How Do You Keep Track of Your Finances?

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How Do You Keep Track of Your Finances?I’ve said before that Quicken was a lifesaver for me and my finances all the way back in 1999.  That’s when I stumbled across the product and it helped me realize just how much of a mess of debt I was in.  I was then able to rely on the software to really come up with a game plan and eliminate all of it over the next handful of years.

Obviously software can’t get you out of debt (you need to do that yourself), but it did help me see exactly where I was at with my finances and come up with some optimal plans to get rid of all the credit card debt I had.

Since then, I have been a strong advocate of Quicken software.  I’ve purchased the product almost every year as the new versions come out.

I will tell you that Intuit, the makers of Quicken, can’t seem to release a bug-free product though.  With every release, it seems that there are goofy problems, some that have actually corrupted my data and caused me to have to restore from backups.  Then they release a handful of software updates and usually get everything fixed within a few months of the release date.

That’s what I get for being excited about new software… the moral of the story is not to be the first guy – let someone else have all the problems and then install the software later on down the line once the kinks have been worked out!  🙂

When you’re dealing with a way to keep track of your finances, you want something that can easily help you see exactly where you’re at with your finances with only a glance (a dashboard so to speak).  You also might want something to help you budget.  Most of the products out there will connect to your accounts and ensure you have the latest transactions and balances from banks for checking and savings accounts, credit cards, retirement accounts, etc.  And then there are some that will help you with even more tasks such as managing rental properties, evaluating your portfolios, providing debt-reduction planning, etc.

Some of you might be content with something as simple as a spreadsheet to manage your finances, but I need a little more.  This is one area where I don’t like to skimp – even though I put a little bit of money toward the software, I’m able to easily recoup those costs through more informed decisions I’m able to make on my finances.

I’ve tried some of the other products out there through the past decade just to see if there is something better for keeping track of my finances, but I continue to come back to Quicken.  Back in the day, there was only one other major competitor and that was Microsoft Money (which died off in 2009).  I tried it for a while, but it just didn’t seem to have the same feeling of ease for me that Quicken did.

In the past few years, we’re starting to see more online products to help you with your finances.  This is opening up a whole new realm of possibilities.  Quicken was designed as desktop software and has gotten pretty bloated.  However, some of the online services such as Mint and Empower (formerly Personal Capital) were designed from the ground up to be accessed through the Internet giving them an upper-hand.  Quicken has to work to extend their reach to do some of the things that these services can provide.  This is tough for them to do and probably one of the big reasons that Intuit picked up Mint in 2009 and why they’ve decided to sell off the Quicken product.

One of the downsides in my case with some of the Software as a Service (SaaS) is that they are focused on gathering all the data for you and are more or less read-only.  So if I write a check (very rare) or do an online bill payment (much more common), I’m used to adding the information to the check register in Quicken.  Now I know exactly where I stand.  Since the online services only grab the data that’s out there, they aren’t aware of these pending payments.  That throws my numbers off – hopefully not enough that I would bounce a “virtual” check, but I do like to know exactly where I stand and this is not something you usually get with the online services.

A few of the different products out there include:

  • Quicken – my go software to for years – I use the Home & Business version, but there are other less expensive editions as well such as Deluxe and Premier which might suit you fine depending on your needs.
  • Mint – A lot of people I know swear by Mint, but it seems to fall short on some important things like investment accounts (and my credit union!).
  • Empower (formerly Personal Capital) – Very powerful online service that has some fantastic retirement planning tools as well.  The only downside I have with it is that it doesn’t let me manage everything that Quicken does (credit union, manual entries, pending transaction, etc.).  Definitely worth trying though to see if it suits you.
  • YNAB (You Need A Budget) – Desktop software designed for people who… well, need a budget!  I haven’t used it before, but it does have a strong following.
  • GnuCash – free and very good, but just not as robust as Quicken in my opinion.
  • Moneydance – I’ve never used this software before, but it does seem to be a pretty popular alternative to Quicken.

Some of the software out there, desktop or online, provide mobile apps as well.  This can make keeping an eye on your finances even easier.

For now, I’m going to stick with Quicken, but considering 2016 is the last version of the software Intuit is making, the future is up in the air.  Hopefully, another company will take the software and continue to grow it, but it’s still an unknown.  In the meantime, I think I’m going to have to suck it up and try to get used to some of the online services despite their shortcomings.


How about you?  What have you found to make managing your finances easier?

Thanks for reading!!

— Jim

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10 thoughts on “How Do You Keep Track of Your Finances?”

  1. I use Mint and have all my accounts loaded on it so I can see a snapshot of my spending and even retirement account activity. It does have limitations but its quick and easy and I only use the mobile app. I don’t dig as deep as you and its a great birds eye view of what categories I’m spending too much in.

    1. Thanks, Joe – that seems to be the consensus on Mint… quick and easy. I opened my account with them again a few weeks ago, but haven’t added my accounts back in yet. I’ll have to give it another shot and try not to be too quick to compare it to Quicken.

      — Jim

  2. Hi Jim, thank you for the article! For me it is important to be able to track the expense/income asap, otherwise I will forget about it, so a mobile app is the only solution that could work for me. So far I’ve been using an Android application called “Money Lover” to track my expenses and I’ve been quite happy with the premium version of it.

    I didn’t know that GnuCash had a mobile version. I’ve been using the desktop app a few years ago and I liked it very much. I think I’ll give it another try in 2016.

    1. Thanks, Laszlo – I hadn’t heard of Money Lover before, but I’m going to check it out! It looks looks like it has some great reviews (at least for the Android app I looked at).

      — Jim

  3. Cool article – thanks for putting the options out there!

    I used to be all about spreadsheets because of the level of control. I’ve got a mint account and a personal capital account but I honestly can’t seem to get excited about them.

    I love making finance tangible – I think there’s a lot of power in manually tracking your expenses – you become acutely aware of where every penny is going.

    With that in mind I decided to go beyond spreadsheets and have launched my own web-based expense and income tracking tool. It’s free, has no ads and I don’t access or sell people’s data.

    I’m paying for the operating costs right now and plan to throw on a donation button at some point (though adding features is much more fun and always seems to take precedence)

    If you ever want to check it out you can find Thrifty at

    I’m always open to feature requests and suggestions.

  4. You definitely should try Bluecoins for Android. Trust me, I’ve tried 50 apps and it’s the closest thing to Quicken out there.

    1. Thanks, Jay – I always like checking out new software! I looked at it briefly and I’ll dig into it more this evening. Does it support connecting to banks, credit cards, investments accounts, etc and pulling down transactions?

      — Jim

  5. I used to use Quicken and Microsoft Money to track spending, but could never get the budget section to work. So I mainly used these programs to track spending. The problem with that is when an unexpected bill popped up I had to charge it to a Credit Card, or take out another loan.

    Then about 4 years ago I saw YNAB 4 in a Steam sale. I thought “I’ll give it a go”. After a few false starts (the learning curve is a little steep), I eventually got the method. When I started using YNAB I had 4 quite large credit cards, and 3 personal loans.

    Wind forward 4 years, now I have no need for a overdraft (not used overdraft in over 3 years), I have paid off all my loans and Credit Cards (I now have no debts except my mortgage, which I’m paying approximately double the required payment and expect to pay it off 5 years early). I am also saving for the first time since leaving University.

    So to summarize. I love YNAB

    1. I hear some awesome things about YNAB. I still haven’t tried it yet, but it seems to carry a very loyal following. Quicken just got bought last year and I’m curious to see what this new release will bring with it. That could be what keeps me on it or what pushes me to finally get on the YNAB train! 😉

      — Jim

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