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Financial Management Software: What are Your Needs and Wishes?

This article was written by in Software. 22 comments.


As I mentioned briefly, I was in San Francisco for a few days to meet with software developers and strategists from NetworthIQ, ExpensR, and MyStrands. The companies are working together to develop web-based personal finance management software, with the intention of meeting customers’ needs that are not met by Mint, Geezeo, Quicken Online, and others. The companies invited a number of bloggers who write about personal finance to share their experiences and needs with each other.

This workshop gave me the perfect opportunity to meet many of the writers I’ve been working with for several years. Not only did we discuss financial software, but we also got to know each other quite a bit and share blogging tips and tricks. However, the main questions of the day pertained more to financial management software.

I would have to say that personal finance bloggers are not the typical consumers. For example, I track my finances in great detail — though less detail than I did six years ago — using Quicken’s desktop software. Several times a week, I update my transactions and reconcile my accounts against information downloaded from my banks, and once a month, I review my reports to get a good handle on the bigger picture. I do not want to spend any more time than I do now, especially if it involves categorizing my expenses. Software like Mint (reviewed here by Sasha) and Quicken Online (previewed by me) will connect directly to your bank for downloading your transactions and attempt to categorize your spending based on patterns, but this system is not perfect and requires significant manual correction.

Additionally, for most people, the information downloaded from banks does not create a full picture of spending. Although more spending takes place through electronic transactions, cash still plays a large role. Software must include a way to enter cash transactions, not downloadable from any bank. In order to save current Quicken users from expending more effort, I suggested allowing the new web software to “plug in” to existing desktop software. This would allow users like me to take advantage of some of the planned “Web 2.0″ features, like “social networking” and cross-segment comparisons.

All the bloggers had great suggestions for what we’d like to see, but the big questions are how to make personal finance mainstream and what would the most people want to see as the 21st century brings technological advances. So this leads to one question for readers, particularly those of you who think outside the box: What do you want your personal finance software to do and how does that differ from your existing solution?

Updated March 21, 2011 and originally published March 31, 2008. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Joshua

I use Yodlee. They are much better than Mint and Quicken Online. I’m surprised you didn’t mention that here.

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avatar HisMoney

I’m using Yodlee now as well after having recently found it. Mint has pretty graphs and allows you to see your spending against averages in your area, which is nice. However, it doesn’t offer any way to really MANAGE your finances, which Yodlee does.

I agree with you that the next ‘killer app’ in this space needs to integrate a website with software. There are just things that you can do with either that aren’t really feasible with the other.

So for now, I’m using Yodlee to track things at work / get a quick look at net worth and using iBank on my mac at home to do our budget and actually reconcile things. It’s working well so far.

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avatar Julie

For us, cash-based features are useless. The only time we carry cash is when we know we’ll need to pay for parking (and even then, a lot of the places we park now take credit cards). Everything else on plastic (debit or credit, depending on the type of spending). I happen to have $20 in my wallet at the moment, but only because I’d been having some trouble with my business debit and wanted to make sure it was working. :)

I haven’t done enough research, so this feature might be out there somewhere. But I’d love a web-based app that allows more than one user. Sure, I could share my login with Jason – but I’d like to be able to tag accounts and transactions based on who was doing the spending so we can see our individual “latte factors.”

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avatar Tom

I’ve been using Microsoft Money, which is OK. I tried Quicken and wasn’t a huge fan. My issue with MS Money is that when I transfer money from one account into another it categorizes it as a credit card payment/transfer. I created a new expense category called “Transfers”, but it shows up in the expense graph and skews the entire pie chart.

I think the new software package should do the following:

~Track Expenses
~Try to automatically categorize expenses
~Assist in creating budgets
~Recognize when a payment is made to another account and reconcile that debit/credit
~Online Bill Pay
~Net Worth Tracker
~Create Charts/Graphs
~Savings Goals/Spending Goals (track these goals)

That is about all I, personally, would need. Oh, last, but not least… make the software FREE!! (I’d be willing to deal with ads if it was free).

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,372 (Platinum)

To everyone who mentioned Yodlee: I’ll have to check them out again. Last time I used Yodlee, it was nothing more than an account aggregator that downloaded transactions from linked accounts (although it did provide a way to manually enter accounts that could not be downloaded). There were no reporting or analytic options.

Yodlee is also the “engine” that is used by other websites, like Mint or “Wachovia OneStop,” to connect to the banks. Mint doesn’t do that on its own.

It’s been a while since I’ve used Yodlee, so perhaps they have added features.

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avatar T L

I’ve been using Yodlee since December of 2007. I read about it in a recent Money magazine article. It’s now doing all those deficiencies you mentioned in your comment.

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avatar Melissa

I’ve spent a lot of time developing three really detailed spreadsheets using Google docs. One is my budget, one is my cash flow, and one is my “financial portrait,” tracking things like my networth, my savings goals, and my credit scores. I’d really like to figure out a way to combine all three of these things. I’ve tried a ton of online and desktop-based programs, including quicken, mint, expensr, etc., but hated them because they didn’t fit my needs and they’re much too rigid, so that’s why I use the spreadsheets. Do you know if I can share my ideas with someone about how mine work, because I think it’s a great system that could be integrated into an online application (I just don’t have the technical know-how to do it).

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avatar Lazy Man

I need to write a whole new post about how I would design my ideal personal finance software.

The last time I used Yodlee it was around 1999. At the time it wasn’t strictly financial based. It would bring together information from many different types of accounts such as your e-mail or your airline miles.

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avatar myles

I recently upgraded to Quicken 2008 from 2007 primarily because of the spending plan feature found in 2008. I have been sorely disappointed with Intuit on this feature though and their overall cash flow feature. Cash flow has been lacking since I started using Quicken in 1996.

The annoyance comes down to Quicken’s requirement of entering transactions through their scheduled bill/paycheck system in order to take advantage of cash flow and spending plan.

For example, if I have a “cell phone” expense category and I setup a scheduled bill for that recurring expense. I then make a payment and download the transactions into Quicken. At this point in order for quicken to assign this to the “bills” section of SP/CF I have to delete the downloaded transaction and enter the scheduled payment. Other wise the SP will show “Cell Phone” as part of the other categories, in addition to monthly bills.

From a user’s standpoint, the way this should work is I create a scheduled bill in a particular category. Anything applied to that category belongs to that bill. Obviously this would create a minor (though workable) annoyance of having to create separate categories for non-recurring payments/expenses to this category. I would happily deal with that, in order to have the control of downloading my transaction and seeing everything displayed properly.

As far as features that might be nice. If there was a calculator for automatically splitting out sales tax (given a percentage) from purchases, that would be awful handy around tax time…

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avatar Joshua

I follow yodlee, religiously. They have released many new updates in the past 6 months. You can use their beta testing yodlee now as well to check out anything new that hasn’t gone mainstream yet. “beta.yodlee.com”

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avatar Duby

I agree with Comment number 4 – Tom –
he pretty much had it down pat.

AS a newlywed, and just starting out – we’ve been through SO Many different software programs – they each seem so confusing, difficult, plus you need to pay.

i wish it could just be simple for us “little people” –
i think there could be 1 program that simple people can use!

thank you so much for your blog!!

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avatar HisMoney

Lazy Man, Yodlee still does things like that. I’ve got my rewards and airline miles shown on my main page when I log in.

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avatar JR

I read the Money magazine article that talked about online financial tools too. This really set off something in my brain to find a way to make my family accounting/budgeting system more mobile without a lot of headache. I checked mint, geezeo, wasabe, quicken online, and yodlee. I found each of them lacking the ability to incorperate my current system. Which would cause completly retooling everything!! I am not willing to recreate the wheel. I want to be mobile but would rather stick my information on a thumb drive and do it that way rather than change completely. I use quicken to categorize my spending (which I completly customized and works well for me) and produce reports. I have excel spreadsheets for both budgeting and net worth informatation that I update monthly (quicken drove me crazy trying to keep a monthly budget or long range net worth calculations). I would like a tool that pulled in my existing quicken information, allowed me to keep my existing way of categorizing expenses, and something that had a more user friendly budgeting net worth tool. That’s not too much to ask, right?? Ultimatly, if I could reach out and touch my existing information I would be happy.

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avatar John Engstrom

I built and launched BudgetSnap a few year ago and I’m currently in the middle of a rewrite. I’ve tried everything and nothing comes close to managing personal finances like my dear old BudgetSnap. Help me help you by giving me some encouragement to finish and launch 2.0! Send a note to john@budgetsnap.com if you want to be on the alpha team.

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avatar Margo

I currently use MS Money, but it’s of limited utility. My two problems:

(1) It does not seem to do point-in-time budgets well. If my budget changes due to 1 bill (e.g, I moved and rent is different) but other bills are still set up as recurring, it tries to put both bills in the category. I’ve given up on Money’s budget feature

(2) My ideal software would be able to handle CONTRA-EXPENSES. If I get a check from my work or my FSA for reimbursable expenses, this is not income. MS Money, sadly, can’t recognize that $40 charge for a prescription + $40 credit for the prescription = net zero healthcare expense for the month. I still see the $40 expense in all reports documenting expenses.

(3) Is there anything out there that tracks small business expenses easily?

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avatar Josh B.

Margo,

What I do in those circumstances in MS Money (and used to do in Quicken) was not to categorize that $40 received as “income” but instead as “Medical – Prescriptions” under expenses (and then the expense under the same category, natch), so that reimbursable-type received monies also cross-canceled with their expenses. It doesn’t show up on the “income” side of things, but as you pointed out, it’s not really income anyway.

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avatar Tom

@Josh B,

The problem is that it doesn’t cancel out in the graphs or spending charts. Same thing with tranferring money from one account to another, it doesn’t cancel. I transfer money all the time every month, my expense pie chart has 60% transfers… 40% everything else…

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avatar 2million

I use MS Money, but can barely stand it. I really use it as an agreegator of transactions. I think whats really lacking is customized reporting. Yes there are some canned reports that you can customize by selecting accounts, dates, etc. However it doesn’t let you really create detailed reports how you see fit, they are still canned reports.

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avatar TyCarrerra

I use gnucash in my mac. It was very hard to install, but it has everything I need and want: handles multiple currencies, double-entry accounting, reports are accurate (unlike Money), downloads quotes, supposed to download OFX from banks (I haven’t tried, yet), and open-source (therefore FREE!).

I used to run when I used to play around with Linux. I’m using concurrently with Quicken 08, which will probably be my last one after 12 years.

As for anything online, I do not like having all my financial data in one company’s servers. Call me paranoid I guess… I do, however, have a small worksheet with my alloted incoming and outgoing funds to and from my checking account. I like to keep close to almost zero after the outgoings, so I need to keep track of it.

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avatar John Engstrom

I have one possible solution for the paranoid. I’ve been working on is a completely encrypted, separate database for each user. When you login to BudgetSnap I create a database for you on-the-fly, load your data and let you conduct your session. When you logout (or are inactive for a period of time) I break it all down, and stuff your data back into an encrypted file. In this scenario I can let you download and remove that file from my server in between sessions so I simply do not have your data if you don’t want me to have it. A portable data cartridge has other advantages and separate databases for all users eliminates the possibility of your data accidentally bleeding into another session. My test cartridge contains 5 years worth transactions, all of my active account data and compresses down to under 100k!
Let me know if you like the idea.

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avatar Valerie

I’ve used Quicken since DOS versions and before that Managing Your Money. I teach Quicken at adult education classes, consult with individuals helping them set up their finances in Quicken and run a Quicken SIG, with two other people, for our User Group. So let’s say I’m pretty familiar with the program.

At present, I’m weary of the annual “version” of Quicken wherein they have to introduce new bells and whistles each year to justify making people upgrade.

I can live with the necessity to upgrade every three years due to security changes (although I would think that they could just update an existing version for those.) In doing so, they often take out features we LIKE – who knows why!

As for online-only programs – I just don’t feel secure enough with them. I want my data on my own computer. However, for those who travel, they can use a combination of Quicken on a computer and uploading the data to Quicken.com when on the road for easy access.

So what would I like?
1. Leave favorite features in.
2. Issue a major upgrade version only every three years. Use the time between to address bugs in the current version and to hone REALLY valuable additions to the forthcoming tri-annual version. If something earth-shattering is developed during the three year gap, let us add it as a patch.
3. Stop changing the user interface so much unless it’s a REALLY good change…having to adjust to a new look is a real drag.
4. Make the reports more flexible…allow us to eliminate specific transactions from a report if desired, e.g.
5. The basics that everyone needs include: recording all expenses and income, investments (including splits, spinoffs, etc.), debts and assets, downloadable data from banks, credit cards, etc., ability to pay bills from within the programs. All the stuff about attachments, home inventory, etc. are barely necessary.

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avatar karl simpson

I am using manageME and really satisfied with it’s performance.
Also it’s coming up with fully loaded version manageME7 shortly.
It fully caters to my requirements.

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