Personal finance

Personal finance is the application of the principles of finance to the monetary decisions of an individual or family unit.

I have a love/hate relationship with personal finance. Ever since I have a computer I have been trying to get a grip on finances, with changing results.

The excel days

My first attempt used the example Excel sheet created by the Nibud that came with Microsoft Excel. It was a nice and clever Excel sheet, but still living with my parents I only used part of it. After a while I stopped entering my receipts, and out went the Excel sheet.

Hacking in Access

A little bit later I started playing with Microsoft Access. Access also comes with a financial example file, and I modified and tweaked it to fit my needs. But after all the hacking, all left to be done was entering receipts and numbers, which is a boring job. I guess I still didn’t need personal finance, as I left the database alone after some months.

Banking software

Some time later, a new phenomenon showed up: internet banking. My bank sent me some diskettes with an application that was able to import bank statements. Now that was easy! At first I tried to manage cash money with that application as well, but soon left that again. Internet banking was a success, as I have managed my bank accounts through that application until I could access my accounts through web pages. When later I started buying and selling stocks and stock options I could do that from the same application. That little application gave an overview of my bank accounts, but I still haven’t been able to see where the money was going…

Back to basics

The situation complicated when I started living together. I was not dealing with my money anymore, it was our money. After some months the question came up: “Where does our money go?” We talked about it, and decided to implement a low-tech financial planning solution: pen & paper. This worked great for some months, until we had more or less a picture of our expenses. Exit pen & paper.

Excel round two

Last year we were planning some big expenses, and I wanted to know whether these were justified, and how much time we would need to recover the invested money. Right about that time I read about an easy budgeting template in Excel, Pear Budget. I downloaded it, sat down half an hour to fix the categories and the budgets, and have used it ever after. It is easy and fast to maintain, gives a good overview of our spendings. However, lately I had the feeling that I wanted more. Pear Budget shows me where the money is coming from and where it is going, but does not show what we have, and what we are expecting to have in the future. Besides that I wanted to make some changes in the categories I had set up last year, and that would mess up all past numbers.

The current solution

So I started to look around for a more complete solution, that could offer me budgeting, but also import bank statements, manage investments, work in several currencies, schedule payments, …

I thought a moment about searching for a Web 2.0 solution, but quickly let go that idea as I wouldn’t trust such a personal information to anybody. I looked at Microsoft Money Premium, but that seems a very US centred product, and is overly complex; I do not need my personal finance application to do tax statements.

After a little but more of searching, I found AceMoney, a cheap but very complete solution that seems to fit my current needs. The user interface is not as shiny as MS Money, but it certainly does the job. Furthermore, AceMoney has been translated into many languages and even loads the local list of banks and categories.

Jeroen Sangers @jeroensangers