Many people have written about this before, and many more will follow. What can I say, I couldn’t help myself.
I like staying on top of my finances, it reduces stress and makes life in general a lot easier. I won’t go into the psychological reasons why people get into debt and how to use psychology or blackmail to get yourself out. I merely want to give my thoughts on some of the software for macs out there.
I always look for the best software to fit my needs. I like computers and I feel they should make my life easier. Software can actually do that (and also make us hate it so much we want to drag it outside and beat it to a pulp).
I’ve tried several financial programs for my personal finance:
iBank (OS X, Full version $59.99)
Moneydance (OS X, Windows, Linux, $39.99)
GnuCash (OS X, Linux, open source, free)
MoneyWell (OS X, $49.99 / currently $39.99)
First a list of what I want in personal finance software:
- Easy to use
- Easy to set up
- Easy to maintain
- Easy to see at a glance how I did in a certain month
The software should also not crash and lot eat up my data. Saving my data in some type of file that I can access outside the program scores a lot of extra points. Exporting to .qif or a similar common format sounds good to me as well.
More points get acquired if the program works well on a smaller screen and older mac. I have a iBook G4, a bit of an oldie now, which still works pretty well, but I don’t need some fancy new software that only runs on an Intel with 3gb of ram. Personal finance software should not push my mac to its limits.
Behind the cut I will describe my experiences with these four programs and wrap it up with a winner.
I will do the following actions to judge the program:
- Open the program (startup-time)
- Import previous data (a sample .qif file)
- Create a few transactions
- Schedule some bills
- Set up a budget
- Set up a payment plan for my creditcard / loan.
The sample file has data on a savings account, a credit card and a joint checking account.
Comparison of the programs:
All except GnuCash install easily, GnuCash takes a day or say, not very convenient. It has plenty of dependencies.
Both MoneyDance and MoneyWell start up fast, iBank takes longer and GnuCash takes longest, due to having start up X11 first.
Creating new document.
When you create a new document iBank will create categories without asking. MoneyDance lets you choose between a standard account set and a minimal account set. MoneyWell will ask you to create buckets (categories), which you can deselect if you want. GnuCash lets you choose between a lot of sets of accounts, from basic to extended.
Importing didn’t go very well for iBank, which created multiple accounts for the same accounts. Also, the other programs had some problems with transfers. MoneyWell takes considerably longer to import. MoneyWell, MoneyDance and GnuCash let you easily enter the date format, iBank had more issues with it. IBank also required a separate file for each account to import properly. Using one file caused iBank to create ten accounts for the same account, what a mess!
IBank, MoneyDance and MoneyWell let you create a new transaction by pressing :cmd:-N, GnuCash lets you press enter once you set this up in preferences (Register Defaults). Entering doesn’t look complicated, the fields have clear names. GnuCash works according to the double-entry bookkeeping, which sounds really complicated but with the default settings the columns will simply say ‘Deposit’ and ‘Withdrawl’, which should make it easy enough. The others let you do it in a common people way, nothing wrong with that.
MoneyDance and MoneyWell let you select multiple transactions and delete them easily. MoneyWell has an excellent ‘undo’ to reverse the deletions. GnuCash makes you delete the transactions one by one. When I tried to delete 20 and then 10 transactions in iBank it started to beachball and crashed on me several times. So this may or may not work.
(note)Due to iBank slowing down my system and crashing / beach-balling a lot up to this point, I had to ditch it. I couldn’t handle it anymore after the above tests.
All of the three remaining programs let you schedule bills / payments very easily. You can either enter them by hand or right-click an existing payment and use that, which helps a lot if you have imported previous data. They all have several useful frequency options.
GnuCash will add the transaction into the register based on your preference, say 7 days ahead. Once added you can change it in the register, but changing the scheduled payment will not change the one in the register. GnuCash has no way of ‘looking ahead’ based on scheduled payments.
Moneydance will put reminders on your ‘homepage’ or auto-commit them, which will make them show up in your register where you can edit them, and like with GnuCash, it becomes a stand alone payment.
MoneyWell lets you schedule payments and have them show up at the bottom of your register. Changes you make here (apart from date) will trigger a pop-up asking you if you want to change it just for this one or for all future ones as well. By showing future transactions you can also scroll through the graph at the bottom to see your future income and planned spending.
Setting up a budget can help you prevent spending more than your income. MoneyDance lets you set up several budgets and track them in the top bar. It can calculate averages based on previous spending, and has plenty of frequency options (monthly, bi-monthly, weekly etc). You have a live graph at the top that shows how close you are to filling up your budget, but doesn’t give you detailed information per budget. You can however create a memorized report to see how you do. It’ll update with every transaction, so if you don’t mind looking at the numbers, you can track your budget using the report.
GnuCash’s budget options work similar to MoneyDance, you can set one up based on your average spending in the previous months. To track it you will have to create a report which does not automatically update, and which can take more than ten seconds to generate. I have not found a way to adjust the column-width, which makes it harder to read. It also does not have any real frequency options. You’ll have to enter an annual payment once, in the month you need to pay it, or you have to divide it by twelve and fill it in for each month.
MoneyWell has an extensive budgeting options, its basis for existence. It lets you create a spending plan easily (with the help of your average spending over the past 12 months, or last year’s spending) and keep track of your spending as you spend. It updates with every transaction you enter, so you can literally see your money blowing away. Always a nice sight ;). The graph at the bottom serves as a visual reminder for your buckets, which helps you keep yourself on track.
Setting up a payment plan.
MoneyDance allows you to set up a payment plan through an extension called ‘Pay Off!’ which helps you create a plan for your payments, but does not actually enter the payments into your register. You still have to do this manually, but the plugin does show (with a nice graph) how long it will take and how your debt decreases over time. You can easily create scheduled payments based on this information.