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)