Transaction Tags in Moneydance

After making the switch to Moneydance at the beginning of 2010 I discovered a useful feature of the software called “Transaction Tags” (or “Tags” for short).  What are Tags?  Well, the short answer is they provide an alternative way to group transactions beyond the standard categories Moneydance provides.

Why would you use this?  Well, let’s examine a few scenarios.  Let’s say I have a category called Parties.  Let’s go a bit further and say that I threw a backyard BBQ called “Project Velociraptor” in 2011 (which I did) and I placed all the expenses incurred for that party into the Parties category.  Now when I run a category report I see these expenses summed up in the Parties category just as I expect.

Suppose a couple years later I want to throw another party of a similar nature.  I want to see how much it cost me last time, so that I can budget properly.  I could run a category report for Parties for the year 2011 and get my total.  Easy enough.

But, what if I end up also throwing a Halloween party in 2011?  Now I have to try to figure out which transactions belong to the BBQ, and which transactions belong to the Halloween party.  That’s kind of a pain.

I can solve this problem with Tags.  First, I’d create a transaction tag by clicking Tools -> Edit Transaction Tags from the main menu.

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Equity Reporting in Moneydance

One thing Quicken introduced some years back was the ability to associate a liability account to an asset account.  So if you bought a house or a car, for instance, you could associate a corresponding loan account to the asset.  Then Quicken could easily do the math (asset value – liability amount) to determine your equity.

This is useful if you’re contemplating taking out a home equity loan, or maybe selling your house.  You might want to see if you’re upside-down on your car.

Moneydance doesn’t allow you to associate liability accounts with assets.  I liked this feature of Quicken, so I set out to recreate it within Moneydance.

I accomplished this by creating customized net worth reports and graphs.  The graph trends my equity over time, while the report shows me exactly how much equity I have at the time I run the report.

I started by building a standard net worth report.

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Multiple Escrow Payments in Moneydance

Moneydance can track your home’s value as an asset, and it can also track your mortgage as a liability.  When you set up your mortgage in Moneydance it’ll ask you which account you want your escrow payment to transfer into.

If you just want to track the total amount that goes into escrow as an expense, then this is fine.  Just create a category called something like “Mortgage Escrow” and set the loan account to transfer your monthly escrow payment into this category.

However, if you want to track the discreet breakout of each portion of your escrow payment, this poses a problem.  My escrow payment is a combination of my home insurance and my property taxes.  I want to track both of these expenses under Insurance and Taxes categories.

Quicken could do this right from the loan account.  Unfortunately Moneydance can’t.  There is way, however, to make this work in Moneydance.

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Category Reporting in Moneydance

Categories aren’t new to personal finance software.  A category is just a bucket in which to track spending.  You could have categories for Food, Entertainment, Auto, Utilities, and more.  I won’t go into great detail here; you can read the Moneydance documentation for more information.  I’m going to assume you have a rudimentary understanding of what categories are and how they’re used.

The point of this article is to provide examples of useful categories and subcategories, and some tricks on reporting on them.  This is by no means a definitive guide on the subject; rather it’s more of a set of examples to illustrate how I’ve come to use them.

Categories are easy to create.  Click on Tools -> Categories from the main menu.

You’ll be presented with a list of existing categories.  Moneydance also displays the type (Income or Expense), the balance, and the grand total.

One thing to keep in mind is that categories are really just accounts in category’s clothing.  Moneydance presents them as logically different, but functionally they’re the same.  But I don’t want to get off-topic here; it’s not important for this purposes of this article.  It just explains why there are balances in your categories.

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Quicken 2007 & Lion

Intuit recently announced that Quicken 2007 for Mac won’t run on the new Mac OS X 10.7 “Lion”.  The reason for this is that Apple is discontinuing support for their “Rosetta” technology, a technology that allows old Power PC code to run on newer Intel Macs.  Intuit is “working with Apple” on this to see if they can’t get Apple to bend a little, possibly allowing Intuit to distribute Rosetta libraries with Qucken 2007.

Instead of providing a decent upgrade option for Mac users, Intuit has released “Quicken Essentials”.  Based on what I’ve seen and read Quicken Essentials doesn’t match either Quicken 2007 for Mac or Quicken for Windows’ feature set.  It appears to be woefully inadequate; not a viable upgrade option.

And don’t forget that Intuit forces their users to upgrade by crippling the software they paid for.  Three years pass and they turn off all online features.

Intuit’s advice to Mac users is to “upgrade” to Quicken Essentials and just suck up the lack of functionality, or run the Windows version.

My suggestion?  Upgrade to a different software package instead.

Download Moneydance for free.  Import your Quicken data, then run it side-by-side with Quicken before buying.  It can do virtually everything Quicken can do, and the developer won’t cripple your software after three years.

*** An important note: Before upgrading to OSX 10.7 “Lion” you must export your Quicken 2007 data before you upgrade the OS; otherwise the data will be locked up in an application that will not launch.  Regardless of which financial application you switch to (Essentials, Moneydance, iBank, See Finance, etc.) you’ll need this data in QIF format in order to import it into your new application. ***

Why go backward when you upgrade?  Might as well invest in the future.

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Moneydance 2011

Back in February of 2010 I replaced Quicken for Windows with Moneydance on the Mac.  Since then I’ve written briefly about SEE Finance and more recently about iBank 4.

As a Moneydance user it seemed only fitting to also talk about the latest Moneydance release, Moneydance 2011.  As I write this, version 2011 is currently in release candidate state.  Since release candidates are feature-frozen I don’t feel I’m jumping the gun by writing now.  Moneydance 2011 has been officially released and can be downloaded from here.

I’m going to assume that readers are already familiar with Moneydance 2010.  If not, you might want read the original article I wrote, or visit the developer’s website.  Having said that, I thought I’d mention some of what I consider to be the more salient improvements Moneydance 2011 brings to the table.

First off, the general look and feel of the software is the same; the interface has undergone only cosmetic changes.  The application is still written in Java and is still available for all three major OS platforms.  Moneydance still isn’t the prettiest software, but its strengths have been and continue to be functional in nature.

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iBank 4

Recently I was contacted by IGG Software about a post I wrote back in early 2010 detailing my search to replace Quicken with a Mac equivalent.  Doug Bowman (formerly of Google and currently at Twitter) commented about my article on his Twitter feed.  I guess that generated a little buzz for a couple days.  In my original article I evaluated GnuCash, Moneywell, Moneydance, and iBank, eventually settling on Moneydance.  In that original comparison I used iBank 3, but the performance after importing my ten years of existing Quicken data was so poor that I couldn’t actually test the features.

When IGG contacted me, they informed me that they’d released version 4 of the software since then and that the performance had been improved drastically.  They asked if I’d take a look at their latest version.  I love personal finance software and I was interested in seeing the improvements, so I happily agreed.

The goal in my original article was to find a Mac-native replacement for Quicken.  As I mentioned I did that with Moneydance over a year ago.  Since that problem has already been solved I decided that this article should focus on two things:

  1. Answer the question of whether or not iBank is now capable of handling large amounts of data
  2. Finally review iBank to see if the important features are there

 

The short answer to question #1 is a resounding yes.

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Budgeting With Moneydance

I recently switched from Quicken 2009 to Moneydance 2010 back in February of this year.  Since then I’ve been on sort of a quest to fix our finances.  Part of that quest has been to set a budget and stick to it.  I toyed with budgeting in Quicken a few years back but back then I was trying to budget each subcategory and, since I have so many, I found that difficult and ultimately useless.

So I thought I’d give Moneydance’s budgeting features a go and see what happened.  First though a bit of a disclaimer: this isn’t intended to be a tutorial per se; rather this is an account of how I use the software.  That said, if you find that this information is helpful then all the better.  Also, this article assumes that you have a working knowledge of the software; for example, you have one or more accounts set up and have entered transactions that are assigned to one or more categories.  Hopefully you also have at least a few subcategories set up too.  It’s also a good idea to first read the instructions for the budgeting component of Moneydance, located here.

Creating A Budget

To create a budget you first choose “Budget Manager” from the “Tools” menu.  Then click the “New” button.  You’ll see this window:

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SEE Finance

SEE Finance 0.9.12.4

As I mentioned in my Moneydance review, this application was recommended via a reader comment.  I hadn’t heard about the application when I did my original review, but it was so good I decided I had to include here.  Ultimately I chose to stay with Moneydance, but SEE Finance was so good I gave it serious consideration.

SEE Finance is a relative newcomer to the Mac personal finance arena.  I didn’t spend significant time testing every nuance of the application, but during that testing I was able to determine that it met virtually all of my requirements.  SEE will handle any kind of account type I need, including investments.  It was fast; much, much faster than Moneywell, GNUCash, and iBank 3.  The only application that matched its speed was Moneydance.  It imported almost 11 years of financial data exported from a QIF file without choking.  The only accounts that had issues were some investment accounts where I’d transferred money.

SEE was very stable in my testing.  The application provides multiple overviews of your finances, with seven different types of standard reports.  These reports can be modified and saved.  Reporting is very capable, providing PDF output and some graphing.  SEE also provides budgeting capabilities, scheduled transactions and transaction filtering.  Downloading from certain financial institutions is supported.  Graphing is delivered in some areas, but I didn’t see a way to create custom graphs.  It also looks incredible, sporting a very attractive UI with none of the homely look that Java/Swing brings.

SEE is Mac-only, so if you’re looking for a cross-platform solution this will be a problem.  It doesn’t contain the concept of the homepage as Moneydance does either.  Personally I’m a pretty big fan of the Moneydance homepage; unlike the cluttered and overloaded homepage(s) Quicken provides, Moneydance’s homepage is a single page where I can include only what I need.  Moneydance places scheduled transactions in a list that I can include on my homepage.  I can also see them on a calendar, which is actually more useful than I had originally thought.  SEE Finance can also create recurring transactions but they’re presented in a list mode only.  Having these on a homepage is a personal preference, so I can’t really fault SEE Finance; they just have a different way of going about it.  Ultimately the functionality is still there.

Moneydance also includes some nice plugins (like Payoff!) that I didn’t see equivalents for in SEE Finance.  I’d imagine much of that could be found online so I doubt it’s a showstopper for most folks.  I also had a little trouble entering split transactions in SEE Finance.  It was a learning curve on my end, but I found Moneydance to be more intuitive in this area.  Not that data entry in Moneydance isn’t clunky at times, in this case Moneydance just seemed more intuitive.  One slightly annoying thing about data entry in SEE Finance is that auto complete doesn’t work with sub categories.  I have to choose them from a dropdown box with the mouse pointer every time.  My hope is that this will be resolved in future versions.

I found reporting to be a bit more customizable in Moneydance than in SEE.  Moneydance also provides customizable graphs in addition to customizable reports.  As far as I could tell SEE Fianance’s graphs are all canned and can’t be customized.  I have many, many customized reports and graphs in Moneydance, so this ended up being pretty important to me.  That said, SEE Finance is very capable of producing many useful reports, including most of the same reports I currently use in Moneydance.

The cross-platform nature of Moneydance has become more important to me now since that I have a Windows 7 netbook.  One license allows me to use it on the Mac, Windows, and Linux.  All versions use the exact same file (more than I can say for cross-platform versions of Quicken).  I can edit the file on Windows, then go home and work on the same file on my Mac (I use Dropbox to keep it in sync between computers – encrypting the file first, of course).

The version of SEE Finance I downloaded was a full version, hindered only by a nag screen on start up that goes away once you purchase the software.  This is a vary liberal evaluation policy that allowed ample time to use the software.  As of November 2010 the software was selling for $29.99; an incredibly good price for software with such an extensive feature set.  This software isn’t even to version 1.0 yet and it’s already much better than iBank 3 and Moneywell (in my experience, at least). [Update 7/12/2011: iBank 4 has significantly improved; I’d now consider it as good or better than SEE Finance]

At the time of this review SEE Finance was the closest runner to Moneydance in speed and feature set.  Although SEE Finance looks great and performs well, there are still several features that Moneydance brings to the table that I personally find very valuable.  I wasn’t compelled to switch from Moneydance, but if you’re a Mac user I’d recommend running both Moneydance and SEE Finance side by side for a while to see which one you like better.

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Moneydance 2010

In the spring of 2010 I’d been a Quicken user for a little more than ten years (since 1999 to be exact).  In the summer of 2008 I made the switch from Windows to a Mac but I had to hang onto Windows XP for a couple applications for which I just couldn’t find Mac equivalents.  One of these two applications was Beyond Compare for which I finally found a suitable replacement in DeltaWalker.  The other was Quicken.  Quicken for Mac does exist but every review I’ve ever read about it is completely unfavorable.  I’ve never seen a product more universally panned.  It hasn’t been updated since version 2007 and the first proposed update since (Quicken Financial Life) had a fraction of the features of its Windows counterpart.  That initiative was scrapped by Intuit (generally read sentiments being that it was pretty terrible) and has since been tasked to a company Intuit recently purchased called Mint.com.  That product at the time of this writing is called Quicken Essentials for Mac (the title really a euphemism meaning fewer features for the same price).  It’s still pretty lame in comparison to its Windows counterpart, so much that I’m not willing to spend $60 on it only to likely have to request a refund (since I can’t seem to get a trial version).

So after having the Mac for about a year and a half I went on the search once again for a suitable Quicken replacement for the Mac.  There were more players than I had originally thought but most of them did not have a comparable feature set to Quicken.  After doing some research I ended up settling on four possible replacements; iBank, GnuCash, Moneywell, and Moneydance.  What I found is that I experienced such poor performance on many of the replacement solutions I was unable to test most of these “feature by feature”.  All of the other applications had problems of varying degree importing my Quicken data as well.  Instead this is more of a review of Moneydance than anything else.  For more extensive reviews on multiple personal finance products click here.

(I’ve added an addendum review to include a short review on a Mac personal finance application called SEE Fiance after it was recommended in a comment below by Robert Tell.  I’ve also added a follow up review on iBank 4.)

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