Moneydance – A Cross-Platform Personal Finance Manager

I have to admit, I am a software junkie. I like good software that works as it should and does it’s job with a minimum of effort on my part. When I first started using a computer at home, one of the first things I started looking for was a software program that would manage my finances and allow me to keep up with what I spend. It is essential for me because although I do not have a lot of different finances to keep up with, I need all the help I can get. I began using Microsoft Money and while I actually like the way it operated, it did have it’s drawbacks. Chief among them is the very obtrusive advertisements and the fact that Microsoft Money (you pick the year) would not open a perfectly good money file that had been opened even once in the next year’s version of Money. I can see that being the case every once in a while, when the file format has to change for whatever reason, but to do it every year is a bit over the top. The next program I used was AceMoney and I used it until I converted from Windows XP to Linux almost two years ago.

When I started using Linux, I knew I could use AceMoney on my Linux system, as long as I installed Wine, which allows Windows applications to run on Linux, but I chose not to do so. I preferred to us a program that was designed to run on Linux itself. After doing some research online, I decided to take advantage of a free trial offered by Moneydance, an open source, cross-platform personal finance manager for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS. It took a bit of playing around with the software before I was used to the way it does things, but after I did, I had no problem purchasing the full version for $29.99. In my opinion, it is well worth the price.

As with any software program there are pros and cons to using it. Everyone likes to do things differently and every personal finance manager does things it’s own way, at least a little. One of the main things I do not like about Moneydance is the way it installs on my Mepis system. Actually, I think that has more to do with me getting used to doing things the Linux way, so that really isn’t a complaint. Once installed, Moneydance is relatively easy to use. It opens up to the home page and there are a variety of items you can have showing up there. You can see from the screenshot below that mine is pretty simple. I do not have stocks or bonds, but you can show stock quotes if you want. Just add an investment account and then add the stocks from your portfolio into that account.

One of the things I really like about the way the home page is set up is the transaction reminders, both the list and the calendar. It is very easy to tell what items I have due, coming up or even overdue. It is also very easy to add new reminders by clicking on the link at the top. The great thing about the reminders is that you can use them for transactions or just a general reminder. The transactions can be set up to be entered automatically or just to remind the user to enter them manually.Overall, the home page of Moneydance is very usable and it can be edited to add or remove items that you do or do not need or want. As you can see, I display my checking account, as well as both of my credit card accounts on the left side. That allows me to see at a quick glance what I have in my accounts.

As with any personal finance manger, the main heart of the program lies in it’s register or ledger. That’s where the bulk of the work is done in the program and that is where I spend most of my time, entering transactions and reconciling with my bank account. It is in the register that I had to learn to do things a little differently than I was used to doing. For example, there is no keyboard shortcut to mark a transaction cleared or reconciled. You can do so by right clicking on the transaction and choosing it from the context menu and while it gets the job done, I find it a bit cumbersome to do. However, there is another way to accomplish this that works very well and after getting used to it, I find it much easier to reconcile the register with my online bank statement.

You can see in the screenshot to the right that there is an Actions link at the top left of the register screen. Clicking on it drops down a menu with a reconcile action. Choosing that brings up a dialog that lists the beginning statement balance and asks me to enter the ending statement balance, which is basically the target balance that I need to finish up with. Before I get to this point, I have already looked at my online bank statement and have that figure noted. Once that is entered, Moneydance brings up a small window that lists all of my transactions that are not cleared or reconciled. That window can be positioned directly over the Firefox tab containing my bank statement and from there, I can use the mouse to mark the transactions cleared and see how my register balance matches up with the bank statement. I can see very quickly if there is a mistake in the register, without ever opening the bank statement I receive in the mail.

I have found that using this small window actually speeds up my work in making sure the transactions are correct and the online bank statement and my register balance are correct. It saves me a lot of time and effort by not having to alt+tab back and forth between windows. As I said, it took me a while to get used to doing things that way, but once I did, it makes clearing a lot of transactions much easier and faster. I am pretty set in my ways, but this is one thing I have learned to do differently and glad I did.

Another feature I find very useful is the way Moneydance can backup my money file with no action from me, after the initial setup is performed. I make daily backups in a folder on a completely separate partition and Moneydance takes care of the rest. Trust me, the backups have saved my bacon more than once and even if I don’t have a hardware problem, it really came in handy when I installed SimplyMepis 8. It was a snap to load my backup file and have all of my data at hand. I have found it is essential to keep backups and Moneydance gives you a variety of options to choose from.

There is one other thing that I found to be a bit different from most other personal finance programs I have used and that is the way Moneydance treats accounts and categories the same. I am no accountant, but that is evidently the way most actual accounting software It’s called the double entry method and while I don’t understand it completely, it basically links the different accounts to each other. In KMyMoney and other personal finance managers, you can set up a transfer from one account to another by calling it a transfer. In Moneydance, I had to choose the account in the category section of the transaction in order to get the changes to register in both accounts. Once I got past the difference, it’s a piece of cake.

As with most personal finance managers, Moneydance remembers the transactions and will complete them automatically for you. If I enter a transaction to Aldi’s to purchase groceries, it remembers that and until I tell differently, all transactions to Aldi’s will be entered into the “Food:Groceries” category. That comes in very handy and I can set up a reoccuring transaction by right clicking on the transaction line and telling Moneydance to “Memorize” the transaction. Very quick and very easy to do. I suppose I could say that Moneydance is very intelligent in the register and the way it handles the transactions.

I could go on and on about the features of the program, but this article is already longer than I had anticipated. Suffice it to say that I am quite pleased with Moneydance. Yes, there are things that I would like to see changed. For example, the only way to hide past transactions in the register is to archive them, but I have found that the number of transactions in the register doesn’t seem to slow the program down, so I am living with that. It’s just a matter of personal preference in that regard. The documentation could also be a little more thorough, but I have worked past that as well. If you are looking for an easy to use personal finance manager, I would urge you to give Moneydance a try. I don’t think you will be disappointed.