Wednesday 18 May 2011

moneyGuru review

I've had reasons to become a bit more fiscally responsible of late (having gotten married and gone into debt — unrelated of course! — and I've also fallen in as the treasurer for a non-profit group), I've had reason to find an application for recording and managing finances.

I came across one called moneyGuru some months ago and have for various reasons stuck with it (where iBank, GNU Cash, Quicken, MYOB and some others I didn't try long enough to even remember, got left behind). So I thought I'd share some reasons why moneyGuru became my application of choice for tracking my finances.

Now everyone's needs are different, of course, so let me state mine up front: I'm not after all that much from financial software; I want to be able to create some kind of categorised budget and see if I'm sticking to it, and see roughly where the money goes. For our personal finances, we needed to make a rough budget of regular expenses and see if we could afford loan repayments. As for the non-profit group, I need to categorise expenses and incoming money for reporting purposes, and make sure we're not spending more than our budget. I also wanted to find a cross-platform program that's likely to be around a while, so that when I move on from the treasury position, the next person can still use the software (the old records were in the ATO's e-Record system which was no longer available when I needed it!).

What I don't need is payroll software, GST/sales tax support, PAYG and other tax support, capital gains, asset management, etc, which some of the more complex/expensive software does (Quicken/MYOB). I don't need it, so don't want to pay for it, and to some extent don't even want it in the software I use — I'm not a professional accountant, and know only a little of the terminology, so having too many features just gets in the way of learning the basics.

So moneyGuru...

Price — It's not free, but it's fair. Something that various developers and some musicians, and even some restaurants have started doing in recent years is letting you choose how much to pay for their products. I quite like the concept, at least for electronic distribution, though probably because I'm a bit cheap (in my defence, I've been a student for many years so it's not entirely by choice). So I was able to pick a fairly arbitrary amount to pay for moneyGuru, and then, after checking what others had paid recently, and feeling a bit guilty, I doubled it and felt I was probably paying a fair price.

Sure, this made it more expensive than GNU Cash (which is free), but I chose a price cheaper than the more expensive financial software, since I didn't want to buy all those extra features I just don't need (and of course wasn't buying them here). What I was really paying for was avoiding some of the hassle of just using spreadsheets, which had been sufficient (though a little tedious) in the past.

One interesting novelty that the developer (HardCoded Software) provides is an account of how many hours they have or haven't been paid for their work on their applications. Some are in excess, some are in deficit, so if you're feeling extra generous, you might want to pay a little more to make up for those who haven't paid for his time.

Supported Operating Systems — It's cross-platform and runs much the same on Mac OS X, Windows and Linux. GNU Cash also does this, most others don't. MoneyGuru looks pretty much identical on each, and the features all match up (it's not like Microsoft Office, where the Mac and Windows variants are quite different beasts).

User Interface — It looks nice on my Mac. Much nicer than GNU Cash. And it's not just looks, it's less fiddly than most cross-platform apps, which usually rely on old, outdated widgets, which usually don't support tabbing around and default buttons, meaning you're reaching for the mouse a lot. MoneyGuru uses native widgets and has a lot of keyboard shortcuts, so I can happily work with just the keyboard — the mouse is fine for many jobs, but it has no place in data entry!

Developer Support — One thing that always attracts me towards software is when developers have bug/issue trackers and regular involvement in them. I like giving feedback to developers, and do so on pretty much every application I use regularly (usually, and preferably, by participating in online issue-trackers). Some developers love it and have quickly sent back beta versions for testing, some tell me the bug-fix or feature request is already on their list of things to do (and years later remains undone), some just ignore it (who knows if they've even read it, I usually assume they've given up on the project). So seeing the developer active and responsive on the moneyGuru issue tracker is a great sign for me, and better yet, visibly accepting/rejecting feature suggestions, bug fixes, etc. There's also active support forums for getting help.

Features — Well it does everything I need, and just about everything I want. I can track my accounts, both savings and debts, as well as the cash in my wallet or under the mattress, and can categorise income and expenses very easily. It also lets me import data directly from CSV, QIF and QFX files downloaded from my financial institutions, which means data entry is only really necessary for cash expenses. I won't explain how it all works, as there's a decent manual to do that.

The budget system is usable, though designed for future expenses rather than for checking whether you kept to your budget or not (however an overhaul of the budget system is apparently on the way). There's some pretty graphs for displaying financial history or current status if that makes more sense to you than just numbers. And you can easily look at specific date ranges (months/quarters/years/financial years/custom ranges) to make comparisons between them (though direct graphical comparisons would be a nice feature, also apparently on the way).

  • Compared to iBank, moneyGuru isn't quite as pretty, the graphs are less extensive/customisable, it doesn't sync with your iPhone and it doesn't handle your shares/stocks. Then again, I didn't pay for those features. Also moneyGuru can run on Windows/Linux, so if sharing financial info is important, that may be too. I'd probably get iBank if I could justify the cost.
  • Compared to Quicken/MYOB, moneyGuru lacks a lot of professional accounting features, but as before, you don't need to pay for them if you don't need them. If I was a professional accountant, or running my own business, I'd be using professional financial software.
  • Compared to GNU Cash, moneyGuru is much prettier and simpler to work with. For my money, there's a lot to be said about a really usable and sensible UI, and moneyGuru is one of the few cross-platform applications that manages to still seem Mac-like despite its compatibility.
Summary — If you don't have a complex financial situation, but want to track your finances and budget, then moneyGuru is a very usable solution with a fair price. Complex finances, business owners and professional accountants are going to need something more advanced, and if money's not an issue then iBank is a little prettier and has a few more features.

Finally, in case it needs to be stated, I am not in any way connected to the developers/projects in this post, other than through bug-reports, feature requests and buying/trialling their software.