Friday, 24 June 2005, 9:39:48 EDT

I like to keep track of my finances using a computer. I used Gnucash for quite some time. Once I learned how to use it, I was able to keep track of my finances rather well as long as I entered my receipts on a regular basis. Gnucash, though, is more of a QuickBooks type application than a Quicken application. That is, Gnucash is more for a small business than it is for a personal finance manager; as such, Gnucash does way more than I needed it to do and what I did with it Gnucash was not particularly suited to do. I think that if you need an application to keep track of your business finance records then Gnucash will cover your needs. You may to give it a trial run though because the application suffers a problem that is generally uncommon in the free software world — file format lock-in. Sure, the file format is a basic XML file that anyone can write a parser for but no one has. So, if you are using Gnucash and decide you want to use something else then you either have to write your own format converter or forget about transferring the old data to the new application. This is a problem I encountered at the beginning of May.

At the beginning of May I had my Powerbook for about two months. I was really starting to get comfortable with it and decided that I would like to be able to manage my finances on-the-go. I was also getting tired of Gnucash's complexity. Well, about a month earlier someone asked the Atlanta Linux Enthusiasts mailing list for personal finance software recommendations. A program that I had heard of, but forgotten about, named Moneydance was mentioned. It happens that Moneydance fit my needs: it works on any platform having been written in Java, it is designed for personal use, and is easy to use. I decided to give it a shot, using the trial 100 transactions, knowing that if I liked the program I would have to fork over $30.00 to buy a license for it. It is almost two months later, I started using the program May 6, and I am still using the 100 transaction trial — when they run out I will be buying a license.

Moneydance is quite nice. When first started the program asks if you would like to use a default account configuration, lite account configuration, or no configuration. I decided to start with the default skeleton so that I wouldn't have to recreate a whole bunch of expense accounts. The default skeleton worked out very well; I only had to remove a couple that did not apply to me and add a couple that I preferred instead. Gnucash and Moneydance can both generate reports and graphs from the data that you have entered. However, I have found that it is much easier to generate useful graphs and reports with Moneydance than with Gnucash.

Moneydance has some features that Gnucash doesn't have, or at least features I never figured out or found. Moneydance can generate budgets from your finance data either automatically or tuned based on some values that you define. I have not used this feature much yet because I don't have much of a budget to work with and not that much data either. But, I can see how this would be quite handy. The feature that I like the most, though, is the reminders calendar. Moneydance has a calendar system that allows you to create one shot or regular scheduled events. The event can be a "general reminder" or a "transaction reminder." The general reminder is useful for everything from birthdays to pay days while the transaction reminder is particularly useful for bills where you know the amount that will be charged. For example, I have a transaction reminder setup for my auto loan payment. I can quickly look at the calendar to see when the payment is due or wait for it to show up in the upcoming reminders list a couple of weeks out. Once I make the payment, I can click on the reminder, verify that the form is filled out correctly, and click a "make transaction" button to record the movement of money from my bank account to Wells Fargo with a split automatically performed to show how much of the payment was a finance charge and how much was paid toward principal. One other handy feature that Moneydance has is the loan calculator. You enter the amount borrowed, annual percentage rate, payments per year, and total life loan. The calculator will then generate a table of how much principal and interest would be paid, as well as the resulting balance, for every payment of the loan. It also tells you how much total interest would be paid over the life of the loan. Sure, there are other calculators available that give the same information but this one is super easy to use.

If you don't use a financial application like Moneydance already then I recommend you give Moneydance a try. I think you will find that it helps out a great deal. If you are already using a financial application like Quicken then you owe it to yourself to check this one out. It is much cheaper and doesn't expire every year. You can still download Quicken files and use them to reconcile your accounts. It does have online banking support but I haven't used it so I can't speak to how good it is.

Now I can remove the sticky note on my dashboard that says "Write a review of Moneydance at the end of May." I certainly waited until the end of May.