Initially this was to be a review of Moneydance and nothing more. But since I didn’t have experience with anything to compare it to, I checked out a few other personal finance apps for OS X as well, so I could give you the full scoop. In all, I tried Moneydance, iBank, Money, and iFinance. I left Quicken out because it seems to be the typical choice, and I wanted to see what the smaller developers had to offer.
To start off, I’ve never consistently tracked my finances (like I – and you – should) with software or a bank book. Yeah, I know: Bad Nick. Well, this has been a great chance for me to get into it, and surprisingly, I’ve taken to it like a home run hitter to steroids… I should actually mention, that I keep track of my finances through online banking with my bank’s website. So on a daily basis I can see what’s happening with my accounts. This is great, so why use an app in addition to the online access? The first and most useful reason is the graphic depictions of what your money is actually going toward. Having a pretty, color-coded chart to show you where all your hard-earned cash went is nice for tailoring a personal budget, to say the least.
The online banking type of person will love Moneydance. It was the first one I reviewed, and it’s the one I’ll be sticking with. (If you do your banking by monthly, mailed statements, then you may find one of the other apps more to your liking. More on them shortly.)
Moneydance isn’t an OS X specific app. It’s available on multiple platforms, for OS X, Windows, *nix flavors, and even OS/2. This isn’t a bad thing (in fact it may be good in case you were using it on another OS before switching to OS X), but it’s clearly not a typically elegant OS X application. That’s really my biggest complaint against Moneydance. The functionality and usefulness of it is just awesome.
Moneydance opens up to sort of a desktop interface, showing you the status of all your accounts, a calendar with any reminders about paying bills/etc that you have setup, a budget manager, and so on. The desktop is configurable so add or remove whatever info you want. Setup whatever accounts you desire to keep track of (set the starting balance – not a feature all the apps included – account name, and so on), to make them available on the dashboard part of the site. Click the account you want to work with and all the transactions for that account will be displayed. You can search for specific transactions, add new ones, edit current ones – all the typical finance app fare. You can even import Quicken files if that’s what you’re coming from.
The biggie as far as I’m concerned, is the “Online” button. It drops down a list of choices such as “Download Transactions”, “Online Bill Payment”, and “Setup Online Banking”. It was as simple as entering my bank’s name, and setting my logon info. From there it downloaded all the available transactions (about a month’s worth) to my local Moneydance application.
The most legwork on my part was assigning the proper categories to each transaction to keep track of what kind of expenses I was incurring. This is important because when you choose the “Graph” option, you can see how much money went to Bills, Personal, Insurance, and so on.
The really nice part is, Moneydance learns your spending habits! So after I’ve assigned a Walgreens transaction with Health care:Prescriptions, later Walgreens transactions are automatically tagged with Health care:Prescriptions. It’s seemingly a small thing, but one less thing to deal with the more you use Moneydance.
Time to get a nice visual on where all my money’s gone… Click the pie-chart icon for Graphs and get a few tabs to choose the kind of report you want to see: Expenses, Income, Expenses compared to Income, Overall Balance, as well as a few more. Select the tab of the graph you want to see, and set the specifics you want, like the time frame, accounts (checking, savings, etc), and even get specific with the expenditure categories if you so desire.
A nice graph results, giving you general info (high/low/average) as well as more detailed stats when you hover over each part of the graph. You’ll see instantly where you’re spending habits lie. You can even save specialized graphs that you may want to run in the future, instead of having to configure them each time.
You have the ability to edit the categories with which you label all your transactions, but Moneydance has a pretty extensive default set. As I work with it more, I see areas that I’ll tweak a little to fit more with my family’s spending, but overall it’s pretty good as is.
Moneydance has a Budget Manager too. Seeing how I am just getting into using a finance app to keep track of things, I’m taking it one step at a time…So I played with the budget manager, but didn’t implement anything. The functionality was nice. Basically it displays your listing of Categories for transactions, and allows you to designate how much you spend in each for a designated amount of time (weekly, monthly, etc). You can then compare that to your actual spending and see how well you’re doing. I’m sure there’s more to it, but I didn’t take it that far.
Another online feature is you can setup bill payment through Moneydance. When I tried this, I got a lengthy error. I don’t know if it was an issue with my online banking system, or with Moneydance. Either way, not a show-stopper, as I like the interface I get with my online bill payment on my Bank’s website.
Moneydance will export your account data as well. You can choose from the Quicken QIF format, a generalized tab-delimited format, or even an XML output of your data. I’m sure the more enterprising amongst our readers can think of all kinds of useful ways to use the XML output file…
While I love Moneydance, there were a couple small things that bugged me.
I’d like to be able to record an expenditure the day it happens to make sure I know how much is coming and going from my accounts. Transactions may take a couple days to register online, and therefore be delayed in downloading to Moneydance. If I enter a transaction on my own, a duplicate will then be downloaded when it’s available online.
I guess this is to be expected though. So I’ve come up with a couple work-arounds. 1) I can just delete my own entry once the online version downloads, or 2) I can create a second checking account that’s just maintained on my own, manual input. This may be the smarter way to go, in-case the bank screws something up and shorts me. I’ll see how it works out.
Another thing I’ve not quite figured out is that my Moneydance account balance is slightly off from my online banking balance. I’m not sure what Moneydance is missing, but I’ll find it soon…
Moneydance will run you about $30.
The remaining 3 apps don’t handle online banking, so for me they’re grouped separately. In this separate group, Money came out on top as far as I am concerned. It has a wonderful OS X look and feel to it, it’s simple to use, and it’s got a nice balance of features without being too overwhelming.
All the functionality is basically right there. It’s not difficult to figure out what to do or how to do it with Money, and I like that. Don’t make me think if I don’t have to! Unlike with Moneydance, Money has no space to input a starting balance. At first I disliked that, but realized it may be simpler to manage by creating a starting balance with just a transaction stating the balance and going building from there.
Adding transactions is easy, and the accessibility of the meta-information for each transactions is great. You can quickly add the vital information, as well as comments, taxes (if you want to setup standard tax rates), and even repeat it if it’s a monthly/regular change to the account.
You can add labels to your transactions so you can see specific information at a glance if you so desire. You can easily move or copy transactions to different accounts as well. Viewing the graphs is under the “Show Analysis” button. The display is sparse, but simple to edit and configure from the info drawer.
You can import files to Money, in what I can only assume is QIF format (as that seems to be the standard amongst the apps I tried out). You can also Export your data, to a QIF format as well.
I’ve used the word ‘Simple’ a few times in talking about Money. It is. It’s just nice to use, and if you’re not tied to online banking (or maybe, even if you are – it may be a good check against your online banking to make sure everything online with your bank is kosher…) I definitely recommend you give Money a try.
Money is $25.
iBank is a quick runner-up to Money for me, because it offers a lot of other bells and whistles that I wouldn’t use. It adds a bit of complexity to the user experience and it was just more than I cared for as far as my personal tastes go. Yours may very well differ.
The interface was slightly confusing for me. The entering and maintaining of transactions caused me more than one stumble as I tried putting in a few test items. Sometimes I could easily enter a transaction, and other times iBank wouldn’t seem to want to take the information I was trying to enter. Finicky? Perhaps. User error? Also a possibility.
I’ve love to tell you about the graphing output, as the rest of iBank looks very clean and nice, but I was unable to get a graph to display. It seems that iBank wants at least 2 months of transaction history to show any graphs. I even tried putting 2 months’ span in the dates of my transactions and that didn’t even seem to work. Again, it could have been my error, but I tried a number of different things without success. It’d be kind of a bummer to have to wait 2 months before you could see what was going on with your money in a graphical representation…
You can import any current account information from QIF or QFX, and you have the option to export your account data as QIF, for those who are looking for those specs.
iBank is $25.
Wow. What to say about iFinance? Really, nothing much. I found the interface to be just the opposite of user-friendly, the input screens were not easy to fill out and the terminology wasn’t anything I’m used to. This is most likely due to the fact that the developer is from [foreign to the US where I am] Germany where terminology is probably different from what I use on a daily basis.
Getting around in iFinance was just not pleasant and easy as it was with Money for instance. As a person who hasn’t kept track of finances with a program before, I don’t want a difficult time when I try to work into using a new finance program. It’s not going to make me want to use it, and I’d probably revert to my old ways (the non-existent ones…)
The “Account Evaluations” (graphs) look nice enough from the screen shots on the website, but I never got enough entered to see a good graph for myself.
You can’t export your data, but you can import CSV files to get yourself started.
I’m interested to hear if anyone’s using iFinance, and what your experience has been with it. I hope I’m just dense, and missed the mark here, so let me know if you’ve got time with this app.
You can grab iFinance for $15 if you choose.
So all in all I was glad to have test-driven these different Finance programs. I’ll be sticking with it, as it’s fast and easy and helps me to be more on top of what’s going on in my checking and savings accounts.
I use Moneydance daily, and am still toying with Money before my trial runs out. The online banking capabilities of Moneydance makes it the clear winner for me, but I urge you to take a look at all the reviewed apps and make your own conclusions.
If we’ve missed any other great personal finance programs for OS X, please let us know!