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The best budgeting apps for UK creative workers

Untangle your personal finances with our guide to the best budgeting apps for UK creative-types

Working in the creative industries has its ups and downs – and not least when it comes to our cashflow. This can make it really hard to budget effectively. The best budgeting apps make this process much less painful, taking full advantage of the ‘open banking’ revolution to quickly and clearly calculate our cashflow and spending. What’s more, most of them are free, too

Often in creative careers our finances will vary greatly from month-to-month. One month you can be sat at home wondering where the next gig will come from, the next you could be earning and paying a second rent in a new city.

The budgeting process usually relies on predictability – and that is something that is in short supply in our field

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This makes budgeting exceptionally difficult for creative workers. It’s a process that normally relies on predictability – and that is in short supply in our industries.


Does your work situation make it difficult to save money? Check out our guide:How to start saving (when you don’t think you can)


Budgeting apps can be particularly useful to creative workers because the data will usually be much more up-to-date and easier to interpret. This is helpful when your income and expenses somewhat wildly fluctuate!

A good budgeting app can

  • Make it easy to track and sort your income and spending into categories
  • Give you a clear picture (via fancy graphs and charts) of your income, spending and cashflow
  • Help you compare the above across the months/years
  • Allow you to set budgets for defined projects/categories
  • Keep you up-to-date on how much you have left
  • Help you to identify potential savings on your bills
  • Help you to save or invest by siphoning off cash on a daily basis (for instance, by rounding up transactions)
  • ‘Gameify’ the process of money management

Most do this by connecting to your bank (with your explicit permission) and regularly importing your transactions for analysis. Some have the power to make transfers between accounts, but most just look at the data.

If this sounds a little suspect, rest assured that all of those featured on the best budgeting apps list are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, which is there to ensure they behave themselves. Do not use any service which is not FCA registered.

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Things to consider when picking budgeting apps…

What do you need?

Each of these apps has different strengths and weaknesses. Some are great at budgeting, some can help you save more, others have better spending analysis or clearer interfaces.

I have my preference (below) but you might need to try a few. Ultimately, the ‘best budgeting app’ is the one you will actually use consistently. Just keeping half-an-eye on these things will help you to improve your finances (lowering expenses, increasing savings), so know thyself! Which one will most encourage you to keep track?

Cost

Most of the apps below are free, but some have a small subscription fee or premium tier that gives you more options.

How many accounts and types of accounts do you want to manage?

Do you want a budgeting app that’s a one-stop shop to plan and keep track of your assets (including pensions and the value of your home)? Or simply an app that makes it easy to monitor a basic set of current and savings accounts?

How will you use the app?

It’s good to consider how you will use a budgeting app as part of a wider system.

You might be keen to set goals and boost your savings or pension. Or you might want to use the app to easily calculate your monthly income, spending and savings and track those total figures in a separate spreadsheet.

Alternatively, you may want separate apps for work expenses and personal finances (perhaps you have an accountancy platform with whizzy apps for your work stuff and just want something simple for personal finances).

Most give you various export options for data so you have even greater flexibility if you require it.

1. MoneyHub

Best UK budgeting apps for UK users: MoneyHub

Best for making a complex picture clear

This is Creative Money’s preferred choice of budgeting app. It helps you to keep track of income, expenses and savings (like Money Dashboard et al), but you also can pull in an impressive range of investment accounts, pensions and even home equity.

For
  • Makes a complex web of account types easy to understand
  • Easy transaction tagging process (compared to other apps)
  • Great as a simple way to keep track of net worth
  • Spending and income analysis tools are really clear
  • Big range of accounts supported (including Vanguard)
Against
  • Some users say it’s not so hot on the predictive/forecasting side
  • Has a sideline in trying to direct you to financial advisors, too (but doesn’t rub it in your face)
  • It also comes with a small monthly fee of £1.49

2. Money Dashboard

Best budgeting apps for UK users: Money Dashboard

Best for those who want an established name

Probably the biggest name among UK budgeting apps. It set the template in many ways: you connect your accounts, tag your transactions and it will start to automatically group them into categories for tracking/comparing month to month.

For
  • Money Dashboard has won multiple awards
  • You can also set multiple budgets (telling it which categories to track) and add recurring bills etc. to predict cashflow
  • Was the first UK app to really crack the blend of an intuitive interface and mainstream connectivity
  • New features are rolling out all the time and a ‘predicted balance after bills’ feature is useful for those with a regular income
Against
  • The recent redesign, Money Dashboard Neon, has not gone down well with everyone
  • Some say it’s a little glitchy and lacks some of the utility of the classic version

3. Emma

Best budgeting apps for UK users: Emma

Best for finding those sneaky fees and expenses

The makers of Emma describe their app as ‘a financial advocate’. Their USP is that it analyses your transactions and tries to find ways to keep you in good shape, financially.

For
  • Keeps track of the sneaky stuff you often don’t notice
  • Seeks out subscriptions you don’t need
  • Uses notifications to help you avoid overdraft
  • Compatible with cryptocurrencies [this is NOT an endorsement of crypto – but that’s another post]
  • Clear interface.
Against
  • Can’t split transactions across categories on the free version
  • Some people don’t get on with the interface’s super-bold colour scheme
  • Pro plan is quite expensive (min. £4.90/month).

4. Yolt

Best budgeting apps for UK users: Yolt

Best for keeping it simple

Yolt likes to keep it simple. It offers you a place to connect and view multiple accounts and doesn’t get hung up on fancy tech to make predictions or do things for you.

For
  • Easy to use, with intuitive auto-categorisation
  • Simple to set and review budgets
  • Stealth mode allows you to show off app without personal info
  • Payday tracker
  • Free for life with no premium mode
Against
  • Pay tracker only works for monthly/four-weekly
  • Not as clever or customisable as rival apps
  • Unlike the others here, there are no options for savings goals/projects
An artist AND an app-user
Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

How did we pick?

Through a blend of personal usage/testing, user reviews and considering research conducted by other independent platforms. Creative Money is 100% independent and has no affiliation, commercial or otherwise, with any of the brands mentioned above.


Creative Money Guides are ‘How-to’s and explainers relating to specific aspects of money management for those working in the creative industries.

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How can we help you?

What issues are you facing? What questions do you have about managing your money in the creative industries? What would be most helpful to you?

We don’t have all the answers, but maybe we can find someone that does.

Send your questions and suggestions to creativemoneycontact@gmail.com.
We want to hear from you.

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Guides

How to start saving (when you don’t think you can)

You know you should start saving but you don’t. Can we change that?

Everyone knows they should be saving, but while this painfully obvious advice is wheeled-out ad nauseam, the bigger issue is HOW to start saving in the face of personal limitations, whether they’re financial or mental. Here are five tips to help you get started…

Savings are a catch-22 situation for many creative workers – if your earnings are low or inconsistent, then it’s more important to have the security of savings, yet harder to build that cash cushion. It’s no wonder many of us feel it’s impossible to start, particularly amid the current economic situation.

If you’ve tried and failed to save before, or are looking for a way to start, consider instead how you can create a process – a savings production line for yourself.

Lofty and unsustainable savings goals can do more harm than good. Make it your aim to simply start

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Lofty and unsustainable savings goals can do more harm than good for new savers, demotivating us before the habit is established, so try focussing on forming and rewarding the habit itself.

Make it your aim to simply start and set something aside for a period of time, if the amount varies or seems small that’s still a victory. You’re building a habit right now, not a war chest. Once the habit is formed, you can build from there by increasing amounts and starting to think more about where to direct the cash.

Whether’s it’s £1 or £100, most of us can save something – and something is always better than nothing.

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1. Automate it

If you have any form of regular income, whether it’s salary, recurring freelance work or even a benefit payment, set up a standing order to your savings account to go out the day it lands in your account. Start small. The aim is to set aside an amount that you won’t notice is missing later in the month.

If your income is entirely variable, create your own automation by setting aside a small percentage from each payment you receive – again, start small – try 5%.

2. Round-up your spending

There multiple banking apps out there now that will enable you to round-up transactions to the nearest pound and deposit the difference in a savings account. This can be useful for freelance and creative workers because it creates a form of automation that’s not dependent on having a predictable, consistent income.


Struggling with your cash flow as a freelancer? Take a look at our guide: ‘How to manage your money on a variable income’


3. Use a different bank for your savings

If you have an issue with raiding your savings, then pay them into an account with a different bank or building society and don’t check the balance. Just pay it in regularly and forget about it. Consider this money dead to you for the year – a gift to your future self.

Your future self might want to check the balance in 12 months, or in the New Year, or tax season. But by that point the habit should be set.

Finally, make sure any institution that you save with is UK-regulated and therefore covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) – this protects your savings (up to £85,000) if the bank fails.

How to start saving money - build in steps
Photo by Damir Spanic on Unsplash

4. Build in steps

This is a great idea if you’re used to spending all of your income. Start by setting aside an amount you know you won’t miss and then increase the standing order every month. It allows your spending to adapt slowly and in a way you will scarcely notice. Even if you start with £5 and increase £5 a month from there, after a year you could wind-up with £390 in the bank and a regular savings habit of £60 a month. At that point, even if you don’t increase the standing order any further, you would be setup to save a further £720 in the following year.

5. Get the government to help you

If you’re entitled to Working Tax Credits or Universal Credit, you may be eligible for a Help To Save account. If accepted, you can pay in between £1 and £50 a month and the government will give you a bonus 50p for every £1 you save.

The bonus is paid after years two and four and is based on the highest balance you managed to save in each two year period. If you pay in the maximum amount each month, you could save £2,400 over four years – and get an extra £1,200 from the government. That’s a guaranteed return of 50% on offer, which is huge!

How to start saving money
Photo by Damir Spanic on Unsplash

Creative Money Guides are ‘How-to’s and explainers relating to specific aspects of money management for those working in the creative industries.

How can we help you?

What issues are you facing? What questions do you have about managing your money in the creative industries? What would be most helpful to you?

We don’t have all the answers, but maybe we can find someone that does.

Send your questions and suggestions to creativemoneycontact@gmail.com.
We want to hear from you.