Natalie Monko Lead Project Manager

    Creating Budget App: Step-by-Step Guide

    Today, fintech is a booming industry. New technologies, such as neural networks, Internet of Things, blockchain and cloud solutions are changing the way people manage their finances. And mobile apps are playing a key role in delivering all these technologies to consumers, especially to those who were born in the 2000s and can’t imagine their lives without a phone in hand. Along with sophisticated banking apps, these digital trends gave rise to the so-called personal finance apps that help you budget your money by analyzing and managing all incomes and expenses from various credit cards and payment services in one place.

    Developing a money management app can be a lucrative enterprise: the demand is growing steadily, and there is no absolute leader among existing solutions. We at Surf have extensive experience with fintech apps: to date, we’ve built four banking apps and one app for crypto exchange. If you think about creating such an instrument, this article is for you — we’re going to explore how to create a budget app, what features to include, and, of course, how much it might cost to build one. 

    Leading finance apps in 2021


    Mint is a popular free app for managing personal budget. The app tracks all user’s transactions, expenses and subscriptions, presenting a detailed analysis of the user’s net worth and spending trends. A so-called ‘Mintsights’ feature makes personalized suggestions on how to save money. Also, the app reminds users to pay bills, track tax refunds and get a free credit score.

    You Need a Budget 

    After a monthly trial, YNAB comes at a price of $11.99 per month but still stays on the list of the most popular budgeting apps. The app analyzes expenses and helps users to get out of debt and improve their financial health by setting money goals. The app team provides 24/7 live support and holds interactive webinars on matters of personal finance.


    Pocketguard is an easy-to-use app that provides analytics of spending habits, tracks bills (and even helps to get better rates on them) and lets users set money goals. The basic version of the app is totally free, while a premium one, which comes at $7.99 per month, offers such features as debt payoff planning, transactions export and customizable spending categories.

    Personal Capital

    Personal Capital is another free app, which has almost 3 million users. Along with cash flow tracking, setting of short and long-term goals and personal recommendations, the app has instruments for building retirement savings and monitoring investment portfolio. A desktop version of the app provides users with a seamless experience as they switch between their phones and computers.

    Pocketguard app


    The growing number of personal finance apps gives a hard time to the banking industry players, who work tirelessly to provide their clients with money management options within their own apps. Some examples of banking apps with extensive tools for financial management are Alliant Mobile Banking app by Alliant Credit Union and Ally Mobile by Ally Financial bank holding company.


    Another big group of rivals to budget apps are chatbots integrated with Facebook Messenger and iMessage, as well as using standalone apps. Some of the most popular services are Cleo, Digit and Chip. When users link their banking accounts on the chatbot’s website, their AI-driven algorithms start analyzing users’ transactions and send helpful suggestions via messages on how to improve spending patterns and overall financial health. Some of them, such as Plum, automatically sets saved money aside letting users earn interest on it. Chatbots are improving, as they gain more users — the more data AI analyzes, the better it gets at making accurate suggestions.

    Cleo app

    How budget app works: user flow

    Registration & login

    An onboarding process for new users should be as quick and convenient as possible: along with registration with email or phone number, don’t forget to add integrations with Google and Facebook for fast sign up. 

    After sign-up, the user should be able to link their existing banks and payment services accounts, such as PayPal, Webmoney and others, via secure APIs (application programming interface), so that the app can start tracking the transaction history.

    We also recommend adding some basic demographic questions that users can answer during the onboarding or later if they feel so, such as gender, age, marital status, — this data can be used for more personalized suggestions on expenses and savings.

    Track income & spending

    After linking banking accounts, the app starts automatically tracking and analyzing the user’s transactions. It is important to include several options for easy input of non-trackable transactions: cash or unlinked accounts. This can be done via a home screen widget, integration with voice assistants, such as Siri, or integration with the phone’s camera for a quick receipt scanner.

    Receipts tracking with Veryfi app

    Categorize expenses

    Then the app should start categorizing expenses, according to the data from banks and payment services, and, if there’s none, recognize them with the help of AI algorithms and machine learning. Also, don’t forget to add options to change categories and manually add tags to the transactions — this will give users more control over the finance overview.

    The summary of the analytics should be presented in a modern-looking and easy to understand way: people don’t want to busy themselves with another set of spreadsheets and long lists. The best way to show expense breakdown is with attractive diagrams and charts with animations. In terms of visual style, don’t forget to work out a dark theme color scheme, since many users will use the app at night time, after work and other activities.

    As an example, when Surf worked on an app for Twim cryptocurrency exchange, we used dark background and fonts in bright orange with shades of white that are less straining to the eyes of late-night traders, and do not impede the secretion of melatonin, the so-called ‘sleep hormone’.

    Dark-themed UI of Twim crypto exchange app developed by Surf

    Set goals

    After the user gets an overview of where their money goes, they should be able to set personalized goals: decrease spendings on certain categories, save a definite amount of money or stay within a monthly budget. It can also be an interesting feature to let users set certain products as their goals — this can be achieved by integration with APIs of popular marketplaces and e-stores.


    As the app learns about the user’s financial traits and habits, the algorithms can predict how much they are going to spend in the next period on every category of expenses, serving as a personal budget planner app.

    Yearly budget planning feature in Personal Capital app

    Notifications and top deals

    Using the data from expenses analysis and budget forecasting, the app begins to serve as a personal financial advisor, suggesting to its users the best ways to cut expenses, recommending investing options, reminding them about bills, recurring payments and so on. Also, the app can provide users with exclusive deals on vacations, clothes and other items and services, which can serve as a way to monetize the app via partnerships with various businesses.

    To communicate with the customers the app can use in-app and push notifications, as well as emails with monthly reports. For a more personalized experience, it is important to implement notification settings that allow switching on and off particular categories of messages.

    Features of finance apps in 2021

    Tests and top-notch security

    Fintech apps store and process a great deal of sensitive user data. A single case of breached security made public can ruin the app’s reputation for good. Many potential users have doubts when it comes to the question “Are budgeting apps safe?”, so it pays off to explain the implemented measures in detail and maintain the highest security standards post-release. That is why it is crucial to invest in all-around testing and high-grade encryption of the money management app. Also, the security of any third-party integration should be thoroughly tested as well. 

    When Surf worked on a new version of the UniCredit banking app, our tests covered 100% of the app’s code. This was achieved mainly through autotests that made up about 65% of all testing and significantly saved money and time — for example, automation of 75% of sanity tests (that are done by testers rather than programmers) decreased the total amount of testing hours from 18 to 6. The autotests were written in Gherkin, an easy to understand language among testers, allowing a seamless transition of the project to the UniCredit’s team.

    Among must-have security features for personal finance app are: 

    • Two-factor authentication via SMS or e-mail codes.
    • Usage of secure HTTPS and SSL protocols.
    • An ability for a user to promptly wipe data if they lose their phone (implemented via a web portal, for example).
    • Mask money figures on the app screens from onlookers.

    Integrations with crypto wallets

    As Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies gain wider popularity, it is important to let users connect their crypto wallets to a budget app. For many, crypto holdings make a large part of their investments, and a user’s portfolio overview without crypto will provide an incomplete picture.

    Visualization and gamification

    For an app to be a long-term success, it is important to keep users engaged. When it comes to a not-so-exciting subject of money management, this can be achieved by gamifying the process of saving and meeting financial goals. Praising users for their progress via a system of achievements or tiers can be one way to make budgeting a little bit more fun. Also, beautiful visuals and animations that show how small regular savings turn into a considerable sum of money over time will make users appreciate the app’s impact on their financial health even more.

    AI-driven financial education

    For the purpose of helping its users lead better lives, the budget app should serve not only as an instrument for tracking expenses and savings but as an advisor and mentor as well. Harnessing the power of big data and AI, the app learns about the customer’s behavior and can provide valuable insights on how they can cut expenses, get out of debt and improve credit score. Being always with the user on their phone, the app can also teach them available budgeting solutions and investing concepts in a time-efficient and non-binding manner, which makes it a good alternative to long web articles or financial classes.

    Costs to develop a money management app

    In general, the price to build a budget app falls in the range of $80,000 – 90,000. The final figure depends on multiple factors, including chosen technological stack, team’s size, number of features and many others. We cover them all in our article on mobile app development costs and timeframes, and here will briefly review the most important ones.

    Native or cross-platform

    Native development means you’ll have to create two separate apps for iOS and Android, based on different programming languages (Kotlin for Android and Swift for iOS). While this approach allows you to use platform resources in a most efficient manner and create apps with high performance and minimal bug risks, it is a costly one — you’ll have to manage two teams of developers as they build two different products. 

    On the other hand, cross-platform frameworks let developers create apps for iOS and Android from one codebase, with minimal adjustment and changes. Having slightly higher hourly rates, cross-platform development beats native in terms of price, because you’ll need only one team of developers to create apps for both platforms. For example, when Surf developed apps for the Rigla pharmaceutical chain, we managed to save 40% of the client’s initial budget by using a cross-platform.

    We at Surf have experience in creating fintech apps both with native and cross-platform frameworks. For cross-platform development we use Flutter, a modern framework that stands out among other technologies with its high performance, rich testing options and easily adaptable UI. Read our dedicated article to learn about the differences between native and Flutter development.


    The number of features that your budget app is going to have mirrors the final price of its development. Every integration with a payment service or device’s hardware takes a certain amount of hours to develop, depending on its complexity. That is why it is recommended to start with developing an MVP (minimum viable product) that includes only the most important and distinctive features of the future app. Through testing this prototype’s usability you’ll get a clearer picture of what features are to include, and which can be postponed or cut out completely to save the resources. For more insights on what drives the development price up or down, check our article on mobile app development estimation.

    Developer location and team size

    Where your team members live defines their wages. And since developers can easily work remotely, you don’t have to limit your talent pool by your local town or even country. Hiring offshore specialists can help to reduce costs without any negative impact on quality. For example, while the US developers expect to be paid $100 and more per hour, the developers from Russia or Ukraine have rates of $35-40 per hour, providing the code of the same (if not higher) quality. You can find more about the best places to hire developers in our dedicated article.

    Average hourly rates of mobile app developers


    As more and more people strive to have better control over their finances, creating a budgeting app can both help to achieve this goal  and be a profitable business for its creator as well. To succeed among competitors, a modern personal finance app will have to provide all necessary tools for analyzing, presenting and forecasting customers’ expenses, personalized suggestions and advice, along with the security of the highest standards. There are several ways to monetize such an app, including paid subscription for premium features, partnerships with marketplaces and advertisers and, of course, a successful personal finance app can be sold to a larger enterprise, such as a bank that seeks to gain a foothold in the industry.

    Surf has more than 10 years of experience in mobile app development and has done several apps for banks and crypto exchanges, using both native and cross-platform technologies. If you want to discuss your project with a team of professionals and estimate its cost, we are here to help! Just fill in the short form, and we’ll get in touch soon.