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
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.
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 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. 
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.
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.
 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.