Monday, July 25, 2011

TNRR (Totally Not Running Related): Personal Finance Software

OK, so as the title suggests, this is a totally non-running related post. But, as my blog is titled Random Thoughts While Running and I have thought about this while running (well, and it is my blog, so I can do whatever I want, right?), here 'tis.

My disclaimer is that I'm certainly no finance guru. My grasp on more than just the basics is slippery at best. I also haven't delved into the inner workings of any personal finance software package. I've used Quicken for Mac for years — my first entry was 31-Dec-1993, so almost 19 years now. I currently am at least 3 versions behind but couldn't justify the cost of upgrading since (1) Quicken 2004 was still working just fine for me and (2) none of the newer versions offered any reason for **me** to upgrade. Now, however, that's changing.

Apple has released the newest OS X operating system, Lion. It's affordable and I do see some intangible benefits of running the most current operating system. However, Quicken 2004 (and every other version through 2007, the latest) does not work under Lion. That left me with only 2 Intuit options — Quicken Essentials, which 90% or more of users who have written anything I've read say is a real dog, and Mint, an online money management tool that essentially shows whatever one's online bank site has in its history (i.e., there's no way to maintain my almost 20 year history) and which requires an internet connection to use (not a given for me in Nairobi). So, for the past 6 weeks or so, I've been looking for a Quicken replacement.

I've now boiled it down to 3 options — all 3 of which are supposed to work under Lion (OS 10.7.x):

  • Moneydance 2011: Retails for $49.99 but a 25% discount ($37.49) through MacUpdate Promo until about 3 August or with a 20% discount when you "Like" their page on Facebook. Interesting — Moneydance does not seem to be available through the Apple App store. Download a 30-day demo here: Moneydance 2011 demo
  • SEE Finance 0.9.13: Retails for $29.99. The trial software can be downloaded here: SEE Finance demo
  • iBank 4.2.4: Retails for $59.99 through Apple's App Store. You can download a 30-day trial here: iBank 4.2.4 demo
Last night, I downloaded the most recent version of each and installed them in order to start testing.

My first task was to export my Quicken data as a QIF file. To its credit, my prehistoric version of Quicken did that without a hitch. Then, I imported the data into each program. Basically, that also worked very well. SEE Finance actually handled it best. I haven't found any errors in the import in any of the 3 programs except for iBank. iBank does not show the balance for my EdwardJones investment accounts — not sure why that is nor what to do about it. Moneydance 2011 seems to have imported everything without errors but I can't figure out how to change the account type for any of the accounts — it imported my annuity accounts as bank accounts and I want to change them to investment accounts. SEE Finance also imported the annuity accounts as bank accounts but it was quite simple to change them to investment accounts.

I also like the look of iBank least of all three programs. There's nothing really wrong with the look, I just prefer the others. Moneydance has a nice Home page view that shows a great summary of one's financial position. I don't like large text on my computer screen, so the default font size is a bit in–you–face for me. I can reduce the font size for the main pane but not for the account list pane.

iBank's view is a check register type of view. There's no real summary page though you can choose to show a simple summary at the bottom of the account list (Money you have/Money you owe/Total).

I like the look of SEE Finance best. But, I really think that's because of the default font and size, which can probably be changed in Moneydance. From an information perspective, the Moneydance overview page wins hands-down.

All 3 programs can be customized via the Preferences pane. The Preference pane for iBank is the simplest and offers the least control. It has 3 tabs: General, Appearance, Advanced. Each one has limited options and the Advance tab only offers a single option — how iBank's built-in browser identifies itself.

The Preference panel for SEE Finance operates in a manner similar to Apple's System Preferences. While it requires a bit more mouse and clicking than that of Moneydance, it seems to offer the most options for customization (that may well be an illusion). Like Apple's System Preferences, clicking on a category opens that category in the window — to get back to the category options, you have to click "Show All".

The Preference panel for Moneydance seems to cover all the bases. Because it is a true tab-based window, it reduces the clicking. And, it's the only one to offer control of printing preferences.

One thing that seems to be unique about Moneydance is its open-API programming. That allows third-party developers to write extensions that can be incorporated into Moneydance. That opens the potential for Moneydance capabilities to be expanded and there seem to be 15 extensions currently available, including one called "Credit Card Payoff Calculators" which, according to one reviewer, helps one figure out a plan to pay off debt — that reviewer said this extension alone was worth the price of the software.

One thing that does concern me a bit is that Moneydance is apparently written in Javascript. It is fast — much faster than I expected of a Javascript program. My concern is whether Apple will continue to support Java. In fact, I've read that Apple will no longer develop Java for the Mac but will leave that up to Sun.

SEE Finance seems to offer the most flexibility in exporting transactions — that would be important if one wanted to change to a different finance program later. Here is the list of export formats for each program:

Moneydance 2011

  • QIF
  • Tab-delineated
  • Moneydance XML
  • Moneydance 2008
iBank

  • QIF
  • TXF (tax export format)
SEE Finance

  • QIF with Category List
  • QIF
  • CSV (comma-separated values)
  • TXF

Moneydance does have a free iPhone/iPod/iPad app through the iTunes store. iBank has an iPhone/iPod/iPad app for $4.99. SEE Finance does not seem to have an app for iPhone.

At the moment, I haven't made a final decision. However, I'm pretty sure it's going to be between Moneydance 2011 and SEE Finance and I'm leaning toward Moneydance because of it's overview page, Preference pane, and the extension capability. However, the ability to change the type of accounts within SEE Finance and the price are compelling.

There is a good review of each package at these links:

Well, this turned out much longer than I expected. Writing has helped me sort through my own thoughts.

I'm in the US for a short while and this heat and humidity are killing me — hard to get out and run.

Run well, y'all,
Bob
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