Buying software to manage your finances might end up being counterproductive. For example, if you buy an expensive personal finance software package that you never use, it could be a step away from, instead of a step towards, the worthy goal of gaining control of your money.
That step back can be disheartening, especially when there is currently a wide variety of excellent, free personal finance software available. From GnuCash to Mint or Wesabe, the argument for choosing free personal finance software has never been stronger.
Free Personal Finance Software a Good Starting Point
Beyond the benefit of not having to spend money to begin managing your finances, trying out free personal finance software can protect your investment should you choose to purchase money management software later.
Far too many people buy personal finance software, and then never or very rarely use it. Quicken, for instance, though beloved by thousands, is not beloved by others who view the popular expense tracking software as cumbersome and complicated.
Starting with free personal finance software allows you to discover what particular personal finance program works for you from a user perspective. Reading personal finance software reviews is smart, but there's no substitute for hands-on experience.
Realizing the value of this exploratory period, many personal finance software companies operate according to a "freemium" business model. They give you a free version of the software to try, and then hope that you like it enough to buy the full version. You just might like it that much. But finding out that you don't like the software at all can be just as valuable.
Free Personal Finance Software Has Gotten Really Good
If you think free personal finance software is only for newbies, you may want to check out the cool new tools that are on the Web. Some of these tools would be worth buying, but are still free!
Mint.com is the poster child for the free personal finance software revolution. Millions of members and rave reviews from top-notch money mags like Kiplinger's are among their accolades. You can budget, pay bills, find high interest savings accounts, find the best credit card deals, and more, free of charge.
Another one to watch is Wesabe. Wesabe helps you track your expenses, see all your account balances in one place, and cut back where appropriate. What's unique about the Wesabe approach is the community focus of the site. Users learn from other users in a very interactive format.
Four Reasons to Buy Personal Finance Software
Obviously, free personal finance software is exciting. In certain situations, however, personal finance software is still worth paying for. How do you determine if that's the case for you?
There are four main reasons to pay for personal finance software:
- Desktop Love
- Your Bank's System Is Terrific
When you pay for something you become a customer. Traditionally, software you purchase provides you access to some form of customer service. At the very least, this usually means that someone has to fix your problem or provide you with a refund. Customer support remains the primary reason for buying personal finance software.
For reasons of speed or convenience, you may prefer money management software that goes on your desktop, as opposed to programs that reside on the Web. If this is you, purchasing personal finance software may be worthwhile.
Not that free, Web-based, personal finance software companies don't respect your privacy, but the personal finance software that you purchase may have a greater degree of privacy. Always read the terms of service agreement and privacy statement before using any personal finance tool--free or purchased.
Some banks are starting to offer personal finance software for a monthly fee. If your bank's system is easy to use and most of your banking information is already there, you may not mind paying $10 per month for personal finance software. Just make sure to cancel your subscription if you don't use it or want to switch to something else.