You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who actually likes creating a personal budget. It always feels like—with some concrete exceptions—you’re always guessing, and you’re always having to adjust it. But that’s exactly what makes a budget so useful. You might feel during the first few months that it’s pointless. Eventually, however, your spending patterns emerge, and you’re able to budget more intelligently.
Budget Boss iPhone app (99 cents) helps you build smarter budgets by showing you where your current allocation of funds will lead over the coming years. Like Dollarbird, it provides tools for entering information about your income and expenses, then provides charts forecasting your cash flow.
Unlike Dollarbird, Budget Boss makes good use of iPhone conventions so that navigation isn’t a problem. It’s a good-looking app that makes data entry almost enjoyable, which is a good thing since you can’t download income and expense transactions from your financial institutions. But if you’re tired of scratching out numbers on a piece of paper or constantly editing them in Excel, Budget Boss may be a good solution for you.
Financial Calendar vs. Budget
Competitor Dollarbird doesn’t position itself as a budgeting app, though it could function as such. You enter income and expenses on the days that they occur within a graphical calendar. And since much of your incoming and outgoing money patterns are predictable and recurring (mortgage, utilities, car payment, salary, etc.), you end up with a budget of sorts.
Budget Boss does position itself as a budgeting app, a predictive one. You don’t enter daily expenses as they occur, like in Dollarbird; you’re setting limits for yourself within budget categories like Food, Recreation, and Utilities. If you go over your budgeted amount, you can make a manual adjustment. Budget Boss maintains a running history of these changes.
A Good Apple App
Like Dollarbird, user security is optional in Budget Boss. You can set a four-digit PIN; this feature is available—along with other app options like exporting your data in CSV format—by tapping the little wheel icon in the upper left corner. Since Budget Boss does not store any live data in the form of downloaded financial transactions, you don’t have to create a user name and password. System integrity, though, is maintained via built-in security.
Budget Boss makes good use of standard iPhone conventions. It uses swiping motions. Some screens display “Cancel,” “Save” and other navigational commands in the upper part of the screen. The app opens to your “Budget Elements” screen, since you’ll spend most of your time entering income and expense data. There are four other icons along the bottom of the screen that take you to other tools; these are always active, so you never have trouble finding your way to another screen. Budget Boss’ data entry and graphical screens are all well-designed and easy to understand and use, they rival Mint.com’s.
Easy Expense, Income Entry
Personal finance management may not be considered an enjoyable activity, but you have to admit that it’s more fun to noodle around with numbers on your iPhone than on your big keyboard and monitor.
Budget Boss takes advantage of that characteristic, making it easy to enter your budget line items. The “Budget Elements” screen is divided into two sections, Income at the top and Expenses below. You click on the “+” sign to open the data entry screens. They’re identical for both types of line items, asking for the same type of information. The “Element Type” appears at the top of the screen, though you can toggle back and forth between Income and Expenses by tapping the active option.
You’ll be asked to enter a name for your budget item and either assign a pre-existing category (Transportation, Food, Recreation, etc.) or create your own (which will undoubtedly be necessary since the list is rather brief). Enter the dollar amount budgeted and tap the arrow next to “Frequency” to choose from several options, daily through annually. Select a start date and an expiration date, then save the item. You’ll be returned to the Elements screen, where you can view all of your income and expenses in a list sorted by name, value or frequency.
What you’ll get for all of your hard work entering your budget items and adjustments is a lot of information about the future of your finances. Tap on the “Outlook” icon, and the Balance Outlook screen displays your daily balance for up to two years along with each day’s income and expenses. If you need to make a balance adjustment, you’ll do it here, by tapping the arrow to the right of the day’s balance. At the bottom of the screen, a line graph predicts your balance for two weeks, a month, three months and a year.
Tap the “Summary” icon and you can see colorful pie charts illustrating the percentage of your total income and expenses that each category represents (Housing, 38.7 percent, Utilities, 15.2 percent, etc.). The charts also display daily, weekly, and monthly averages, as well as dollar amounts for each category for those same periods. Budget Boss also calculates and displays periodic margins. That is, what’s the dollar difference between your income and expenses, and are you in the red or in the black?
The “History” icon opens a screen that displays all of your balance adjustments by date, both as a list and as a graph. You can alternate between two-week, one-month, three-month, and annual views by tapping the chart. If you’re noticing patterns and/or excessive adjustments, it’s time to tweak your main budget.
Calculating the Future
Budget Boss throw in a specialized calculator that tells you what your savings balance will be down the road based on the initial balance, interest rate, monthly deposit, and number of years. You can also determine how long it will take you to pay off a credit card balance based on your current payment and APR, or how much you should submit every month to pay off the balance by a specific number of months. This information, along with the graphs you’re getting in Budget Boss, can help you work toward your financial goals.
Budget Boss isn’t Mint.com, and it’s not trying to be. Rather, Budget Boss takes a slice of your personal finance management—your budget—and makes it work for you, helping you spot problem areas and rejigger your spending when necessary. If you’re already using something like Mint it’s probably overkill, but Budget Boss is a good solution if you want to minimize the time you spend on financial planning yet still want some assistance managing your money more intelligently.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc