When it comes to keeping track of my finances digitally, I feel like I’ve really tried it all. On my Mac, I’ve tried iBank, iFinance, Koku, Money and Moneywell; on my iPhone I’ve tried Expenditure, MoneyBook and Saver, not to mention Mint.com on the web and iPhone. I’ve been pretty displeased with all of them, nothing really seemed to fit with my lifestyle and habits.
Budget with Back in Black (referred to as Back in Black from here on out) is the latest in the crowded market of finance apps, and with its quick climb to the top of the App Store charts and the rave user reviews I read, I was cautiously hopeful that Back in Black would impress. Find out the results after the jump.
When you first open up Back in Black, you’re greeted with a financial overview for the current month: income, fixed expenses, goals, spending, and a big green button for adding purchases. To get started using Back in Black, enter your income, from which all other fields will be deducted. Unlike some of the other apps I tried, Back in Black lets you add as many income types as you like, with the option of adding one-time or repeating incomes. I love that Back in Black doesn’t try to force me to figure out an average income, which can be pretty impossible if you’re a freelancer like myself getting paid different amounts at irregular intervals.
Back in Black recommends that you start deducting from your income with your fixed, repeating expenses like rent or utilities. Expenses are filed into categories, which you can customize with different names and even unique icons. You can set Back in Black to remind you about your bills via push notifications and icon badges as well.
Once you’ve input your income and fixed expenses, the remainder of your money is categorized as “unassigned,” and can be used towards goals or for day-to-day spending. This division of goals, expenses and spending is really helpful in quickly assessing how you’re doing on a monthly basis.
Back in Black allows you to set saving goals for things like tuition, vacaion, retirement or debt. Rather than including goals as an “extra” category as some apps do, it actually deducts the amount of money you plan on putting towards a goal from your monthly budget, which makes the goals seem much more real and acheivable since they’re not just “dreams” but things you’ve actually accounted for.
At first I found the Goals feature to be very inflexible, because I couldn’t just set it to something vague like “$150 by the end of summer,” I had to actually enter the monthly installments (or let Back in Black calculate them for me). Now that I think about it though, this feature actually forces you to “get real” about saving. You can set a goal as “open-ended,” meaning it doesn’t have an end date and you can input whatever you like, but if you’re going to put a deadline on your goal, you have to actually have a plan to reach it.
My one complaint about the “goals” category was the inability to set shorter-term goals, like a monthly credit card bill. For that matter, there didn’t seem to be any features to keep track of debt, other than as a goal with monthly installments.
The money left over after expenses and goals is supposed to be distributed into spending categories, or budgets, for the month. Spending categories are just as customizable as income categories, with a similar slew of icons to choose from. If you don’t allocate your money to budgets, any purchases you add will be shown as “over,” even if you have enough unassigned income to cover it. Though this initially inspired a negative response from me, like the restrictions on goals, this forces you to do what needs to be done: make a plan.
Adding purchases to Back in Black is a straight-forward process: all you need to do is enter an amount and select a category. Like other expense-tracking apps, it also lets you add notes or adjust the date on your purchases.
Back in Black is based on the straight-forward math of spending less than you earn, but makes it easier by splitting things up into categories.
This is another one of those apps that I liked more after I started writing about it: as I would start writing a complaint, I’d realize “Ooh, that’s on purpose!” Back in Black isn’t a casual-use app that just takes whatever information you input and outputs some pretty graphs, it’s a serious budgeting app that won’t work if you’re not willing to be serious yourself. I still have trouble doing any financial planning because of the nature of my income, but I know that if I stuck to a system like the one implemented by Back in Black, I would definitely feel better about my finances.
If you’re serious about spending less than you earn and meeting your financial goals, Back in Black offers a solid way of keeping things organized.
Back in Black doesn’t offer anything exceptionally unique, but the approach is remarkably well thought out and easy to use. My one complaint about the philosophy behind the app is that it’s not made very clear in their marketing; it’s not obvious that this is a more “serious” app, and from the website it would seem to appeal to the causal user, who would probably find it frustrating.
As for missing features, I’d like to see a better way to deal with credit card use (though that could get complicated), and as always, it would be awesome to be able to import transactions from another source, or export to .csv.
If you’re looking for a slick, straight-forward way to get your finances in check, Back in Black might be the app to help you do it. Have I finally found my “holy grail” finance app? We’ll see …