Hard Times

You know times are bad when large corporations start accepting advertising money to do product placement in their web chat tech support sessions. For example: “Thank you, I’ve found your account information.  While I’m looking up your account info, be sure to check out _____, where you can meet friends, play games, etc.” That just happened.  And yes, I really was told that my account info had been located, then pitched some nonsense third-party garbage while the tech support person “looked up” my account.

Oh, and said company did not resolve my issue. This, despite the fact that this was my second contact with tech support stemming from the complete failure of their website to display the option I need to access, except in how-to diagrams.

Truly impressive.

Mint

A few days ago I lamented (here and here) the difficulty of doing certain at-a-glance budgeting in Quicken.  I think I have found many of the features I was missing through the excellent free service Mint.com.

The main thing I have been missing is at-a-glance budgeting.  That is, I’d really like to be able to see, in just a moment or two, how our current spending in a certain category, such as dining out, stacks up to our budget for the month (or quarter, or year, etc.).  I would like to be able to do it on a single screen, with minimal scrolling, and any scrolling should be vertical, not horizontal.  This has long been a failing of Quicken; so far as I have ever been able to tell, there is no way to see in one fell swoop what you’ve spend, what you’ve budgeted, what’s left over, and whether or not your spending is more or less on-pace for wherever you are in the relevant period.  In addition, rollover categories are a must.  Telling me that I have missed my budget twice because I spend $100 on groceries on September 30 and am under-budget by $100 in October is not particularly helpful.  Unfortunately, that is all that Quicken offers, and that in a less-than-user-friendly format.  I recognize (as Mark reminded me today) that I am a long-tail user of Quicken, but this seems like bread-and-butter, basic, should-have-worked-well-since-Windows-95 stuff.  The good news is that Mint does all of these things fairly well, as evidenced in this (old) screenshot (this is a Mint-provided image, not our budget):

Mint Expense Snapshot (Screenshot)

The new version is much improved; it’s actually a lot like the “Savings Plan” feature in Quicken 2009, but better due to the use of rollovers, the prettier and simpler interface, and the fact that I don’t (apparently) have to set a new budget every month.

Now, the irony of this situation is not lost on me, given that Intuit (maker of Quicken) just announced its acquisition of Mint.  Despite the many features of Quicken which are not found in Mint’s offering, I have to say that was probably wise: Mint is extremely user-friendly and easy to use.  Given the extent of overlap, the speed at which Mint was being improved, and that Mint is a free service while the full-featured versions of Quicken are not, one can see why this acquisition came about.

Other issues that had concerned me included Quicken’s kludgy handling of interest versus principal for budgeting loan payments and its inability to connect to my student loan servicers.  I could use Mint in the same way I use Quicken, tracking interest and principal separately for the most accurate possible look at the bottom line and our progress in building equity in our assets or reducing student loans.  That seems unreasonably redundant, however, and would defeat the purpose of my signing up for Mint, in the first place.  In fact, Mint handles tracking and classifying loan payments very nicely without my tweaking anything.  As for student loan servicers, so far, Mint has blown Quicken out of the water – setting up connections to these companies was just as easy as setting up a bank account, and as anyone who has used a student loan website recently can attest, that is no small feat.   Another major complaint I have had is that Quicken would not let me use the quicken.com site to view information about our accounts or budgeting when I am away from my personal laptop.  Allegedly, it can do that, but I have never been able to update quicken.com without an error in Quicken.  Because Mint is always up to date, online, and includes budgeting features, it solves this problem as well.  (I recognize that many banks’ websites now allow users to view multiple accounts, including those at other institutions, in one place, but none of the institutions at which we have any kind of account have nearly the feature set Mint offers.)

So, in summary, while Mint does not have enough features to make ditching Quicken entirely a wise choice for us, it is an extremely useful supplement to Quicken.  We are going to be using it heavily, and hopefully will not need to go crazy with Excel or some other, redundant system.

[Note: I am, of course, hyper-conscious about security with such things.  Mint has addressed security and privacy issues on their website. For us, given that we live in an imperfect world and that we already necessarily entrust sensitive information to Quicken and various institutions, we are comfortable with the way Mint manages privacy and security issues. You, the reader, need to reach your own conclusions on whether or not you are comfortable with Mint’s service, and my review is not an endorsement for general use or advice of an attorney, accountant, or any other professional service provider.]

Disclaimer: Mint.com is a free-to-use service and I am not receiving any compensation for my use of Mint or for posting this information, which represents solely the private opinion of the author and not an endorsement of any provider of goods or services.

Heavy Memory

This is just odd.

ad fail

You know, there are times, ya just gotta rip that RAM right out of the computer, drop it in your pocket, and GO. You just, you know, gotta move. And you might need 4 gigs of RAM when you get… wherever you’re going. Somebody might need RAM! Think of the children!!!

Quicken Premier 2009

We upgraded last night to Quicken Premier 2009, which partially resolves the Quicken 2007 issues surrounding budgets, which I mentioned in my last post, through the Savings Plan feature. Unfortunately, this feature has its own limitations – you have to define a plan each month, cannot define plans for past months, can only define a plan for one future month, and cannot easily get the granularity a true budget offers. It does fix the problems involved in splitting principal and interest, which is helpful, and it does offer budget rollovers, which is also helpful, but it still has quite a few limitations for a single feature. So, I may be resorting to Excel or PHP/MySQL (probably the latter, since I’m a true nerd) to get all of the budget and planning functionality I want, after all.

Does anyone with Quicken 2009 experience out there know of something I’m missing? Is there a better way to drill down on specific categories, while resolving the loans issues?

Quicken Budgets & Loan Accounts

Does anyone know how to get Quicken to budget properly for a loan account? That is, if you actually set up an amortized loan, how do you get Quicken to budget for the interest and principal as a single payment? I’m using Quicken Premier 2007, and it seems like there is no way to track a loan as a loan, but also budget for it as a single item.

Does anyone know if more recent versions (2008, 2009, or the coming-next-week 2010) handle budgets and/or loans more efficiently?

Thanks!

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