Help me settle for some invoicing/trip tracking software
December 29, 2009 12:19 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to start 2010 with a decent software strategy in place for tracking travel, projects, invoices, and expenses. 2009's technique was an Excel spreadsheet so there's lots of room for improvement. My picky/nerdy requirements inside.

I give talks to library groups. I make between 10-15 work-related trips per year. I want to be able to keep track of expenses, travel details, talk details and invoicing/payment details. I also have a few regular local clients who I bill, usually hourly.

I don't really need something for budgeting or linking anything to my bank account. I don't have an iPhone nor will I be getting one for this purpose; my phone is a dumb phone and I'm okay with that. I use a Mac, but web solutions are okay too. I'm not too privacy conscious for this sort of thing, so security is good but not mission-critical. Free is not necessary, would prefer one-time fee to recurring fee. Partial to open source but not fanatical about it. Prefer nice-looking to powerful.

Things I've Tried

- and are more bank-oriented. I like them for what they are but don't solve this problem.
- Fresh Books + Xpenser is terrific, but seems to be mainly for invoicing and costs too much for me.
- Tripit and Dopplr are too trip-oriented

Things I'm Looking At

- iBiz looks nice
- GnuCash may be more than I need
- MoneyDance was suggested in other AskMe threads but seems too Quicken-like

Basic Things I'd Like It To Do

- track expenses on a per-project basis and make basic invoices
- have a place to store my travel details [flight numbers, contact information, mileage]
- be able to say whether I've been 1) paid 2) reimbursed
- do some category-level sorting, like "you spent $7500 on plane tickets this year"

I'm aware I probably won't get something that's perfect, I'd settle for "good enough and not totally annoying" so suggestions that his at least some of these points are fine. Thanks!
posted by jessamyn to Work & Money (10 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Are you anti-QuickBooks? It does most of what you're describing (and more clearly than Quicken).
posted by serazin at 1:46 PM on December 29, 2009

I know you've already investigated Tripit, but let me just chime in to say Yay TripIt! It only really handles Thing #2 (travel details), but it does that task extremely well. I like that it manages entire trips (flights, hotel, car rental, other reservations, events while you're there) and can often build these itineraries automatically out of your confirmation emails. It provides handy links to weather information for each day of your trip and Google Maps for each location you're going to. It does have some rudimentary statistics details like #of trips and miles traveled, but not expense reporting. You can always print the entire tripit itinerary off before your trip instead of using a smartphone and it will be about as useful.

Personally, I would probably use TripIt for my travel plans and Billings or Invoice on my Mac to track expenses and do invoicing. If I wanted to be cheap, I might just do the money stuff in Numbers, but that's less useful in terms of reporting and tracking payment/reimbursement.
posted by zachlipton at 1:52 PM on December 29, 2009

Also, I think QuickBooks may be too complex/not travel focused for this purpose. While it will track your expenses and do invoices, it's more targeted for a business with payroll and expenses and profits and balance sheets and all that good stuff. While all that is useful, it won't easily track your flight numbers and it's a lot more than you want for this situation. It's still very "account balance focused" where you want to be "project/trip focused" if you get what I'm talking about.
posted by zachlipton at 1:56 PM on December 29, 2009

The travel and lecture details will be the killer feature. Based on my experience knowing the owners of one small business (a grocery store) and working at a larger company (a university), I'd say at the level of complexity you'd want, the usual division is flight details are considered scheduling or personal information management, and the price of the ticket is accounting, and the software is written with this division in mind. So, how important is it that this information be stored together with your invoices? Because that requirement reduces the pool considerably.
posted by d. z. wang at 2:10 PM on December 29, 2009

Best answer: I've got my own picky and weird requirements for job tracking and invoicing, and after trying…well, a lot of different stuff, I wound up coming back to a spreadsheet (I'm using Numbers, not Excel). It's not perfect, but it's closer than any off-the-shelf Mac software or webapps that I could find, and I've actually got it tweaked to the point where I've got a pretty smooth workflow.

One of my key requirements was the ability to handle multiple currencies. iBiz did not have that last I checked, but if it did, it would have probably been my pick. There's a lot I liked about it. If that's not a requirement for you, I'd start playing with a trial version and see how it fits.
posted by adamrice at 2:40 PM on December 29, 2009

Response by poster: how important is it that this information be stored together with your invoices?

It's important, but it doesn't have to be machine-readable. That is, if there were a free-text field where I could put stuff [sort of like the ical notes field] and keyword search it, that would be totally okay. I don't need lecture notes, but like "contact: Jane Smith 802-555-1212" sorts of things. Thanks for helping me examine this problem folks.
posted by jessamyn at 2:46 PM on December 29, 2009

When I worked with a related company I know that the software as a service Freshbooks had a large and devoted following.
posted by acidic at 6:18 PM on December 29, 2009

Best answer: oops, you mentioned Freshbooks. The Invoice Manager and Billing Manager are other options.
posted by acidic at 6:22 PM on December 29, 2009

This might be a bit too DYI, but a database program like File Maker Pro allows you to make custom forms, and perform functions on fields. If you programed Excel to do all this last year, it's not a big leap. You'd have the initial time spent making the forms you want, but then they'd be exactly what you want to track.
posted by fontophilic at 8:43 PM on December 29, 2009

Response by poster: QuickBooks seems nifty but $199 is a little steep for its level of overkill for what I'm looking for. I'm going to look at Invoice Manager [I like "beautiful"] and iBiz again and see if any of them have dealbreakers. Thanks very much for helping me look at a bunch of options.
posted by jessamyn at 8:01 AM on December 30, 2009

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