Until this year, I’ve only had one checking account and one credit card. I didn’t find it practical to use a personal finance management software package. We need our tools for money management to be quick and easy, and these programs seemed like a lot of work. At the beginning of this year, I made some major changes as far as the number of my accounts and their complexity. Now I have decided it’s time to take the leap and begin to use one of these programs.
Over the past decade, there have been select few personal finance management software worth mentioning. You’re probably able to name the big contenders, and may know of some of the underdogs. There’s a yearly battle between Microsoft’s Money and Intuit’s Quicken, and this year is no different. The good news is the consumer is the winner when companies compete for business, and you can say we wear the championship belt now. Both companies offer multi-market options of their software, and have staggered prices for the respective audiences. Both come in basic, deluxe, premier, and small business versions, ranging in price from $30 USD to $90 USD. If the price is scaring you off, Microsoft Money has a Trial version, letting you try it for yourself while Quicken has a 60 day money back guarantee. Another free option is GnuCash which is an open-source money manager.
I’ve been in the technical support industry since 1996 and most of my field of support has been software related. I will receive my degree for Software Development from Brookhaven College in May of 2006. I currently provide technical support for Quicken 2001 in my current position, and in the past I supported Intuit’s more expansive QuickBooks product. I feel my experience and skill-set makes me qualified to review end-user software.
Because of my experience, I chose to try Microsoft’s Money 2006 Deluxe. You’re probably wondering, “Why? Doesn’t he know how to use Quicken?!” I’ll answer this later. You may wonder, “Why didn’t he choose GnuCash?! Having a blog about money and building wealth, surely he has to understand the benefit of choosing the FREE option.” I’ll answer that later too. As you read this, you may also wonder “It’s his first time using one of these programs, what makes him an expert?” Here, you’re probably right. I digress. The good thing about this though, is that I have a fresh perspective. I won’t be prone to the commonly pathetic reviews where others complain about the lack of improvement from 2005 (or even 2004) versions to 2006 counterparts. This review will benefit mostly those like me, who are using, or going to be using, a personal finance management software package for the first time.
I chose Money over GnuCash because of the support for my online banking. Money supports all of my accounts. Wells Fargo, CapitalOne (three of these), ING Direct, and HSBC Credit Card. GnuCash’s progress has seemed slow, and I can’t guarantee they’ll work with my bank, your bank, or our banks in the future. I’d hate for an update to occur in the format, and not be able to import data for several months. GnuCash went 8 months without an update, and that’s an extremely long time for open-source software for no updates. However, if you’re using Linux, UNIX, or BSD, GnuCash may be your best option. While if you’re using a Macintosh, you’ll be limited to Quicken. Microsoft Money 2006 operates on Windows 98se or later. I’m interested in hearing from you if you’ve been able to get it to work under Wine or VirtualPC on an Apple.
I started using Microsoft Money 2006 Deluxe at the beginning of this year, and have only used it for a month, so there are potentially a lot of features I’m overlooking. My major purpose of using a money manager application was to easily categorize my expenses, develop a budget, and create one place to manage all of my accounts.
Installation and setup is a breeze. You’re asked about your bank information and your Microsoft .NET Passport account. The program will work without a Passport, although you’ll benefit from enhanced integration with the .NET Passport service
I never really liked Intuit’s interfaces, and I thought it would be more of a challenge to use a product totally foreign to me. Admittedly, the interface doesn’t make the program. As long as the functionality is there, does the interface really make that much of a difference? Well, for this, software that’s easier on the eye creates less stress while using the application. Money can be stressful, and Microsoft has always been able to understand the impact of software on emotion and the way it affects users. I’m only taking a guess, but I’m sure this is why Microsoft’s interface is gorgeous, and less cluttered with advertisements and cross-sells. Below is what you’ll see when you open Microsoft Money.
I like the Favorite Accounts list, the Spending pie chart, Incomes vs Expenses bar chart, Bill Reminders, and the Budget. The only thing I don’t like is the size isn’t selectable, but fortunately Microsoft allowed it to fit the entire width of the screen. Another downside is you can only have two columns and can’t get rid of the left pane. You also have the luxury of creating shortcuts at the top of the screen above the navigation tabs. If you use Money, I highly recommend taking advantage of all the features you have been given.
The home page is configurable, allowing you to customize it to your taste and only show the modules you feel are relevant to you.
The Account List is a handy one-stop shop for all of your accounts. It lists their current balances, updates status, and then summarizes them to give a Total Account Balance.
The Budget screen is one area that could have taken advantage of more screen real estate, but didn’t. This is my first budget, so I’m not quite sure what to expect. Here, Money shows an easy to read horizontal bar graph comparing amount spent to amount budgeted, listing the dollar figures. It also has an interactive alert symbol which when double clicked, will show the expenses for that category, which makes reviewing painless. Even for the beginner, I encourage the use of the Advanced Budget.
The cash flow forecast is another frequently used area. I visit the page often because I like to see the direction my finances are taking. It also provides an easy to view history of the way your balance has looked, without having to consider numbers. The graph really makes it obvious by simply glancing at it.
The reports are great. They’re capable of presenting valuable information, in any way you want to see it. Personally, I haven’t used the reports much, but I expect to be able to print them and deliver them to my wife so that she can have a better understanding of our finances.
There’s a bunch of features that I haven’t used yet, but it’s nice to know they’ll be there when I want them. For investors, it integrates with Microsoft’s Money Central. This is nice because you’re able to view all kinds of stock and mutual fund information. It also helps tax preparation by assigning tax categories to expenses. It has some built in planning tools, like an excellent Debt Reduction wizard that’s set to save you some money if you have any debt. The Bill Manager I haven’t found useful yet, because I currently use my bank’s web site for planning and paying bills. I synchronize Money with my banks once or twice a week, and it integrates nicely. It’s always been correct and painless. I just download my data straight from my bank’s web site. I’m planning to start using Microsoft’s Bill Manager because it will help tremendously with the Cash Flow Forecast.
Since I’m new to it, and I know that I have room to grow for using it; the conclusion’s going to be pretty weak. I know I like it better than the Excel spreadsheet I was previously using, and I’m really going to benefit from the software. I would consider myself very satisfied. It does everything I wanted and I don’t know what more I could ask. As I learn more about it and my scope of usage expands, I expect to provide further updates and more information.