Thursday, March 4, 2010

Money and Quicken

Terry Stephan

Changing Lanes:dancingwithnumbers:
For years, I’ve used ‘Microsoft Money’ to send out bills, balance my checking account and keep track of finances.
From the first week I started using a computer, I wanted a good money management program. I began using a free version of ‘Quicken’ a dozen years ago. Then my bank, no longer satisfied just giving away toasters, gave away Microsoft’s ‘Money’.
That first software version of ‘Money’ lasted six years. Then Microsoft pushed me to update the program - at a price. They threatened that if I did not upgrade, I would no longer be able to send payments electronically. They hinted of other unknown dire consequences.
I took the threats seriously, grumbled, but paid the thirty or so dollars to keep using the program. There were more upgrades through the years. I objected but I paid. Even though the new software offered more features each time, I felt strong-armed.
I could have gone back to paper and pencil, the old way of taking care of finances, but I wanted the advantages of the series of tubes and wires that mystically bring the internets and their information into my house.
As you can tell from my savvy electronic speak, my knowledge over the years has grown a great deal in the field of computers.
Ms Money has a budget feature; I decided to put into use months ago. I needed a budget, or to specify, one in black and white, recorded and adhered-to, not just the tally I keep in my head.
I began spending long hours filling in figures and moving ‘categories’ around so that it would reflect our spending more accurately. I needed to see where we were going astray. After a week of concentrated work, I had the budget all laid out.
Then I received an email from Microsoft, they were discontinuing the Money software. For years, after the initial setup, I’d spent little time using the software. On a week-to-week basis, it doesn’t require a lot. Then I invested a large amount of effort on my budget and in a Murphy’s Law manner, they took the program away.
I began looking for different software to replace MS Money. I found a trial version of something called YNAB (You Need a Budget), a ‘zero balance’ Excel based budgeting program. I dove in with vigor and spent another week of spare time, filling in numbers and categories, producing another, different budget masterpiece.
Several weeks of juggling figures has caused numbers and categories to dance in my head. In bed at night, nagging questions keep me awake, (Does that expenditure go in the category “Insurance: homeowners,” or “Household expenses: insurance?”).
As I was familiarizing myself with YNAB, I came to realize, it is very simple. You can’t do a lot of the things with YNAB software that you can with MS Money or Quicken, but simplicity can be attractive. I like it; it’s like buying a car with no options, not much to break down.
However, there is something to be said for power windows, AC and a great stereo. I’ve started to look at Quicken again, a full featured product with all the bells and whistles.
Here I am, mired in charts and graphs, columns and numbers. MS Money is leaving. Should I go it alone, pencil in hand? Should I slow dance with YNAB? She has mousy hair and a slightly crooked nose but she is uncomplicated and functions well in her own way.
Or, should I boogie with the ‘Quicken’ girl I brought to the party a decade ago? She’s back, dressed up, experienced with lots of extra equipment. I’m open to suggestions. or

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