Looking for budgeting software with specific features
March 29, 2010 9:45 PM   Subscribe

Help! I am SO confused about picking the right budgeting software. I am looking for a budgeting software but I have a lot of parameters. I have read the previous threads but it seems like nothing does exactly what I want it to do. Paramemters below.

1. My bank offers Financeworks, which is similar to Mint.com (both owned by Intuit) and it does budgeting right but neither program allows manual entry or reconciliation. I am also a bit creeped out by putting my account information online.

2. I prefer double bookkeeping because we put a lot of our expenses on credit cards that are paid off at the end of the month. Part of our goal is to look at where we can cut back on, for example, dining out. A simple checkbook register only shows that we've paid credit cards bills, and those bills are not broken down into categories. I know Gnucash can do this but I find Gnucash utterly confusing to get started on. Double bookkeeping is not confusing to me, but Gnucash is. I like PearBudget for the way it breaks down expenses into monthly and irregular, but I can't figure out a way to integrate double bookkeeping into PearBudget spreadsheets.

3. I'd like for it to be free, and it must be Mac compatible. Free, because we're trying to save money, not spend it.

So, if y'all can either A) recommend something I'm missing, or B) point me in the direction of a good, idiot-proof guide to setting up Gnucash or integrating double bookkeeping in PearBudget spreadsheets, that'd be stellar. Thanks.
posted by Brittanie to Work & Money (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I have been using Gnucash for a while, and I'm not very happy with the budgeting support. Are you familiar with the Gnucash Concept Guide? Check out Credit Cards and Budgets in particular.

To use credit cards effectively you need at least three different accounts: A Liability account for recording charges and payments, an Asset account where the money to pay the card comes from, and Expense accounts to categorise the various charges. From your description I'm guessing you are doing something wrong with your expense accounts.

Budgets in gnucash are mostly used by running reports, to see how your expenses are going against your budget tragets. The built-in budget report isn't too exciting, I remember I had to do some hacking around with custom reports last time I bothered to set up a budget. It's not too hard, but it's done in Guile ( a variant of Scheme ) and is not exactly what you would call user-friendly.
posted by Dr Dracator at 10:25 PM on March 29, 2010

Hi, I am Mint's user experience lead and an avid mefite.

Putting your bank account information online has never been safer. In fact, Mint has identified fraud before banks have, identified unauthorized transactions, hidden fees, etc. There's a lot of evidence pointing towards an actual increase in security overall using our service. I recommend reading (editor in chief of Wired) Kevin Kelly's personal review of Mint and security rebuttal in the comments for convincing. We have security videos and such on our site, but I don't think they do as good a job as one of the foremost technological thinkers offering his endorsement. If that's not good enough, Lifehacker's Gina Trapani wrote a great article, "Why I Stopped Being Paranoid and Started Using Mint.

That said, it's obvious we don't do a good enough job of making those security messages clear if you're concerned about it. Thanks for letting me know.

Manual Entry
Well hot damn! What a timely concern of yours, considering we are rolling out the ability to track cash and pending transactions as I type this (the site's down, and when it comes back, you'll have the functionality).

Is a cursed word. We shall not speak of it. It reeks of false positives, manual labor, bookkeeping, and headaches.

But we do match your pending, manually-entered transactions with the ones we've downloaded from your bank, which is I think what you're asking for.

Mint's budgets are ok. They have some cool features, ones I use like crazy myself (like rolling over monthly budget surplus and deficit so you can save up or overspend without penalty, accruing/saving for non-monthlies like auto insurance or property tax, and more), but the information organization can be a bit confusing. They work, and they help you stick to a plan, but trying to see the big picture isn't as easy as we'd like. So we're fixing that soon. Not in tonight's release, but soon. Altogether I still like them better than anything else out there, which is why I use them myself for a pretty airtight home budget. I really recommend taking advantage of custom categories to account for every bit of spending you do. If it would help, I can paste my budget list here too.

I realize I'm pitching hard here, but the truth is the only reason I work at Mint is because I was using the app and wanted to make it even better. I think it's the best out there and with Intuit's technologies and resources, thanks to the acquisition, we have some amazing stuff coming in the future.
posted by SeƱor Pantalones at 11:30 PM on March 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have also really been loving using Mint.

Everything else I've ever considered using required a significant amount of work on entering everything. Since I use my credit card for most of my purchases everything gets entered automatically, and the auto-categorization is pretty good (though I check over it once a week to fix it up a bit). It is a little bit less strong at cash transactions. You can split up the amount of your ATM withdrawals into separate purchases each with its own category. But it can be hard to deal with things if you get paid for something in cash and spend it before depositing it.

In addition to seeing where my money goes it makes it really easy to keep track of all my separate accounts. I can go to one site to check how much I have in each account and make sure that there aren't any transactions I don't remember or any double billing. You can even set up tags to keep track of specific things you spend on or want to track.

The graphs it makes allow you to really easily get a sense of where your money is going, how much you are saving, and how things are changing over time.

The investment tracking features don't seem to work very well with some of the accounts I have, but at least it lets me see how much I have saved up and gives me a heads up if anything strange is happening.

The budget features are not amazing, but let me set goals for how much I spend on groceries and see how I am doing relative to that goal. I also like how you can then look at those goals over any time frame. (e.g. how is my grocery spending this month compared to my monthly target, how is my three month spending on groceries relative to the sum of the targets for each of those months).

I honestly don't know whether the security of it makes this a bad idea, but they claim it isn't. The security seems relatively robust, and it makes things soooo much easier to keep track of. Among other things it lets me choose difficult passwords for each of my backing websites, since I don't have to log in to the separate site all that often. To me the benefit of saved time, and encouragement to actually do a good job is much larger than the risk of anything else.
posted by vegetableagony at 9:39 AM on March 30, 2010

I meant to add that right now it works well with 90% of the accounts I have. There are a couple where it sort of works, but is a little bit more inconsistent.
posted by vegetableagony at 9:40 AM on March 30, 2010

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