Best Personal Financial Software

When it comes to managing our personal finances with software, I am a real dinosaur.  I still use an Excel spreadsheet to create our budget each month, and record transactions there and categorize them on a daily basis.  Over the last few years I have tried different versions of Microsoft Money and Quicken personal financial software with some success, but I eventually gave up on it because I couldn’t customize things the way I wanted like I can with my Excel workbook.

Having recognized my limitations with Excel, and craving more reports and statistics, I have started a search for new personal financial software.  Rather than relying on ad copy from each product’s website, I decided to poll Twitter followers to get their take.  The majority of followers who responded suggested Mint.com, with Quicken a close second.  I also heard responses pointing me to places like PennyMinder.com, You Need A Budget, and the Dollar Store to pick up a notebook, pencil and a cheap calculator (that suggestion appealed to my frugal side!).

Going into this search for updated financial software I was only consider desktop products because that was what I was used to, but I recognize the benefits of using a site like Mint.com to aggregate all of my accounts in one view, and one package.  From the Mint website:

Mint immediately pulls in your balances, purchases, stock trades, etc. to give you a complete picture of your finances.  Mint connects securely with more than 7,000 US financial institutions, saving you hours of tedious data entry.

Saving time recording transactions definitely appeals to me, and I like the idea of being able to access my portfolio from anywhere with access to the web.  Of course, the paranoid side of me worries about things like password security from my online banking profile stored at Mint, etc.  At some point, I’ll need to get over that because this probably the direction all financial software is headed.

Quicken’s products also appeal to me because I can integrate my home blogging business finances.  For a limited time, Quicken is also offering deals on Quicken products (up to $50.00 off + free shipping).  So now I have a dilemma; should I go with Quicken’s product, should I give Mint, or another web-based utility a try, or should I simply stick with my Excel spreadsheet.  I’m hoping some of you can share with me how you manage the finances, and make some product recommendations in the comments.

Which personal financial software product do you use to manage household finances?

Comments

  1. I can’t tell you how many times I have tried using quicken or other money managing software, and quit after 30 days. I’m sorry, but I hate quicken. I am in charge of the “marketing” in our household, which means that if it’s not a bill, I pay for it and balance that checkbook. That’s a lot of transactions over a month, I whenever I use a program like quicken I am always off at the end of the month. My life is just way too busy (home! kids! business!) to be hoarding hundreds of receipts and hoping I don’t lose them.

    We use Wesabe.com, which is like Mint.com – it uploads your account history from your bank website, and aggregates all your account information in one spot for you. You can tag your transactions, and it will automatically retag that merchant in the future if you want them to. It also generates spending reports and graphs, you can set spending targets, and tag your transactions. It’s also very secure – it’s just as secure as your bank’s website. Seriously, if I didn’t use this site, I probably just wouldn’t balance or budget. It’s that much of a time and energy saver. (also, it’s free! That’s even cheaper than a notebook and a pad of paper, and a LOT cheaper than quicken).

    I haven’t used mint, but I think the biggest difference between the two (as far as I can tell) is that Wesabe is committed to helping you save money and be a good money manager, whereas Mint is not. Wesabe has no advertising on its site, and if you go to Mint’s website and click the “ways to save” link on the front page, it takes you right to a form to fill out applications for credit cards! Bleck. I’m trying to get OUT of debt. Anyway.

  2. I’m with you. I still use a speadsheet budget and balance my checkbook by hand. I’ve tried at online budget software, but its just not as good as my custom spreadsheet.

  3. I’ve been using Quicken 2001 since… 2001. I keep kind of wondering if I ought to upgrade, but I’m so darned used to the outdated copy of Quicken that even when we bought a new ‘puter, I loaded the old Quicken on to it. It just seems like every time they “improve” a piece of software, the result is just more annoying knobs.

    Another one that looks good to me is an envelope-style system called Common Cents. I actually went so far as to download it, but still haven’t taken time to really give it a try. Their web site is http://endevelopment.com/commoncentssoftware/index.php/

  4. I like Quicken, it’s a lot to chew on at first but definitely well worth the effort. If you want something quick and easy, go with Mint or the Quicken Online product. I used Excel for the longest time and it’s comforting but limited.

  5. Long comment but I hope it helps your decision. I’ve used Quicken Premier since 2001 and love it. I’m currently on 2007 and will upgrade again next year. I played with Mint a little bit last year, but it was all based in the past. It’s a tool for categorizing cleared transactions and, in my opinion, only useful for folks who don’t track their own spending and go to the bank website every day to check their balances. I love Quicken because I can put in a receipt for something I bought today, and can auto-add future bills into the register before they’re drafted from my account. This lets me know how much money I’m truly working with, not just what’s already cleared the bank. Then when I download cleared transactions, they tie to the matching transactions that I already put in the register and it all reconciles nicely in one-click. If I there’s something in the download I forgot to put in the register, it creates the transaction. 5-10 minutes a day of upkeep and it’ll work wonders on your finances.

    The budget and other wizards are so-so, but the reporting is great. It tracks home/car/student loans easily and accurately and handles scheduled bills perfectly with user-defined reminders and estimated bill amounts based on history, for variable bills like phone and power.

    Cons:
    -Investment tracking in Premier is kludgy and you have to stay on top of it.
    -Graphical bugs. The screen refreshes when you switch accounts or download transactions and it’s all fluttery during the second or so of refresh. It’s been an annoying bug for me since 2003 or so.
    -Some banks charge $5-10 a month for the one-click Quicken download feature, so you either pay for the convenience or visit the bank’s site and download a batch file of transactions every few days. BB&T charges me $6/month, ING Direct provides it for free.

  6. Getting in late on this discussion but apparently if you apply for the Quicken Rewards credit card, you can get $30 off so you could get Quicken Deluxe for only $9.99. (Offered to me on the site when I clicked on “Buy Now”). If you don’t want to sign up for that card, check eBay where you can get Quicken Deluxe 2008 for about $32, brand new. I find that if I buy “last year’s model” in software it is often cheaper than the current year. Quicken does have an option to send your data to Excel so you can organize the data the way you want. Also consider Quickbooks Simple Start 2009 http://tr.im/gFnq – *free* version. You can use it for personal finances but it is recommended to set up PF as a separate “business” so you’d set up a second “business” for your blogging biz.

  7. I use MS Money and have for years. Not because I’m so thrilled with the software, but from the ease of downloading my bank balances and credit card statements. And then I use Excel for creating the reports the way I want to see them. Some banks charge for downloading into some software, so make sure you check with your bank before your final decision.

  8. I love simple; I find the spreadsheet interface in the YNAB (Excel 3.1 series) version very satisfactory. I’ve used it for three years running. Of course it does not import online bank transactions; double-entering the transactions is comforting as a check, double-check of our monthly budgeting.

  9. I use Quicken – but you need to keep on top of it, otherwise it becomes unpleasant homework.

    I also have an Excel spreadsheet that I update about once a month for a big picture view of things.

  10. I have been using Budget from Snowmint Creative for the past 4 years. For the frugal minded – when you purchase, you get free updates for life. Any way, I really like it because it is based on the envelope method of budgeting (the icons are even mini envelopes) It is also available for Mac and Windows. I have quicken too, but i really prefer the envelope style of budgeting. It doesn’t interface with my bank online though, so i do have to enter items myself, but don’t really mind, I feel that makes me more aware of everything going through my accounts.

  11. Frugal Dad

    I’m with you. The spreadsheet is the only way to go. There is simply too much risk of privacy and data breach to post personal financial data on line.

  12. Seems I’ve come full circle: Excel –> MS Money –> Quicken –> Excel.

    Over time, I’ve found that my needs are fairly simple. While I’m an extreme data/report geek, I’ve come to the conclusion that my interest in producing a bunch of reports only took more of my time with limited payback. That’s why I landed back in the Excel camp. And I keep a small real estate rental business using Excel as well.

  13. We use excel for budgeting, reconciling accounts, tracking spending in many categories and goal planning.

    I am a financial control freak and I like to customize every item and expense. I also like to re-jig things once in a while to get a new perspective or to try out different “what if” scenarios.

    My husband is awesome with spreadsheets and he makes all our excel templates. I have tried various on-line products, but I always come back to excel.

  14. I suggest you check into MoneyDance. I used Quicken for many, many years. I didn’t like that they required you to upgrade to maintain some of the online features. Quicken met my needs and I didn’t need to continually upgrade. I have been happy with MoneyDance. Another potential advantage is that it works on multi-platforms.

    http://moneydance.com/

  15. I just recently started using GNUCash. Its open source so it costs my favorite amount.. FREE.. It takes a bit to get used to but if you have ever taken an accounting 101 class you’ll be fine. I like it because I create subaccounts, for instance,

    Checking.
    -Rent
    -Bill 1
    -Bill 2
    -Food

    This allows me to transfer 1/4 of what is needed each week so that I can eventually get away from PAY CHECK TO PAY CHECK which is where I am at now.. It is tricking me well so far…

  16. I use a combination of Quicken and Pear Budget. I found Pear Budget through SimpleMom.net and I love it! I have been recommending it to lots of folks. It’s the best web-based budgeting tool that I have found in a long time. For my friends who are brand new to personal finance and just learning to be active household money managers, the step-by-step setup tutorial is fabulous.

  17. We use Excel to track spending, keep the checkbook register, and create a budget. It requires about 30 minutes of upkeep once a month, but it’s fast and simple once you’ve setup the formualas. And with Excel 2007 and a little know-how, you can do some pretty sophisticated stuff with a spreadsheet. I’ve tried lots of Money Management software, but always go back to Excel.

  18. Uhmmmm….I use the backs of recycled envelopes. Seriously. One per month does it. Savings immediately out of my account monthly. Fixed utilities paid as they come in (electronically). $100 spending money each week to cover food, haircuts, clothes/sneakers. Whatever is left at the end of the month goes to ING.

    Next month, new envelope. I really mean it.

  19. I use YNAB. I like it, it is simple for me to use but detailed and easy to set up. I do not download anything from my checking accounts. I enter everything and adjust if needed. :) I have found that since I have started budgeting I am saving so much more money.

  20. Hi -

    We are 3rd generation missionaries, w/4 girls, serving the Lord/Mission, stateside after evacuation out of the Civil War in W. Africa ..It’s been a blessing following your Blog!
    I have been studying which program to go with online through other Biblical Money websites and have recently purchased YNAB PRO after several recommendations to do so.

    It would be a pleasure should you choose to do the same and share all that you learn while using it .. It would be a joy to learn from you!

  21. I’m sort of like Imani, who uses the back of an envelope. I use a half sheet of typing paper, so that one sheet carries two months. I list the current bills for which I write checks, setting aside $200 for donations and cash draw. I also take my check record from the bank by phone on the back of an envelope, to make sure everything adds up OK.

    This is just to validate that there are very simple but effective systems, for very simple (and effective) people.

  22. I’m a loyal Quicken user. I did review the features of Mint.com and it does look very nice but I like keeping my private data on my own equipment. The latest version of Quicken is very powerful and the budget feature works for me. My biggest reason I’ve stuck with Quicken for Windows is the ability to sync and reconcile all my accounts in just a couple of minutes. I specifically say the Windows version because the Mac version of Quicken is behind the Windows version in features by about 5 years.

  23. I signed up for Mint.com, but realized I really didn’t want to have all of my personal banking information ‘out there.’ While I don’t create a budget, per se, I take the time every month to calculate where our money goes and cut expenses accordingly. It may not work if there’s a house and/or kids involved, but it’s what works for us as of now!

  24. Quicken since mid-ninties… always happy with it and continue to learn more features. Needing to upgrade now because 2006 is not supported for downloading bank stuff after April 30th.

  25. I found a great site for Excel spreadsheets for personal finances at http://www.vertex42.com/. My wife and I have used the debt snowball spreadsheet and it is keeping us on the bigger picture of when we will be debt free. We tried Quicken for personal financial tracking, but it quickly became clear that it was too much to learn, too busy for what we needed to accomplish our goals to be debt free. We used the snowball spreadsheet to capture the big picture of where we are going to be and when. I pull cash out of the bank that we have determined to be our budget for fuel, food, and other known monthly expenses to be better in tune with what we have available at any given time for spending.

  26. If you want frugal, you can go with open source software. OpenOffice is about 99.9% of what MS Office is, but it’s totally free.

    As for personal finance software, there’s GNUCash.

    I use an Excel spreadsheet as my money management tool.

  27. Believe it or not, I still use a pencil on paper, as I have done for more than 20 years! Every year, I buy a “household book” in which I write my budget, my expenses etc. It is so much fun to compare the old with the new ones.

  28. The only time I used one of these budget planners I discovered we didn’t earn enough to live! In reality we were saving 35% of our income!

    I use pencil and paper. We live frugally, when Christmas and vacations – replacements and repairs happen we take the money out of our savings. The 35% is after these expenses are taken out.

    It does seem to me to be ‘horses for courses’ and what works well for one does not suit another. The important thing is to have a grip on the spending/saving ratio and keep out of debt.

    Mainland Europe is better placed to weather the recession as they generally have a very low proportion of their incomes spoken for by debt repayments.

  29. I’ve become a big fan of Bank of America’s “My Portfolio” feature which is a customization of Yodlee’s software. The BofA website is now my one-stop shop for automated budgeting, spending analysis and net worth calculations. Some cool features include:

    - Ability to automatically include all transacitons from other banks, investments and assets
    - Automatically categorize spending allowing for custom rules, if needed
    - Supports splitting individual transactions into several categories
    - Allow for definition of custom categories
    - Define monthly budget amounts per category
    - Include Zillow values for real estate owned when calculating net worth
    - Allows grouping of accounts for aggregate analysis (i.e. How much am I spending on Shoes using my Credit Cards?)

    I could go on, but you get the idea. I have not used Mint or Wesabe, but they seem to be popular independent sites. I’m not affiliated with Bank of America, but am a very happy customer of their website.

  30. Mint is free. Yes, there are a few ads, but can you find me a website without ads that’s worth reading? I didn’t create a budget, it did it for me. Based on my past months expenses, Mint created a budget and now lets me know via email or text if I’ve gone over budget. It sends out notices of bills due to prevent any nasty late fees. All this for free????? It ain’t even close folks. Mint rocks. )If you have an iphone, it’s even better.)

  31. I have an antique ledger book that I have used for years. The old double entry bookkeeping system that I learned as a teenage working for my uncle. That and a couple checkbooks which I balance by hand. Come tax time, I have the stuff on regular 6 column ledger paper, and it’s done.

    Old fashioned, but it works fine for me, is very portable, doesn’t rely on electricity, and I have the past 25 years of yearly financial statements done in it. Nice to see my progress :)

  32. FD, I have been using desktop software since a program called Managing Your Money many years ago. I now use Quicken Home and Business and I must say that I love it. I have a regular job and I do several side lines for additional income. The business features are great, especially at tax time. However, there is more to the equation. You must also use a bank that has good interface software to do automatic downloading of transactions into Quicken. That way you don’t have to manual enty everything. I know that ING has that feature (I am using it) and most of the decent sized regional banks have it. My investment accoutns at Fidelity also have it. I do my banking every morning before I start work in about 3 minutes. It is awesome. Reconciling my checkbook takes about 30 seconds per month. Quicken has a good budgeting feature for checking on how you are doing compared to your budget. However, I do use Excel for my simple “plan ahead” Dave Ramsey budget that tells me how much to withdraw each month for the envelopes.

    I enjoy your blog and read every post. Hope this has been of some help.

  33. I use Quicken 2006 for now. But as of 4/30/09 the transaction download feature will stop since it is over 3 years old and no longer supported. That is leading me to think about switching to Excel or something equally cheap (FREE). Quicken Deluxe 2009 is like $40 even after the $30 loyalty discount and I’m not a big fan of them making me renew every 3 years.

    The only thing keeping me from Excel right now is the point and click reconciliation feature of Quicken. That is really handy.

  34. I use a combination of Excel and Quicken. I use Excel for longer range goals/tasks like debt paydown, savings plans, etc.

    I use Quicken for the day-to-day (register) type stuff. I do recommend entering the transactions yourself, even though you could download them from your financial institutions. I like to enter the transactions myself and then sync to the bank. Benefits:
    1. Since I enter every transaction myself, it keeps my eye on all expenditures.
    2. Syncing after entering transactions allows me to double-check the bank. (Transactions that are already in the register show as “match” when you update on line. Anything that isn’t in the register shows up as “new” and allows me to double-check that the transaction is valid.)
    3. I like the planning tools in Quicken (budget, debt payoff, etc.) It also does a nice job of keeping up with cost-basis investment returns (again to be cross-checked with my broker statements.)

    P.S.: @Bill (#37) – watch out for BANK OF AMERICA – they do not have your best interests at heart. Be very careful with them!

  35. The main reason I don’t like the online options, is that it only reports what’s already reported to the bank. I like to update things on the go, before it even gets deducted (before the check is cashed, before the charge hits the credit card company), so I have the real balance, instead of waiting for it to hit the bank. I use pocket quicken on my phone to enter things immediately as they happen, and check all my accounts and update if I’ve missed anything. Quicken on your computer is nice, because you can update as you bring the receipts home, as well as download from the bank to reconcile what you’ve entered.

  36. I use Mvelopes by Crown. I have found that it thinks the way I do. I don’t understand why this app is not more popular.
    It doesn’t have as pretty of a face as mint or quicken, but it’s more powerful.

  37. I have tried Mint, Quicken, Mvelopes…all too complex for me and I get overwhelmed with all of the decisions and information.

    I like the simplicity of PearBudget, when I’m being ‘good’ and actually following a budget and entering my receipts…

  38. Working for a budgeting software I of course am bias and use our tool BudgetPulse. It is free, no risks because we don’t sync with bank accounts. Have a complete site redesign being released very soon to improve design, navigation, functionality, content and more.

  39. Great blog post!

    I have tried so often in the past to use quicken, mvelopes, etc., but what I found worked for me was simply my own budget on my own paper with my own pen :)

    I will say though that I was just using TurboTax to do my taxes and they give you Quicken for free after you complete your taxes with them. I am not sure if it is for a year, lifetime, etc., but either way, it’s a good deal. Maybe I’ll give it another shot, considering it’s free :)

    Good Luck deciding.

    Jennifer

  40. Pen and Paper, actually a small note book were I mark my cash spending (shopping coffee misc etc) At the bottom I make a note for any unusual expenses (car repairs household purchases etc) End of the month I add everything up. I average a bit under 200€ a week spending and about 500€ misc a month.

    I use excel for basic budgeting, to track bills etc. I usually don’t plan more than one month in advance.

  41. You say that you are “craving more reports and statistics” I think to get a really accurate recommendation, you need to tell us what reports/stats you are getting out of Excel and what reports/stats you are looking for and not getting.

    Mint, AFAIK, doesn’t have any import capabilities to port over some of your Excel data; Quicken might have some kludge, but I suspect that if you are looking for reports/stats that depend on your existing data, neither of these will be what you are looking for. I believe both products have EXport to Excel in some fashion.

    Having used Quicken for over 10 years, I find it’s reporting/stats are plenty good for my bank accounts, but now that I’ve gotten my day-to-day finances well under control (and that is thanks to Quicken), I’m looking for analysis of more long-range sophisticated financial plans. Quicken is not really designed for that; Mint also is geared more towards day-to-day bookkeeping, with links to products/services that will help the financial novices.

    I’m liking Mint’s iPhone app as a check-in tool. Has a transaction cleared? Am I keeping to my gas budget? Quicken keeps track of my withholding, and a quick ROI (return on investment) calculation on the direct investing programs I am using to purchase AFLAC and GE stock — Mint can’t handle either of these situations (at least not yet).

    I enjoy your blog tremendously. I think a follow-up post on your reporting needs would be worth reading — everyone can use help in deciding what reports/stats keep them on track and what reports/stats get them further to their goals.

  42. I use Quicken, mostly because I have data going back to 1999. I’m not a huge fan of the budgeting capabilities (actually use Excel for that), and I find the investment account management to be difficult, which may be related to the version I’m using (Quicken 2005). I’ve heard good things about Pear Budget if you end up going online.

  43. I use Quicken at home and have been for two years. I think it’s great and the more I learn about its potential the better it gets. The next portion will be my ignorant side talking: I get a little skeptical about having all my financial data accessed by a third party website like Mint.com which is the reason why I have never signed up. The second reason was that I was already using Quicken when I found out about Mint.
    Some claim that you have to upgrade Quicken yearly but I haven’t had to do that. I download most of my date and input some manually. I customize my reports to track my spending in relation to the budget I have set aside. I can also track my “net worth” (in terms of my finances and not including all assest), my debt repayment progress and my income to date for the year. The list goes on and on…

  44. We use Mvelopes. We were using Quicken which my husband detested (and the debt management was wrong. it failed to allow for every 2 week payments, didn’t count introductory interest rate periods). Mvelopes is basically the cash envelope system moved to the computer so really good for explaining to your spouse.

  45. I’ve been using Excel for the last 6 years. Enjoy it and don’t see the necessity of going into more complex stuff. You may generate graphs if you want, i don’t. Good luck every one.

  46. I’m a MS Money user myself. I’ve tried a few of the web based sites but I couldn’t find any with the cash flow forecast feature that MS Money has. To me, the cash flow forecast is the single more important feature of the software.

  47. Why use unnecessary software when you can get what you need from a free program like Excel. Also, the most important part of budgeting is being able to see where you are headed–which is easy to do in Excel and absent from many popular products such as Mint.com.

  48. Excel probably has more functionality than any other financial software available to consumers. The thing is, without proper training, many people only know how to use basic formulas. However, with the help of macros, you can make Excel do anything you want it. I would look into some free courses or even an inexpensive course at a local college. Once you learn how, you can have excel run any kind of statistic or data output based on your finances.

  49. I’m a little late here, but anyway.
    Mint, Quicken, MS Money, Yodlee and many others are great tools for tracking where your money went (i.e. they track what you already spent). They are not so good at helping you determine where you want your money to go in the future (i.e. budgeting).
    For a budget (i.e. a plan for what you are going to use your money for) I definitely suggest You Need A Budget. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of some of the other products, but it is exceptional for budgeting. It helps you set a budget and then you can import (or type in manually) your transactions as they happen so that you can see how much money you have left in each budget category. They also have a great forum and user community on their website.

  50. I’ve tried quite a variety of desktop and “cloud-based” solutions, and still keep coming back to Excel. The one prerequisite is that you need to be very familiar with Excel, or at least have the time to learn. However, I’ve found that between the graphs, pivot tables, data tools and functions offered by Excel, you can get whatever information you need out of it (cash flow forecast, spending trend graphs, etc.), and in some cases get reports that the other packages are not able to generate.

  51. I would recommend Excel as well. It allows you to create calculations on the fly. I started my Excel sheet with a simple expense sheet and within months it could manage budgets as well.
    Being an IT guy, then I went ahead and created a very simple software to replace the excel sheet and it also has many other features.
    if you don’t mind, please give it a Google (it’s called “Very Simple Budget and Expense Manager”)

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