Picking the Collective Brain: What tools do you use to manage your personal finances?

It’s been approximately 16 months since I entered the working world and assumed responsibility for my personal finances. In that time, the number of accounts and expenses I need to track has grown to the point where I’m desperately in need of a tool to manage it all.

There are so many options that it’s hard to distinguish one from the next, so I turn to the PickTheBrain community: what tool do you use to manage your personal finances?

Here is the main criteria:

  • Simple: Tons of features aren’t a must, but speed and usability are.
  • Cost Effective: Cheap is the best price, but I’d spend a moderate amount for the right package.
  • Accessible: Ideally there would be a solution that can be accessed from multiple computers (PC and Mac).
  • Comprehensive: Capable of handling a wide range of expenses, income streams, and bank/investment accounts.

After that I’m open to anything. I really appreciate your responses and hopefully we’ll be able to create a comprehensive list of best tools available.

  • http://edulation.org/ John

    If “free” is the right price and you’re just looking for basic account tracking and a place to aggregate all your numbers in one interface, try mint.com. It’s browser-based, so your OS shouldn’t matter. It doesn’t have “tons of features,” but it’s certainly worth every penny spent =)

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com John Wesley

    Thanks for the suggestion. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Mint. Has anyone tried it?

  • http://www.legalandrew.com Andrew Flusche

    Out of habit, I’ve been using Microsoft Money for years. I think we’re on the 2006 version now. I’d say it fits your requirements, except for accessibility. I keep wishing it had an online interface of some sort, but all the data is on my wife’s PC. For that reason alone, I’m keeping my eyes open for a new system.

  • Mike

    Over the past couple of years I’ve gradually improved on a Google spreadsheet to watch my finances. I have a sheet for each month to plan my spending, charts to show how my debt has changed throughout the year, a list of all my bills, etc. If anyone is interested in looking at it, I can whip up a template version to take a look at.

  • http://www.powerofmortality.com/ Patrick Mathieu

    Hi John:

    I’ve just started playing with a free online tool called Expensr. I am a Mac guy and since it is browser-based I have no problems.

    There is a live demo on their site, so you can test it out yourself before signing up for an account.

  • xian

    Microsoft Excel has been my ticket thus far. It’s simple to use and has all of the formulas I need to calculate investments and debts.

    That said, I’m considering porting it into Google Docs at some point. I just need to take the time to work out all of my formatting and items again.

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com John Wesley

    Thanks for the great suggestions thus far. Google spreadsheets is actually something I already use, and it’s great in terms of accessibility and simplicity, although also like to automate account tracking somehow.

    Expensr sounds interesting, I’ll check out that demo.

  • figz

    “Budget” from Snowmint Creative Solutions. (Mac/Win). http://www.snowmintcs.com/ Budget is based on the tried and true envelope method of budgeting. It’s a much easier way to see where your money is, where it’s needed, and where it went.

  • http://www.techchix.net Ainsley

    My husband and I have explored a variety of options for our finances. The two that stick out as being the most helpful in us developing our own system are Mvelopes (http://www.mvelopes.com/) and The Word on Money by John Griffin (http://www.thewordonmoney.org/downloadforms.html). John Griffin spoke at our Preparing for Marriage class about finances as a couple, and the sample budget spreadsheets that he provides really helped us track our spending AND put into perspective how much was REALLY being used wisely for our goals.

    The Mvelopes system is quite helpful, but we ultimately decided that instead of virtual envelopes we would use real ones. So each week we put envelopes in the top drawer of our hallway bureau… grocery money, frivolous money, “Date” money…. the visual truth of how much you have left to spend often curbs a persons’ tendency to just use your check card or credit card without examining how much you truly spend in each area of your life. HOPE THIS HELPS!

  • http://www.shardsofconsciousness.com Rick Cockrum

    Hi John,
    jgnash is solid, basic double-entry bookkeeping software. I’ve been using it for both my personal finances and business. It provides the basics we need. It’s in Java, so it should run anywhere Java is installed. In fact, I usually run it off a memory stick. The only complaint I’ve had is the lack of documentation, especially in terms of stock market transactions, but it does have active forums to get help. It’s open source, too.

  • http://www.alhome.net AL

    I can firmly say that in the simplicity/usability department, AceMoney has kept me a fan for two+ years now.

  • Frank

    I’ve been using MS Money since 2001 and it has had everything I’ve needed to manage my expenses. I’ve recently switched over to a Mac so I’m looking for a replacement but it would be such a pain to export my data over to another program. I thought iBank 2 looked pretty good for the Mac.

  • http://www.60in3.com 60 in 3 – Fitness and Health

    I’ve just started using Mint and I’m finding it to be very nice. I’ve tried quicken in the past but was turned off by Intuit’s horrible customer support. Mint is free, has all the features I need and seems reliable so far.

    Gal

  • http://www.mattmccormick.ca Matt

    Gnucash – it’s free, fast, simple to use and very powerful. It does take some time to setup though especially if you are new to double-entry bookkeeping but the help files guide you through all the steps easily.

  • http://dan.hersam.com/ dan

    I’ve used Mint and it was okay, but I like Yodlee even more. It’s used by Bank of America, HSBC, Fidelity and other banks as a brandable account aggregation service, but I just use the free version directly from Yodlee themselves. It computes your net worth, handles employee stock purchase programs, shows your credit card usage and what the current APR is on each card and has email alerts for all sorts of events. Wikipedia has some info on the company.

  • http://www.stephenmartile.com Steve

    I’ve been using the JARS system from Peak Potentials for over a year now and it’s had a massive impact on my networth. It’s also simplified my finances. There are 6 JARS to distribute your income:

    EDU – Euducation Account
    NEC – Necessity Account
    GIVE – Give Account
    FFA – Financial Freedom Account
    LTSS – Long Term Saving and Spending Account
    PLAY – Play Account(My FAV)

    If you’re looking for a great way to manage your money start using this JARS. For an in depth look at the JARS and their benefits check out T Harv. Eker’s book,

    ‘The Secrets of the Millionaire Mind’.
    http://www.stephenmartile.com/?p=84

    Cheers,

    Stephen Martile
    Personal Development Made Simple
    http://www.stephenmartile.com

  • pll

    I’ve been using ledger from http://www.newartisans.com/ for about 4 years now.
    It’s free/open source. I used GnuCash from the time is was originally known as Xacc and ended up ditching it because, like Quicken, and every other application, it traps you into a proprietary GUI and slows down data entry to a crawl.

    I tend to batch my financial data entry and have lots of similar, repetative entries.
    The whole point, click, click, point, click thing is really tedious, time consuming, and just plain annoying.

    Ledger:
    - has more features than any other appication out there
    - is free/open source
    - is a full double-entry accounting system
    - cross-platform (I run it on my Mac and Linux)
    - has a great Emacs interface
    - can be automated with any decent scripting language (perl, python, etc)
    - has C++ interfaces
    - is completely command-line driven
    - deals with multiple commodities seamlessly
    - allows for formulas embedded in transactions
    - deals with periodic, scheduled transactions
    - can read/import GnuCash data files
    - and a lot of other great features.

    My single favorite feature is the fact that the data file format is PLAIN ASCII.
    No markup. No XML/HTML/SGML. Plain, 7-bit ASCII text, which is completely, totally portable anywhere.

    The same data from GnuCash imported into ledger went from 6.1MB under GnuCash to 756KB under ledger. That’s almost a 10x reduction! Under Quicken, it would have been probably twice as large as the GnuCash data file.

    Well, that’s my $.02. Ledger is not for everyone. Just those who love plain text, powerful tools, and hate GUIs :)

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com John Wesley

    Thanks everyone for the great suggestions. I don’t know where to start. :) I’m tempted to check out Mint because of all the TechCrunch hype but I’ll definitely sample a bunch and take your suggestions to heart.

  • Glenn

    I’ve been using moneydance for a while now.

    I like it because it allows you to encrypt your data file – which means that just having access to the file will not give anyone access to your financials. Has all the other neat/nifty features (online links to banks, links to stock quotes and exchange rates, and ability to denominate accounts in various currencies…)

  • http://www.livemylifeonline.com/myblog/ J W

    Hi John,
    I am using PMT in my PDA, which served me very well, but now I am try to explore PDA with Money too! I also have some write up on money in my site at http:www.livemylifeonline.com/myblog/

  • http://www.sufficientthrust.com Marina @ Sufficient Thrust

    There are lots of fancy options out there, but what works best for me is simply entering my recurring bills’ due dates in a Google Calendar with an email reminder set to each. I then have a blank grid I print every two weeks where I list any outstanding debts (student loans, car payments) — I really retain things when I write them down vs. typing, and it’s really motivational to want to get that list down to as few rows as possible!

  • http://dh.squidcode.com dH

    I prefer http://www.moneyflickr.com It’s a simple, secure cashflow tracker with multi currency support.

  • http://www.loonieinvestor.ca Richard

    I’ve been using my own software since 2002, when I decided spreasheets were too limited. It has a very simple interface but it starts off with a summary view that organizes the information into a meaningful breakdown of income, expenses, and cash/investments and compares them to my budgets. I even added support for online banking statements recently – I still have to log in to the sites to download them but it saves me from typing in every transaction.

    I’m thinking about releasing this some time soon so it’s great to hear what other people really want to do.

  • http://www.talktoyourself.com Gene

    I use Quicken Home and Business. It is robust enough to use for my business and for my personal finances. I use Quicken Bill pay to pay my bills which is a great help since I am outside the United States for much of the year and this setup allows me to pay my bills and track my finances from any place in the world.

    I know that this solution is not free and that for many people the feature set will be more than is necessary. It works for me.

    Happy Trails!
    Gene

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  • http://www.dcoates.com Dustin Coates

    I’ve been using Mint for a while. It’s nice, and it’s pretty, but it’s pretty buggy right now. Plus while it’s plenty powerful enough for me, it may not be for someone who also has a car loan, Roth IRA, etc. I just opened an account Geezeo and I’m going to give that a spin and see if it’s a better fit. I think one of those two (or Yodlee) would be a good choice for your criteria.

  • Mia

    I use Bank of America’s ‘My Portfolio’. It’s free with my checking account. It keeps track of banking accounts, credit cards, investment accounts, mortgages, loans, even reward accounts like MyPoints, Upromise, airlines, etc.

    All transactions can be specifically labeled. You can keep a budget. It gives you a net worth accounting, expense analysis, a cash flow analysis, credit card analysis – and you can track personal, business, medical, and tax-deductible transactions.

    It’s simple and fast enough for me :)

  • http://allingoodhealth.blogspot.com d. a.

    Seconding Moneydance – it’s multi-platform and Java-based, plus you can save the data file on a server and access from any computer that has the software. My husband runs Windows, I run a Mac, and we have an in-home Linux server, so with this sort of setup either of us can check on our budget status at any time. It has budgeting tools and other plug ins, and costs much less that Quicken or MS Money (and can import/export their formats).

  • http://mortonfox.livejournal.com rstlne

    I use Quicken and a checkbook register. That is sufficient.

  • http://www.cldatasolutions.com bugmom

    I use Quicken plus Mint. Mint does not have enough features for me, but I keep a very tight watch on my money. I will keep looking at it and, someday, it may replace Quicken. Also, I don’t upgrade my Quicken very often. About every 3rd year. Keeps costs down.

    Here’s how I use Mint… Mostly I just look at the weekly transaction report. That way, I can jump on anything suspicious or cancel any errant “subscriptions” that I’ve been meaning to take care of. The savings features are interesting, but, so far, haven’t yielded anything useful to me.

  • speedy

    I had been using, believe it or not, a notebook. Not a notebook computer, but the old-fashioned kind that has paper with lines drawn on it. I wrote down my take-home pay for each pay period, and then the bills and savings from each paycheck.

    I have tried using Quicken, but I do not like it at all, probably because it isn’t very user-friendly for those of us who use Macs. I plan to try out iBank in November, but if I don’t like it then I will just stick with my notebook and do forecasting on a spreadsheet.

  • Nikola

    Money manager Ex. It contains expenses, budgeting, recurring transactions, stocks etc.
    It is simple, effective and it is open source.

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  • MEli

    I use a combination of Quicken and an excel spreadsheet that I have in Google Docs for ease of use anywhere I am. Using a spreadsheet allows me to plan in a budgeting -ind of way and plan ahead. I also like to look at how much I am saving in various different accounts for specific goals and how close I am to my goals. It also allows me to see how much I am paying off of my credit card and student loans each month in relation to the total debts. Quicken provides the actual expenses in daily transactions, as well as great visuals of spending pie charts with percentages of your total income and categories that you can sort by month. I have tried http://www.wasabe.com and http://www.mint.com and like them as well, but they are very simplistic and better for more basic type personal finances (e.g. checking and savings accounts). These tools don’t allow you to track mortgages , escrow or retirement accounts, which I like to do.

  • http://jarshelp.com Steven Peixoto

    Hi all, I’ve been using mvelopes and I love it. I’ve created page on how you can use mvelopes to implement the jars budgeting system.

    Check it out and let me know what you think.

    http://jarshelp.com

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  • July

    I use MoneyTracker

    It is really:
    Simple and have good usability, very speed.
    Costs 16$.
    Work on several comptuters (in local area network).
    Comprehensive – for me yes.

  • chris – melb, aust

    Does anyone have a spreadsheet version of the “6 jars” systems ala T. Harv Eker…thanks :)

  • Jens60193

    This a great post – thanks for publishing it. On a side note does anyone know about the Bankers Life .  I heard they have good products for life insurance & annuities and they have local agents who help in retirement planning. Any feedback about them is greatly appreciated.