The big transition from Mac to PC occurred because I wanted a computer that was capable of playing modern video games. While playing games is a nice to have, I absolutely must maintain the personal finances for the family. Figuring out my financial workflow was priority one after firing up the new computer.
The following few paragraphs follow my thought process on finally settling on a new personal finance software choice, so if you want to skip to the end, please feel free to click here.
Hands down, my favorite personal finance software of all time is Moneywell. I am a big fan of envelope budgeting and there is nothing in the Windows ecosystems that comes close to matching the features of Moneywell. Unfortunately, Moneywell is a Mac only product, so I was left with finding an alternative. This is such a big problem for me that I almost gave up on switching platforms.
The two top criteria for my new personal finance software, that it supports envelope budgeting and it could connect to my bank to download transactions, narrowed the list of candidates significantly. I had high hopes for a program called Moneydance. It runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux and I had used it in the past. I stopped using it because the often mentioned envelope add-on was always getting delayed and I discovered Moneywell in the mean time. I thought that surely after 5 years, envelope budgeting in Moneydance must be maturing and I could use that. My hopes were dashed as the envelope add-on is still mentioned in the forums, but is not any closer to implementation, so this feature will probably be filed as vaporware. If you are not interested in envelope budgeting, then I think you will find Moneydance to be an outstanding cross platform personal finance package.
There are a couple web applications that support envelope budgeting such as MVelopes and Good Budget, and there is another cross platform program called Budget, but each of these had UI issues I couldn’t get over. Moving money around in the web applications was cumbersome and Budget doesn’t look like it’s interface has been updated since Windows XP was released. Your mileage may vary on these options, but none of these applications scratched my itch for a Moneywell replacement.
You Need a Budget v4 (YNAB4) is a desktop application I have used in the past. It satisfies the envelope budget criteria rather nicely, but it doesn’t have direct download support from banks. It is possible to import .OFX files downloaded from the bank, but managing bank accounts for the whole family is hard enough without adding an extra step, so I always ended up back at Moneywell. It is possible to automate the OFX import process on a Unix like operating system like OS X and Linux using a command line program called OFXClient. My main gripe with YNAB4 is that it is a very opinionated system and the developers are adamant about budgeting for the entire month rather than every two weeks. I just couldn’t make my use case fit into their software, so I eventually gave up on it.
The Final Verdict
In December 2015, You Need a Budget released version 5. YNAB5 is a big departure from YNAB4. It is no longer a desktop application and now lives in the cloud so it runs on any operating system that has a web browser. The new version supports direct import of transactions from the bank and they completely revamped their old budgeting system with a new goals based system. The budget is still based on the entire month rather than 2 weeks, but I can set up envelopes with goal budgets for the month and just fill them halfway on the 1st and the rest of the way on the 15th. It’s not perfect, but it is the closest thing I have found to emulating my Moneywell workflow on Windows.
Setup was a breeze since I have been using envelope budgeting for a long time and already know what envelopes I need. I used the latest budget from Moneywell to fill my beginning balances in YNAB5 and made the switch.
Setting envelope balances on payday is easy, but a bit time consuming. Once my paycheck is entered into the budget, I click on each envelope and look at the monthly goal for that envelope and add half. I would like a way to autofill each envelope with 50% of my monthly goal, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. I think it goes against the basic philosophy of the YNAB program. Moving money between envelopes has been streamlined on the Budget page. You can click on the envelope balance, enter an amount, and choose a destination envelope to transfer money between envelopes. It’s not quite as easy as the click and drag I was used to, but it works.
One thing that is missing on the Account pages is a running balance. It’s not something I use very often, but I think converts from traditional personal finance software like Quicken will find that unsettling.
I give YNAB5 a 7 out of 10. There’s definitely room for improvement, but overall the program is satisfying. The web application is responsive and feels very much like using a traditional desktop application. If you’re in the market for new personal finance software or are interested in trying the envelope budgeting system, I would recommend giving YNAB5 a try. Head on over to their website and sign up for a free 34 day trial. They don’t even ask for a credit card during the trial, which I find quite refreshing. If you decide to keep using it, the subscription is a reasonable $5/month or $50/year.
Note: This is my personal opinion on personal finance software options. I don’t get paid by YNAB or anyone else I mentioned in this article.