I Love Quicken

I am a chronicler of minutiae by nature. A few years ago, I started keeping track of every book I read, with the list arranged chronologically, and then rearranged at the end of year in order from best (Vanity Fair) to worst (Water for Elephants). Somewhere among my possessions is a tattered piece of paper with the first names of every guy I’ve ever kissed (this one is purely chronological).

Quicken is perfect for people like me; I like to keep some record of my life, but journaling is time-consuming, labor-intensive and, frankly, embarrassing. I don’t necessarily need to filter and examine every aspect of my life, but I do want to look back and have some idea of what I’ve been up to. The way it works isn’t terribly complicated: You enter your income and expenses into the program, slotting the latter under various preset categories (groceries, clothing, gifts given). You can also include notes that provide a bit more detail (“Cheetos,” “psychedelic dress,” “wooden jigsaw puzzle – Mom’s birthday”). I like to be detailed, except when the charge is from CVS, because I can never remember what the hell I went in there for. I slot it under “grooming,” but it’s a guess. 

The real magic (magic! my standards are low) comes once you’ve got a few months of expenses totted and jotted, which is when you can pull up all kinds of fancy charts. You can see your net worth rise and fall, you can break down all your spending by category, you can find out exactly how much money you’ve spent since the beginning of time (if the beginning of time coincides with your adoption of Quicken). You can compare income and expenses month by month, to make sure you are living within your means. Which bar is higher? By how much? Did the net worth dot go up or down this month? Try not to obsess.

One of the great things about using Quicken is that it helps me mentally prepare for the possibility of not having a job, should something unfortunate happen. I know exactly how much I spend every month, and how the wants/needs breakdown works out. Turns out, my needs are about $1,500/month, and my wants are a few hundred dollars more than that. (DVDs from Netflix: a want. Gym membership: a need.) So every $1,500 in my savings account is a potentially unemployed month in relative, albeit anxious, comfort.

Even if you use Quicken, as I (mostly) do, for purposes of posterity, rather than financial discipline, your habits will probably change. I used to wait until December to make my IRA contribution for the year, but then I started to get itchy when I saw my net worth appear to drop by thousands of dollars in one month. (Theoretically, I could link my IRA account to Quicken, but there are several reasons why I don’t do that.) So now I spread it out over several months, putting a little money in my savings account to keep the numbers up. I now pay for everything with my credit card to make it easier to track (plus, rewards points), except when it’s something I’m slightly ashamed to be indulging in, e.g. excessive amounts of candy or lunch out for the fourth day in a row when I should be packing it. I give myself a little bit of cash for indulgences and most cash purchases go straight down the memory hole.

I know a lot of Billfold readers use Mint, but I’m not a superfan of the “set it and forget it” interface. Quicken asks you to confront, or at least remember, where the money went. Quicken asks something of you, a bit of attention, while Mint casually chugs away, plugging in numbers as you go on benders or sprees or forget about it entirely. Quicken is something you do, while Mint is something that’s done for you.

There are lots of things I mean to make lists of—dinners I want to make again, million-dollar ideas that come to me in the middle of the night, my friends’ blogs—but for the time being, Quicken scratches the itch.

Nota Bene: The software I use came with my laptop in 2005 (I’m not buying a new one until I really need it!), so the details might be a little out of date. If your version does new and different stuff, hooray! Explore and report back.

 

Elise Nussbaum lives in Jersey City with a husband and a cat. She is currently blogging her closet at dressopotamia.blogspot.com.

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7 Comments / Post A Comment

bgprincipessa (#699)

I have all of the same lists that you mentioned above – books, boys, bills. But I do use Mint – I try to use my card to pay for things as much as humanly possible, and sign on to Mint about 4x per day to obsess over what I’ve spent/saved. Healthy. I’ve never used Quicken, maybe I will look at it someday.

brinsonian (#646)

@bgprincipessa I do the same thing! I use Mint and track EVERYTHING, including cash purchases, and always go in and split my expenses from all-purpose stores (like when I get groceries, booze, and shampoo all at one place, I break those all out into the appropriate categories). I’ve had some trouble with Mint playing nicely with my credit union account, but it’s mostly behaving now.

I’m like Elise–having the data to look back on delights me to no end.

kellyography (#250)

This is awesome! I do not have enough discipline to enter every single purchase on my own time (too much time spent reconciling other credit cards/receipts at work), but the idea of pulling up graphs directly related to my spending is kind of tempting. Also, JC represent!

Interesting. My parents always encouraged me to use Quicken but I insisted that Mint was “the same thing,” whilst constantly blowing my budget, missing payments, and overdrawing my accounts. Maybe you’re on to something here…

You Need A Budget! I cannot recommend it enough. I’ve been waiting for an appropriate post to bring this up. Actually I think I got the recommendation from someone in the comments here ay the Billfold. Anyway I come from an extremely poor family, and have always had a terrible, destructive relationship with money. For the first time in my life, I’m not living paycheck to paycheck (despite making barely above minimum wage), my CC gets paid off in full every month, and I’m finally paying down the $2.5k in personal debt that I’ve been carrying around for about 5 years (almost 30% there already!), and amazingly I haven’t really even felt any of this at all. I don’t feel like I’m depriving myself to budget. It’s sort of similar to Quicken, in that you track all of your spending, and it’s assigned categories. But it has been amazing for me and a success in a way that Mint and Quicken both failed me. There’s a corresponding iPhone app (I think one for Android as well, though not sure), so tracking spending is super easy. I just input any spending I do as I do it, and it gets categorized and input right then. http://www.youneedabudget.com/

the girl sleuth (#1,308)

@amygdala I registered just to second this recommendation. Someone here recommended You Need A Budget a few months ago. I’m also a quicken dropout, and used mint to track my spending but then didn’t curb the spending at all, so not so useful for me, as a tool. In addition, I’ve always been allergic to budgeting–grew up poor,hated to deny myself, parents who were fearful of money and who didn’t have skills to share, blah, blah, blah. ANYWAY, started using YNAB and am finding that I have started saving, paying off credit, and generally living within my means. I think with mint I had the attitude of “and there it goes” with my money, but figuring out where it will go and then following that plan (with tweaks) has been amazing. Plus having four goals instead of 40 (always my problem with Quicken) has made my finances manageable for the first time in my life.

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