January 19, 2006

(Updated January, 2011)



Alternatives to Quicken and Money



Last week a reader emailed me with a question:   Did I know of any good alternatives to Microsoft Money?

Turns out she was already a user of the program, but had become pretty frustrated with it. I suppose that's understandable, as I had issues with previous versions of Quicken. When those bugs reared their ugly heads — always at the most inopportune times — it was almost enough to make me look for other solutions.

Almost.

Now I have Quicken 2010 Deluxe (review). I use it daily, and I love it to death. The problems I kept encountering with previous versions have been fixed, as far as I can tell. I get the feeling that when people do have problems with Quicken and Money, it tends to originate with the downloadable-transactions features of both.

Personally, I have never once used the "downloadable transaction" thing on any version of Quicken I've ever owned. I am so demented, and so anal, that I actually enter every single money transaction by hand. (Keeps me "closer" to my spending, and my spending habits, is the way I see it.)

Another issue:   Intuit (makers of Quicken) and Microsoft (former makers of Money, which is no longer produced) aren't exactly giving their software away. If I recall correctly, I paid something close to $55 for my Quicken Deluxe 2005. And about $40 for my 2010 version. For me, it's worth every penny of that price. I wouldn't do without it. But for most folks, that's simply not throwaway change. It's fine for me to sit here and recommend Quicken to everybody within earshot. It's another thing entirely for someone to actually have the forty, fifty, or sixty bucks to go out and purchase it.

So if you want to start managing your money seriously, and Quicken or Money aren't on your radar, what are the alternatives?

If you're adept at building spreadsheets, you could conceivably use Excel or Calc (the OpenOffice free spreadsheeting program) to build a bare-bones facsimile of Quicken-esque, check-register lookalike spreadsheets. This, however, could take a great amount of time. And probably not many folks would have the patience to pull it off. (I just happen to offer a Check Register spreadsheet, if you're interested.)

If the do-it-yourself-with-Excel path isn't to your capability (or liking), then it's time to take a look at some other software that's available. Here are a few links to get you started:

In addition to my AceMoney review, you'll find that AceMoney has has gotten nice reviews from the folks at cNet and Computer Shopper magazine. This is a sturdy and basic money-management program — no frills, and no dizzying eye candy. The full version of AceMoney runs around $30 ... but the "Lite" version is free. So you don't have much to lose by giving it a try!

A creation of the folks at Computer Associates, Simply Money touts itself as "Simple ... the way Quicken used to be!" I got a free copy a year or so ago, and wrote about it on this Simply Money review. If you're looking for a bare-bones, take-you-back-to-1995, practically-free alternative to Quicken or Money, then this could be worth a shot — especially when you consider its cost ($5 to $8).

YNAB started out as an Excel-based money-management system ... but it has now evolved into visually-spectacular standalone software. (It's easily the best-looking piece of software on this page, and yes, that includes Quicken.) I've tested and reviewed every version of YNAB so far, and liked each one a lot.

For lots more information, plus screenshots and videos, please read my review of YNAB 3.

How nice is YNAB? Well, if I were looking to dump Quicken for some reason, YNAB would take its place.

Lots of people swear by Mvelopes. It's popular money-management software based upon the old "envelope" system of budgeting. I've not used it, but at least they offer a free trial so you can see if it's what you're looking for.

It was a longtime Linux and Mac OSX program, but now it's gone Windows mainstream, too. I gave it a quick test-drive in early 2011. GnuCash is too clunky for me, but if you're in need of money software, you should probably take a look at GnuCash. The price is certainly right; it's free and open-source.

Awfully sweet-looking program ... but it also costs $40 these days. But hey — a free trial is available!

This one's a newer entry (2005/2006) to the field, and wow, does it look sharp! It's free, and internet-based — which means your data and transactions are stored on a server in Internet-Land somewhere. (Can be good; can be bad.)

ClearCheckbook's creator, Brandon O'Brien, says he created the program "as an alternative to using Excel to keep track of all my purchases and deposits. I wanted something simple that I could add my purchases and deposits to, and also track my credit card purchases." Because the program intrigued me so much, I interviewed Brandon about Clear Checkbook in early 2007.

A reader, Dmitriy, requested that I add Visual Money to my list. "It doesn't have such functionality as Quicken or even Moneydance," he says, "but it is intuitive, and it has nice GUI and basic functionality for personal finance managing." The screenshots I saw of version 2.1 looked very clean and basic. At a cost of only $20, and with a 1-month 100% refund guarantee, Visual Money seems worth a try.

Thanks to reader George for mentioning this one. With versions for both Windows and Mac, Fresh Finance appears to be a very full-featured app for anyone who needs a register-based management tool. Priced at $45, but a free trial is available.

Another free money-management tool. From viewing its changelog, it appears that the creators do a nice job of keeping it up-to-date and as bug-free as possible. Runs on multiple operating systems.

Wow. Looks pretty good for being free!

Easy to try, I guess, since it too is free!

Financial program designed for the KDE Linux desktop.

Never heard of it; no experience with it. Screenshots look quite basic. Roughly $30.

Never heard of it; no experience with it. Seems to be European-based, judging by terms used in screenshots. Roughly $40. Free 30-day trial.

Never heard of it; no experience with it. Appears to have a VERY dated GUI. Free trial w/feature-limited versions.

Never heard of it; no experience with it. Roughly $40.

Roughly $40. Free 30-day trial w/feature-limited version.

Never heard of it; no experience with it. Roughly $40.

I'm fairly sure I've missed something in this list. If you've used some financial software that could be considered an alternative to Quicken or Money, let me hear about it. You never know how it might help someone else!

Michael | Updated January, 2011