When you’re managing multiple projects, it’s critical to know exactly how money is spent across every single one. You need to ensure each project remains profitable. You need to honor commitments and nurture client relationships. You need to report to stakeholders. And in order to set better future rates and estimates for project work, you need to understand total costs. Keeping track of all of this can be a daunting task – which is where budget tracker apps come in. Here’s how they work and what to look for when choosing a tool.
When you’re managing a project, going over budget is one of the most common issues. It isn’t always down to bad budget tracking (things like scope creep, poor resources, or inaccurate estimates can play a big part), but keeping a proper track of your budget helps you recognize issues as soon as they begin to arise.
A good budget tracker app helps you do exactly that. It keeps all investment of money and resources into a project totally transparent, breaking down exactly where budgets are going in real-time so managers can keep everyone on track. With the right project management and budget tracker tools, you know exactly how much time and money has been spent, and can take early steps to avoid unmanageable spending and overwhelming costs.
Budget tracker apps don’t tend to be standalone pieces of software; they usually form one part of a sophisticated time management tool. We’ve used Timely’s automatic budget tracking features to walk you through how these apps work, and what features you can expect.
Whenever you create a project in Timely, you have the option to set a budget. There are two main types of budget to choose from here:
One-off budgets – this sets a fixed rate for the whole project that won’t change, no matter how long work actually takes.
Recurring budgets – this lets you track budget spending in monthly or weekly intervals for a set period, or over the life of your project. It’s ideal f you regularly work on rolling projects and retainers, or if you want to control how you divide team resources across different projects.
You can set your budget to either track time or money. Money budgets are essential for keeping to fixed project rates – they simply follow the cost of labor that goes into your project. Money budget spend is calculated according to the hourly rate you set for your team, but you can also set individual rates, which is useful if you work with consultants.
Time budgets are a great choice for internal resource management and retainer-based projects – ensuring you don’t put a disproportionate amount of hours into any given piece of work, or spend too much time on one client.
A good budget tracker app makes it easy to stay in the loop on what’s going on across your projects – its whole purpose is to monitor budget activity for you. It achieves that using clean visual breakdowns, well-timed notifications, granular details and intuitive reporting. Here are the main features to look for in a budget tracking app.
At the highest-level, your app should use a simple visual to quickly communicate the status of any budget. Real-time budget progress bars are a brilliant example of this, instantly showing you how much budget you have spent, and what budget you have remaining (either as a total sum or budget percentage).
When you’re managing multiple projects, you’ll want that snapshot visual for all of your projects. Timely’s project dashboard is a good example of how this interface can work – allowing you to pin your highest priority projects in one simple overview. It also includes a live feed of project activity, so you have an instant overview of where your resources are spending their time.
For a more in-depth exploration of budget activity, your budget tracker app should have a detailed breakdown for each individual project. In addition to seeing how you’ve spent money or hours across your project’s lifespan, it should show you exactly where that budget was spent – so you can see the true distribution of budget across different tasks, project phases and team members. This becomes particularly helpful when a project is nearing completion and you need to stick to a strict budget. Having a breakdown of individual project activities is useful too, helping you stay on top of important milestones and potential issues.
Obviously, you shouldn’t have to continually check a budget throughout the day to stay on top of progress – your tracking tool should proactively keep you in the loop. Automatic budget notifications are essential for this, keeping you updated on budget milestones and important project activity. Timely, for example, sends you notifications once you’ve reached 50%, 80% and 100% of your budget, and keeps you informed of any new users being brought onto a project.
There are times when a client might ask for an instant update of where you are with the project and how the budget’s looking. Your budget tracker should be able to support you effortlessly whenever that occurs. One big perk of Timely’s project page is its intuitive reporting for visualizing and exporting budget information. In just a couple of clicks you can create and share reports detailing your project’s progress and budget status – and because you can share these reports via URL, or export them to PDF or CSV files, it’s quick and easy to send this information to clients in their ideal format.