JBL Clip 4 Eco

Newvanga travel power adapter

HyperX Cloud Stinger 2

EarFun Free 2 wireless earbuds

Amazon Echo Buds

Thermacell E55 Mosquito Repeller

Google Chromecast with Google TV (4K)

Logitech Signature M650 mouse

Kasa Smart Light Bulbs

Sengled WiFi Color Changing Bulb

Anker Bio-Braided USB-C to C cable

Anker 100W 10ft USB-C cable

Your Black Friday Shopping Guide: See all of Yahoo’s Black Friday coverage, here. Follow Engadget for Black Friday tech deals. Learn about Black Friday trends on In The Know. Hear from Autoblog’s experts on the best Black Friday deals for your car, garage, and home, and find Black Friday sales to shop on AOL, handpicked just for you.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/the-best-black-friday-deals-under-50-for-2023-100007942.html?src=rss

LG Black Friday deals: Save up to $300 on 2023 OLED TV sets

LG Black Friday deals include a number of decent discounts on its 2023 OLED TVs, and a couple of noteworthy sales on 2022 models as well. You can currently save $300 on this 42-inch 2023 LG C3 OLED TV, which is down to a record low of $897, and $200 on this 65-inch B3 OLED set, which is on sale for $1,297. If you're willing to get a slightly older model, you can get this 2022 55-inch B2 OLED TV for nearly half off its starting price.

Its worth noting that OLED TV sales around this time of year are mostly a culmination of steadily dropping prices. TV manufacturers often lower the "regular" prices on their high-end TV sets throughout the year, starting shortly after the models debut. Some of these sale prices have been around since the start of the holiday shopping season, but that doesn't change the fact that many of them are record lows.

If you're unfamiliar, OLED TVs stand out for their deep blacks and rich colors when compared to standard sets. LG's 2023 C3 OLED models run on the upgraded a9 Gen 6 processor that brings AI upscaling, object-based picture sharpening and HDR tone mapping, among other things, to the TVs. LG updated its TV operating system to have a simplified UI that requires less scrolling, which should make it even easier to navigate. It also now supports "quick cards" that let you more easily jump into categorical content like music and sports, personal profiles and AI-based search keyword recommendations.

The B3 series is an entry-level alternative for anyone who doesn't want to spend quite as much on a new TV. This year's models run on an older a7 Gen 6 chip and do not support the level of brightness boosting you'll find in the C3 sets, but they do support 4K content at 120Hz refresh rates. If you're still not ready to drop so much money on an OLED set, LG Black Friday deals also include some discounts on the company's QNED sets.

Your Black Friday Shopping Guide: See all of Yahoo’s Black Friday coverage, here. Follow Engadget for Black Friday tech deals. Learn about Black Friday trends on In The Know. Hear from Autoblog’s experts on the best Black Friday deals for your car, garage, and home, and find Black Friday sales to shop on AOL, handpicked just for you.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/lg-black-friday-deals-save-up-to-300-on-2023-oled-tv-sets-183847464.html?src=rss