CHOICE membership

Personal Accounting Software

I have kept track of my personal accounts with QuickBooks (now Reckon) - since 1996. In that time they have included more and more features that I don’t need. I have tried to ‘downgrade’ to a simpler offering, but Reckon say that is not possible as the data cannot be transferred. So I pay for a lot of features I don’t need (payroll, inventory, shares, job costing etc). The price of loyalty is a price rise of over 5% - now $620 pa (or it becomes Read-Only). In the last 10 years the software itself (the little bit I use) has not changed.

So now I am looking for recommendations for keeping track of our personal finances.

Choice did a review of budgeting apps in 2018, but I am not interested in a phone based app, or bank app (I have accounts with more than one), or web browser. I want to be able to put the software on my computer and manually add expenses, reconcile bank statements and allocate expenses to accounts. Getting a Profit & Loss report would be nice, but at least a report totalled by account would do.

Some of the basic offerings either limit the number of bank accounts, number of transactions, or require you to sign over various rights, such as data storage. Once tied to one the price could rise as the alternative is walking away from your data. I would be happy with a spreadsheet type template.

Any suggestions?

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Microsoft Money can be download for free and does basic personal finance management. It’s not perfect and is an oldie, but would suit most users,

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There are many you can find via google, but I have experience with the following.

Microsoft Money was arguably The Standard of Goodness for the category in its day, until Microsoft decided it was not in their business model, froze a handicapped* version of it, and pushed users to Quicken. The ‘Money Plus sunset edition’ should be your first ‘have a look’.

Quicken is awesome if one has US accounts, but otherwise is probably not cost effective in Australia since it became subscription based last year. If you can find an older (pre 2018) download it will work forever as a manual entry finance management package without all the things it does for its American-centric market. Money is not as ‘pretty’ but far less bloated.

Opensource gnucash is excellent and takes some getting used to since it uses accounting principles (eg enforced double entry) and terminology. Once one gets accustomed to that aspect and sets up their categories it is excellent. It prioritises function over form and can initially be daunting.

* the handicapping was removing all the automated American update capabilities whereby it could update all one’s financial accounts at a click. Downloaded bank and credit card transactions, share trading and dividends, ad nauseum. Quicken does all of this, US banks only though. And reports to do American taxes for small business/landlord requirements…

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I certainly agree that most are USA-centric. I was with Quicken until my version of the software was renamed Reckon Accounts. I had been searching for an offering that could convert my Reckon data into their format, with a reasonable annual fee, but no luck.

I was recently looking for bookkeeping software for small Not-for-Profit clubs (of which I am Treasurer), but it too, is an American centric industry. Not-for-Profit there means soliciting lots of donations from the public, whereas here it means membership fees, insurance and supporting the hobby/sport. Various Treasurers used their business Accounting software which means the accounts can’t be transferred to the new Treasurer other than as printed reports. I thought one of the banks might have a simple system - but not any of ours.

I looked for an Excel template that might fit the bill, but didn’t find one. I just need to reconcile bank accounts, do my tax, and answer the question of "how much did that … " cost? For example Mr Z is restoring an old dozer over a decade or so and will want to know how much he spent on it, if he ever wants to sell. The solution needs to be a long lasting one, where I can own and control my data, and not be held to ransom every 12 months.

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Yet another flavour - yet not much of a muchness although they seem to overlap

Quicken and Quick Books are quite different products for different markets. But as Quicken is probably not what you need anyway, that is a moot point.

If Reckon can export to a csv or excel format file, most any package can import it, although rarely perfectly. A bit of manual fix-up is often required that can be more or less challenging, case by case. From the reckon community it appears that exporting csv is possible, albeit clumsy in that multiple exports are required to capture ‘the lot’ of what you need.

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I second @PhilT’s recommendation of GNUCash

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We use Microsoft Excel, or at least I should say my husband does. As we have Office it comes with it. My husband is an accountant. We run a household budget each financial year. Before the year begins he produces our estimated budget with estimated costs following the previous year’s expenses and actuals. As a consequence we know exactly our financial position. Simple, but easy and worthwhile.

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As also a Quicken/Reckon Accounts user - sort of - I was looking for alternatives. Money in Excel is coming sometime, targeted at personal & families. Only available in USA at the moment.

I just downloaded the template & it requires a third party to grab you bank data. If you’re inclined to allow this (I’m not), you could consider waiting. It also requires one of the Microsoft-365 subscriptions.

I had my hopes a little higher than the template implies. The transaction sheet looks too simplistic. Disappointment! I almost deleted the draft & didn’t post.

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I have liked & used an older version of PocketMoney on our travels, as it handled multi-currency, all platforms & sync’d directly between mobile devices. It has recently been re-released as iOS & MAc app, and judging by the comments may have lost features. It’s now on the freemium subscription pricing model. Taking a quick look on the iPad, it has most of the usual stuff there & lists Australian banks as linkable. The local sync still looks there. I’m primarily an android user, so not likely to use this. https://www.pocketmoney.com/

I like to be able to directly import from csv/ofx/qif & that seems to be gone.
Reckon removed csv imports. There is a trend towards removing functions that are useful to drive towards higher priced subscription products. The result is I stop using the products. Lose - lose.

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Pocketmoney certainly looks the goods for an Apple user. If I needed to have bank info and what have you all in my money app, I would use that, in a heartbeat. Great recommendation. For myself, I just need to keep track of my bills so I use Chronicle which is neither cheap (although relative to others it is) nor free but its kept me on track for the last 11 years
https://chronicleapp.com/

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This website lists one free ones which may be worth exploring further…

There are also a number of free android and OS apps, but I would be reluctant to use them unless one is sure that there is high level of security and privacy, and any data entered is not shared…as the data in the app would be invaluable to Google, Apple, Facebook etc.

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hi Brudith,
I am also an Accountant. I never recommend ‘subscription Accounting software’ such as Reckon, MYOB etc - BECAUSE you cannot easily get your Data out in a FLAT-file structure…(they all use Relational Database models that SPLIT the data that you have entered into the system)…
… thence, you are STUCK with the annual-fees so that you can access the data…
I ALWAYS Recommend BUYING a PRODUCT - rather than paying Monthly/ Annual Fees.
. I use Excel (and recommend it) because it is soo easy to use…
I have used Excel to aggregate ‘hundreds of thousands of lines of data’ to create Management Reporting, forecasts etc…
. therefore, for Personal use, it is a snap…
oh, and, I NEVER STORE ANYTHING IN THE CLOUD …
my suggestion would be to “keep it simple” and use a SPREADSHEET–

  • firstly, checkout the freebie spreadsheets .(1.) stored on your PC - vs- stored online?.. (2) free for how long?.. (3) can you easily get the data out in a ‘flat file structure’… (4) license time-period? … (5) updates provided? and for, how long?.
    and, then, do the SAME for any that you ‘buy outright’…
    I HAVEN’T used any of the freebies, therefore I cannot recommend any…
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I moved from Quicken to MoneyDance for reasons including subscription requirements, reduced features for Mac platform, unneeded features, poor customer service and more. I needed an application for personal accounting, taxation reports and investment management. I was not interested in an application to run a small business.
I researched and tested a number of products and took note of customer reviews. MoneyDance was chosen and I have been successfully using MoneyDance for a number of years and it does want I wanted.
I was able to import my Quicken data into MoneyDance but I gather that Quicken is now making this difficult. The interface is good, data entry is satisfactory and reporting is comprehensive. While it is an American company, MoneyDance does work for Australian date, etc conventions. The investment side is not as strong as Quicken, but I’ve found what it has is sufficient. There are clunky bits but these are tolerable. I’ve only had to contact customer service (US) twice but had immediate responses and issues fixed (mainly user misunderstanding). It is not a subscription app. I am a spreadsheet tragic but would not put the effort into developing a personal bookkeeping and investment spreadsheet when there are apps.

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We don’t store in the ‘cloud’ and find Excel works very well for us. I for one love the fact that all calculations etc can be done for you provided you know how to create an equation. We’ve both been surprised to find that most people do not know the fine details of their household budget and they are surprised when we say we run a ‘proper’ budget. I also use excel to keep track of our solar feed-in and payback and have since we installed it .

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There are a number of issues mixed in together here. Before getting into technicalities I have to say I am no longer in the business and up to date with the small accounting software market. Proprietary database structures are a different concept to relational structures and neither have any necessary connection to subscriptions.

  1. Any system that needs to be more complex than a list of names needs to be relational or it will have redundancy and suffer maintenance problems, anomalies and inaccuracy. The flat file so beloved of some (such as Excel) is always subject to such problems if representing anything of a useful level of complexity. $$$ These are popular because they are easy to see what is going on, the physical structure is the logical structure; which is also their curse.
  2. Subscriptions are in my view a payment model to be avoided. They say you get automatic upgrades and fixes but this is just a way of getting you to pay for things that they ought to provide for free or that you may not need. They came about when the software business model of getting users to pay for frequent updates started to fail as users stopped buying or only took every other update. This included large organisations whose accounts are key to profitability.
  3. Accessibility of data in proprietary systems is a separate issue to the way that data is stored. Storing in a relational structure does not make it inaccessible. Access can be provided if the vendor desires it. I wrote a job tracking and order entry system that was interfaced with MYOB. It managed job costing and passed this data directly into MYOB. I provided a suite of reports that gave the management all they wanted. I could have extracted whatever I wanted out of MYOB.

So we agree about buying subscription systems but only on some of the reasons for doing it that way.


$$$ Excel systems are hard to audit and have been shown often to be corrupt. The larger that they are and the more linked sheets and cross references they have the worse the problem.

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I’d add that as consumers we may have very different needs of any software solution. Also most older consumers and many younger are likely Excel etc virgins. Hence not a great option for many. There are fewer again with the advanced skills attuned to Pivot Tables, Forms, Macros etc in Excel/Access.

The solution that might suit a simple budget need for a pension dependent retiree is likely less complexity than a self funded retiree and partner might require.

For a couple with children with schooling and multiple investments including rental properties, or a small business partnership with gst and wages the scenario changes. More content and records, while often a paid tax professional to assist each year.

From the discussion so far some more clarity on what is best for whom could help the discussion focus.

I’ve used Quicken from an early version circa 1991, MYOB in the 2,000’s, MS Excel and several data base products.

Keep it simple might be the best advice. For many a basic manual record in a diary might be all it needs. Or similar in software, remembering the need for a reliable system of keeping multiple backup copies and file source documents. If you use a tax agent or accountant, doubtless they may also offer some advice, useful or otherwise.

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There are a number of free and paid accounting spreadsheets which one can download and use for personal finances. All the hard work has been done by others and one only needs really basic Excel skills to use them. Microsoft also used to have basic accounting templates in Excel, but not sure if they still exist as I am now not a Excel user (use another spreadsheet).

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I had been a long time user of Quicken Personal Plus, then Quicken Home & Business, and finally Reckon’s Quicken downgrade to Home and Business.

The feature that kept me was ease of use & the all-in-one system using “class”. That is, one database covering me, her, work, & being able to report anything as the entire entity of us, or just work, just me, us without work, etc. A transaction can have multiple classes.
“Professional” systems don’t like that blurred separation, but it works for a family & seeing how money is spent.

I can’t immediately see the equivalent in GNUCash. Is it possible?

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I still use the 2015 version…one of the last years before the annual subscription came in. Looking at our licence, it is supposed to be valid until 1-Jan-30. Hopefully it works as long as we need it to.

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Yes, if you mean split transactions.
https://cvs.gnucash.org/docs/C/gnucash-guide/txns-registers-txntypes.html

As I opined previously, GNUCash can be daunting at first (and sometimes even at second and beyond).

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