1. Quicken Tip: Use Account Number in Account Name

    If you have a lot of accounts to track in Quicken — as my household does — you might notice that keeping track of which ones are which can be somewhat difficult.

    When I’ve helped others set up and use Quicken, what I’ve seen is that most of them will use pretty standard account names in their Quicken sidebars. “Jane’s Mastercard” and “Chase Sapphire Visa” are examples of what I commonly see.

    Those account names are fine so far as they go. But one thing I’ve discovered over the years is that it’s also very helpful to put the last four digits of the account numbers at the end of your account names. Why?

    So that these digits show in the Quicken sidebar, too.

    Why I Started Doing This

    Since my household uses a variety of credit cards — gotta maximize those cash-back rewards! — it can be a challenge to determine which cards were used for which purchases. This is especially true when we have a handful of receipts waiting in our Cash Flow Box to be logged into Quicken.

    However, since most retailers’ receipts show the last four digits of the debit- or credit-card account used, having the “last four” also show in Quicken’s sidebar makes this task dead simple to accomplish. It’s a snap to see which card or account was used for that week-old Red Lobster receipt!

    Changing Account Details in Quicken

    To make this change (plus a host of others) to your account names in Quicken, simply right-click the account’s name in the sidebar. Select EDIT ACCOUNT from the drop-down menu that appears. That should bring up your Account Details window. These days, I’m using Quicken 2010 Deluxe; yours may look a bit different than this:

    Quicken 'Account Details' Window

    Simply make your changes in the “Account Name” text box, and you’re good to go. You can also change account-balance limits here, and enter credit limits for your credit-card accounts, among other things.

    All in all, using the “last four” in my Quicken account names has been fantastically helpful more times than I’d like to admit!



  2. Review: Quicken Deluxe 2010

    Quicken  Deluxe
    I’ve just added my review of Quicken 2010 Deluxe on the main IYM site.

    After a few days’ use, I’m hopeful that this version will be even better than 2008 Deluxe (review), which I found to be outstanding for my needs.

    I’ll say here that the 2010 version, while it took longer to install, does seem to perform day-to-day operations faster than did 2008.

    I’ve not yet experienced any of the glitches that other users have discussed on the ‘net, but we’ll see how it goes…



  3. How We Manage Our Money

    It’s been a while since I discussed how my household manages its money; the last time was in October of 2006. Some things have changed since then, and since readers continue to ask my opinion on ways to keep funds running smoothly at the ol’ homestead, I’d like to cover the topic again.

    Receipts, Receipts, Everywhere

    This, inevitably, is Issue Numero Uno for many readers: How can I keep track of my spending as well as my spouse’s? It’s impossible to know where the money’s going!

    Actually, it isn’t. Or, perhaps more correctly, it hasn’t been for us. Oh sure — it was a challenge for a while. Back when we were paying bills from our checking accounts (more on that later), we ran into a few obstacles. But once we became debt-free and were able pay our card balances in full each month, things got easier.

    Cash Flow in a Box

    So how to handle all those receipts? Well, we do it with a box.

    This invention, I call our Cash Flow Box. Whenever either of us spends money, we tuck the receipts into our wallets RIGHT THEN. Later, once we get home, we toss the receipts in our Cash Flow box. Mail and bills go here, too.

    Since I’m the guy who handles bill-paying and money-tracking for our household (gee, can’t imagine why), I sit down every couple of days and enter the receipts into Quicken. (You can tell I’m a sicko, because I actually enjoy this part. Then again, I’ve found that being in control of your money tends to have just this sort of odd, Twilight Zone effect on people.)

    If any receipts need to be kept for tax purposes (or some other reason), I have a set of manilla folders right next to the box for just this purpose. Think flexible-spending account receipts, small-business expenses, and large-item purchases (where warranty might be an issue) here.

    The rest of the receipts get File Thirteen’d as soon as I enter them in Quicken.

    Easy peasy.

    Joint Checking … Times Four

    For starters, our household has multiple joint checking accounts — four of them, in fact. And a host of savings accounts (online variety, mostly) on top of that.

    Click here to start saving with ING DIRECT!

    I primarily use our ING Direct Electric Orange checking, while Lisa uses a local credit-union checking account. Due to its extreme ease of use, ING Direct also holds most of our savings at present.

    Since ING Direct isn’t exactly a “local” banking entity for us — if you need to see someone face-to-face, whatcha gonna do? — we also have two joint, no-fee checking and savings combos at local institutions. We generally keep only a few hundred dollars in these “just in case” accounts.

    Pay It All By Plastic

    Here’s the caveat to all these checking accounts: We rarely pay for anything by check. Every expense than can go on plastic OR can be paid electronically will be handled that way. We use two cash-back, no-fee cards for this. We pay these cards in full every month.

    Because of this, we typically write no more than one or two paper checks per month.

    Spending and Account Balances

    I am a Quicken devotee. It is my Ultimate Money Security Blanket, and I’m not ashamed to admit that. I depend on Quicken like snow depends on cold.

    Right now, my laptop runs Quicken 2010 Deluxe (review), which I believe is one of the best Quicken versions yet.

    Quicken tracks our spending, our account balances, our net worth, our bills and recurring payments, and about a thousand other things that are only important once or twice per year. (Use taxes would be one!)

    And oh yeah — I now use Quicken for our…


    Honestly, we don’t need much of a budget these days. With no debt (other than our mortgage) and a definite aversion to long-term financial commitments, we just don’t have that many bills coming through the door. Savings-building is our goal now, and I can accomplish it just fine, thank you, with Quicken’s recently-added Cash Flow Tab.

    Cash Flow - Click to Enlarge

    What’s coming in? What’s going out? The Cash Flow Tab tells me what I need to know. Once I got our recurring bills and deposits set up, and designated the correct “spending” accounts for Quicken to monitor, I no longer had any need for my Spending Plan spreadsheet at all.

    I love my Spending Plan spreadsheet. But having my budgeting tool contained within Quicken makes things oh so simple.

    And simple is good.

    Download Transactions? Nope!

    I have never once used Quicken’s ability to download transactions from banks and other financial institutions. As noted elsewhere, I enter all Quicken transactions by hand.

    Keeps me “closer” to our spending, ya know? (Plus I’ve heard too many horror stories about transaction downloads going horribly wrong!)

    The All-Important Freedom Account

    I believe that the discipline to save up for future expenses — rather than relying on the kind-heartedness of Visa and Mastercard — is a hallmark of successful personal finance. Heck, it may be THE hallmark.

    In any event, we do such saving in our Freedom Account, which resides with the rest of our savings at ING Direct. Why?

    Because it’s darn easy (and immediate) to transfer funds to our Electric Orange checking, where the vast majority of our transactions land at some point. (We pay our credit cards electronically via Electric Orange.)

    This is one area where Quicken falls short. Since it doesn’t allow for subaccounts, I track our FA subaccount balances with ExcelGeek’s Freedom Account spreadsheet.

    Emergency Fund

    I don’t have a specific spreadsheet that I use to track my Emergency Fund. We’re currently keeping most of our E-fund (say, 90% of it) at ING Direct. Any transactions which affect our Emergency Fund get logged/tracked in Quicken, as noted above, and I can always see our E-fund’s balance right there in my Quicken toolbar.

    Small-Business Stuff

    Lisa and I both have our own small-business ventures. I utilize QuickBooks 2009 Pro to manage these tasks.

    Credit Monitoring & ID Safety

    I monitor our credit reports and scores monthly. I do this with TrueCredit 3-Bureau Credit Monitoring . (Here’s my TrueCredit review, if you’re interested.)

    Whew … that should pretty much cover it!



  4. How I Manage My Money

    Note: There’s a newer version of this post here.

    Getting (and keeping) a grip on your finances isn’t an easy task. Every so often (like yesterday) a frazzled reader will ask, “How do you do it?”

    Well, I’ll tell you. My system works like this:

    The Grand Overview

    I track all accounts, balances, and financial transactions in Quicken 2006 Premier Home & Small Business. This is also where I categorize my past and current spending, as well as monitor my net worth, assets and liabilities, and investments. I also use it to track all my small-business (namingly, this website and my wife’s jewelry/craft business) inflows, outflows, and accounts. Quicken is also a tremendous tool for handling all tax-related items and accounts. I use the heck out of it for this. Is Quicken pricey? Yes, the fancier versions can be. Does it require a fair bit of learning time? Yes, though this also depends on what version you get and what you want to use it for. Would I give it up? No way. Not a chance.

    Monthly Spending Plan / Budget

    For all that I love about Quicken, I absolutely despise its budgeting setup. It’s cluttered, nonsensical, and useless to me. So, to budget (as well as monitor in real time) my spending for each month, I use a slightly-modified version of my Excel Spending Plan (v2.0). You can download it from the near-bottom of my Excel financial spreadsheets page. And more details can be found at my Spending Plan page.

    Emergency Fund

    I don’t have a specific spreadsheet that I use to track my Emergency Fund. However, I do keep most of my E-fund (say, 90% of it) in its own account at Emigrant Direct (review). Any transactions that affect my Emergency Fund get logged/tracked in Quicken, as noted above, and I can always see its balance right there in my Quicken toolbar.

    Freedom Account

    I use ExcelGeek’s Freedom Account spreadsheet to track my Freedom Account and all its subaccounts and balances. I keep my Freedom Account funds at ING DIRECT (review), in an account that’s separate from everything else. If you’ve never heard of Freedom Accounts before, or if you’re just not sure what exactly they can do for you, head over and check out my Freedom Account page.

    What combination of software (and/or notebook paper!) do you use?



  5. Alternatives to Quicken and Money

    Over on the main site, I just posted a new article regarding some alternatives to Quicken and Money (the two most popular personal-finance programs out there):

    IYM Article: “Alternatives to Quicken and Money”

    I would like input from readers who’ve had experience — both good and bad — with any personal-finance software outside of the biggies named above. And if you know of any other money software out there that I’ve missed, please let me know, so I can add it to the list!