Budgeting Software

If time be of all things the most precious, wasting time must be the greatest prodigality.

— Benjamin Franklin

We suppose this post might disappoint those who are looking for a budgeting software review or an angry post about which product is best, but we need to state what we really believe: your choice of budgeting software will not significantly affect the quality of your household budget and it is probably better not to spend a lot of time selecting the perfect budgeting software for you.

We are not dismissing the fact that everyone has particular likes and dislikes about budgeting systems and we are well aware with how annoying budgeting software can often be. We used Quicken. While it has proved adequate we admit it is full of odd quirks, annoying constraints and baffling limitations. But from time to time we have tried other products and from our perspective, they just contain a different list of quirks, constraints and limitations. We are also quite certain that if we hired some company to create a budgeting software package that did everything exactly the way we wanted, then it would not work the way anyone else would like it to work. Such is the nature of personal preferences.

For each person, there probably is one software package that will be less frustrating to use than all the others. If you are the kind of person who gets easily frustrated by technology, then it is definitely worth to spend some of your time to choose the right one for you. But, we would not overvalue the decision. Even the “best” software for budgeting will not make your budget succeed and even the “worst” product will not make your budget fail. So pick something that works for you and start using it. Do not let an automation tool become your focus.

On two occasions, we searched the web for a couple of hours looking for budgeting software reviews to use as background material for this article. What we found was very interesting and only reinforced our view that many people waste too much time on this decision and are easily manipulated by product vendors. A large number of “reviews” looked like blatant advertisements for particular budgeting software packages, complete with loads of affiliate links on the pages. Even among the less dubious reviews, most of them seemed to focus on worship one or two particular features with which the author personally fell in love or blasting one or two things that were especially annoying. If you simply need an overview of what budgeting tools are available, we would start with this post from the Get Rich Slowly blog.

This blogpost is a turning point in this budgeting series. The first posts attempted to show that the budgeting process is not just about trying to make sure you do not run out of money by the end of the month. It should be an opportunity to take control of your finances and align them with your goals in life. In that respect, the first posts could be considered motivational, in that we attempted to show that the budgeting process holds personal value to enrich your life. We realize that a fairly large percentage of the population has no personal budget and considers budget construction on par with going to the dentist. While we are not saying it can be made easy and fun, we are saying that the effort will be well worth your time. The rewards are very significant.

Now we need to turn to the “nuts and bolts” of household budgeting. The next posts will describe how we handle typical budgeting details such as tracking, categorization, overruns and irregularities. We are also going to discuss at length the most common mistake that people seem to make with their personal budgeting. We see this same mistake over and over again both on the blogosphere and when we discuss money with our friends. It is easy to correct if you are willing to think in a way that most people are not willing to do. We do not believe there are any silver bullet solutions to most complex problems, but this budgeting tip is about as close as you will find. From what we observe, a sizable percentage of people would benefit tremendously from correcting just this one subtle problem with their budget plan.

Lastly, do not lose sight of the big picture. Remember that people do not create incorrect or irrelevant budgets because they use the wrong software. People create bad budgets because they use bad assumptions and bad numbers. In other words, budgeting goes wrong due to factors far outside the realm of technology. We would suggest de-emphasizing the software and spending your time making sure you are using the right assumptions and the right numbers.

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