What budgeting software do bi-weekly earners use?
July 14, 2011 12:35 PM   Subscribe

Help me find a simple budgeting software that knows how to handle bi-weekly income and spending.

I'm looking for budget-tracking software that will: (1) pull in and categorize information from my bank and credit card accounts; (2) budget and track on a bi-weekly or weekly (paychecks, groceries), monthly (utility bills), and longer-term (insurance renewal, annual registration) basis; and (3) not require a lot of time or effort to maintain. I've used Excel/Googledocs spreadsheets to split my longer-term expenses into bi-weekly sized chunks in the past, but it's gotten too hard and time-consuming to keep up with it. I don't want to enter things manually anymore. I've been trying to find some new software to use, but everything I've looked at either fails #2 or doesn't give me enough information to tell if it will work or not. Ideally, I'd love to use one of the free systems out there, but I'll pay (not too much) for it if I have to.
posted by Dojie to Work & Money (9 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
Mint.com.
posted by schmod at 12:37 PM on July 14, 2011


I have mint myself and I love it, but it's really not friendly to biweekly income - all of its budgeting revolves around monthly income/expense.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:53 PM on July 14, 2011


I've played with Mint a little bit, but it's either missing some features I need or I haven't found them yet.

Mint is a product of Intuit, the makers of Quicken, which is the most popular traditional personal accounting software. Lots and lots of people use Quicken. I've used Quicken for about 9 years. Quicken has tons of bells and whistles and does all sorts of schmancy things, but is unnecessarily complicated and doesn't do budgeting very well. It had a reputation for being buggy, but I think that's improved in recent versions. Intuit also uses Quicken as an advertising vehicle, trying to sell you loans and tax services with annoying links and ads embedded in the program or added to your desktop during installation. Intuit's customer service, in my limited experience, sucks. On the bright side, older copies of Quicken are ubiquitous and cheap. I really don't like Quicken, despite the fact that I get it for free because I have an aunt who works for Intuit and helps make the software.

I've tried out a bunch of Quicken alternatives and never found anything I liked until, coincidentally, yesterday, when I stumbled on a review for YNAB3 (You Need A Budget), and I've been playing with a trial copy today. I'm really impressed with it. It's elegantly designed, flexible yet simple, has fantastic budgeting features and the UI is pretty to look at. It gets great reviews on Amazon (lots of them), and has a reputation for fantastic customer service. The only downside: it's $60.

FWIW, here is the review I stumbled on yesterday, which led me to YNAB.
posted by jon1270 at 1:05 PM on July 14, 2011


I tried Mint but Tomorrowful is right; it's really not conducive to biweekly budgeting. I've stuck with my Excel spreadsheet.
posted by anotheraccount at 1:07 PM on July 14, 2011


I looked a little bit at some YNAB reviews. From what I can tell, you have to export information from your bank accounts and then import it into YNAB. Which might be slightly less time and effort than entering it in my spreadsheet manually, but not $60 less time and effort. And it doesn't look like it can handle credit card accounts. Can any YNAB users tell me for sure?

I have been trying Mint, and I love what it does, but as Tomorrowful and anotheraccount say, the budgeting really doesn't work well if your income and expenses aren't strictly monthly. Some of the other possibilities I've found on my own are Mvelopes, AceMoney, and GnuCash, but I can't tell if they do what I need. Can anyone who has used them tell me? I know I could sign up for trial periods, but I'd rather not do that (and give out all my account information) if they aren't going to meet my basic requirements.

Lots of people get paid weekly - there's got to be something out there that will work! Anyone?
posted by Dojie at 9:22 AM on July 15, 2011


From what I can tell, you have to export information from your bank accounts and then import it into YNAB.

No, this is all one operation. You click a download link on your bank's website, and choose to open the file with YNAB rather than saving it. Mint does this automatically, which is easier. Either way you'll have to spend some time categorizing the transactions, because neither Mint nor YNAB can guess exactly what every transaction was for.

And it doesn't look like it can handle credit card accounts.

This is wrong; it absolutely can.

Lots of people get paid weekly - there's got to be something out there that will work!

I don't understand why this is such a big deal unless you're living paycheck to paycheck without any cash buffer at all. That's a possibility, of course, but it's something you might want to get away from rather than choosing software that's structured for it.

The budgets in YNAB are split up into months, but the software makes it easy to tweak those budgets each time you get a paycheck, regardless of how often you get them. That said, the idea is to build up a cushion of at least one month's income so that the weekly fluctuations aren't so important.

I know I could sign up for trial periods, but I'd rather not do that (and give out all my account information)

AFAIK, Mint is the only one that requires you to give out account information. The others are just programs that install on your home computer; they don't require you to give any info to the software companies.
posted by jon1270 at 11:49 AM on July 15, 2011


Dojie: "I've used Excel/Googledocs spreadsheets to split my longer-term expenses into bi-weekly sized chunks in the past, but it's gotten too hard and time-consuming to keep up with it. I don't want to enter things manually anymore."

As a state employee, I get paid biweekly. I'm curious why the spreadsheet is hard or time consuming; I keep an OpenOffice Calc (Excel) with four columns: name/category, annual expense, monthly expense, and biweekly expense. Each column is calculated off of the other columns, so if you override one formula with a value, the other columns magically calculate themselves. It's pretty easy to insert a new line item and add it to the totals. When considering major changes I'll make a duplicate spreadsheet within the document to compare. About the hardest part is realizing that 26 weekly paychecks and 12 months both divide evenly into a year.

Perhaps the most useful and relevant personal finance trick is credit card grace periods. My card charges no interest on purchases as long as I pay in full by the grace period (roughly 30 days). It's effectively borrowing the cash buffer that jon1270 mentions at zero percent interest. Imagine if you borrowed your second paycheck (and occasional 3rd) of the month and paid it back when they came in. Clearly within the grace period, and perfectly matches your paychecks. At that point, it shouldn't matter that you get paid biweekly rather than monthly or whatever schedule you imagine other people are blessed with, you just need to be saving for the big lumpy expenses.

GNUCash will allow you to construct budgets at whatever frequency you desire, but I really don't like them and stick with the spreadsheet. One approach I've been considering is using GNUCash's "scheduled transactions" to model an entire year as recurring scheduled transactions. The scheduled transaction editor allows for recurring transactions based on a template, and has a few useful features like telling it how to handle transactions falling on weekends, when most businesses are closed. Basically, create transaction in advance for a year, and then just reconcile them with the online transaction importer as they actually happen. If there's a lot of lumpy expenses due in one pay period driving your balance negative, that will show up in the the Future Minimum Balance field, in red. And when unexpected expenses (or opportunities) come up during the year, it'll recalculate. In a perfectly planned scenario, the future minimum balance of liquid accounts, non-interest bearing asset accounts is zero, because you've transferred the excess to illiquid but higher return investments. I do not live by or recommend such a Zero Future Minimum Balance approach, because we're all poor planners.

For me at the moment, the scheduled transaction technique is mostly theoretical. Partly because I save so much of my income that I don't live paycheck to paycheck, and partly because it's not perfect. I tried it once last year in a separate set of books, but I found templating the balance in full credit card payment difficult. And GNUCash can't calculate the "simple daily interest" formula to properly split student loans, so it's always off by a few cents. But it's only 12 CC transactions and a few cents flawed on something most people don't track anyways, so it could be your new best friend.
posted by pwnguin at 5:44 PM on July 15, 2011


I don't understand why this is such a big deal unless you're living paycheck to paycheck without any cash buffer at all.

It's a big deal because on a monthly budget like Mint, it looks like I am spending more than I earn 10 months out of the year even if my total annual spending is less than my total annual income. Obviously I know that the two months when we get the third paycheck will make up for it, but a budget that shows I'm overspending when I'm not doesn't really do me a lot of good. It sounds like YNAB would do okay on this, they just don't have the automation I was hoping for. I'll probably sign up for the trial period when I have time to play around with it, but I don't think it's going to be worth the money for me.

I'm curious why the spreadsheet is hard or time consuming;

Young kids leave me with a limited amount of uninterrupted time to sit down at the computer and enter all of the transactions from multiple accounts for a family of six. I can keep up with it for a while and then something happens and I fall behind and it's a bear to catch it back up. Having tried Mint, I love having the transactions already there as soon as I log in. All I have to do is check the recent transactions to fix anything that went to the wrong category, and in a minute or two I can see the results. Unfortunately with a monthly budget, they're the wrong results.

Long story short, I'm not looking for financial advice. I just was hoping that someone had created a Mint-like product that wouldn't force me into a monthly mold that my finances don't really fit. It looks like it may not be out there yet.
posted by Dojie at 8:03 PM on July 15, 2011


I guess I should clarify. I use both GNUCash and a spreadsheet. GNUCash records and auto-classifies my spending (#1), and I use the historical spending patterns to estimate a spreadsheet budget of about 35 categories that calculates "this dollar amount is slated for expense categories 1-35, with X left over" for columns Annual, Monthly and Paycheckly (#2). I can pull up an expense report in GNUCash and verify reality matches the plan, but... I'm pretty lazy and most all of my bills are predictable and on autopay.

It would be madness to try to keep transaction records in a spreadsheet, I agree. But just the 2 week budget building part should be pretty simple to do in excel. I just think an ideal budget system would auto generate from a concise description of of your recurring activities, which is exactly what scheduled transactions are, and close to what pearbudget does. GNUCash does have a budget sheet feature that can be subdivided into your pay periods, or even weekly or daily, and can generate an estimated budget based on transaction history. But I have no idea how it compares with Mint's budget tool, and suspect you'll find it's a bit of work to set up.
posted by pwnguin at 10:32 PM on July 15, 2011


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