Marriage and the Purse Strings

A couple of months ago Renee posted a blog entry on Marriage and Finances. That struck a chord with me and I thought I’d share a bit about how Benjamin and I recently changed our financial pattern to the benefit of our marriage.

For the past several years (4? 5? I lose track) B and I have shared a joint checking account where all income gets put into and out of which all bills get paid. Being the Quicken- (now Moneydance-) centric person that I am I’ve always been the one to pay the bills each month — a task I didn’t mind nor did B mind that I was responsible for. Last year finances became a bit tighter than they were previously with tuition going up, buying the house, and installing the A/C into the house. The unfortunate consequence of our system and this tightening is that I became the controller of the purse strings.

Knowing the “pulse” of our finances and the running tally of disposable income in my head I was giving B some very mixed signals: “oh sure, we can buy item A” might get followed up the next day with “no, we can’t afford item B”. This situation was taking a toll on both of us as I was stressing about managing our expenses to within our means and B couldn’t find the pattern to my mixed signals. After one heated conversation it came out that while I was really stressed out over our finances, B wasn’t stressed out at all (and why should he have been — I hadn’t been sharing enough information)!

I thought about it some and after a discussion with B we decided to move to an envelope-based system for our discretionary funds. One weekend on a trip to Target we purchased a small whiteboard, hung it in our kitchen, made a column for “money left”, and wrote our month’s total discretionary budget at the top of it. Every time we make a discretionary purchase we subtract the amount spent. If we get down to zero before the end of the month we’re stuck at home eating bread and water for the rest of the month. If we get to the end of the month with a positive balance we divide it in half and get to spend it however we want.

This approach has made me much less stressed out and, not surprisingly, has given B a healthy amount of stress and awareness about our finances. The entire process has improved our relationship and enabled us to stop arguing over money.

Forget Quicken – lets Moneydance

I’ve been an avid user of Quicken since before I graduated from college. For those keeping track that’ll be 9 years come June. I use Quicken to keep track of everything from our checking accounts, to our house loans, car notes, 401ks and other investments. In short, Quicken contains the entire snapshot of our entire (meager) net worth.

That said, I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with the software. I love what it allows me to do but I hate the restrictions it places on me to do them. I can only run the software on Windows. If I were to be so gregarious as to switch to a Mac, you can’t just open up the data file from the Windows version on the Mac, no you have to cross your fingers and convert it. Being a Linux user I’m out in the cold regardless of how you slice it.

But that isn’t the core of what burns my buns. The kicker is that Intuit has coded a timebomb into each and every version of Quicken. Once a version is 3 years old that version will stop allowing the auto-downloading of data from supporting institutions. To get this feature “back” you have to shell out money for a new version of the software. They tout it as a way to ensure customers are getting the best experience but really it’s a mafia tactic to get more money out of you at least every 3 years.

Two years ago was the first time this became a big problem. I got the mafia warning from Quicken in January and bought the new version of Quicken 2007. It sucked so bad, it could pull a monkey through a garden hose. I was so pissed off that I got a refund for my purchase, got on eBay and bought a secondhand copy of Quicken 2005. That bought me a year’s worth of time. Last January I got the warning again. This time I looked into alternatives and came across Moneydance. I played with it some but decided it wasn’t quite up to a Quicken replacement and went to eBay and bought Quicken 2006.

That brings us up to the here and now. Given how terrible Quicken 2007 was – buying a copy of that off eBay isn’t an option. I could fork out for Quicken 2008, that’s at least a viable option. I can’t, however, purchase Quicken 2009 because it only runs on XP and Vista and the only VM image I have is Windows 2000. And really, who enjoys dealing with the mafia?

So I looked around at other non-Quicken options. This year there were two strong contenders: GnuCash and Moneydance. Some highlights:

  • Both are available for multiple platforms, Linux, Windows, and MacOS. This is because GnuCash is written with GTK+ libraries and Moneydance uses Java. This way if I ever do opt to purchase a Mac, I can run it natively there.
  • Both support importing of QIF data from Quicken, and I’m told MS Money, so I can import my existing data.
  • Both can direct-connect to supporting financial institutions and can import “web connect” files for institutions that use that method instead.
  • GnuCash, being 100% open source, is free. Moneydance is a ~$30 purchase and includes free upgrades for 4 years and discounted upgrades after that.

I played with both of them and opted to go for Moneydance. GnuCash appears to be more an accounting package, not a personal finance package. I think it would be great for when we need an accounting package for Benjamin’s business however. Moneydance provides a bit more Quicken-esque experience and appears to be gaining momentum — they’re even hiring Java programmers and support staff.

I’ll be playing with Moneydance for the next couple of weeks and see how it goes. I expect that I’ll be purchasing it at that point in time and forever saying goodbye to the Quicken mafia.