Web-ifying Personal-Finance Programs
I'm starting to worry that I've been stuck in an abusive relationship with personal-finance software.
Programs like Intuit's Quicken and Microsoft's Money can provide a valuable service. At the most basic level, they satisfy everybody's urge to keep score (why didn't I think to throw that phrase into today's column?), tallying up where your money came from, where it went, and those trends cause your net worth to ascend or descend over time.
But Quicken and Money also seem to be many people's least favorite programs. Making effective use of them requires an accounting mindset that escapes or scares many people. In fact, two of the editors who worked on my column said they had never even tried these applications. Pumping enough of your economic vital statistics into these programs to get an accurate perspective on your finances can be a daunting task. And once you finally have the hang one version of Quicken or Money, forced-retirement policies from Intuit and Microsoft will push you to buy a new release.
(Mac users may feel an extra level of resentment over being stuck with Quicken for Mac, one of the worst OS X programs on the market; Intuit may be a little delusional in thinking that its
victims customers will wait around for a promised rewrite of Quicken coming this fall.)
I've put up with all these things for the sake of satisfying my control-freak instincts, but I still feel like I'm pushing a large stone uphill every time I fire up Quicken. My wife doesn't know why I bother at all. (Then again, my dad did his financial management the miserably hard way, plugging everything into a series of Excel spreadsheets -- perhaps the apple did not fall far from the tree.)
After spending a couple of weeks test-driving three Web-based alternatives -- the free Mint and Wesabe, plus Intuit's $2.99/month Quicken Online--I'm finally thinking that there's got to be a better way.
Compared to my traditional personal-finance practices, all three sites' greatest feature may be one they leave out: Since they assume or require that you'll only get your transaction data from a direct download off your bank, credit card or mutual fund's site, they eliminate the monthly ritual of reconciling statements. Not only do they refrain from guilting you about not consecrating your financial records in this manner, they don't even allow that.
And so I'm intrigued. I'm going to spend a little more time trying these Web apps to see if they might work for me, either on their own or as a counterpart to a simpler deskbound Quicken alternative (suggestions for one are welcome!).
Meanwhile, here are some other thoughts on these Web-based programs:
* All three sites could offer better help, especially Mint and Wesabe. Those two provide only brief frequently-asked-questions pages, then point you to their user forums for other queries. You may have better luck turning to each site's blog:
Mint's Mint.edu, Wesabe's Wheaties for Your Wallet and Intuit's Quicken Community.
* Quicken users contemplating a move to Quicken Online need to read that site's lengthy "How is Quicken Online different from other versions of Quicken?" tech-support article first.
* If you want to check your finances from your phone, only Wesabe offers a mobile-phone edition, although Mint and Quicken Online say their regular sites can be used from an iPhone.
* If you're worried about being able to get your data out of this site, note that Mint offers .csv file downloads, while Wesabe lets you download data in seven different file formats and provides a software framework programmers can use to connect other programs to Wesabe data. Quicken Online doesn't offer any export option at all.
* Quicken Online and Wesabe connect directly to your financial institutions, while Mint uses the services of a third party, Yodlee--which itself offers a simpler Web financial planner called Yodlee Moneycenter.
* While Mint and Quicken Online seem the closest to offering a full-fledged Quicken or Money replacement, Wesabe may have the greatest upside. The people running the site appear to have the right priorities, they're taking care to listen to users and, if enough people add their brainpower to it, it could become a powerful tool for optimizing not just your financial services but your daily spending--the social network it may have the most in common with is not Facebook but Yelp. (Although Wesabe co-founder Marc Hedlund told me yesterday that a third of the site's users never look at its community-sourced tips.)
* One part of the review isn't complete yet: a test of how easy it is to delete your data and close your account at each site. I will save that for a week or so, in case people have any questions about how each site works, and then I'll report back here on how hard it was to extinguish my presence at each site.
But as I wrote above, that doesn't mean I might not return to one of these sites. You can help me out with that: If you've switched from Money or Quicken to a Web-based financial planner, which one did you choose and how has it worked for you?
Posted by: JkR | May 22, 2008 2:46 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Bart | May 22, 2008 3:11 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Katherine | May 22, 2008 3:53 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Jay | May 22, 2008 4:14 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Eric | May 22, 2008 4:20 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Susan | May 22, 2008 6:04 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: George | May 22, 2008 7:00 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: scottr | May 23, 2008 1:22 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: wiredog | May 23, 2008 8:23 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: driver guy | May 23, 2008 9:30 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: davey | May 23, 2008 10:39 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | May 23, 2008 12:45 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: cbr | May 23, 2008 2:12 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Sam F. | May 23, 2008 3:12 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Steve | May 24, 2008 8:49 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: internettie | May 24, 2008 9:19 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Vince | May 25, 2008 12:39 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: victoria | May 28, 2008 9:51 AM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.