Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace Personal Finance Software
|Creator/Producer:||Dave Ramsey / Lampo Group|
|Date Tested/Software Version:||September, 2007 / Version 5.2|
|Price:||$19.95 [Buy Here]|
By now you're probably seriously familiar with Dave Ramsey. You know his Baby Steps by heart. At night you have dreams about firing up your Debt Snowball. The last time you missed an episode of his radio show?
And now you hear that Dave has a personal-finance software CD-ROM out there. You're wondering what it can do for you. Well, I was curious, too. So I bought a copy. I gave Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace Personal Finance Software a hefty test drive.
What Are We Looking for Here?
Total Money Makeover
I bought a copy of Dave Ramsey's software because I really wanted to know what it would do. Would it be a check-register-based tool — some sort of alternative to Quicken or Money? Or would it simply be a collection of financial forms to be filled-in and printed? Or something in between?
Financial Peace ... or a Financial 'Piece?'
Because a few readers have emailed and asked for my opinion on Dave's software — and they've wanted to know how it compares with other financial software, too — I wanted to be able to offer some educated thoughts and experiences with it. Here's what I discovered.
The software is, primarily, a collection of forms. These forms are based upon those found in Ramsey's nearly-endless cornucopia of materials, most of which grew from the advice Ramsey outlined in his first book, Financial Peace, and then elaborated on (and repackaged) in Total Money Makeover (review). Here's the short 'n' sweet description you'll find on the Software's FAQ page:
Suitably vague, isn't it? I thought so. At the very least, the screenshots on Dave's website lead us to believe that we'll find some sort of budgeting form or calculator, as well as a Debt Snowball form.
After that, who knows?
Software installation was simple and fast. On my laptop (Dell Inspiron, 1.3Ghz Celeron, 2gb RAM, Windows XP Home), installation took less than 40 seconds. Downloading and installing the update to Version 5.2 took perhaps another minute (w/cable broadband connection).
Here We Go ...
At the opening splash screen, we see that the software is divided into four working sections (plus the Home screen):
The 'Worksheets' Section
Clicking the WORKSHEETS icon brings up a list of 12 worksheets for you to fill out. The screen looks like so:
And here's a breakdown of the worksheets offered:
- Major Components of a Healthy Financial Plan
More of a 'To Do' checklist than a worksheet, really.
- Consumer Equity Worksheet
Allows you to compute the "assets" side of your household balance sheet.
- Income Sources
Simply adds up (on a monthly basis) all the income sources you plug in. Starting point for your monthly spending plan or budget.
- Lump Sum Payment Planning
Breaks down your non-monthly expenses into monthly amounts which you'll then plug into your budget. In other words, it's Dave's version of Freedom Account planning.
- Monthly Cash Flow
Here's where his budget worksheet begins. Click here for a screenshot.
- Recommended Percentages
Here you'll find 11 spending categories and the percentages of your monthly income which Dave recommends you attribute to each.
- Allocated Spending Plan
The final part of the budgeting puzzle. Takes your work from the above sheets and brings it all together here.
- Irregular Income Planning
Used if you're paid on an irregular schedule (i.e., self-employed).
- Breakdown of Savings
Track your balances in your college, emergency, and retirement savings.
- The Debt Snowball
Input your debts, rates, and so on, and build your own Debt Snowball plan. You can select to pay your debts from smallest- to largest balance, or from highest- to lowest rate.
- Monthly Retirement Planning
Very simple calculator which offers baseline guidance on how much you should be saving (monthly) toward your retirement. (Screenshot here.)
- Pro Rata Plan
Form used to determine what portions of your disposable income you should distribute (equally and fairly) to your creditors (assuming you can't pay what they request).
Where necessary, the worksheets allow you to ADD ITEM(s), RESET TO DEFAULT, and CLEAR SHEET by clicking buttons at the bottom of the worksheet.
After that, a final option allows you to PRINT/EXPORT WORKSHEETS. "Export" here means the software will dump the worksheet results (not the calculating formulas!) into spreadsheet-compatible format and save them somewhere on your hard drive.
The 'Tools' Section
There are three subsections here:
Four simple calculators comprise this subsection:
Future Value: See the year-by-year progress of an investment at a given rate.
Payments: Calculates the payment amount for a loan whose terms you input.
Early Mortgage Payoff: Add an extra amount to your mortgage (or any loan) payment, and this will calculate the payoff date.
Tax Advantage: Compare the returns of an investment which is taxed against one which is not.
A 25-page PDF glossary of financial terms.
- Check Register
An extremely basic, no-frills register. (Screenshot here.)
The 'Debt Elimination' Section
Remember Worksheet #10 above — the Debt Snowball? This section is simply another way to launch that worksheet.
The 'Dave's Links' Section
Click here, and you have the opportunity to visit "Dave's recommended websites." Guess what? There's all of three of them ... and they're all his sites: www.daveramsey.com, mytotalmoneymakeover.com, and software support.
Screenshots & Aesthetics
Visually, Dave Ramsey's Personal Finance Software is just fine. The graphics are pretty much up-to-speed. The layout is clean and simple.
Performance & Operation
Performance was just fine. No slowness, program hangs, or noticeable errors.
One major gripe here: The program's window is one-sized, and pretty small. It cannot be resized. Thus, many of the worksheets require the user to drag scrollbars side-to-side and up-and-down in order to view them fully. (Click for a screenshot example.)
Sorry, programmers, but this is a mess that needed to be fixed. It's flat-out crappy.
I can't really imagine why one would need it ... but you'd better hope that you don't. Technical support for the software will run you $1 per minute, with a $10 minimum per call. I can find nothing which states that such support would be "Free for X Days From Purchase." So apparently such charges would apply from Day One.
Some Comments and Criticisms
The program saves the user's form and worksheet data upon closing, always overwriting the last instance of data saved. What this means is that there's basically one, and only one, user datafile ... and if it gets screwed up somehow, you'll be doing your forms all over again. Is it too much to ask to be able to save more than one version of a user's file? Financial situations do change over time. Simply assuming that printing out budgets and/or forms is the best way to "save" them, which is what took place in this software, is tremendously short-sighted. (Or it's a nasty instance of programmer-expense-cutting.)
When EXPORTING the results of a worksheet, the software doesn't ask you where you'd like the file to be saved. Instead it simply buries the exported datafile in the home folder where the program itself resides. Things like this are where programmers "cutting corners" really go too far.
If you're even barely in the market for check-register software of some sort, PLEASE don't think that what's provided here will do you the slightest trinket of good. You'd be much better off buying something like Simply Money (see my Simply Money review) for $5 or $10. And who the heck has only one checking account to track, anyway?
The software's HELP files are really quite good. Nicely detailed. Helpful screenshots are abundant.
You have the ability to print blank worksheets before plugging any numbers into the software. Not a bad idea, especially if your household is facing the prospect of rounding up lots of account balances, dollar amounts, and other financial data before getting started.
Pricing and Value
Okay. Here's where I gotta shake my head:
Thirty bucks for this software? Seriously?
I'm not seeing it — not at all.
Personally, if I'd paid $30 for this, I'd have been severely disappointed. You can't even save more than one version of your worksheets, for cryin' out loud. For thirty bucks, you could get your hands on the basic version of Quicken or Money, and then handle the rest of what's offered here with (1) various free calculators on the 'net, and (2) a spreadsheeting program like Excel or OpenOffice Calc (free!) and some free spreadsheets and a bare minimum of spreadsheeting know-how.
Done that way, for thirty dollars, you'd at least have a sturdy financial program capable of tracking all your basic finances and accounts. And what that program didn't do for you, spreadsheets would. And you'd have a lot more versatility and power.
So what's a fair price for the Financial Peace software? Probably $15 or less. If you can get it for that — Ramsey does offer significant price cuts from time to time — and you really think the worksheets might be helpful for you, then knock yourself out.
But keep in mind: If you're looking for a decent check register program, then you'll for sure want to look elsewhere. The one included in Dave's software is awful.
If you're looking for a Quicken-like way to track all your account balances, this program will do nothing for you. You can track one account — that'd be a checking account — and even that is handled poorly. You cannot categorize your spending, nor create any spending reports.
If you're looking for an ongoing budgeting tool — one in which you can enter your transactions over a period of time, categorize your spending, and see how you're doing compared to a spending plan you originally set up — this software isn't for you. You categorize your spending in your budget worksheets only; the check register has no such functionality. It tracks your balance, helps reconcile, and that's all. (And it's not very proficient at those tasks, either.)
Forget the budgeting forms; they're too drawn-out and obtuse. Forget the wimpy check register; its usefulness is negligible. The single best reason to buy this software, as best I can tell, is for the Debt Snowball tool. It's actually put together pretty well. In fact, it exceeded my expectations. Building such a tool in pure spreadsheet form is a pretty complex task, so buying this software simply for the Debt Snowball tool wouldn't be a bad idea ...
... assuming, again, that you could pick up the software for $15 or less.Michael September, 2007
|Ratings are on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the top ranking.|
Is it worth the money?
Could this work for me over time?
Is its usage intuitive?
Is it professional in appearance and function?