I need a personal finance program. You know, to track money on hand and budgets and stuff. I figured it’d be pretty easy, what with it being a major product category for something like a decade and a half now. Not so much; apparently I’m a demanding customer. Said demands — not letters-cut-out-of-magazines-pasted-into-message-sent-anonymously-style demands, just plain old consumer expectation-style demands — included:
- I can enter transactions (you know, rather than just having them auto-downloaded for me)
- Auto-reconcile download transactions from multiple banks and credit cards
- Multiple separate budgets (you know, so that I can have one for me and one for the family)
- View budgets on iPhone app
- Enter transactions on iPhone app and sync to desktop
- Runs on Mac
That’s all! That doesn’t seem like much to me. However, it’s been harder than I’d expected; nothing out there so far has made the grade. I’ve tried:
What about Quicken?
Quicken is the obvious answer, unfortunately there’s no matching iPhone app. From experience, I know that, if I don’t enter the transaction shortly after I make it, I’ll just end up with a pile of receipts and an out-of-date budget. Similarly, Moneydance and Moneywell both have iPhone apps coming but… not yet.
What about Mint?
I was happily using Mint for a few years, but it just didn’t match my life anymore. It didn’t have multiple budgets, which was an annoyance. But the killer is that I can’t enter transactions in it. We pay our rent with a check, since our landlord is just some lady who owns a few houses, and there are a few other people we pay with checks every month too; none of these fine people deposits checks promptly, so cash in our bank account can exceed cash actually available by thousands of dollars for a couple of weeks every month. This makes Mint’s picture of our finances pretty unenlightening.
So I tried the rest:
iBank has a great desktop program. It’s easy-to-use, good-looking, and is one of the few that lets you budget by more than just category. Unfortunately, the iPhone version doesn’t have budgets, and is designed in such a way as to suggest that they don’t really mean to include budgets. That’s a killer for me. However, if you want direct download from your bank, like Quicken offers, iBank is one of the few with this feature.
Cha-Ching actually does everything mentioned here! Feature-wise, it’s a clear winner. Otherwise, it doesn’t appear to be under active development anymore and so I just didn’t feel comfortable committing to it. It’s hard to put all your financial data in a program that won’t be updated to match future changes.
Money was the early leader here, with all of the features… except it’s not very smart about auto-reconciling. If the transaction date in the download doesn’t match the date you entered it, Money doesn’t know to match it and Money offers no way to manually match downloaded transactions to existing ones. This is more frustrating than it seems, at least to me, since my bank and credit cards provide the posting date, rather than the date the transaction occurred, in downloads. The posting date is sometime between the same day and up to 5 or 6 days later, depending on the practices of the place you buy, I believe. Naturally, I entered transactions on the date they occurred. Having dozens of duplicated transactions because of this date disagreement was a killer to me. However, if that’s not a problem for you, then the budgeting here was as good as iBank.
Squirrel is almost perfect. The desktop version is actually rather lovely, although you’re limited to budgeting by category. But the iPhone version crashes every time I look at my budget. So there goes the whole budget thing.
Same date problem as Money. Also, weird and French.
I’m not sure what’s next. Do I abandon the requirement for a budget on my iPhone and either accept Squirrel, with the promise of maybe future budget bug busting, or iBank, with no budget but the only support for Direct Download à la Quicken? Do I choose Quicken and give up on having “an app for that”? Do I wait to see if Moneywell and Moneydance have good iPhone apps? What do you think?