Crap I love: Wesabe

After working on my own for a year, this past summer I finally got around to examining my finances. I did what most people do: I got a copy of the latest Quicken, spent a week entering data into it, and then I stared at graphs wondering how on earth my spending always seemed to go up when my income went up, even though it didn’t feel like I was going on new shopping sprees.

I quickly found Quicken to be a bear. The category system is a pain, and every charge can only have one category attached. Making new categories and arranging subcategories would frequently crash Quicken 2007 for the Mac, making me lose work in the process. Like every other time I’ve tried to use some piece of financial software, I eventually gave up.

About a month ago, I started using the Wesabe beta (co-founder Marc Hedlund is a friend of a friend). The app has lofty aim of helping you track spending, realize your goals, and share tips with everyone. There are also social effects, where people using the same merchant can post reviews, allowing you to surf around for a new mechanic or grocery store based on other members’ satisfaction and spending.

For me, the main draw was simply having a powerful web version of something like Quicken, but flexible like flickr or delicious. Instead of categories, there are tags. And you can put any number of tags on something, and sort spending per tag. This is a really big breakthrough. A few things I discovered from doing this:

  • I tagged every gas station purchase with gas and auto. With a single click, I could see how much I spent just on gasoline each month and I could also see how much I spent overall on owning cars (by tagging all payments and repairs with auto).
  • Among the dozens of gas fill-ups I had this year I noticed some were for roadtrips, so I could tack on a tag for that single trip (and add the tag: travel), then tag every other purchase from that trip with the city name. One click on the roadtrip city name and I could see how much that trip cost me, and I could also see how much travel in general cost me each month.
  • I’ve taken to tagging any purchase that is a gift to myself, or an extravagance, or any non-necessary thing with: extra. In a click, I can see how much money I waste each month on silly gadgets, bike upgrades, and wacky t-shirts. There was never an easy way to get that kind of data from Quicken.

The other smart thing Wesabe does is make data entry easy. My bank gives me some ugly metadata that usually just features the address of the business where a charge was made. In Quicken, I’d have to memorize 1590 Booth Bend road equalled Lowe’s Hardware and I’d have to categorize every purchase by hand. Wesabe is pretty slick in that you put a description in once for a merchant, then the app finds each and every purchase ever made at that same chunk of metadata, and automatically copies the tags and description for the first one you marked. Thanks to this feature, I tagged and described an entire year’s worth of purchases in about 90 minutes. Now, I do weekly updates from my bank data and it takes just a few minutes to keep everything up to date.

The app is still new, and about the only drawbacks I’ve found is that the history reporting and graphing doesn’t feel completely built out yet (and I’ve heard lots more is to come in that realm). I’m used to Quicken’s graph magic and Measuremap and Google Analytics where you can click on any bar graph and figure out what exactly caused a spike. At the moment, the bar graphs simply report your patterns in spending but lack any sort of “zoom” feature to get more detail.

It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with Wesabe. At every point where Quicken stood in the way of my progress with ease-of-use roadblocks, Wesabe makes it painless. Now that it’s open to the public, the Tips and Goals sections might get built out more and the social aspects will kick in, but at the very least, the accounting section of the app is truly killer and helping me finally get a handle on my spending.

Wesabe (free, probably paid pro options in the future)

28 Comments

  • Wow, this looks like exactly what I’ve been looking for, too. I just recently installed Gnucash in anticipation of tracking all my finances for 2007, and have found it rather confusing. This, so far, has been pretty damn easy, and I look forward to not having to go through it alone. Thanks!

  • I stumbled across Wesabe this morning in my del.icio.us inbox and I agree that this is closer to ideal than any other financial tracking app I’ve tried. It took me a few minutes before I took the plunge, as I was a bit leery of sending a website my financial data.
    It’s still not clear to me how portable my data is with wesabe. I might like to back it up or remix it someday, and I hope that wesabe is nice about that.
    Wesabe is a great name, because it sounds like “wasabe” (uniquely spicy condiment for sushi/sashimi) and it’s phonetically almost identical to “We save”. I actually clicked over from del.icio.us purely on the domain name, and only later did I actually discover what the site is all about.

  • I particularly enjoy the “Im Freaking Out” button at the bottom of every page.
    “All this money talk driving you crazy?
    Don’t panic! Relax with some kittens and scroll down when you’re ready. (Prefer puppies?)”

  • Hey, all,
    Thanks, Matt, for the great write-up. We’re definitely working on everything you mention above.
    Bryce, we’re definitely all about having your data be portable. We haven’t launched it yet, but you’ll be able to export your data in several formats, and we will provide APIs for adding and reading data. You can also delete all of your data from Wesabe at any time. You can read my write-up of the “Open Data” panel I led at Web 2.0 last week, which is all about this:
    http://blog.wesabe.com/index.php/2006/11/10/open-data-at-web-20-and-our-data-bill-of-rights/
    Thanks, everyone, for the great feedback. Let us know if we can make it better for you in any way.

  • the current state of personal finance software is quite sad. about 6 months ago i tried out Money, Quicken, gnuCash, moneydance, and ibank. All of them had major problems. Money and Quicken are beyond bloated. The fact that you need to do dual-entry accounting for your checking account is beyond overcomplicated. All the rest had just too many problems and not working easily enough. Side note: i ended up just using excel.
    The 3 use-cases you mention (car/auto, roadtrips, and one time purchases) is exactly what I thought of after being frustrated with all those personal finance apps. Wesabe has done a great job of correctly importing data and making it easy to tag. I think it still lacks enough features to make it useful enough for me to invest the time in it, but it appears the nastiest part (data/bank integration) is working. Adding charts/etc should be quite easy in comparison. Hopefully, now, other personal finance apps will get their act in shape.
    None the less, I still don’t think I can trust some random company with a complete list of all my transactions regardless of what assurances they make.

  • You had me at Tags!! I am obsessed with tagging! I even convinced my office to start using Adobe’s Lightroom so that I could tag all of our product images!
    I HEART tags!
    I will be checking this out! Thanks!

  • Man, I got all excited about this – but I should have read more closely. This isn’t really a budgeting tool, it’s really just a financial tracker – you can’t use it to budget or to look at future/recurring spending. I’ve been using acemoney for budgeting. I love it, but I’d love an online version even more.

  • i’m currently using Cha-Ching for the Mac to do this, and it seems to do the trick quite nicely.

  • I use MS Money, and I don’t like it much at all. I’d love to be able to switch to a web app that sports tagging and all that other 2.0 goodness. At first glance though, it appears that Wesabe does not have the ability to track investments data, which is something I really on MS Money to do for me. Am I missing that? Feature request!

  • I’m a longtime Quicken user, and like many Quicken for Mac users, I am frustrated that many online banking features, because of Quicken’s proprietary system, are Windows-only UNLESS your particular bank coughs up for a Mac Quicken server (yes, you heard right, Quicken makes banks pay separately to serve the SAME format to users on different platforms). Sadly, Quicken’s still the only program you can use for these features like BillPay and transaction downloading (without visiting the bank’s website, entering login info, and downloading the qfx file) on the Mac.*
    I’ve tried gnuCash and Moneydance, but they don’t do it for me. For all its bloat, Quicken still has more useful features that I actually use. And to address your concern about the lack of multiple categories, Quicken does do this, although it’s not very intuitive. Just enter the total, open a split transaction, and divide the amounts according to category. Cumbersome, but effective.
    I, too, am concerned about sending my financial data to a Web 2.0 startup. (No offense, Marc.)
    Tags are great, though. I might have to switch.
    *Some bright users have also figured out a way to bypass the proprietary Quicken Mac server requirement: http://www.digital501.com/2006022124/hack-quicken-osx-qfx/

  • This looks good but very checkbook-focused. Can anyone recommend a Mac app that is more investment-tracking-oriented, with basic charts and such? I’m using Quicken but as we know, it’s bad. (And I would like an app – my finances are one thing I’d rather keep on my own little hard drive.)

  • There’s definitely a gaping hole in the personal finance software arena, especially for mac users. I can’t say it had ever occurred to me to have it filled by a web-based app. I just kept waiting for a quicken-killer to come around. I’m definitely going to check out Wesabe. It sounds fantastic.

  • Sounds very interesting. I’ve been a long-time Quicken user, first on Window and now on a Mac (not as good). The software can be both frustrating and powerful depending on what you’re trying to do. I’m sure that I don’t use it to its fullest functionality. One thing that would make me hesitate just a teeny bit to going to an online app is that I often use away-from-the-internet time to catch up on my finances, do budgeting and setting up tracking. But, I’ll look into this. Thanks for the writeup, Matt.

  • This tool sounds interesting, but when you’re dealing with people’s finances, some pretty worrisome privacy issues rear their head and I don’t see clearly how Wesabe deals with this. It essentially becomes a very large database that defines how the technically skilled GenX/GenY spends their money (which would be very valuable to marketers) with no real reward for the user beyond what Microsoft Money (*gasp* did I just suggest a Microsoft product?) or 43things can already provide. It’s neat, but the privacy concerns and the lack of true innovation make me want to run away – quickly.

  • Trent, since I know a co-founder, I trust that he’d never be dumb enough to sell your data to any marketer ever. It’d spell doom for the service as people would flee. There is a privacy policy on the site you should check out if you don’t think it’s tight enough.
    Also, I would dispute “lack of true innovation” as my entire review is how I found the new features in the webapp totally won me over and I left quicken (and before that, money) behind a long time ago.

  • It’s obviously innovative compared to standalone personal financial packages; I just don’t see it as innovative compared to digg or 43things. Those were great ideas; in many ways, this feels like a rehash of those.
    I read the privacy policy in detail and I’m still quite nervous.
    I don’t think the site is bad; I’ve signed up as a user and am tinkering around with it. I just feel that your review is ~too~ positive, as are most of the comments. There are criticisms to be levied.
    I wrote a lengthy post about Wesabe, but I’ve decided to sleep on it before I post it. I’ll be sure to link to your writeup here for a more positive perspective (I don’t like to have extensive negative commentary without presenting a positive one as well).

  • I just don’t see it as innovative compared to digg or 43things.
    What does personal finance have to do with digg? Who said it was anything like digg? About the only comparison is the Goals section being similar to 43things, but the meat of the application shares more in common with excel and webstats programs than any other website. I only mentioned quicken in my reivew, not 43things or digg.
    I just feel that your review is ~too~ positive, as are most of the comments. There are criticisms to be levied.
    Sorry, but I really liked it. I reserve the designation “crap I love” for the few gadgets and sites that really blow me away, and the app did it for me. I noticed you practically copied and pasted your negative comment at getrichslowly, which is why I refuted it. It seems like you are compelled to crap on the app and my review for no good reason.

  • Take a look at Yodlee MoneyCenter (http://moneycenter.yodlee.com). Yodlee is one of those sites that’s perfect for the lazy. You enter in the credentials of your online financial sites (Banks, Retirements, Investments, Loans, Bills, Airline Rewards, etc) and it will continually gather the latest information, automatically categorize it, send you alerts for upcoming bills, balances outside the range you want, transactions over certain amounts and all sorts of other goodness. What I *LOVE* about this site is that I don’t have to do ANYTHING. I set it up once, and it manages itself for me. Just recently it came time to figure how much to put into my flexible healthcare account for next year, so I logged in and said, “show me all the healthcare transactions over the past 12 months” and I can figure out exactly what I average!
    The only trick is trusting Yodlee with all your credentials, but since they seem to pass all the banks audits I’m pretty comfortable. Also, I figure I’m more likely to catch fraud since I’m checking all the transactions on every account I have every day, just by logging into Yodlee. Before it may have taken me weeks to notice a bad transaction because I wasn’t logging into every site every day.

  • Good for Marc and the Wesabe crew. I’m glad they’ve raised the bar on personal finance apps, and that they’ve publicly launched. If, Matt, you find that Wesabe’s meeting all of your needs, awesome. But when we launch PearBudget, I hope you’ll give it a looksee. I know you’ve seen the spreadsheet version, but I’m really excited about the web-based version, and think you might like it. Okay. Enough. I’ve gone on too long already.
    Marc, if you’re still following the conversation here: good job.

  • Wesabe looks really nice, but as far as I can tell its only for the US. I live in Australia but I am English and have a couple of UK bank accounts as well as an Australian one. I’d like to be able to use some software that supports or at the least allows me to enter data into it without having to have a US account. Multiple currencies would be really nice. I don’t know if Wesabe is going to include anything along these lines but it’d be really cool if it did.

  • Hi, all,
    Thanks for all the feedback and great comments. As I’ve said elsewhere, I think people *should* be skeptical of any site that wants you to upload financial data. If people are too free with their data, they can definitely get burned.
    My hope is that we’ve set a strong standard with the ‘data bill of rights’ you can find on our site (see the ‘security’ link on our home page). We’re promising that you can delete your data any time you feel uncomfortable. I don’t think this distinction is clear to people yet, but we’re saying that you own your data and not us, when you put it on our servers. That’s a big difference from some of the other sites mentioned above, which in some cases keep a copy of all your data even after you delete an account, and it’s a big difference from many web sites’ policies, which say that they have rights to your data when you upload it. We don’t believe that’s right, especially in the case of financial data.
    @jordan – investments data – correct, we don’t currently track investments. We felt that deposit and credit accounts were the worst served by web apps today, and that investments had at least some good options. We do plan to cover investment accounts in the near future, though.
    @Trent, thanks for the feedback, and I don’t expect everyone will be comfortable. I’m surprised you think it’s derivative — obviously we like 43things a lot (as we say in the FAQ), but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like our Tips feature, which I think will turn out to be really valuable over time. You’re absolutely right that the data could be valuable to marketers, but that’s not our business. Our business is making that data valuable to consumers so that they have better information with which to make financial decisions. Any economist will tell you that transparency leads to efficiency in markets, and we think that, by aggregating consumer data, we can make consumer purchases more efficient for everyone. That’s not innovative? I think it is.
    @Charlie, thanks, and congrats on PearBudget. I’ve been following your progress and look forward to seeing what you do. Let me know if there’s ever a way for us to work together.
    @Tanc, I think I just sent a support reply to you, but so everyone knows, yes, we add international banks on request. We didn’t have a good database of these at launch, but it’s building quickly. We are planning to track multiple currencies in the near future as well.
    Also, to the people asking about Mac, we currently have a Mac client (which keeps your passwords on your own computer, so that you don’t have to enter them into our web site, unlike other sites which require this) as well as a Windows client. The client also runs on Linux but is as ugly as all get out, so when I have a little time to clean it up, we’ll release it for Linux, too.
    Thanks again and write me at marc@wesabe.com if I didn’t answer a question you have.

  • Since Marc’s following along here, I’ll repost the mail I just sent to Wesabe’s support address.
    I really like the service and interface, but there are currently three bugs that are going to prevent me from using it:
    1. Ignorance of commas in dollar amounts. I uploaded QIF files from my bank, and several amounts were incorrectly parsed. For example, a credit card payment of $1,800.00 was listed as $1. This is obviously not going to work, especially since I can’t seem to manually adjust the amounts.
    2. Account conflation. I have a checking & savings account with my bank, both with the same account number (well, there’s an account number suffix, but I guess I omitted it). When I uploaded the savings QIF, it took on the title of the checking account, but replaced the balance. Data from both accounts was now useless.
    3. Incomplete editing options. When I accidentally added my savings transactions to my checking account above, I was not able to undo my changes by deleting the new transactions, changing the current account balance, and updating the account number with the checking-specific suffix.
    I was, however, happy to see that I could delete all my accounts, start over, and have *some* (not all!) of my transactions still correctly tagged and named.
    I really like the app, the graphs & summaries are awesome, but I can’t use it with the problems above.
    Oh – about the resale of user data to marketers: “We may share aggregate data with third parties outside of Wesabe” (http://www.wesabe.com/page/privacy).

  • Hi, Michal,
    You’re right on the QIF bug — I’ll contact you privately to track down the error. QIF is poorly specified, and we have pretty good support for the format, but there are some banks and credit cards, as well as PayPal, that have files we need to improve our support for.
    On 2, we use the last four numbers of the account number to make sure we match transactions to the right account. The number doesn’t matter for any other reason. If you’re uploading QIF, you’re welcome to use ‘0001’ for checking and ‘0002’ for savings and that will work fine. Just make sure to use the same number each time for each account.
    On 3, you’re absolutely right and we’ll add that.
    On the privacy policy, the reason that’s there is because we share aggregate data with *everyone*. We don’t sell that data — it’s available on every merchant and tag page, for free, to any user. We expect to open this data to the public shortly. The reason this term is in the privacy policy is to allow us to provide a web services API for this data.
    Hope that helps. I’ll send you more in private email.

  • Oh, thanks Marc! I realized, when futzing more with the site, that my bug #2 is actually a feature – it’s how I update accounts with new information without a specific piece of UI to do that. I like the arbitrary account number – great way to keep things anonymous. #3 is something I can work around if I’m careful, which I guess leaves just #1.

  • This looks really promising but it’s not ready for prime-time. I signed up and started to try and add my financial data.
    1) Tried entering my HSBC Free Checking Account but the system apaprently does not support HSBC yet (no matches in the select menu). Strike one.
    2) Tried entering my Bank of America credit card account. Downloaded the statement as instructed (BofA only alet me save as TXT or PDF) and tried to upload it. Upload did not take or failed or did not recognize format. Impossible to know as their was no on-screen message telling me that it failed or did not support it, etc. It just threw me back to the home page. Strike two.
    I’ve downloaded the Mac OS X app to see if that works any better than the browser Quick Start, bu I’m not holding my breath.
    The service really looks interesting and beneficial but until it supports my choice of banking institutions, I can’t really see myself using it.

  • Hello,
    Just wanted to let you know I linked to your blog in my column on CBSNews.com today. Thanks!
    If you want to take a look, here’s the link: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/11/20/blogophile/main2201947.shtml
    Thanks,
    Melissa

  • Am I missing something, or is there no way to manually add entries? You can’t track cash, or add purchases before they hit your bank’s website. Not very up to date :(

  • It would be nice if banks could integrate something like this into their online banking apps.

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