Tag Archives: MS Money

Going Paperless

Did you know that Microsoft Money still works, 20 years after it’s been discontinued?  Quite the impressive feat.  Not so impressive to admit you still are using MS Money 20 years after it’s been discontinued, though.  The world has moved on, old man.  We don’t need to track our money anymore, everything’s online!  And while at the same time, no one seems capable of managing their finances.  I don’t know why.

But this is about me, not every other financially-challenged person.  I still use MS Money, and I’ve faithfully asked for and walleted my paper receipt with every single purchase.  And then I take the time to log those entries in Money, giving me a running balance of my purchases and allowing me to see what I’m spending or overspending on.

The thing is, and this is shameful bragging, I don’t have to worry about that anymore.  It’s just as much due to my financial situation as it is my spending habits.  I don’t spend needlessly, and at the same time, I’ve made purchases of things that last and aren’t causing me to have to repurchase them or repair them or whatever.  And my income is solid enough that it affords me the luxury to buy pretty much whatever I want.  And the key to remaining like this is, I don’t want a lot anymore.

So, bragging completed, why do I still track my individual purchases even if I don’t need to?  Well, it’s still nice to have a diary of sorts of the places I’ve been and the things I’ve done, and sometimes it helps research how old something is.  And there’s the helpful side effect of being able to identify fraudulent purchases and tip-modifications when they should happen.  So I will continue the process.

But, you know, it’s tedious.  And I’m honestly sort of tired of it.  I end up with weeks worth of receipts in my Costanza wallet until I pull them all out and dump them on the desk and have to log a months worth of transactions – like 150 – in a sitting.  So I don’t really want to do it anymore.  But, I think I can finally made a modification to the process to ease the pain a little.

Everything truly is electronic now.  And as part of my anti-fraud process, I have all my cards send me an email notification when a charge occurs on them.  This has been in place for years and I never really put these pieces together.  So with these emails coming in, why do I need the paper receipt anymore?  I can just log them from the emails.  I get a date, a total and a payee – everything I need.  So I set up Outlook to move all those notifications into a dedicated folder and flag them for follow-up.  When I log them in Money, I clear the flag and my wallet stays light.

In fact, I’m mulling over writing a program that can read Outlook, find those emails and parse them, then send keystrokes to Money to make the entries for me.  Wouldn’t that be efficient?  Have I mentioned lately that I LOVE being a programmer?

Slow Bleed

Do you have a credit card?  I’ll bet you do.  Do you use that credit card at restaurants?  You probably do.  Do you check your receipts against your credit card statement?  Well…  Do you even take your receipt when you leave?

Why go through all that hassle?  When I explain that I log every receipt into MS Money, then download my transactions from my CC company and match them all up, you might be thinking it’s a colossal waste of time.  Maybe you’d relent a little if I explained that I can track spending habits and trends.  I can see that I’ve been spending more on gas.  Are gas prices going up or am I driving more or is my car in need of a major tune up?  I’m spending more on food.  Is it because I’m eating more expensive meals, or is it something a little more sinister?

It could be something more sinister, and you could be subject to it too.  You may never even know it’s happening.  And the culprits are banking on it.  It’s illegal.  It’s fraud.  It’s theft.  Do you want to be on the receiving end of that?  And yet, at the same time, when it happens to you, you might just react with a shrug.  Meh.

This is something that has happened to me about a half-dozen times, and I used to shrug it off, but not anymore.  What I am talking about is credit card charge modifications, post-sale.  When you go to a restaurant, you are presented with a bill.  You give your credit card and then are presented with a charge slip to fill in a tip, total, and sign.  Then, the tip is added to the original sale amount and the transaction is finalized.  Does this finalization happen in your sight?  No, it does not.  Can you be assured that the tip entered is what you wrote on the paper charge slip?  No, you can not.  Can you verify that the tip entered matches what you wrote?  Only if you keep your receipt.

Shitty employees are getting wise to the fact that many people don’t keep their receipt and even fewer verify the charge later.  So, these assholes simply add a dollar to the tip.  It’s such a small amount that few people would notice it and those that would notice might not be inclined to make a fuss about it.  These dollars add up for them. 

The first couple of times it happened to me, I was annoyed, but didn’t think complaining was worth the hassle.  Then it happened at a place I trusted and the feeling of betrayal compelled me to act.  And now, I’m not ever letting it happen again.  You want to steal a dollar from me, I hope you get fucking fired for theft.  Because I know I’m not your only mark.  Beware the victim mentality.  You might think (and I had moments, too) that your tip was modified because it was an unfair tip amount.  You should have tipped more, and you should feel bad for that.  You should consider the extra amount an education in proper tipping etiquette.  No.  Fuck that.  It is your choice entirely on how much to tip.  No one else has a right to make that choice for you or to demand that you give a different amount.

I just caught another instance today.  A local pizza place that I go to weekly put a dollar on my tip for a dine-in order.  Tipping for dine-in and carry-out orders (and the proliferation of tip begging in general) is for another post, but suffice to say, I don’t tip for counter service.  So, having my transaction differ at all at this establishment is highly suspicious.  And tonight, I will handle it.  Again, it is a major breach of trust for a place I’ve been visiting for over 10 years to do that to me.  It’s infuriating.

You should not let it happen to you.  It’s a major change in habit if you haven’t done it before, but you need to do it.  At a minimum, you can take a picture of your receipt and check it later.  But ideally, you should begin tracking your transactions.  MS Money Sunset Edition can be used without registration and is freely available from Microsoft.  Don’t feel like you have to pay for Quicken every year for the same basic functionality.  Get started now and stop the bleeding.

No Budgeting Changes, 2015

A blogger that I follow and enjoy for his personal product reviews recently did a review of a financial product called You Need A Budget.  This product isn’t new to me; it’s been around for a while.  In the post, he invoked the names of Mint, MS Money, and Quicken, so of course I was intrigued.

Also in the post, he gave a rundown of his former money management process and I was startled that it was exactly like my current process.  So I read the rest of the entry with great interest and then went to the YNAB site to read more.

The result?  I’m sticking with the way I’ve always done it with MS Money.  And you know why?  There’s one feature in Money that sucks in Quicken and doesn’t even exist in Mint: Cash Flow Forecast.  And that feature is how I handle my money.

Although my management technique mirrored the blog author’s, after I calmed down, I realized even though I do all that, I do something more.  The three key actions I do are:

  • Put every recurring and non-recurring expense in the Bills Summary feature
  • Put every source of income, recurring and non-recurring in the Bills Summary feature (including tiny things like manufacturer rebate checks)
  • Check the Cash Flow Forecast regularly and make sure the balance is rising

That’s pretty much it.  Cash Flow tells you if your income exceeds your expenses.  If you take on a recurring bill that makes the cash flow become neutral or negative, something needs to give.  The forecast can tell you when you will have the funds to take on a large expense or how long it will take to recover from an unexpected hit.

For me, I have 14 recurring expenses in my list.  They range in frequency from monthly, to quarterly, to yearly.  By keeping an eye on the forecast, nothing is ever surprising.  Since I am of the philosophy to charge everything and pay it off monthly, I just have a catch-all bill for credit card.

That is what YNAB seems to be trying to eliminate is the feeling of “where did the money go?” at the end of the month when the CC bill exceeds what is budgeted.  I can sympathize with that a lot.  Money does have a report, “Spending by Category”, but that is historical (unless you run it for the current month).  To make up for that, I just log my receipts more frequently and I can see where the money is going.  That’s something I’ve said before: keep your numbers in your face as much as possible.  Whether using YNAB, The Envelope Method, or Money, that’s the key: awareness.

The Quickening II

Like a bad sequel, I get to continue a story that should have ended.  As I discover some things in Quicken I don’t like, I check the opinions of blogs and Quicken’s own support forums and I am saddened by what I learn.  I guess none of my gripes are new, but they are mine.

I’m sure I’m going to have lots of fun matching transactions as time goes on.  I’m convincing myself that the real numbers matter starting next month – a fresh month of a fresh year.  But right now things are off.  One of my accounts had to have an adjustment posted to make it match with the last bank statement.  That worries me.  As I cleaned up the categories for my transactions, I found that when I would categorize a transaction as a transfer, it would helpfully create the other side of the transfer for me, duplicating a previously-downloaded transaction in another account.  So with all the credit card payments I categorized, I suddenly had a massively negative balance in my checking account.  More cleanup…

As I worked through these various screens I found myself missing a Microsoft standard: the Back button.  I remember years ago when I tried out the Zune at Staples, I thought to myself, “MS loves the Back button.”  The Zune has one.  And you know, it is the easiest concept for anyone to understand.  I also was a little weirded out at how some screens are windows of their own and some are in the main window.

And continuing with UI issues, I found the little things to be the most annoying.  Like being unable to resize columns.  The text in a column is truncated, but you can’t expand the column to see it.  You have to mouse over each row to see the tooltip.  I’m slowly getting used to Quicken’s way of doing subcategories – using a colon.  Money had that format as an option, but I turned it off.  The UI, overall, is definitely from another line of thinking – and not very much in line with Microsoft’s design recommendations.  I’ve had the argument before about how being consistent with Microsoft design helps a user understand your application quicker.  The additional time it is taking me to understand how Quicken works is a fine example of this.  Holy crap, I just discovered that some (4) popup windows I thought had closed actually didn’t.  They’re in a pseudo-taskbar at the bottom of the main window.  Good god.

Now the bigger issues.  The biggest being that the filtered view in the register does not maintain the proper running balance.  It shows a running balance of the transactions shown.  This makes the filtered view useless, but Quicken users have been living with it since the feature was introduced.  That’s nearly a deal-breaker, but I’m going to stick it out.  The other big one is there is no transaction entry form (that I can find).  You have to enter all your info directly in the register.  This brought back a very distant memory of when I first used Quicken and I didn’t like that method of entry.  Money provided a more presentable form for entry and it was a significant selling point.  Money also allowed the option to enter transactions Quicken-style.  Funny how Money tried to implement a more Quicken-esqe experience and ended up being the one that failed.

I feel a bit sad that Quicken is now the only major player in this software category.  Mostly because I know they can never make the changes needed to satisfy the MS Money crowd without ruining the experience of legacy Quicken users.

The Quickening

So I’m at the 7th and final stage of grieving: acceptance.  I have accepted that Microsoft Money is gone and will not be coming back, so I must move to Quicken.  It’s not without trepidation that I purchase Quicken and try to recapture the enjoyment of tracking my finances with a new program.  I had used Quicken a long time ago and was not as pleased as I was with MS Money, which is probably why I’ve used Money for over 10 years.

So I’ve gotten Quicken Deluxe 2010 installed and the first thing that pisses me off is that it has put icons on my desktop.  Not just one icon, which is tolerable, but 4.  One for the application and three sales pitches.  This is a terrible first impression.  One shortcut is to a co-branded version of FreeCreditReport dot COM – one of the biggest scams out there.  One is for their BillPay service, at $10/mo.  Even Wachovia, a premier bank, only charges $6/mo for integrated BillPay.  Unless Quicken doesn’t have 2-way integration with Wachovia, which is practically a dealbreaker for me.  MS Money had it. (Turns out, yes, Quicken does support online payments through Wachovia)  The final offer is for a typical rewards credit card provided by Chase.

First Launch: I am prompted to “Get Started”.  I have to enter my banks and their login info so Quicken can download transactions and whatnot.  I’m mildly impressed.  In MS Money, this was a separate step after setting up accounts.  It picks up my Wachovia account without a problem.  Then I do my Chase account.  Oops, there was a problem.  It says to try again later.  So I think, “Maybe it should be entered as a WaMu account, since that’s where it was originally opened.”  Nope.  Not found there.  It’s later now, so I try again under Chase.  Quicken crashes.  Ok, my impression of this program is sinking fast.

Second Launch: I get all of my accounts set up.  And I am quite impressed with how well it handled ALL of my accounts.  If I had a login for it, Quicken handled it.  I got my loans entered and the wizard was pretty easy to work through.  I browse through the preferences and set a few things to my liking, like two-line registers.  Now, I am downloading transactions for an account that doesn’t have real-time transaction updates.  And it’s frozen.  However, I was able to close the window (X) and it seemed to be a successful update.  We’ll see how that turns out on the others… ok, three of the four I had to close the window, but they seem current.  Not sure of this is going to be an annoyance or it’s just a fluke.

I’m going to give it an honest try, since I have no other choice, really.  I’ve tried GnuCash and that was definitely a step down.  So we’ll see how quick things get.

The American Dream

Part of The American Dream is supposed to be owning your own home.  I am a homeowner and was a long-time renter.  Recently, I noticed a chart in MS Money that made me take notice.  It was the "Net Worth Over Time" chart.


Can you tell when I became a homeowner?  It was February 2007.  The beginning of a steady climb in my net worth.  Prior to this, I was a renter, and the chart shows, my net worth growth was pretty stagnant.  Sure it went up as I put more in my retirement accounts and paid down debt, but not like the climb after becoming a homeowner.

Some argue that the expenses of owning a home outweigh the benefits, since rent covers all housing expenses.  As the chart shows, even with the expenses of a house, the value still grows.  This is equity.  When you buy a house, you have a property worth $x.xx, but you have a loan worth $x.xx, too.  It’s net zero.  Current housing conditions aside, as you pay down the loan, one side of the equation goes down, and one remains constant.  Whereas when you rent, you have property of $0.00 and a loan of $0.00.  As you pay your rent, neither side changes (for you.  It does for the rental property owner). You remain at zero.

I just thought I’d make a small post to say that this small visual reminder showed the value of home ownership to me.