Remember the days when you had to buy physical copies of software at the store?
You’d bring home a box of discs, install them and cross your fingers that the product would do what you wanted it to. After all, once you broke the seal on the box, you couldn’t return it if you didn’t like it.
And back then, what you could do with those programs was limited, too.
You couldn’t link your bank transactions, pay bills automatically and get updates on your credit profile with the same program. (Did we even have access to our credit profiles 15 years ago?)
Today, it’s much easier to find personal finance software in the form of an app that allows you to manage every aspect of your finances in real time. And for the most part, you can do all that for free.
With the click of your mouse or the swipe of your finger, you can bank, budget, pay bills, invest, monitor your net worth, manage and pay taxes, review your credit profile, get a loan… the list goes on.
But sometimes the free version of the program you’re using doesn’t give you everything you want. Therein lies the dilemma.
Should you pay for personal finance software? Or should you stick with the free version? After all, you’re trying to save money here, aren’t you?
A popular payment method for most personal finance apps is through a subscription, instead of the now sorely missed one-time purchase.
This makes choosing whether to pay for a program an even harder decision. And believe it or not, this stresses people out to the point of decision paralysis.
But don’t go stressing. Figuring it out is easier than you think.
So how do you decide when to pay for personal finance software and when to stick with free?
Let’s take a look at four times when you should pay for personal finance software, three times when you should stick to the free option and some extra tips to save money if you do decide to become a paying user.
Four Times You Should Pay for Personal Finance Software
1. When Money Can Buy You More Time
On a website where finance is the main topic, one would assume that saving money would be valued above all other factors. However, in reality, time is much more valuable.
Wouldn’t you purchase more time if you could?
Well, that’s what you’d be doing if you’d paid for software that saves you time in doing a financial task like, say, budgeting or tax reconciliation.
Sure, you could probably save $80 to $100 by doing your household budget on a spreadsheet or a legal pad, but how long does it take you to create a budget sheet? And how much time does it take you each week to manage that budget in Excel?
If you’re good at spreadsheets, then free is the way to go. But if you’re not — if you’re like me and it takes you a lot of time and effort to get Excel to do your bidding — then letting an expert budgeting app help you is the answer.
For me, spending $7 a month on a program such as YNAB, which cuts my budgeting time from five hours a week to 45 minutes and thus buys me 255 extra minutes I can use on other things like getting more sleep or reading more books, is totally worth it.
This example extends to any area of life, not just budgeting. Any program that can help automate something may be worth it if it allows you to spend time on things more important to you.
2. When You Can Make More Money
With the rising popularity of micro businesses (small businesses with five or fewer employees), the lines between personal finance and business finance are getting blurred.
For sole proprietors and single-member LLCs, managing both personal and business finances in the same program just makes things easier. And it’s important to have proper accounting and get your taxes right. Such software can save you time and hassle from the IRS, which makes for a better return on investment.
The right software will help you find applicable tax deductions, separate personal and business transactions, calculate and pay quarterly tax payments on time, track mileage and provide profit projections so you can make better business decisions. Here at Investor Junkie, we recommend Intuit’s QuickBooks. It starts at only $15 per month!
All of these help you manage your business so you can make more money. This results in a positive return on your initial investment in buying the software.
3. When You Can Increase Your Knowledge
The only way to keep growing is to keep learning. Especially when it comes to your personal finance habits.
Some personal finance programs offer paying customers exclusive access to an extended body of resources and valuable support, in addition to their primary money management features.
Apps like LearnVest and YNAB have an extensive knowledge resource library, multiple mediums of support (video, chat and phone), webinars, courses and blogs that are frequently updated with fresh content.
When assessing if a product is right for you, look beyond the main features to see what other knowledge you can gain from being a member or user. Can you learn more about the different aspects of personal finance through classes or webinars or from the service’s library? As a paying member, will you have access to a live financial professional who can help you find answers that can’t be found through free outside research?
4. When the Price Is Right
If you’re looking to buy personal finance software as a subscription, find out how much it really costs.
Depending on the type of program you’re looking for, personal finance app subscriptions can cost anywhere from $2 to $50 a month.
What does that mean for your budget? An extra $50 a month translates into $600 a year. At that price, you’d better be getting a lot of value and a good return on investment for being a paying member.
Also look at how a monthly or yearly subscription factors into your budget for the next few years. An annual subscription of $80 for a personal finance app equals $400 after five years. See if the program has a lifetime buy-in option. (It’s a rare thing these days for finance software, but it’s worth asking.) If you’re sure you will use the software for a long time, it might be worth paying the lifetime price if it’s available.
What’s great about online software is that if you’re not satisfied, you’d probably be able to get your money back or get prorated if you cancel halfway through your subscription. (Read the fine print, of course.)
Just make sure the price of the program fits into your budget and is proportionate to the value you get from using the product.
Personal Finance Software You Probably Should Not Pay For
1. Apps that move money into a regular savings account that does not pay interest
Most banks, especially online, allow users to set up automatic transfers between checking and savings accounts for free.
And although bank interest rates are low right now, your bank may still be giving you a higher interest than most microsavings apps and without any fees. Check your bank’s rates and fee schedule to be sure.
Rize is the one microsavings app that does pay users interest. See if Rize pays a higher interest rate than your bank and pick the better choice.
If you need an automatic savings feature that microsavings apps offer and you’re a USAA member, you have free access to something similar to Digit, called Text Savings. It monitors your checking account for extra money and moves it into your savings account automatically without causing overdrafts. If you’re not a USAA member, see if your bank offers something like it.
2. Apps that link to all your financial accounts in one place
If you’re paying for an app that aggregates all your financial accounts into one dashboard, please stop.
3. Apps that manage and pay bills for you
All major online banks offer free automatic bill payment so there’s no reason you should be paying a third-party app to manage and pay bills from your bank.
And if you just don’t want to pay bills from your bank, you can use the free bill pay feature from Mint. Here’s how you can easily set up automatic bill payments to make your life easier.
A Few More Reasons to Consider Paying for Personal Finance Software
When we contemplate buying something, we don’t always take future use into consideration. We look at the features we’ll use today. But there are a few more things to consider when you pay for software versus when you use the free version.
Users who pay for the software usually get better support and priority handling. This is valuable if you’re buying a program that’s highly technical for a job that’s time sensitive like accounting or ecommerce.
Access to new features and integrations
Premium customers get access to new and upgraded features of the product. They also get access to new integrations with other financial software or institutions typically not available to free users.
Beta testing and feedback
Some companies ask users if they want to be beta testers and vote for new features. This puts paying users in a position to shape the future of the product.
Tips When Choosing to Pay for Personal Finance Apps
Verify the security of the website before buying
If you are sharing personal information like Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and financial information, you should make sure the company takes security seriously.
- What third-party apps are being used to securely link your financial accounts, and are they secure?
- The website security banner should be an Extended Validation SSL certificate, similar to bank websites, especially if you have to enter personally identifiable information.
- They should offer a two-factor authentication login.
- It should be easy for you to cancel and delete your account and personal information.
- You should be able to easily contact customer service to get help and find answers.
Wait for special occasions to purchase
If you can wait for special deals before you buy, you’ll be able to save some money.
- Black Friday and Cyber Monday, especially if it’s online software.
- New Year’s.
- Springtime. (Smaller companies do “spring cleaning deals.”)
- April — National Financial Literacy Month and Tax Time.
- Back to school.
Here at Investor Junkie, we often list special promotions for personal finance software. Check out the current offers here.
The Bottom Line: It All Comes Down to What You Value
What I find valuable may seem silly to you and maybe even the next person. In fact, two people may value the same product in very different ways.
I personally love using YNAB to manage my household and business budget. And I’m happy to purchase a yearly subscription because of the value I get and the time I save. But not everyone would agree.
In fact, for every YNABer, there’s an Excel wizard who does their budget just as well on a free spreadsheet, happy as a clam, and sees no reason to pay for it.
So don’t let someone else’s perceived value persuade you into thinking it’s a good product for you.
Value has to be determined only by you and dictated by your budget.
When you’re deciding to pay for personal finance software, comparing the four values mentioned above can help you make a choice whether or not to pay. If you can save time, make more money than the initial investment and extend your knowledge, and if it fits your budget, then it’s most likely worth the price.
Just make sure there’s a money-back guarantee and a cancel-anytime policy in case you ever change your mind.
How did you make the decision to purchase software in the past? And if you didn’t, what made you decide to stick with the free version? Let us know in the comments.