Is it okay to quit keeping track of my finances?
May 20, 2007 5:48 AM   Subscribe

Should I bother keeping track of my money?

I've been using Quicken for years. I'm sick of it. I'm keeping track of more than 15 accounts (retirement accounts for me and my spouse, our kids' college funds, checking, savings, investments, etc.). We have a mortgage, and a large amount of money in investments. Over half of the accounts cannot be downloaded, and have to be entered by hand.

I'm several months behind, and don't have the time to catch up. Even if I were magically caught up, I wouldn't have the time to stay caught up. My spouse is an excellent person, but would be no help in this matter. I'm not having fun.

I'd like to just forget about Quicken, toss the statements in a shoe box when they come in the mail, and not bother with all this any more. Will I regret this? Any advice?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Why don't you get an accountant? It sounds like your finances are complicated enough to need some kind of an eye on them, but if you don't feel you can yourself, maybe it's worth it to pay someone else.
posted by jacalata at 5:57 AM on May 20, 2007

Do you do anything with the information you gain by keeping meticulous track of everything? Do you figure out your budget and move excess funds from checking into savings or figure out which investments aren't working for you and reinvesting it? Or do you just enter all the info and let the money sit where it lies? If the latter, then don't bother.
posted by waitingtoderail at 5:59 AM on May 20, 2007

Perhaps you should pare down- just keep track of the accounts where money is going in and out on a regular basis (I imagine this would only be your checking accounts). Stop tracking the retirement accounts, the college funds, the long-to-mid term savings investments, where money is only going in.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:05 AM on May 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

As long as you don't "do" anything with the information you gain by using Quicken, it wouldn't seem to harm anyone to stop tracking so meticulously.

On the other hand, if the information is needed (but it doesn't sound like it really is), I concur: get an accountant. Shouldn't be too expensive for personal finances, even if they seem complicated to you.
posted by Grensgeval at 6:16 AM on May 20, 2007

I don't bother tracking our investment accounts or our mortgage. I track the things we use on a daily basis - credit cards, checking account. Once every week or two weeks I'll input receipts and the like.
posted by Lucinda at 6:40 AM on May 20, 2007

I agree with the comments to pare down. I keep track of my checking and savings accounts, and I personally find it very helpful. I know how well I'm staying on budget, when I can splurge, stuff like that. But I also have a retirement account that I barely think about. I just log in and check it quarterly or so.
posted by brett at 6:41 AM on May 20, 2007

is there another piece of software you can use?
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:53 AM on May 20, 2007

You might want to think through any scenario where keeping track of an account would benefit you. Maybe not all of them are equally important. For example:

Savings and checking

- Help you to identify tax deductible events at tax time
- Let you know how much money you have on hand in emergencies
- Up-to-date information keeps you from overdrafts and bank charges
- Even if you don't keep a strict budget, if you ever need to know how much you spent on something, this helps
- If you ever want to make a really big purchase (new house, another car), knowing expenses helps you to determine quickly what kind of payment you can more easily afford
- If you and your spouse argue about money at all, good recordkeeping here can help provide info to resolve that


- Rebalancing your portfolio
- Periodically, you'll check balances to see if you should be saving more
- ?

College Funds

- Rebalancing your portfolio
- Periodically, you'll check balances to see if you should be saving more
- ?

Credit Cards

- Identifying tax deductible events at tax time
- Analyzing the financial impact of paying credit card interest
- Helps you to determine if someone has stolen your credit card number (this saved us last month)
- Even if you don't keep a strict budget, if you ever need to know how much you spent on something, this helps
- If you ever want to make a really big purchase (new house, another car), knowing expenses helps you to determine quickly what kind of payment you can more easily afford
- Lets you know if you are too close to maxing out your cards
- If you and your spouse argue about money at all, good recordkeeping here can help provide info to resolve that

Maybe other MeFites will have additions to these lists.

I would prioritize and keep up with cash flow accounts (checking, savings, credit cards). I'd also try to streamline the number of accounts open. For example, we have two credit cards that we pay off every month, one checking account, and one savings account. We are able to download info for all of them which simplifies keeping the books.
posted by jeanmari at 6:57 AM on May 20, 2007

I think it's worth reviewing investments annually, just to make sure they haven't totally tanked. You can do this at tax time, when your 1099s come (if you are American). A thorough review of monthly credit and checking statements is good (if only to check for fraudulent transactions or obvious mistakes). Let the rest go.
posted by crazycanuck at 7:19 AM on May 20, 2007

I stopped using Quicken because it didn't think like me-- I tend to view all of my money as a single big pool, with little streams running off. Quicken seemed to separate everything arbitrarily. So now I just have simple spreads sheets -- one for checking (to monitor cashflow), one for savings, and a slightly more complicated one to track information I need for my tax returns. "Investments" (ha ha-- basically IRAs) I just enter once a year when I get the statement. This works fine. We don't make a lot of money, but have fairly complex finances, with 2 kids in college, 70% of income from free lance and the world's most bizarre health insurance (making medical expenditures difficult to keep track of.)

In my experience, for personal finances at a middle class level, financial software is a total shill.
posted by nax at 7:27 AM on May 20, 2007

Why do people bother with this? I guess they are far more anal than I. Keep a good float in the checking account, check your statements for charges you didn't make and don't worry about all this stuff. There is a life to live, and you are not living it while typing mundane data into a database.
posted by caddis at 7:40 AM on May 20, 2007 [3 favorites]

If you do decide to throw the statements in a shoe box, it's critical that you read them first. Otherwise who knows what could be happening? For instance, I ignored an E*Trade account for a year, and in that time they added a $40 per quarter inactivity fee, so my inattentiveness cost me $160.
posted by smackfu at 8:12 AM on May 20, 2007

We don't have 15 accounts in total but we're not too far off. I cannot even imagine entering all that crap on a regular basis. What works for me is sitting down and calculating net worth on excel (because it's fun to see it go up!) every 6 months-ish and thinking about/reacting to what we see (balances, rebalancing, rate of growth, consolidating accounts, whatever) and as smackfu says, genuinely reading all statements as they come in. I can confirm that not tracking the minutiae has not resulted in bankruptcy.
posted by jamesonandwater at 8:22 AM on May 20, 2007

I'm just chiming in to second others. I am a good financial manager, but over time I have figured out that I don't need to keep portfolio accounts--college accounts, retirement, investments--up-to-date in Quicken. I only use that information periodically to check how things are doing and re-evaluate our contributions to long-term savings, and pulling recent statements out of files works just fine for that. I look over statements and annual reports when they come in, and then file them.

I don't even divide mortgage payments into principal, interest, and escrow like I used to--I need that information for taxes, but those cute little statements the bank sends at the end of the year are sufficient for that.

I keep checking, savings, and credit card accounts in Quicken, keep them up-to-date, and balance them every month--just when I think I don't need to bother to balance them, I find enough mistakes to make a difference, and decide it's worth it to me to spend a few minutes a month doing that.
posted by not that girl at 8:56 AM on May 20, 2007

Have you considered moving your accounts to institutions that do have Quicken downloads or direct connect? Most places at least allow downloads. With direct connect, I can keep my 11 accounts updated and categorize all of my expenses in 20 minutes a week.
posted by underwater at 9:55 AM on May 20, 2007

It is a good idea to keep track of your money, lest some of it wander off somewhere (fees, incorrect charges, high load funds) when you are not looking. Since you have a wife and kids, I assume you don't want to just stop dealing with money altogether and go live in the woods.

You do need to look at your statements, keep your bills paid, and avoid bouncing checks. You don't have to use quicken to do this. Paper will work just fine.
posted by yohko at 12:11 PM on May 20, 2007

I am not sure if Quicken works in this way but Bank of America has this great feature called "My Portfolio" in which you enter all your accounts login information (both Bank of America accounts and non-Bank of America accounts), and it will automatically check your balances and transactions and show you all your accounts on one page with graphs and so on...

I have both a Bank of America Checking account and an MBNA credit card so I don't know if you would be able to use "My Portfolio" feature with just a MBNA Credit Card account...

Does anyone know of any similar online based "account tracking" system?
posted by MrBCID at 1:36 PM on May 20, 2007

I wouldn't bother keeping track of it meticulously. Keep an eye on statements when they come to make sure there aren't any charges you didn't make. Same with the checking account--you want to make sure you have enough in there to make the rent.

Other than that? Eh.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:04 AM on May 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Does anyone know of any similar online based "account tracking" system?

Yodlee MoneyCenter. In fact, I think that may be the backend to what BoA is offering.
posted by smackfu at 7:12 AM on May 21, 2007

MrBCID & smackfu - Wachovia & Citi also use yodlee to offer a trans-institutional financial tracking service (at no charge). It will even keep track of bill deadlines automagically (I'm thinking CC and mobile).

I used to be all about MSMoney (never did like Quicken) but once you fall behind, ever, it's just so hard to get caught back up. And just blindly downloading the accounts is kind of pointless when you're trying to create a paper trail separate from your bank to make sure that they don't make some random accounting error.

So now I just use my bank's yodlee interface - keeps track of all the various checking, savings, investment, and credit card accounts, will remind me of due dates for bills, shows any movements for the last week (or longer if you'd like), including investment changes and values of individual stocks, and is machine independent (doesn't matter if I'm on the laptop, the desktop, or the computer at work). I check every couple of days to make sure payments and charges post the correct amount, then I toss the receipt. I still file my paper statements so I have an independent backup.
posted by yggdrasil at 8:46 AM on May 24, 2007

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