Personal Finances

Using Quicken to Track Personal Finances

My wife and I have a long running inside joke. We’ll be considering a purchase, be it a thing or an experience, and one of us will turn to the other, asking “how much did we pay for this the last time?” The other spouse will reply, “I don’t know. But I know how we can find out!”

The answer? Quicken

Getting Hooked

Early in our marriage, my mother-in-law asked for my help installing Quicken 2001. At the time, I was using Excel to budget and track my expenses. My financial life was super simple. I wasn’t earning or spending much. No kids. No investments. No mortgage. Easy peasy. But, even though I didn’t need all the features at that time, I could see how Quicken could be useful. So after installing it for my mother-in-law, I bought a copy at Costco for myself.

I’ve written before about how I despise Intuit, but it’s mostly for the lobbying efforts to keep us needing Turbotax. However, my opinion doesn’t extend to Quickbooks or Quicken, both of which are useful without needing an army of lobbyists to keep us using them. Intuit no longer owns Quicken, but instead sold it off to a private equity firm in 2016, mostly because it wasn’t making enough money for them.

Key Features

The following are the key features of why I 😍 Quicken.

Expense Tracking: Our primary use of Quicken is tracking expenses and accounts. Quicken remembers payees and amounts, making it easy to repeat transactions. An unexpired Quicken gives the option of downloading transactions, but we choose to manually enter them, giving us a greater awareness of our spending patterns, and helps us watch for errors.  We also can carefully categorize our spending.

Account Reconciliation: Quicken makes it easy to reconcile my accounts monthly. I simply grab the most recent statement, enter the gross income/expense from the statement, then mark transactions. Every penny is accounted for when I’m done. By entering transactions a couple times a month, this process is easier than doing it all in one sitting.

Recurring Transaction Reminders: Paychecks, credit card payments, mortgages, and utilities all have a certain regularity to them. With Quicken, I can set up recurring transactions and tell Quicken to automatically enter the transaction or get a reminder when one is due.  This is helpful for fixed payments like mortgages.

Net Worth Graphs: My favorite view in Quicken is the net worth graph. Seeing the trajectory up and to the right gives me a quick dopamine hit. I keep the view conservative by excluding things like home appreciation and the value of automobiles. Here’s a sample from the first ten years of our marriage. Can you tell when graduate school ended and we got our first home?

Investment Reports: Not only can I see how our investments are doing, but I can also track my  cost basis for taxable investments and get capital gains reports for tax time. Probably my second most favorite view, again because it’s up and to the right.

Spending reports: Though the interface takes some getting used to, there are many ways to run reports. How much do we spend at Costco annually? How much on dental? How much are we paying for our utilities?

Budgeting: Currently, we budget quarterly. Every three months, we check in to see how things are going. We have a clear division of categories and how much we plan to save and spend.  It’s easy for both of us to see all the accounts and the progress we’re making.

Planning for the future: Quicken 2011 has the ability to project the future. You enter expected salary changes, children, students going to college, anticipated home sales/purchases, retirement date, inflation, investment return, etc., and Quicken shows you a pretty graph with either a “your plan is failing” or “your plan is succeeding”. It’s a pretty simple crystal ball, but proved interesting for me earlier in my journey.

Quicken Drawbacks

Quicken isn’t for everyone. There are other ways to track expenses, and to reconcile account balances.  Quicken’s interface takes some getting used to.  You still have to be vigilant to make sure the correct accounts are included in each report, or that the categories are budgeted as you expect.  Some people only glance at their bank account balance infrequently, making sure that it’s large enough that it won’t go negative by the next time they glance at it. If this is you, Quicken isn’t for you.

Quicken has built in planned obsolescence. Quicken will only support a version for up to three years. After that, online features stop working, such as bank account syncing. I’m actually fine with that, since we prefer to manually enter my transactions and reconcile. Its tax forecasting is also limited to three years. Over the last twenty years, I’ve only bought two copies of Quicken: 2001 and 2011.

Quicken is not on my mobile phone. I’m okay with it just being on my computer. It forces some constraints on how often I’m entering transactions, updating balances, and reconciling accounts. For example, I sat down this morning and reconciled all of my Fidelity, Vanguard, mortgage, and credit accounts. I can see the convenience of being able to enter transactions on the go, but frankly I don’t need it.

Quicken can be buggy at times. We have twenty years of financial data tied up in it, and I think that burdens it. Sometimes it can be slow to load a report, and some of the investments don’t autocomplete while I’m typing them in, while others do. Dunno know what’s up there. But overall, I’m very happy with it.

Alternatives to Quicken

What other options are there besides Quicken? A lot! I’ve poked at a couple but I’ve been satisfied enough that we’ve never switched. 

You are the product: I refuse to use any “free” service where I’m the product. This rules out Mint and Personal Capital. [1]

Subscription Services: I’m also not a fan of subscription services like YNAB or the current Quicken subscription that cost more than my $5/month cell phone plan. I avoid regular budget drains, and that includes subscriptions.

I’ve never tried gnucash, but I’d be tempted to try it out if aliens stole my copy of Quicken. And if all that failed, I’d probably build out a spreadsheet that tracked everything, although it wouldn’t have all the bells and whistles.

I’ve even considered build a finance tracker myself. I don’t know if there’s enough of a demand, and I already have a day job.

Conclusion

Quicken is my preferred financial tool to manage my expenses and coordinate with my wife. I won’t say that Quicken is for everyone. It isn’t. But I thought it would be helpful to give a peek into something that has helped me over the past twenty years.  Quicken didn’t even sponsor this post!

And yeah, it feels kinda weird reviewing software that is ten years old. I’ve never been an early adopter!  I keep it when it works, and don’t make unnecessary changes.

What do you use to track your finances? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Hasta luego!

[1] Truthfully, before my Quicken license expired, it contained upsells, mostly for things like Quicken Loans or paying for printable checks, both things I didn’t need. However, all of these went away when my license expired. But they weren’t farming out my data or upselling me to an AUM on my investments.

7 thoughts on “Using Quicken to Track Personal Finances

  1. A long time ago in B-school, I had a conversation with a roomate about controlling expenses. We were both poor college students going further into debt to fund our education. My roomate said he didn’t focus a lot of energy on expense control and said rather than thinking of what you should or shound’t spend your money on, you should focus on how to earn more so that you don’t need to think about it. He went into Investment Banking.

    I don’t recommend this practice but some of this logic stuck with me. For those with the means, we should look at getting to the point whereas our investment returns (in our diversified index funds) fluctuate so much on a daily basis that most of our controllable non-recurring expenses become rounding errors relative to our net worth (NW). If you have multiple millions in index funds, then your typical daily fluctuation in NW is 4-5 digits and saving a few hundred every month won’t make a darn difference. So focus on the big earnings gains and don’t sweat the small stuff.

    I don’t track detailed spending. I review credit card receipts and bills to make sure there’s no fraud and scan to make sure each receipt/bill amount are not way out-of-line. Sure, I ponder whether some of my wife’s purchases are really needed but I budget in a few hundred extra every month and as long as that isn’t exceeded by too much, I don’t even bother asking her about it. That few extra hundred are just rounding errors.

    So we only focus on big expenses now, like big purchases and vacations. We don’t really track expenses closely and just buy what we need and be mindful of frivolous expenses.

    1. I should add that we also practice expense simplication by eliminating all debt. No car payment, mortgage, and pay everything in full when bills are due.

      1. Thanks for your comment and sharing your philosophy. As I’ve gotten older and my NW has increased, I’ve found it easier and easier to not sweat the small stuff. And having no car payment and paying bills in full sure is nice. Still haven’t kicked the mortgage yet 🙂

  2. Budgeting tools are so useful for so many different reasons. I think the B word just scares people off. I don’t set a tight budget, but I can take a look each month and say, “wow I really spent a lot on booze last month” and ramp it down from there. I feel like the cat’s out of the bag in terms of my being the product at this point so I don’t have a problem with Mint, which I’ve been using for a decade-plus. Looks like Quicken has pretty much all the same benefits though.

    1. We aren’t hardcore about a tight budget, but we do use it to outline generally what we expect to spend. I know several people that use Mint and love it. And if it works for you, why change it?

  3. I import data from Personal Capital to Excel. I like my reporting. I used to use Yodlee/Mint. PC is better. I don’t mind being the product because I simply block their calls and send their emails to spam. Worst case they are selling my spending data to hedge funds to feed their trading algorithms. No big deal since I publish that stuff publicly anyway.

    1. I haven’t used Personal Capital but I would be super annoyed if they were calling me and emailing me. I think I’m an honoree millennial, not wanting to talk to anyone over the phone.

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