13 November 2008

Budgeting for Dummies Series: Quicken Online

I've never been very good at saving money - as a concept I understand, but it's never been at the forefront of my decision making process. Immediately out of college, I wasn't spending that much, and easily saved that "three months' rent" that was so crucial, but that changed after I got my second job - there was more shopping downtown, so I spent more on clothes, books, music. There were people my age at that company so I spent more on lunch, drinks, coffee. I was dating someone and we were going out for dinner, drinks, movies. And then we moved in together, and suddenly I was allowed to decorate the Whole Apartment, wow! and suddenly saving for three month's rent was the last thing on my mind. Then I lost my job.

I was managing my money using Quicken online, because it was free, but then digg turned me onto a whole slew of websites, and while I highly recommend Quicken for its charts and management system, some of these other websites felt more like "money management for the everyday person," whereas Quicken obviously already has a reputation as a money management system, and can be as complicated as you want it to be. But since I've been doing this for a few months now, I decided it couldn't hurt to share what I've learned while I'm trying to find one or two of these sites and stick to them.

I still check in on Quicken from time to time, although it kind of started taking the backseat last month. Since I started with Quicken online, though, I figured I'd begin this mini-series by sharing my experience with Quicken online.

Adding my accounts to Quicken was no problem, but my local bank still has a difficult time synching itself with Quicken's system, which can be an issue since I use this account to pay for all of my paypal transactions, and all of my outside income is deposited into this account. It was also the main debit card I used until very recently, so having transactions from this account missing from Quicken was obviously a problem.

The thing I love about Quicken is the pie charts. They're colorful, wonderful and easily accessible. There is a sliding bar at the top of each page which allows you to choose a custom range of dates to analyze. On your home page, you'll find an overview of everything. The tiny pie chart updates immediately giving you a very easy to understand visual of your finances by the largest categories. Plus, there are gigantic colored bubbles at the top: [Money in] - [Money Out] = [Money Spent (So I overspent by...) or (So I saved by...)], which gives you an even more general visual to rely on.

Hop on over to the next tab, where you can view an interactive list of your transactions, which are automatically categorized by Quicken, although you can change them manually if you need to (I needed to do this quite a bit at the beginning, but Quicken is intuitive, and eventually catches on). Break it down even further by using the list on the left to select an individual account to view, or organize the list by category, or date, or payee to easily find a specific transaction, and change the "uncategorized" options so that you know where your money is going, specifically.

The next tab allows you to track your spending on a page with an Even Bigger Pie Chart, and this page bullet points your categories by color to break it down for you even further. You can click on the pie chart or the bullets to get a graph that shows your expenditures by month, how they're adding up, and how you're averaging out.

Finally, you can set budgets by category, and Quicken will let you know how much you have left in each of those budgets. These are set automatically by Quicken, but it's fully customizable so you can prioritize your expenses and figure what kind of spending you need to cut back on.

Quicken definitely had it all, which was helpful but at times felt overwhelming. However, it did not allow me to add my 401(K), and the categories were a bit broad - I didn't know where some of my expenses fell in when they were investments in my future, or when they were just plain old shopping. This is not Quicken's fault, though, and that's just one of the many things I'm trying to figure out broadly, in life, although a website could be a little more help to a girl.

Quicken's system updates very quickly on a day-to-day basis, so you won't be wondering where certain expenses are, because they'll be there if you use big institutions like Bank of America or Capital One. Smaller local banks may have problems - mine still does.

All in all, Quicken is a good deal, given that it's currently free. They may start charging again in the future, though, and that would definitely turn me off when there are so many great free options out there. Chelsea from Quicken commented to assure me that there are no plans to start charging for Quicken's online service, so you can be assured that this free service will remain free after you become addicted to monitoring your money. Next: mint.com.


Chelsea said...

Hi Dearsweetbriar, Chelsea from Quicken Online here. Thanks for reviewing our free product. Glad you like the pie charts - they are a really good way to see where your money is going and adjust! Just to calm your fears, there are no plans to charge for Quicken Online. Please contact me directly if you have any more questions, or would like to arrange a product tour with one of our experts. Thanks! - Chelsea, Quicken Online

dearsweetbriar said...

Hi Chelsea, thanks for the quick response! I'm glad there are no plans to start charging for Quicken - I can't remember where I got that information, but it was on a website I read once via digg - I didn't follow up on the article in question since it's not a site I frequent, so that was probably explained by someone in the comments.