We’ve been using GnuCash for about a year now, and every time I input data it makes me want to scream. I think we have at least 15 different accounts (banking, credit card, loan) to keep track of. It is not at all intuitive to me or very user friendly at all. It’s very hard, with this program, for me to see the ‘‘big picture’’ at a glance.
So I convinced Sr. Olives (who has the soul of an accountant) to try something else. Thing is, I don’t know what. While I would prefer something that updates our numerous accounts automatically, he is insistent that:
A. There is the ability to post-date and manually enter transactions, such as when a check is written.
B. The accounts can be reconciled.
My personal preference is a nice, user-friendly interface and the ability to play around a lot with colorful charts and graphs.
The last program I used was Quicken, but that was a long time ago. Can Quicken do those things? Any other software that you recommend?
(Please do not say Excel. Updating my bank accounts is the least exciting part of my day and the only thing that could possibly make it worse is inputting everything into a bunch of plain white boxes. I understand how to use Excel even less than I understand GnuCash.)
Sorry. I would recommend GnuCash to others. It’s a very powerful piece of software, and it’s free. It’s just that there is something wrong with my brain when it comes to money, and I prefer a little more hand-holding than that.
I thought about Quicken, but I also found this other program, You Need a Budget. It comes with free webinar tutorials and live Q&A sessions. I’m trying the 7 day trial. So far it is exactly what I’m looking for.
Thirded (or whatever). I’ve been using Quicken since 1999 and ALL our records are in it. When you add up our shared bank accounts (checking/savings/money market), assorted 401(k) accounts, assorted IRA accounts, regular stock accounts… kids’ bank accounts, notional accounts to remind me to accrue and pay their allowance… flex spending, mortgages, credit cards, etc. well, at least 50 different accounts (at a WAG), maybe more. Quicken will do everything you want and more.
You can, generally, download stuff to your computer, often automagically (via Quicken Direct Connect) or using a couple of clicks from the institution’s website (Quicken Web Connect).
The good: Everything in one place. Very complete. Easy reconciliation. When I first got it, I spent a week entering a bunch of stuff including all our checking account transactions for that calendar year (it was May or so). Typo Knig was getting quite annoyed at the time it was taking.
Then we got our next bank statement. It took me 20 minutes - or less - to reconcile our checking account. That was a chore that usually took SEVERAL HOURS.
The bad: Well, as heavily as I use it, I have to think of Quicken / Intuit as The Evil Empire. There really isn’t any good competition (since Microsoft Money rolled up the sidewalk and went home), Intuit knows they have us over a barrel. You have to “upgrade” (read: slow down your computer) every 3 years or you lose the ability to do the online downloads.
They’ve completely eliminated the method of importing files in the QIF format, and the formats they do support cannot be emulated easily without paying licensing fees. So it’s impossible to get data into the tool from other software such as Excel or financial institutions that haven’t paid the licensing fees.
Their online tool (mint.com) does not communicate with the desktop tool in any way. So you have no way of entering transactions on the fly - e.g. if you’re making purchases while you’re out, the only way to record them is to hold onto the receipts and enter them when you’re at your desk at home. Intuit claims they’re looking into this but basically I read that as meaning “yeah, we’ve heard people want that. Yep. Sure. Gonna happen. If we feel like it. Or not.”.
The upgrades every 3ish years don’t typically add any functionality I want / need, and they DO tend to slow the tool down, sometimes to the point of making it nearly unusable.
I’ve been using it since about 1992. Basically, since right after I bought the first IBM PC-compatible computer I bought as an adult.
I agree with some of your complaints. The annual updates don’t generally add anything really compelling, perhaps because it’s a fairly mature program. I’d like to see a workable online component for the standalone program, along with a smartphone app, so that I can enter transactions while traveling and then have then sync to the desktop program. There’s a home inventory program that’s included as part of the suite, but it hasn’t been updated in quite some time. (Again, a smartphone add-in would be nice. I could imagine taking pictures of things in my house or their UPC codes and having them automatically entered into inventory.) The company used to offer a separate program for managing medical expenses, but it also hasn’t been updated in several years. I think that such a program would be valuable, given the complexities of medical billing, reimbursement and so forth.
There was a time when Quicken did have an online-entry, download-to-PC tool. Not the Quicken Online that they killed when they bought Mint, but a true remote-entry for the desktop tool. It cost a little money, however (3ish bucks a month), and since it was before everyone had smartphones, wasn’t all that useful so I just don’t think many people bothered with it.
Then there was Pocket Quicken, produced under license by a third party (Landware), for Palm and for Windows phones. I don’t know if that would still work - it did as of 2ish years ago when we moved to a Vista machine (which killed it - no USB support and IR synching was painfully slow). It was exactly what I needed. That is not being supported for any platform as far as I know.
I get the feeling that Intuit really wants to concentrate on the cloud solution (i.e. Mint). Which is all well and good, but Mint.com just ain’t there yet, functionality-wise, and it does not address people who have decades of data on the desktop. Nor does it address some very valid security concerns - sure, you can’t DO anything from Mint, but all your financial data is RIGHT THERE for anyone to look at - AND if a hacker got hold of Mint’s passwords, I suspect it would be entirely too easy for them to reverse-engineer them (if they’re not stored properly) and then get into your banks’ websites and do some real mischief.
I get the feeling that Intuit really wants to concentrate on moving things to the cloud (i.e. mint.com).
I have NOT tried this software - but it apparently has both a desktop and a handheld component.e A lot of their early stuff was developed for older handhelds such as the Palm - in fact their Splash Shopper app was very well regarded (though the port to the iPhone is a resounding failure: slow enough to be quite literally unusable).
There’s a trial version good for a month, I think.
Can someone explain why these programs are useful? I tried Quicken a few years ago and hated it. I have stocks and three bank accounts and I could never get it to have the correct amount of money that was in the bank.
I also couldn’t understand the point, I had to go in and tell it what each purchase was so it could categorize it. I have an idea of what I spend on things anyway, though I guess it would be nice to know exactly, but if need be I can use a calculator.
The only thing I found it good for was to have it automatically tell me how much my stocks were worth. However, since I have my stocks reinvest the dividends I had the worst time trying to get it to update how many stocks I had every few months.
After a few months I just gave up on the program. I found it way to hard to use and it didn’t really tell me all that much for the amount of time it took me. Was I doing something wrong or is it just me?
Chances are, you might have benefitted from some handholding.
I think I’m an accountant at heart (there are a number of them in the family, anyway, so it’s literally in the blood) and love making things balance.
How do you currently manage, using a paper check register (assuming you do)? The way I was taught was to (after every transaction), add / subtract from the line above as appropriate, so I have the running balance. Then I periodically verify this with a calculator so I know I haven’t made any arithmetic errors. At the end of the month, I go through the bank statement to make sure I haven’t forgotten to enter anything (or there are no bank-made errors). I check off everything that matches, then I take the bank balance and add / subtract all the not-yet-checked things (e.g. uncashed checks). That figure should match what I’ve calculated in the paper register. If it doesn’t, I know I’ve made a mistake somewhere.
Quicken just automates the running balance calculation, and makes the comparison a fairly quick one-click-per-row step (heck, if the bank can download transactions to Quicken, you don’t even have to do that, just look at the bottom line).
The way I started off was: I got my account manually balanced, then I took a bank statement from 2-3 months earlier, took that as the starting balance, then started entering everything from my manual checkbook from the statement’s month on through the current date. Then I redid the balancing - using Quicken this time - for that year to make sure a) I knew how to do it, and b) make sure I hadn’t missed anything. At that point, barring anything really old cropping up, I knew my Quicken register was complete and I quit using the paper register except as a reminder to enter stuff into Quicken.
Categorizing things: Once you’ve written a check for “My Local Electric Company” and categorized it as “utility: electric”, it will automatically populate that for you (though you can override) the next time you write a check to My Local Electric Company. In fact, as you type “My Loc.” it’ll actually pop up with a list of payees to select from, that match the characters you’ve typed.
Investments: Again, many companies do direct download (e.g. Fidelity, Vanguard) but for individual stocks, you just enter a starting balance. If you have 1000 shares of AT&T, you can either enter all the history (300 shares bought 1/1/1980, .75 shares from reinvestment 4/1/1980 etc.), or figure out your basis as of a point in time (owned 1,000 shares as of 1/1/2011, I know between dividends and initial purchase my basis is 25,000 dollars) - and enter that - e.g. 1/1/2011, bought 1,000 shares at 25 a share. Take that 1,000 share figure from the 1/1/2001 statement so you know you’re matched at that point in time.
Then each quarter when you get your statement, you enter a single transaction that shows dividend amount, fee amount, shares bought, and price. Quicken should then always match the statement balance. If it doesn’t, you missed something.
Vanguard is actually a bit frustrating with their direct download. Their downloaded transactions carry share fractions out to about 8 decimal places e.g. 1.23120098 shares bought… but their statements only go out to 3. So our figures never quite match.
Where Quicken (or similar) really becomes irreplaceable: at tax time. How much DID you spend on doctor visits? 2 seconds and it tells you. What was your basis for that stock sale? ditto.
Other useful stuff: how much do you spend on dining out. I had no clue. Now I can tell. How much do you spend on clothes? ditto. I’m not about to crawl through months of credit card or bank statements to figure that out. We recently had to come up with a list of improvements we’d made to the house (for a refinance), and since I’d entered stuff in Quicken with “home improvement”, I could do it in about 5 minutes.
In all seriousness, if you ever want to retry this, PM me and I can help you through it. While I doubt I’m a SUPERDUPER power user, I do use the tool pretty extensively.
On a personal level I find these types of programs very useful for keeping myself honest and on-track financially. It’s like weighing yourself regularly when on a diet, the scale/accounting program doesn’t lie. And I love Gnu-cash (and hate Simply Accounting) but I’ve never used Quicken.
I never had a problem overspending on major purchases but always found it easy to piss away cash on lots of small purchases. So I went through a period of 6 months of recording every single penny. This had three benefits; 1) I knew exactly where my money went and 2) I knew exactly how much my roommates owed for rent/utilities 3) The work involved made me avoid a lot of purchases that I otherwise would have made without thinking.
I’ve loosed up since then (I assume all cash purchases are for food or entertainment unless I have a receipt otherwise) but I still keep records and reconcile everything at least once a month. It doesn’t take more than about an hour a month now that I’m in the habit of keeping all my receipts in once place.
You can set up scheduled transactions (now they call them Bill and Income Reminders, a completely unnecessary name change) for expected paychecks, bills etc. You won’t forget to pay the electric bill because it shows up right in front of you as coming due.
Will you have enough money in the account on that date? You can see what the expected balance is (barring, obviously, unplanned disbursements) and know whether you need to move money from savings. If your paycheck is due the day before, you know you’ll have enough.
I use a register for every check I write. I also balance it the second I write it. I will check my online account and make sure there’s been no mistakes. I also know if there’s been any mistakes by me or the bank. About the worst is when I have an uncashed check and I have to remember about it.
I actually have two checking accounts, one is for bills, I put in enough every month to cover everything and then some. The only way to get money out is by check or going to the bank. My second account is my daily spending account which I do all my other shopping like gas and groceries on. I’ve found it better that way and since I have lots of credit unions near me I can do it with ease.
I must have had problems with this, because when I would get my bank information it would screw everything up. I was always off by really strange amounts. Sometimes it would be off a few bucks, others 50-60. Even when I said to fix everything I still had to go through and fix it by hand. I think what it might have been doing was picking up some of the same purchases and counting them twice. I always had to go back and fix the thing. I guess I was doing something wrong, but I never could figure out what.
Was there ever a problem with this? I could never get it to work right, I would have to tell it every time I went to the grocery store even though it was always the same one. I think I had 2010.
I don’t pay that much attention to my stocks. And I guess that it didn’t make much sense to me because I would try and enter the number of new stocks from the dividends and it would make a whole new sheet or whatever it used so I couldn’t tell how much I had.
I spent more time trying to figure out what was going on then anything and stopped using it. I just can’t see a reason to go back, especially since I’m single and don’t see a huge need to track everything. I might think about it for my spending account, but for everything else it made me tear my hair out.
I used to use Quicken religiously. Kept track of everything down to the penny. Took me years to break myself of this habit. Now I kinda sorta use Mint.com. I just glance at it every once in a while to get the big picture and never spend any time actually making sure things are in the correct categories. Very liberating.
The Quicken license allows you to have the program installed on two computers, so I have it on my desktop at home and a netbook I take with me when I travel. I keep the Quicken data in my dropbox so it stays synchronized.
I also hate the forced upgrade every 3 years. I would love to have an alternative, but so far I haven’t found anything else that has the features I want.