One of my 2013 resolutions was to do a better job at keeping up with finances. When I was in college and a young married, I used Microsoft Money like a boss to keep up with every penny I spent.
As my career advanced, and I got to a point where I was no longer living paycheck to paycheck, combined with Microsoft Money not being made anymore, I got a little relaxed with keeping up with things. Last year, I took a look and saw that for example, I was spending enough on coffee and quick snacks every day to take a really nice vacation, and my wife was spending a lot more than normal on things for my toddler daughter (like 5 fancy dresses a month).
We decided that because our income allowed for this and that we were still able to save, it still wasn't smart, so we committed 2013 to keeping up with things a little better. It was a success, and I ended up using four different methods - here is what I found out for anyone that is interested in doing the same.
1. The old reliable Spreadsheet. I had a budget worksheet that I used at work that I converted for home use and uploaded to Google docs so my wife and I could share it. It worked pretty well, but it really took one or both of us sitting down 3-4 times a week to keep it up to date, so if life happened, it got out of whack, and 2-3 weeks of not doing it is just as bad as just not doing it.
2. I was a huge Microsoft Money fan back in the day, and since its not being made anymore, I tried Quicken instead. I actually purchased this software. It was fairly easy to set up, but just didn't offer the customization and reports that I wanted. Granted, this was the Mac version and the mobile app had to be synced Bluetooth so it was worthless. To me, this was no better than the spreadsheet.
3. YNAB - short for You Need A Budget - was recommended to me. They have a 30 day free trial so I did it as well as Quicken one month. It was glorious. Budgeting could not be easier and the mobile app syncs on the cloud. After one cycle, it learned that my Wal Mart purchases might not always be groceries and sometimes could be split. I used this for 9 months but it had one flaw - it doesn't sync up investments.
4. Mint - This one is free and its heavily supported by ads, which is a little creepy since you link your bank account and it sees what you are buying and gives you relative ads. However, the budgeting aspects are just as strong as YNAB - In fact, the alerts that push to your iPhone are even better than what YNAB can be. Plus it tracks investments in real time. The mobile app is the best of the bunch and automatically reconciles when the bank posts the transaction (e.g. If I put in a wrong amount for a restaurant bill, it alerts me and asks me if the $48 purchase is the $50 purchase rather than making two different transactions that I have to sort through and delete).
If Mint would offer a paid version, I could say no wrong about it. We'll probably drop YNAB in the new year and just do everything in Mint. I would add this - if you are having trouble with living paycheck to paycheck, the methodology behind YNAB (essentially get to where this month's salary pays next month's bills) may be good for you. But once you are there, YNAB really doesn't offer any life changing advice.
rmc LSU Fan Zachary, LA Member since Sep 2004 22764 posts Online
re: Personal Finance Software Review from 2013(Posted by rmc on 12/27/13 at 5:34 pm to anc)
I've been using Quicken since '08 and love it. I may give YNAB and mint a stab this year, but Quicken does everything I need it to do. One thing I am resolving to do in 2014 is budget better and adhere to the budget better. Additionally, I am going to stop 529 contributions, and instead ramp up to max out Roth IRA contributions.