Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Is personal finance software worth it?

Today in a meeting with my thesis adviser, he bemoaned losing the files he hadn't bothered to back up when his wife killed their home computer. He mentioned that he'd lost his most recent entries into their financial software and wasn't sure whether he would spend a few hours redoing it. I resisted the temptation to ask him whether he used Quicken, Money, or built something in Excel since I knew if I got him talking we'd never get around to discussing my project.

I've pondered whether I would benefit from using financial planning software myself. Since at this point in my life I have a checking account, a savings account, and might get a c.d. but don't have investments to manage, I don't think I need to shell out the dough for a big, fancy, needlessly complicated software program. (If you can think of a compelling reason why I should change my mind, please let me know.) There are lots of simpler free options that might be fun, however. I'm just not comfortable giving my password to a third party so financial aggregator sites aren't appealing. I've considered using either PearBudget, which is a nice worksheet for using with a spreadsheet like Excel or OpenOffice, or WalletProof, which is something you do online, but for some reason I haven't so yet. Do you see any major advantages to budgeting on a computer?

Right now my budgeting system is pretty basic. I have a little purple spiral notebook that I've started recording every bit of income and purchase in, including the sixty five cents I spent in a vending machine last Friday. It was simple to calculate how much of my scholarship money I should spend each month to make it last for the entire semester. Every time I get a bill, or, if I'm really lucky like last week, a reimbursement check, I sit down and crunch the numbers, generally on the back the envelope the bill came in. I'm not kidding. My financial planning system consists solely of a ten cent notebook and a mechanical pencil. It's surprisingly satisfying.

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