Why you should track your spending (and why Quicken sucks)

Why you should track your spending (and why Quicken sucks)

Last year wasn't good for me. Depression and anxiety reigned supreme. By objective standards, my life was pretty good. But subjectively, life sucked. Going into 2020, I decided I needed to make some changes. I'm pleased to report that the first five weeks of the year have gone swimmingly. Life is grand.

I've made three specific changes that I believe have contributed to this improvement:

  • I've rented office space outside the house. My office is for work only. I do not allow myself to play games (or engage in other shenanigans) at the office. Zero tolerance.
  • I've begun getting up early. I tend to be an early riser anyhow, but early for me means about six o'clock. This year, I'm generally rising at 4:00 or 4:30, which means I'm at the office by five.
  • I've curtailed my drinking. In fact, I didn't touch a drop of alcohol during January. I've had a few drinks in February, and it's been interesting to see how it affects me, both in the moment and then for days after.

Taken together, these three changes have mitigated my mental health problems and made me more productive. I love it. Over the next six weeks, I plan to integrate two additional changes into my life: I'm going to begin exercising regularly and I'm going to cut back on videogames. I expect this to provide an additional boost to my well-being.

There's been an unexpected benefit to my quest to become a better version of me. January was — by far — my best month with money in years.

My January 2020 Spending

As you know, I track every penny I spend. I've been doing this since 1993 (with occasional breaks). It's a valuable practice.

Earlier this decade — after my divorce but before my RV trip — my monthly spending averaged about $4000. After returning from our cross-country adventure, that number spiked. From 2016 to 2018, I was spending closer to $6000 per month. This led me to push for austerity measures last year, measures that worked. My 2019 spending averaged $4221.27 per month.

In January, I spent $3212.24. This is a fist-pumpingly fine number, one that I'm proud of. But I'm even prouder of how I achieved those cuts. My top financial goal for this year is to spend less on food. I did that. And because I didn't drink, I spent nothing on alcohol.

Because I was curious, I decided to explore my spending over the past few years. I think you might find it interesting too. Here's a snapshot:

My monthly spending

This spreadsheet shows monthly spending in select categories during the past five years. This spreadsheet does not show all of my spending. The 2016 numbers are for December only (because that's when I resumed tracking after our RV trip). The numbers for last year are only for the first half of the year. And, obviously, the numbers for this year are only for January.

Some thoughts:

  • Generally speaking, my vehicle costs are low. They were high in 2017 and 2018 because my 2004 Mini Cooper needed repairs. They were high last year because I spent $1900 to buy a 1993 Toyota pickup.
  • My entertainment spending is dominated by three specific expenses: my Portland Timbers season tickets, our subscription to Broadway in Portland, and my iTunes movie and TV purchases. The theater tickets are a one-time expense each February. The Timbers tickets (which I may not renew this year) are a one-time expense each August. I continue to work to keep my iTunes purchases under control.
  • I spend more on our pets than I thought. A lot more. I love our dog and three cats, but wow! I paid $142 to support them last month, and there were no vet expenses in January. Much of this spending is for pet-sitting when I travel.
  • Look at my food spending! Holy cats! I've been pushing hard to reduce this over the past five years, and January was a shining example of what I can get this down to if I try. Kim and I didn't feel deprived. We just made smarter choices.
  • Finally, when I'm not drinking, my spending on sin — which includes alcohol, occasional tobacco, and legal pot — falls off a cliff. Obvious, but also wow.

I know I'll spend more in February than I did in January. Our theater tickets renew and that's a $1500 expense, for instance. Still, I expect that I'll continue this trend toward reduced spending, and I'm glad. It makes me happy. It's yet another way that 2020 is off to a better start than 2019.

Why It's Important to Track Your Spending

It might seem strange that I'm such a vocal advocate of expense tracking. After all, don't I have all of the money I need? I do. But I think part of the reason I keep that money is because I'm so vigilant with my spending.

In fact, this seems to be a key habit with most wealthy people I know. They keep tabs on where there money goes. In The Millionaire Next Door, the authors write that the three words that best describe the wealthy are “FRUGAL FRUGAL FRUGAL”. They also point out that most millionaires keep budgets.

Tracking your spending demystifies money. You begin to perceive it as a tool. You gain a sense of power; you no longer feel that money controls you, but that you control money. Your awareness of your money habits is heightened, allowing you to make changes to improve your situation. You begin to understand how your one-DVD-a-week habit affects other parts of you your life.

When you track your spending, it’s important not to make judgments in the moment. This activity is meant to describe your money habits, not to change them. (You probably do want to change them, of course, but that’s a different task.)

To make it easier to track your spending, remember the following:

  • Be careful with transactions that are easy to forget. Some transactions – cash transactions, online transactions, transactions without a receipt – are quickly forgotten. Take special steps to remember these, such as…
  • Get a receipt for everything. It’s easy to forget where you spent your money yesterday morning. Make a habit of always asking for a receipt. Keep them in one place so you know where to find them.
  • It’s best to process your transactions daily. The more diligent you are about recording your expenses, the less likely you are to forget something. But daily book-keeping can be a chore. Try to do this weekly at the very least. (Make it a habit, a ritual. Do it at the same time every Saturday morning, for example.)

Expense tracking paints a picture of your spending habits as they actually exist – not as you think they exist. You can use this information to build a budget and to set financial goals. At the very least, you’ll get a snapshot of where your money has been going. Without doing this, it’s difficult to know how much you’ve really been spending – and what you’ve been spending it on.

Plus, if you're a money nerd like me, it's fun to track your spending. I love putting the numbers in by hand, then looking at the data with different graphs and reports.

This isn't just my personal opinion. There's plenty of research (and practical experience) that proves the value of writing down what you spend. In fact, while curating material for Apex Money this morning, I came across two articles about this very topic.

Expense tracking is powerful, especially if you're doing some portion of the work by hand. Automated tracking is good. Manual tracking is better.

How to Track Your Spending (and a Rant)

During the 1990s and 2000s, it was easy for a curious person to track her spending. There were a variety of tools she could use: Quicken, Microsoft Money, Andrew Tobias' Managing Your Money. Nowadays, though, your pickings are slim.

Yes, I know there are all sorts of apps out there that purport to track your spending. My business partner Tom uses Mint. Many folks are fans of Personal Capital. And, of course, Quicken still exists.

Although I do use Personal Capital (here are my thoughts on the pros and cons of Personal Capital), I do so primarily for its nifty retirement planner. I'm not a fan of automated money trackers, those that download and categorize info from your financial institutions. I feel like Mint and Personal Capital don't do a great job at this. Plus, I track my spending because I want awareness. Manual data entry helps with this.

That means I want a tool like Quicken, which allows me to enter info by hand.

But even Quicken has become problematic. Are you ready for a rant? Tough. You're going to get a rant.

For years, I used Quicken 2007 for Macintosh. I love Quicken 2007. It's everything I could want in a money-management tool. It replicates the feel of a check ledger, which appeals to old men like me. It's ugly, but that's okay because it's filled with functionality. I'll take personality over pretty any day!

Quicken - First Entry

The downside? It doesn't run on modern versions of the Macintosh operating system. To keep using it, I have to hold on to an old iMac with an old version of the OS.

Quicken 2017 is…okay. It's certainly much prettier than the older version, and it does its job reasonably well, but that's about the best I can say for it.

Quicken 2017 Investments Detail

Entering transactions manually (which is how I enter transactions) is maddening. There's no way to do this quickly. There's a serious lack of reporting tools, and what reports do exist have limited functionality. (Want to get a net worth report for a specific date? Sorry. You can't.)

Here's my detailed comparison of Quicken 2007 and Quicken 2017.

How frustrating is it to enter transactions into Quicken 2017 compared to Quicken 2007?

Today, it took me nineteen minutes to enter twenty transactions into the new version. This is partly due to the crappy UI and partly because I had to track down (and fix) a couple of strange ways it handled account transfers (such as paying a credit card from a checking account). When I drove home and re-entered these same twenty transactions into Quicken 2007, it only took me six minutes and everything worked as expected without any fuss on my end.

Despite this, I had made the decision to move everything to Quicken 2017. Last October, I made the switch. Then, last week, I got this email from Quicken.

Quicken sucks

As of 30 April 2020, Quicken 2017 will no longer support downloading stock prices. In fact, all automated downloads and connections will be disabled. But hey! If you upgrade to the new version of Quicken — which is now a subscription-only product (meaning you have to pay every single frickin' year) — you get to save 10%.

This is bullshit of the highest order.

When companies do this, it makes me livid. There's no way in hell I'll upgrade, and there's no way I can in good conscience encourage you, my readers, to support Quicken if they're going to pull this sort of bullshit.

So, I'll be sticking with Quicken 2007. Thankfully, Quicken doesn't have the power to disable features in that version of the program. They can't force me to upgrade. And since it's a superior product to 2017 anyhow, I'm okay with that. But it means I have to keep one computer on hand that I don't upgrade to a new version of the OS.

What if you don't have access to Quicken 2007? How should you track your spending? Here are a few possibilities:

  • If you're in the early stages of money mastery, I recommend You Need a Budget. Yes, YNAB uses a subscription-based model, but I've heard enough people rave about it to recommend it. (Plus, I like the YNAB philosophy.) Here's my YNAB review.
  • If you don't want or need manual data entry, use an app like Mint or Personal Capital. Personally, I'd go for Personal Capital. I've heard reports that more and more, people feel like Mint is fading away.
  • If, like me, you want an online tool that allows manual entry, find an older version of Quicken somewhere. If you're a PC user, you might consider using Microsoft Money. This product is no longer published (or supported) but Microsoft offers a free download of the final version of Microsoft Money Deluxe from ten years ago.
  • If you use Quickbooks or something similar to manage your business finances, it's possible to also track your home finances with that software. (But I don't think accounting tools will integrate investments. I could be wrong.)
  • Many people actually use home-brewed systems for expense tracking. Most of these are built around customized spreadsheets, although I've also seen people who use pen and paper (!!!) to track their spending.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter which tool you choose. What matters is that you track your spending.

Conclusion

Expense tracking is one of the cornerstone habits of smart personal finance. Not everyone needs to do this, of course. Some folks have so much money and spend so little that expense tracking becomes unnecessary. Others are naturally hyper aware of their behavior. But for most of us, expense tracking grants keen insight into how we use our money.

Unfortunately, there's no great solution right now for folks who want software that allows manual data entry.

The last time I complained about this, one GRS reader suggested that I create my own software tool. Honestly, that's not a bad idea. I probably no longer possess the skills to code this myself, but I do possess the experience, knowledge, and opinions that would help me design a piece of software that could be useful and effective. Plus, I'm not motivated by greed, which I think is a bonus.

For now, I'll continue to use Quicken 2007. It's a small hassle to keep an old iMac around with an old version of Mac OS, but I can do it. When that computer dies, though? Well, I'm not sure what I'll do.

Like me, my buddy John at ESI Money is a long-time Quicken user, with data going back to 1994. Like me, he enters transactions by hand. Like me, he recently tried to upgrade. Unlike me, he intends to continue using the new version of Quicken.

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Rob
Rob
8 months ago

I used to use Quicken too, but I left because of their extortion. I now use Moneydance. It’s like the old quicken used to be. You pay only once.

Connie
Connie
8 months ago
Reply to  Rob

Thanks Rob. I am going to check out Moneydance.

Maggie
Maggie
8 months ago
Reply to  Rob

Another Moneydance fan here. Been using it for fifteen years.

Kevin
Kevin
3 months ago
Reply to  Rob

Will Moneydance convert the quicken files for smooth tsransition?

mark
mark
8 months ago

JD – check out Moneydance. I’ve been using it for both personal AND also for my wife’s consulting business. The UI isn’t as nice as the old Quicken was but it’s essentially the same from what I recall with regard to the register entries etc. I think you’d like it. And it runs on every OS (including linux and macOS, which is where I started using it).

Chris
Chris
8 months ago
Reply to  mark

+1 for Moneydance. I think it would fit your niche perfectly. Well supported, multi-platform, offline (with the option of bank feeds), and stock and currency downloads.

Tim
Tim
8 months ago
Reply to  mark

I tried Moneydance as part of my search for a replacement for Quicken 2007, but gave up as it couldn’t correctly import any of my investment accounts. Accounts that are worth $20k imported as worth 2.7 million. It literally created a new account that doesn’t exist, and gave it a value of 2 million. I’d gladly use Moneydance if it were accurate.

JB
JB
8 months ago

I’ve been using Microsoft Money since like 2002 and am still to this day using it to manually track my spending. Like you, I do this for the awareness of where EXACTLY my money is going. I also use it for tracking my net worth, upcoming bills and investments. I’m a Mac user too, so my solution is to install Money on Windows inside a virtual machine. I personally use Parallels, but Virtualbox works as well and is free for personal use. Lastly, there’s an active forum for those of us who still use MS Money. There is a trick… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 months ago

Yo—good to see another article from you. I have a massive puzzle looking at your spreadsheet picture and I hope you can help me solve it. I’ve been digging into the cost of transportation lately (bikes vs cars), and so I to have to ask: Auto—$32/year? How the hell is it even possible? Maybe it’s how you itemize? I count registration/inspection, insurance, gas, taxes, tolls, parking fees, tools that are only for the car (eg jackstands or a creeper), wiper fluid + blades, oil changes, rotation + balance, wheel alignments , washes + detailings, parking, etc etc…. as auto expense.… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 months ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Forgot to insert this link for comparison

https://www.yourmechanic.com/estimates/mini/cooper

($776/yr average for Mini maintenance)

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 months ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Yeah, I got it after another reader clarified (where did he go?) but what I’d like to see (I often skim, “executive summary mode” so to speak) is a chart that is readable as a standalone document, like the other ones featured here. There’s “Bank Register” and “Portfolio Value” over 10 years… hence a title like “Monthly Average Expense” would help grasp things quickly. Also, “1H only” maybe would read better as “Jul-Dec”? And the row under “total” needs a name, e.g. “Months averaged”. Although probably should be the first row under the year number (“in 2016 we sampled December… Read more »

JB
JB
8 months ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

I believe those are his monthly costs. So in 2016 he spent $32.75/month = $393 for the year.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 months ago
Reply to  JB

Oh! Of course…. Thanks!

With numbers on top row I read as expenses for the year, ha ha ha; chart needs a title/header.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 months ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

And row below total could use a name like “sample size”.

Maybe also delete 2016 because it skews the intuitive grasp being a single odd month.

Destiny
Destiny
8 months ago

I used to use GnuCash before transitioning to Mint. But it’s been a while and I don’t totally recall the downloading functionality. Anyone else still use GnuCash?

Matt
Matt
8 months ago
Reply to  Destiny

I was going to suggest GnuCash. I’ve been using it since 2003 looking back at my transaction history. It’s double-entry accounting, which it seems like JD would like. Getting the stock quote updates has taken a little work over the years, but I’ve stopped tracking those within GnuCash itself, so I’m not sure what the current state is. Worth a try, the price is right, and I believe it will actually even import .qif files from Quicken.

One Frugal Girl
One Frugal Girl
8 months ago
Reply to  Matt

We’ve been using gnucash since 2002. It takes a few minutes to load, because we have so much data stored there, but otherwise it’s always reliable.

Jim
Jim
8 months ago
Reply to  Destiny

I used GnuCash before transitioning to Mint. It’s great for basic double-entry accounting, but the reports are limited, the online connections don’t work with every bank, and it’s not very user friendly.

I gave up on GnuCash because there were way too many manual steps for me. But if you’re just looking for a ledger system, it does the job really well.

John
John
8 months ago
Reply to  Destiny

I’ve been using GnuCash (version 1.8) since 2004. I’m finally looking to either upgrade to the current version or look into something else. Upgrading might not be possible because I have to go to interim versions. It’s nice to have all the historical data, but I could just archive and start over. Started using it back in school to learn double-entry accounting and to track my finances. Looked into Mint, etc but don’t like my financial info on their servers. Happy to hear others use GnuCash. It’s not the prettiest looking UI, but it gives me what I need. For… Read more »

Maggie
Maggie
8 months ago
Reply to  Destiny

I use GnuCash for my business. It’s free, stable and does the job.

Michael Clark
Michael Clark
8 months ago

Could you run your desired Mac operating system on a Virtual Box on your primary Mac? It would be nice to not have to worry about having a dedicated machine just for that one purpose.

JB
JB
8 months ago
Reply to  Michael Clark

Parallels 15 shows it will run OSX as old as 10.7 (as well as 10.6 server and 10.5 server):
https://www.parallels.com/blogs/parallels-desktop-15-for-mac-system-requirements/

Virtualbox shows it is experimental and unsupported:
https://www.virtualbox.org/manual/ch03.html#intro-macosxguests

Devin Salisbury
Devin Salisbury
8 months ago

I had used Quicken for 25 years (starting with an MS-DOS version in 1994). I used Quicken as a ledger (no downloads) and customized it for my needs. Last fall, Quicken freezes up and I can’t use it. I call in and customer service says they are having an issue and try later. I’m not using anything from the cloud so why should my data freeze up? Then, when my license ended in December, although I could use Quicken on a partial basis, they placed notices that my membership has expired on about 30% of the screen. It’s time to… Read more »

Paavo
Paavo
8 months ago

Since 2018 I am budgeting my money with YNAB, your review was one reason to try it out. It made my very aware of my spending habits and improved long term goal achievements like saving for holidays and tech. Since I live in Europe I cannot use any automatic data entries and this add anything I spend manually. This works quite well with the iOS and Android apps. Also their workshops are a good help to get started on budgeting and taking more care with money.
Love your blog, thank you!

Markus
Markus
8 months ago

You could take a look at GnuCash (https://www.gnucash.org/) and be free of your corporate overlords forever!
It runs natively on most modern platforms, and is free-as-in-beer.

Cheers!

Lee
Lee
8 months ago

I have used Bankitivity on macOS for years. It’s not perfect, but prettier than Moneydance and does everything you could need, including investing.

The Frug
The Frug
8 months ago

I ran quicken for windows on a variety of macs for years using Parallels. Finally moved over to the latest version of Quicken for my new Mac and was peeved at how difficult categorizing and splitting even the downloaded transactions was. Also the subscription sucks but I’ve realized its easier than the regular parallels 11/ windows 7 / quicken… upgrade dance I had to do anyway. Some good news- as of last week Quicken released a Mac update that vastly improved the register entries and added the missing net worth reports. So I will keep it for now and charge… Read more »

LdeG
LdeG
8 months ago

GnuCash https://www.gnucash.org/ Open source, well-maintained and frequently updated, runs on Linux/Mac/Windows I switched from MS Money 10 years ago, easily imported all my old data, so we now have 22 years of data. It does double-entry, has business functions like invoicing as well as being fine for personal finance. Downloads stock prices. Some years ago credit card companies and banks mostly stopped direct-import download functionality, but I can still easily download OFX files, including investment transactions, and the manual import automatically matches and clears. My husband enters all receipts, once or twice a month, and I download the statements monthly… Read more »

Rocdoc
Rocdoc
8 months ago

Have you looked at Gnucash – open source. Double-entry bookkeeping. Love it.

fatdaddy
fatdaddy
8 months ago

I use ledger-cli (https://www.ledger-cli.org). I love it.

msb
msb
8 months ago

I’ve been using quicken mac products since the late 80’s, and 2007 since then. Every transaction of my adult life is in that program–every investment, ill advised stock sale, and every time my balance went uncomfortably close to zero. I could do that and know my numbers were (and still are) correct up to the minute. I will keep a purpose-use Mac around to run this version of quicken indefinitely. Further, my quicken database is cloud based (on Dropbox) so it will never be subject to a hard drive crash. I enjoy being able to see how I’ve spent my… Read more »

MrB
MrB
8 months ago
Reply to  msb

Totally agree! Quicken works and now has the full support of the company rather than them having to support three different years versions.

$40 (with holiday or black Friday discount) annually isn’t too much to ask for how much value the software is actually providing you.

So you can spend $50 for a single average dinner out one night of the year but $3.50 per month is too much for a fully supported financial program that you use daily?????

R
R
8 months ago

Gnucash is fantastic. I’ve been using it for years. Like anything it has some down sides, but for free and well maintained software it is incredible!

Angelica
Angelica
8 months ago

I use YNAB v.4. Never even tried to new subscription-based service, heard it was terrible in comparison. I love it and have no idea what I’d do if I had to change services.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 months ago
Reply to  Angelica

I’ve only known the subscription YNAB and I love it. For a while I had some connectivity/data import issues with some accounts, but it still worked on manual mode. After some back and forth with tech support the connection got fixed, and it now it runs superbly well. I could probably set up a spreadsheet to do the same nasic thing manually, because it’s just a digital version of the envelope system, but I value the ability to track and match transactions with banks and cards, so I’m glad to pay for the convenience. Lucky too that I locked at… Read more »

mo
mo
8 months ago
Reply to  Angelica

I tried nYNAB for two months. Infinitely preferred YNAB4 and went back. Cleaner app interface, and categories can carry over to the next month (no more red arrows in nYNAB). I feel like there was another reason that was the deal breaker… Since I manually input I gladly gave up the convenience features over better functionality and understanding where my money is.

Amanda
Amanda
8 months ago

Great article! Out of curiosity do you think your food expenses were down in January because you spent zero on sin? It is easier to make good food / life choices when there is no chemical cloud. What I mean is, I know for me personally, it is easier to stick to my 95% plant based lifestyle when I’m not drinking, but if I go out for a few drinks with friends we end up getting unhealthy foods. I end up overspending on BOTH sin and food plus I don’t sleep well for a few days as my body detoxes… Read more »

Jim @ Route To Retire
Jim @ Route To Retire
8 months ago

I get it, JD – I was a Quicken user for 20 years before I bailed on it a little over a year ago. I manually entered my expenses in it, too. Most folks don’t go that route, but it was a good feeling of control. Trying to be a little more hands-off (very hard for me to do!), I switched to Personal Capital. Like you mentioned though, they don’t let you enter any transactions at all. That’s a problem when you live in a country like Panama where they’re doing a lot of cash transactions still. So now I… Read more »

Aubrey
Aubrey
8 months ago

Former Quicken and MS Money user here and I now use YNAB on the web and love it. It is a little confusing at first, but it is worth the investment and the articles, youtube videos and webinars help tremendously. It doesn’t do everything those MS Money and Quicken did, for example it does not project a cashflow calendar, though they did add a running balance to individual accounts and the Toolbox add-on had this for some time. It will track investment account values for the purpose of net worth, but it is not a robust investment analysis and planning… Read more »

FoxTesla
FoxTesla
8 months ago

Time spent in Quicken ’07 vs ’17 – this could be a hardware-specific issue. I maintain a Q’16 file on my home network that can be accessed from either my desktop or laptop. Processor-wise, the desktop has an i7 and the laptop an i5. On the laptop, painful to enter (multiple seconds of processing after hitting enter each transaction). On the desktop, smooth as silk. Sin spending – WOW! I thought paying $9 for a six-pack of Shiner every month or so was a lot! Category Selection – Are you including insurance in the categories or as a separate item,… Read more »

Dave B
Dave B
8 months ago

I think Moneydance is the finance software you should be looking at. I changed to it from Quicken donkey’s years ago; when I stopped using Quicken for DOS (something to do with the price of Windows Quicken or maybe they were bought out by another company I didn’t like)!!! Always been happy with it.

Greg
Greg
8 months ago

Hey JD,

Why not switch to YNAB?

I don’t love the idea of subscription software, but it’s expensive to maintain. I’d rather continue to pay for a maintained product I know will be around than only have access to it on old hardware.

Curious to hear your thought!

KC
KC
8 months ago

I’m obsessed with this app: Spending Tracker by MH Riley Ltd. You create your own categories and input entries from your phone. There are no “budgets,” but you get to see how the spending changes every month in each category.

Johanna L Klein
Johanna L Klein
8 months ago

Very interesting as always! I’m curious about a few spending categories that are monthly line items for me, but don’t show up in your budget, including: (i) house (I guess you own, so you don’t have rent or condo dues, but also nothing for repair?); (ii) taxes (even property taxes?); (iii) insurance of any type; (iv) doctor / dentist; (v) personal care (haircuts, etc.); (vi) charity; and (vii) household goods (paper towels and such – do they come under groceries?). I’d love to get a little insight into where those categories show up, or if you just have no or… Read more »

Joe
Joe
8 months ago

Nice job so far. I think cutting back on alcohol is a great move. You don’t need to drink that much. Just once in a while in a social situation is enough for us.
For tracking, I use Personal Capital for a quick overview and an Excel spreadsheet for full detail. I enter everything manually. It takes about an hour per month. I love it.

Bruce
Bruce
8 months ago

I just use Excel and keep it in a tabular database format. That way I have complete control over the data and can manipulate as I wish.

spaceassassin
spaceassassin
8 months ago
Reply to  Bruce

Second the Excel functionality. The ease of manipulation can’t be beat in my mind. A little more manual labor entering and back checking data, but once the data is good, the manipulation and comparison across months, years, sorting, charts, graphs, etc. is unmatched.

I keep a workbook for each year with about 10 tabs tracking and funneling data to various places within the workbook. Started in 2007 the month we got married and still tracking…1.3M in spending tracked into 32 categories to date.

Ellen
Ellen
8 months ago

I have Bank of America and it has a feature called Track Expenses and it has the pie chart of all my expenses. No need to use any 3rd party system. Your bank might have something similar to this.

John
John
8 months ago

You might also check out MoneyWell. I switched from Quicken 2007 when it quit working and have been really happy with it. They had an iOS version that let you enter transactions when you were away from your computer, but changes with Dropbox syncing broke it. They’ve been working on new versions of both the Mac and iOS version for a long time, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they’re able to survive long enough to release updates.

JC Webber III
JC Webber III
8 months ago

JD, I have a similar issue with YNAB. I just can’t bring myself to move to nYNAB, not only because of the subscription issue, but also how, IMHO, they over complicated the program. Not only with how they now deal with CCs, but also all the extra bells and whistles related to ‘goals’ and such. Don’t need it.

So, bottom line, I also need to keep my system at the current OS because the next release will no longer support 32bit applications. Sad.

Eileen
Eileen
8 months ago
Reply to  JC Webber III

I’m a nYNAB user for a few years. About once a year I decide to try the goals (again) and it either not intuitive or I don’t have the patience to work with them long enough, so I remove them again, lol. I do like the CC handling (though credits and over-payments can get confusing).

But I do like the product a lot and think it’s been helpful.

Richard
Richard
8 months ago

I’ve been using the free version of “Everydollar” and I have no complaints. It’s a Dave Ramsey product. There is also a paid version that links up to your bank account but I’ve never felt the need to go there. There is a web version and a phone app, both are easy to use.

Keilexandra
Keilexandra
8 months ago

I use a homebrew Excel spreadsheet (well, actually a Google Sheets spreadsheet) that was pretty easy to set up. The only special knowledge you need, which I have to look up every time I do it, is how to make a pivot table. Just have a Summary tab with categories down the first column and months across the first row. In the Expenses tab, enter each expense as you incur it and give it a category column which matches your category names from the Summary table. I have auto-complete set up on my categories, but that’s optional.

Connie
Connie
8 months ago

Thanks for posting this article. It backs up what I have been teaching my students. I plan to share it with them! I use a Google Sheet I developed three years ago. I have a link to it on my phone so I can enter expenses as they happen. It works great and it’s free. I made copies for some of my students (I teach financial literacy courses) and most prefer it to Mint and YNAB. IMHO I think many bigger software developers like Quicken and Intuit have lost touch with their customers. They keep raising prices and lowering the… Read more »

Tom Murin
Tom Murin
8 months ago

I’ve been using Quicken for 25 years. I don’t care for the subscription model, but I’m pretty locked in at this point. Given how much I use it – it’s worth the cost to me. $50 a year for something I use a couple of hours a week. That said, I understand how you feel – they took the choice from you. I used to only buy an update every 3 or 4 years and now I pay that every year. That sucks.

CanTex
CanTex
8 months ago

It’s been a while since I tried YNAB, Moneydance and GnuCash. I can’t remember but it seems like none of them could download mutual fund / ETF prices so I could update my net worth. Still true? Quicken (my go-to since 1992) does that. Personal Capital doesn’t recognize foreign (Canadian) stocks, and forced-downloading rules that out. So Quicken it must be. Quicken’s Net Worth report is perfect for my needs. Kinda like getting along with a disapproving mother-in-law, barely putting up with each other. Except I had an awesome m.i.l., it’s just Quicken where we have to tolerate each other.

Grace
Grace
8 months ago

I’m confused why your spending snapshot doesn’t show home maintenance/home expenses, medical or any type insurance. These are basic life expenses.

And, is this just your personal spending or your partner’s also?

Jessica
Jessica
8 months ago

I just started using Tiller to track my spending and it’s great!

Holly G
Holly G
8 months ago

Great article, JD. I like the comments about all of the different types of software. I always like to learn what people are using and what works for them and what doesn’t. I have used Quicken and Microsoft Money. I also was frustrated with Quicken years ago with Windows and switched to Microsoft Money. Great link above to see if I can open some old files. hahah! So common for OS to update and the old software is not supported anymore. I did spreadsheet tracking and then life got in the way I just did an un-budget method. Then in… Read more »

Rocky
Rocky
8 months ago

I have been using Quicken since 1992. I also hate the way they charge now, but it also saves me a ton of time. I have lots of accounts and a single click downloads them all, sends my checks, updates my balance and let’s me know where I stand. Paying a small fee is irritable but they do provide me value and as a % of my net worth, it’s not even something to talk about.

For me, my time is more valuable then fussing with all this software.

Lisa
Lisa
8 months ago

Tried all these (except gnucash) and am back to Microsoft Money — praying it won’t ever break. I think I actually love this software. I keep finding new things I didn’t realize it did (as in reporting). And I don’t expect too much from it — it is free, after all. Entering my transactions makes me happy.

Amelia @ TheUsefulRoot
Amelia @ TheUsefulRoot
8 months ago

Great post! I agree that tracking spending is a powerful tool for financial health. I experienced that firsthand when I started using Mint last year. I had never tracked my expenses before but gave it a try after reading Your Money Or Your Life. I said to myself I’ll just try it for three months and see what happens. Within the first month I was hooked. It was so illuminating! I started cutting expenses right away. I’ve been doing it for a over a year now and I think I’m ready to dig deeper and try YNAB. Thanks for your… Read more »

Mike Weber
Mike Weber
8 months ago

Have used Quicken for 20+ years and will continue to do so as long as it exists. Alternatives like Mint or Personal Capital don’t even come close to the feature set of Quicken (although they might be fine for many people’s needs.) I moved to Mac in 2011 and continue to use Quicken for Windows on a virtual copy of Windows. The Mac version of Quicken has never been feature equal to Windows – and may never be – so it wasn’t ever a consideration. I hear a lot of complaining that Quicken (which was sold to new owners a… Read more »

Chris
Chris
7 months ago

I don’t see KMyMoney mentioned, so I’ll throw it into the mix:

https://kmymoney.org/
https://kmymoney.org/screenshots.html

It’s cross-platform: I use it on FreeBSD, my mother (in her 60s) uses it on Windows, and it’s also available for Linux and macOS. Although it’s built by the KDE team, it does not require you to use the KDE desktop.

Quicken Fan
Quicken Fan
7 months ago

Quicken is by far the best comprehensive financial planning and administrative software for the money out there. If you can’t spend what equates to about $5 a month for best, maybe your not very serious about managing your money

Tim
Tim
6 months ago

I used Quicken for years as well, but stopped using it as I got tired of the money grab and switched to Mint. I was hoping Mint was going to get better for budgeting, but it’s fairly lame and it’s not improving at all. I just started testing a new subscription based product I found on Product Hunt called Lunch Money (web only), and I’m beyond impressed. I’m not normally a fan of subscription services, but I think I’m going to have to bullet on this one because it’s just so much more intuitive than anything else I’ve tried. It… Read more »

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