Personal Financial Software

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What program would you advise for a newly married couple to manage their finances?  Also, is there a cheaper alternative than purchasing the product from the store?

Glad you asked, Anthony!

First, it’s important to have an understanding of your money and where it goes (hopefully you already know where it comes from).  This is especially important in the “just married” situation that you find yourself since differing op pinions, values, and habits regarding money tend to crop up during this time, and it’s always best to identify and handle such situations as soon as possible.

The (Only) Software Choice: Quicken

A quick glance at Amazon will show that there’s only one choice now in the Personal Finance, Management market: Quicken.  This is understandable as well, considering the relatively poor past performance of it’s closest competitor, the now discontinued Microsoft Money.  Further, the integration with Turbo Tax and the similarity to oft used QuickBooks accounting software makes Quicken a natural choice.

But It Costs Money!

Yes, it costs money, but a recent look at Amazon shows you can snatch up your own copy of Quicken Premiere for $30.00.

Also, note that Quicken comes under fire for forcing you to upgrade every three years.  While obviously annoying, it makes sense from a software standpoint since newer, better, cheaper ways to accomplish the same tasks will be included in updated software, and it would cost a boatload of money to provide support for legacy users (something that Microsoft knows a lot about).

Is It Worth It?  Probably Not…

  • Quicken tends to have bugs (see customer reviews on Amazon)
  • Quicken Online Sync stops working after three years
    • Necessary to keep costs down
    • Update to new software usually works very well
    • But, still very annoying (and another $30)
  • You’re locked in to updating on ONE computer
  • You have to be on the computer to update (and no one really wants to do it)
  • It can give you a boatload of data…
    • that you probably won’t spend the time to categorize in detail reducing usefulness
    • that you probably don’t care about anyway

Software As A Service

The popular trend is for software to be a “service” rather than a “thing” that you buy.  The software is hosted online by the releasing company.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Software is automatically and instantly updated/fixed to the newest version
  • Accessible from any Internet browser
  • Possibly accessible from mobile phones
  • More than one person can update it
  • You can’t LOSE it like you could software on one computer
  • Servers tend to be more “secure” than personal computers

Cons

  • Security COULD be an issue, but usually not a problem with good, safe passwords
  • Company could go out of business taking the service (and all your data) with it
  • Often difficult to import/export from one service to another

The Players:

Quicken Online, Mint, Buxfer, Geezeo, Thrive, Wesabe, Moneytrackin

Let’s Talk Personal Finance Management as a Service

I tried Mint, Buxfer, and Quicken Online and have been using Quicken Online for the past few months mostly out of convenience.  I have not properly compared the services.

As with most things, what works best for YOU works best for you.

You could get into arguments day and night about which software or service works best, and in the end, it comes down to personal preferences and how you use your software.  No software can offer the best user experience to all people.  For example, customization and diversity ALWAYS come at the expense of simplicity (although not necessarily, as commonly thought, ease-of-use).  People want different things, and each of the above offerings target different people.

Eliminating Wesabe

From all the reviews that I found online and by looking at their website, you cannot automatically update your accounts from your institutions servers.  To me, that is a necessary feature of any Personal Finance Management Software.  Further, the service does not offer automatic category tagging, and in general requires a lot of manual input which suggests you won’t be using the service all that often.

Eliminating Moneytrackin

Reviews fair better than Wesabe, but again, no automatic updating from institutions.

Thrive

By all accounts, Thrive is promising, but is simply too new a service.  Not everything has been flushed out and automatic support for is touch-and-go at the moment depending on the institution.

Mint vs. Buxfer vs. Geezeo vs. Quicken Online

These are your players.  I highly suggest starting off with all four services and migrating to the one you like the best.  The problem is you’ll probably like and hate things from each.

Eliminate One

Sign up for all four and quickly eliminate one.  The one that seems the most difficult to use or doesn’t offer the features you want.  Usually, because to the diversity of users and user interfaces, this one will stand out quickly.  If not, plug along with all four.

Consider Using Two

As I said before, the company could go out of business taking the service (and all your data) with it.  It’s not a bad idea to use two - one primarily and one as a backup.
 

My Choice: Quicken

I personally use Quicken Online because:

  • Very easy to start and setup
  • Huge number of institutions supported
  • iPhone App
  • Appealing User Interface

Limitations

Quicken Online, however does have limitations.  I tend to be a “power user” and like to be able to customize my data.  The biggest downside is the category system.  I like having subcategories so I can track my spending in multiple ways.  I want to see how much I spent on food in total and also see how much went to groceries, dining out, fast food, snacks, and drinks.

Online Consensus (and my recommendation): Mint or Quicken

It seems that the majority of the Internet is flocking to either Mint or Quicken.  I’m highly tempted to sign up for Mint and check it out.  I tried it two or three years ago and found it unappealing, but Mint has a TON of venture capital and has made great strides over the past few months.