For those of you unaware of the news, Wesabe, an online personal finance information manager that I quite liked because of their strict security methods, is shutting down on July 31 – at least in terms of their personal finance management tools, as their discussion forums will remain open.
In the past, I’ve recommended Wesabe as an alternative to Mint for those (like me) who are very concerned about privacy issues and are hesitant to share their account information and personal data with yet another resource.
So, what alternatives are there to Wesabe? In building this list of personal finance data aggregation tools, I’ve kept three principles in mind.
First, the tool does not require any personal information from you whatsoever. I’m only interested in tools that maintain strict privacy.
Second, the tool makes it possible to see all of your personal finance information in one place. This is really the point of this exercise, after all.
Third, the tool is well-supported enough that you can find assistance for your problems online. In other words, if you’re trying to do something with the program and run into trouble, you can seek help fairly easily.
Here are the five best tools I’ve found that do this.
Microsoft Excel is what I use to manage my personal finance data. It’s simply an incredibly powerful spreadsheet program, capable of generating all kinds of views of my data and whatever charts and graphs I can invent. It makes importing the data pretty easy via copying and pasting or importing CSV files.
There are two big drawbacks to Excel, though. One, to really get the best parts of the software, you have to climb a fairly steep learning curve. Two, it’s costly. There’s no way around it – Excel is expensive. However, there is a ton of support for Excel online – virtually any question you come up with has an answer that can easily be found. Find out more about Excel at http://www.microsoft.com/office/excel.
Quicken‘s inclusion here might surprise people, since it’s usually known for automatic retrieval of account data. However, if you choose to manually enter the data yourself – or import it from downloaded CSV files from your financial institutions – Quicken can operate quite well without having any of your account information.
Quicken is easily the most full-featured option when considering just personal finance data, but it’s also costly, as retail versions of Quicken sell for a variety of prices depending on your exact needs. You can find out more at http://www.quicken.com/.
OpenOffice is very similar to Excel in many ways – it’s a full featured spreadsheet program. Even better, it’s absolutely free, as it’s open source software. Of course, that’s not to say it’s an absolutely perfect alternative to Excel, either. There are some bugs in the software that crop up just often enough to drive me crazy and the interface isn’t as slick.
However, it’s free. This takes away one of the big drawbacks of Excel – the price – and replaces it with a number of smaller ones – a less intuitive interface and some software bugs. I used this for a long time, but eventually migrated back to Excel when bugs frustrated me one time too many. However, one can’t argue with the price and recent reviews have indicated that it’s more stable than in the past. You can find out more at http://www.openoffice.org/.
PearBudget captures many of the features of Quicken in an online service that doesn’t grab your account information, either. In fact, if there’s a successor to the functionality of Wesabe, it’s probably PearBudget.
It’s important to remember, though, that PearBudget pretty much does what it says. It helps you create a budget and track your spending within that budget. It does not help you track investments or income growth. However, if budget management is what you need, PearBudget is probably the best tool for you. You can use the paid online version at http://www.pearbudget.com or try out a free spreadsheet version at http://www.pearbudget.com/spreadsheet.
An old fashioned ledger seems archaic, but it works. I have a lot of readers that simply use a printed ledger to record every dollar coming in and every dollar going out of their home.
A paper ledger is really straightforward to use – just write in the expense or source of income, the amount of that expense or income, and carry forward your new balance. It simply works and it maintains as much privacy as you wish. Frugal Dad has a great article on starting a paper household ledger – it really does work.
What solutions do you use for keeping track of your finances without sharing your account information? (Yes, yes, I know there are a lot of great tools that require account data, but that’s not the focus today.)