Freelancer’s Guide to Budgeting and Financial Tools

Summertime is (finally!) here—which means fun times, last-minute trips, and often, more spending. Here are some tips to keep you fiscally ready for fun beach frolics, lazy lobster roll lunches, and super summer months—and ALL 365.25 days a year.

As we head into the heart (and heat) of summer, it’s a good time to look ahead to the rest of the year to set yourself up for financial success now and in the months to come. As freelancers, independent contractors, and digital nomads, being in charge of our time, money, and ability to work from anywhere we want requires a measure of fiscal responsibility that many of us fake till we make it.  

When you work for yourself, you’re in charge of every penny you make and as we all know, some months are busier than others.  A great rule of thumb is to live by the 50/30/20 rule—charting out a realistic plan for your needs, wants, and savings. While that’s an excellent rubric, the good news is that there are now many apps and tools that can help you budget your money—and many are free!  

These tools help you track spending habits, budget your income, check your credit score, and make the task of budgeting simpler so you can make the most of your money and time. There are tons of apps for freelancers, but finding the best ones can be a bit overwhelming and can take time, so we compiled a list of the best budgeting and finance apps to set you up for success this summer and moving forward. 

1. YNAB (You Need a Budget)

If you want to become a serious budgeter, this is the app for you. Instead of using traditional budgeting buckets, you allocate every dollar you earn to something. Every buck you make is assigned to a “job,” whether that means it goes towards savings, bills, or investments.

YNAB connects to your bank account and can actually help you nix bad money habits and encourage you to adopt good ones. If you stick with YNAB you will be highly discouraged to overspend or take on additional debt. YNAB’s mission? To help you gain control of your money and stop living hand to mouth by making it easy to see and manage your finances in real time. You can see your financial data in graph form and lets you track investment accounts. While this is a subscription-based service, they offer a free trial month, and joining comes with a 100% money-back guarantee.

2. EveryDollar

Like YNAB, EveryDollar tracks spending, savings, and debt. It’s straightforward and simple to use for newly budget-minded freelancers who want to get a handle on their finances. There is a free version and a gratis trial for the paid version, which comes with more bells and whistles. You can connect your bank account if you use the upgraded version, though there is no bill pay feature, the app does provide additional help by giving you access to financial experts and does not bombard you with ads.

3. Goodbudget

Have you ever heard of the ‘cash envelope’ system for budgeting? The concept is simple—take several envelopes, write a specific expense category on each, like rent, credit cards, groceries, or student loans—and then put the money you plan to spend on those things into the envelopes. Goodbudget does this in tech fashion, allowing you to create digital envelopes for each of your budgeting categories to help prevent overspending and slipping into debt. If you overspend in an envelope, it allows you to transfer money. While there is a free version, the subscription offers more robust budgeting tools. While it doesn’t track investments, it does provide reports on your income and spending trends.

4. QuickBooks Self-Employed 

Say hello to the gold standard for independent contractors. This tool helps you separate personal expenses from business ones, making your quarterly and year-end tax times simple and easy.

QuickBooks Self-Employed has numerous smart features designed to make tracking your business expenditures a breeze. A great example is that the app can track your mileage automatically based on how fast your smartphone moves through space. It can also make your phone a defacto receipt scanner, perhaps less exciting but infinitely helpful, and more, once you categorize your transactions, the app can find tax deductions for you. QuickBooks Self-Employed can help you file taxes every quarter using TurboTax, taking a lot of the worry and working out what can be a major drag for many freelancers.

5. Bonsai

This subscription-based app was designed with independent contractors and freelancers in mind. Bonsai has a time tracker, which integrates with all your clients and ongoing projects—and once you’ve tracked your time, you can easily add them to a new invoice for billing. The app lets you track expenses by taking photos of receipts to bill to specific projects and you can add these to invoices along with your timesheets.

6. Mint

Mint pulls all your finances into one handy place, which really lets you dig deep into how you operate as an independent contractor. You can create budgets, track investments, and use Mint’s tools to build new efficiencies into how you operate, saving a lot of money. You get alerts when you’re over budget and the app features a credit monitoring service, which means you can check your credit score whenever you need. And here’s the really great news—Mint is 100% free to use. While it doesn’t have a bill pay feature, it does alert you when bill dates are coming due.


While budgeting may seem daunting, it can actually provide great peace of mind. Allowing you to live a more calibrated existence as a freelancer. Knowledge is power and understanding your finances more deeply can give you more freedom to live how you want to live.

If you’re having trouble deciding which app to use, these are our top recommendations:

* Best Overall: Mint

* Best for Advanced Budget Features: YNAB (You Need A Budget)