New Budget Tracker

[This is not a sponsored post and there are no affiliate links]

I was looking for a personal finance app for ages. Nothing quite met my needs. I’m an advanced user when it comes to budgeting software.

In theory, if you have all your accounts at one bank and you get alerts whenever you make a transaction, you might not need financial software. You know what’s going in and coming out, and you can check your balances any time. I do that, but I wanted more.

This year I am not using cash unless I spend under $5, but I do want to track cash spending.

I wanted an app I could use “on the go,” but I needed something that could produce detailed reports and forecasts. It seemed like I had to choose one or the other.

My big list of necessary features was:

  • Mobile app that works with a web or desktop version for more detailed views and reports
  • Accepts manual inputs (not just transactions downloaded from a bank)
  • I own my own data – can export any time – even if I stop paying the subscription fee
  • Works with Canadian dollars and supports multiple currencies (I use pounds, euros or USD when travelling)
  • Unlimited and customizable budget categories
  • Reports – income and expense, budget vs actual, progress toward savings goals, etc.
  • Investment and asset tracking
  • Reminders – upcoming bills and deposits

I was using a very old version of MS Money but there is no app or web version available, so I had to be home on my PC to use it.

I gave the YNAB (You Need a Budget) app a good workout, but it wasn’t for me.

At the time of my review, they were doing major upgrades and not all features were functional yet. The issues with exporting and printing are resolved now. As I noted back then, YNAB’s strengths are education and motivation. They have good reports, but they encourage users to look ahead, rather than analyze past spending. So, I chose not to return. Plus, $84 USD annually is pricey.

My main issue with YNAB is that it refused to hide money from me! I like to “earmark” some money within an account for a future bill and make it unavailable for spending. YNAB insists that all my money is available until it is spent. So, it was easy to be fooled by a high account balance.

More recently I tried the free Wally app. It is meant for tracking your on-the-go spending. I was quickly frustrated by the limited category names. You can pay for an upgrade to unlimited categories and renaming. Almost every feature I needed had an extra charge. It is a good deal – only $36 USD/year for the full suite of features – but even then, it is too basic for me. It’s good for recording and showing views of your daily spending, but it’s not intended for reporting or forecasting.

I had stayed away from Mint because of its requirement to link with your bank, but now you can enter transactions manually in Mint, too. Their free app is funded by their financial partners who analyze your spending patterns – they recommend accounts, credit cards and services. No thanks.

I checked for new app reviews every few months and finally landed on Quicken.

I have used the desktop versions of both Money and Quicken in the past, but Quicken’s app is new. It is available by subscription for $60 CDN/year which includes desktop, online and app versions of the product, all of which sync with each other. Perfect for recording spending on the go, then sitting down at home (or on a laptop while travelling) to do a complete review of finances.

I am getting used to “software as a service.” I have annual subscriptions for Apple Music, Microsoft Office, and now Quicken. I’m a power user and take advantage of lots of features.

The basic steps to use the desktop/online versions are:

  • Set up accounts
  • Download or enter transactions
  • Accept Quicken’s category suggestions or create your own
  • Let Quicken auto-create a budget based on your past spending, or set up your own
  • Set up regular bills and reminders
  • Set up savings goals
  • Set up to share Quicken data with the mobile app (which accounts to include)

Happily, I did not have to use the debt reduction planner, but it is available! Other options include tracking investment performance and recording the value of assets such as a home or car – so you can include them in your net worth. There are simple calculators for university planning, retirement planning, refinancing loans, etc.

When I first set up my accounts and budget, I tried entering my bank log-in details to see if it would download transactions, and it did download 1-2 months’ worth. I needed to make a few adjustments, but it worked. For example, the transaction dates it downloaded didn’t match my credit card statement, so I manually added purchases back to the start date of the billing cycle.

Then I deleted my banking log-in details and I now enter everything manually. Quicken may have kept a copy of my log-in info, but I hope not.

If you’re a more trusting person than I am, you can leave your banking info on file and allow Quicken to access your account automatically, or you can decide when to download the transactions, and enter your password manually each time.

I spent about 2 hours creating a set of spending categories, setting up a very detailed budget, and organizing some savings goals.

Not my accounts/photo

The Home Page of the desktop version serves as a “dashboard.” I set it up to display bill reminders, cash flow and budget progress. Other options include recent spending, selected account details, net worth, and savings goal progress.

My hope was that I could eliminate any additional personal finance tracking outside the software. Due to the limits of my old software, I had a bunch of spreadsheets “on the side”!

So far this has been a success! I can now look at cash flow, predicted month-end and year-end balances, and savings balances for each goal (even if the funds are all in one bank account). I have made some nice arbitrary distinctions, like dividing my personal spending into frivolous and non-frivolous:

Gym membership, regular haircuts, cell phone = not frivolous

Earrings, alcoholic beverages, travel souvenirs = frivolous

Your results may vary 😊

Not my accounts/photo

When I’m out, I can enter purchases and attach a pic of the receipt if I want to. If I’m on cellular or wireless, I can allow the app to geolocate the nearest business so I can select it from a list. Keeping everything synced and backed up is easy.

The only Quicken glitches I’ve heard about are: not all banks are supported for downloading transactions (although they have a huge list) and you can’t download from online banks like Tangerine and EQ. I have seen complaints from users who download transactions from their banks – connection problems and accuracy of assigning categories, but I can’t speak to them since I am doing manual inputs.

Quicken has been brilliant for me these past 4 months. If everything continues as is, I’d only stop using it if there were big fee increases, or if they added advertising.

For the very keen, you can view a comparison of Quicken, YNAB, Mint and Wally: Budgeting App Comparison [I personally created and uploaded this file and vouch for its safety]

I’d love to hear how you fared if you’ve tried any personal finance apps or products lately.

Do you have a banking website that offers personal finance and budgeting tools?

 

10 comments

  1. Thanks for this review! My husband keeps a log by hand right now (as it sort of serves as a travel diary of sorts as well), but we plan to move to online app like this eventually.

  2. agirlushouldknow

    I currently use Wave but they got bought out by HR Block and it is becoming a little ad-centric. I might have to get quicken.

  3. Fiona

    It’s been years since I’ve used a programme or app (for reasons that you mention: a lack of specific features that I needed at that time.) It sounds like there’s a lot of new features that were not available previously. I love the limitless categories. Love the feature of being able to enter/track the different currencies (we can never track our holiday spending properly!) And also the ability to track investments / net worth and asset depreciation. That was never really part of the packages I’d looked at before. The thought that I could properly track food spending with a decent program is very appealing (your amazing past reports inspire me!)

    • I think any app would be fine for recording spending, but to produce good reports and insights, you need something with a desktop or online version. Not sure what is made for the Australian market!

  4. PK

    Thanks for the review. The only time I had heard of Quicken was for small business accounting. I might give it a shot. Do they have a free trial period for those of us that might not be ready to jump in with both feet?

  5. No free trial! Might be better to start with a free product and see how committed you are to budget tracking!

  6. You’re so good. I know, from experience, that I am just not committed enough to record my spending. And if I did do it, I wouldn’t trust apps that back up to other places.

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