Finance Tracking options

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Randy
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Finance Tracking options

Post by Randy »

Does anyone have advice on financial tracking software? This is something I’ve briefly asked about in another thread (thanks for the responses prognastat and Fish), but figured I should make it’s own thread. This isn’t a topic I’ve looked into in detail, and I’ve been using Mint pretty happily, but I’m curious what other options are out there.

Mint works pretty well for me, giving me a complete look at my current finances. I think I get the most use out of it when looking at trends over time. But I am annoyed by some occasional bugs/inaccuracies that pop up, and I don’t use the budgeting feature much.

Personal Capital seems to be a well endorsed alternative, with a focus more on watching investments over time. I’m considering switching to this over Mint in the future, but currently don’t really have any investments to watch.

For the sake of learning about investing, I also use Yahoo Finance to set up a practice portfolio to watch over time. This has only been minimally useful since it shows me how the portfolio is doing on the current day, but doesn’t aggregate historical data. I can only look at historical data for single assets as far as I know. I think PC would be better on this front than YF.

Other options I’ve looked at seems to focus more on daily budgeting, which is not something I’m interested in. Also, as much as I like excel, I don’t want to put the time and effort into making the spreadsheets. I don’t want to reinvent the wheel when there’s probably already software that’s already done it better than me.

So what do you guys use? What are your thoughts on the options available?

prognastat
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Re: Finance Tracking options

Post by prognastat »

I already covered how I use it some in the other thread, but since it's a dedicated topic here I'll go a little more in depth.

I started out using just mint. Then some connection broke with one of our investment accounts and messed up it took them 3 months to "fix" and it still wasn't fixed. At this point I was getting tired of the account not being useful and I started using Personal Capital. Everything worked here and I prefer it's layout as far as my investments accounts are concerned, I have all my accounts connected to this.

However the one thing Mint has been better at in my experience is tracking spending/budgeting. You are able to tag purchases and track them which PC doesn't allow and it seems to be more accurate at judging what expenses are. The only account I left connected to Mint is the bank account we use for income and expenses for this reason.

jacob
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Re: Finance Tracking options

Post by jacob »

I think for all things finance, you're better off running your own spreadsheets. This way you understand why/what goes into them and you can modify and expand at will.

Insofar you actually bother to track your data at this level of detail, there's all sorts of interesting things you can do with it. I have a bunch of ideas that are relevant for ERE ... however, I never bothered to track my data to this level of detail. However, everybody needs a hobby. It's just that tracking minutia isn't mine.

prognastat
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Re: Finance Tracking options

Post by prognastat »

As much as the numbers geek in me would love the accuracy that comes from creating the spreadsheet myself and manually entering in all the expenses that would be far more work to maintain than my current set up. I'm happy with the slightly rougher idea of my financial situation at almost no effort at this time.

IlliniDave
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Re: Finance Tracking options

Post by IlliniDave »

+1 to jacob's reply. I track my data at what's probably a higher than typical level of detail but my profession has habituated me to anchoring in data. It costs about 10 minutes a week and the math involved is not hard. For me having my hands on what goes in and what comes out is valuable. YMMV.

When it comes to apps that automatically interface with all my accounts and tracks me on an ongoing basis--I don't trust them.

SavingWithBabies
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Re: Finance Tracking options

Post by SavingWithBabies »

I've tried Yodlee -- they went not so great. Now I'm using Mint which is okay -- the numbers are there but they barely add any value beyond summing it up. Their apps are divergent (Android is fine, on iPad I can't even find the net worth). They have some other widgets that are not very useful at all. I haven't tried Personal Capital but I don't really want to deal with people calling me to sell me something (although it sounds like a one time thing). These services are basically collecting and selling data which I'm starting to get more and more disillusioned about.

A spreadsheet is making more sense now. I also get annoyed when I know a certain value is in an account it just hasn't posted. For example, my paycheck pulls out the 401k deposit but the 401k provider takes a good couple of business days to post the transaction. So being able to just enter the numbers without waiting for something to sync (lagging) data would be nice.

Douglas
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Re: Finance Tracking options

Post by Douglas »

I know you don't want to hear this but I also advocate your own spreadsheet. Once I got my system down it now takes me 30 minutes per month to input all assets and spending. I then look at the numbers another half an hour and simulate / fantasize about what is possible. I use excel but am thinking about moving everything to a python platform to get practice scripting and further automating the entire process.

Randy
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Re: Finance Tracking options

Post by Randy »

Okay, okay, so most people advocate their own spreadsheets. I already do some tracking/projections on my own, but I'll look at expanding this and optimizing into a better format. If anyone has tips for formatting or anything they especially like in their own spreadsheets, I'm all ears.

jacob
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Re: Finance Tracking options

Post by jacob »

I'm not a spreadsheet wiz. but in terms of organization, I would suggest setting up a system that has several pages rather than have one page that does everything. I prefer to use google sheets because I can get live imports of ticker prices from googlefinance (it doesn't work as well as it used to, but ...)

Pages, you might want:
  • Balance sheet (portfolio/networth) page
  • Dividend/capital/business/earned income page (or likely one page for each kind!)
  • Budget page (imports from the spending page and the income pages)
  • Spending page
I have the first 3, but since I built my system organically, my budget stuff lives on my balance sheet page and my portfolio is maintained on my income statement (the balance sheet then imports the sums from the income statement). This is a mess!

Think about where the original numbers should ideally live ... then import them from there to the other places. Never update the same number manually in more than one place.

I wish I had a spending page. Like iDave, I love building systems, but I'm too lazy to collect data. It's not hard to do, it just requires getting into the habit and then let the passage of time do the rest.

If I had to build a spending page, I would include the following columns: Name, buy date, cost, weight, sell date, revenue. I include the weight because then I'd now to the total mass of the stuff I own. I have both buy and sell dates and prices so I could calculate depreciation or true cost of ownership. Basically, if you can think of anything you'd want to calculate, you want a column for it. All the rows would just be individual items.

I'd kinda like to sort/mark them by type, e.g. food, lumber, electronics, ... but in my experience, that kind of "libranianism" is actually kinda hard. It could be though, that even a bad system is better than no system.

Smashter
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Re: Finance Tracking options

Post by Smashter »

I use this spreadsheet from the Mad Fientist .

I like it. It's intuitive for someone like me, who isn't a spreadsheet junkie like many on the forum :)

jacob
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Re: Finance Tracking options

Post by jacob »

I'd suggest not running the time-dimension on the x-axis (columns). After 5 years (60 months), that's 60 columns and you'd be way into scrolling-purgatory unless you do one sheet/tab per year.

I should mention that part of my current setup does not hold historical data (so I can't make fancy graphs showing networth and spending over time :-( --- so much lost blogging and journaling opportunity).

My balance sheet does, however, dedicate space to future projections just like my original fortran program from 2004. It's simple: I have after-tax earned income (presumed to grow by inflation, variable currently set to 3%), spending (imports from budget) (inflation growth), capital income (capital growth variable set at 6%), and total networth. Next month's capital = this month - expenses + all income. Pretty simple.

I've set it so I can see the nearest 12 months month-by-moth, and after that the next 25 years year-by-year. The table has proven remarkably prescient in terms of predicting SWR milestones. We should pass $3M (or 193 years of living expenses) in 2029 (given no changes in income)... and without income, that milestone would be hit in 2038. Crazy! This setup makes it very easy to play around with assumptions. For example, all I had to do was to set income = 0 and read 2038 off the table. Of course those predictions depend a lot on the ROI assumptions (here 6%).

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figmenter
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Re: Finance Tracking options

Post by figmenter »

I use Ledger http://ledger-cli.org to keep track of all my financial and some non-financial dealings. Ledger uses plain text files to record transactions, asset prices and FX conversions. It also has syntax for recording forecasts and automatic transactions. Command line options to Ledger can display balance, history, asset gain/loss among others.

For me, Ledger is one part in a chain of utilities that take input from a multitude of CSV files and convert them into one or more Ledger files. I use org-mode in Emacs to generate a number of overviews from Ledger that I regularly update. I use git to record the changes on both inputs and outputs.

Examples of financial overviews: balance, account history, spending per year, income per year, profit/loss for the current year, and quite a few more.

Examples of non-financial overviews: energy consumption in MJ from use of car, public transport, electricity and natural gas; distance traveled by car and public transport.

Randy
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Re: Finance Tracking options

Post by Randy »

Thanks guys, I appreciate all the advice!

I definitely want my spreadsheet to have historical data. Looking at trends over time is most of the fun for me, and this is where Mint is sometimes not so great. I seem to find errors/inconsistencies I can't reconcile. But also the degree of historical data I would like would take more effort than I would like to expend if I was keeping track of it myself. And of course I would like basic projections too - I think everyone here has spent time daydreaming about their FI number and "what-if" scenarios. Basically I want it all :roll:

The Mad Fientist spredsheet is a good example for me to get ideas from. Interesting to me that he also supplements this with both Mint and Personal Capital. It also breaks Jacob's suggestion of not putting time on the x-axis, which I agree with especially if I want loads of historical data.

Ledger is also interesting, but I think it would be biting off more than I can chew right now. For that matter, maybe even making this in excel is more than I can chew, I'm not an excel wiz.. but I'll try.

Smashter
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Re: Finance Tracking options

Post by Smashter »

Maybe I'm too cynical, but I don't think the Mad Fientist would be pushing Personal Capital and Mint so hard if he wasn't getting referral money from them. I don't use either of them, but I still like using the system he set up. I just manually input all the numbers. It takes longer, but I don't like having my info linked to Mint and Personal Capital.

SavingWithBabies
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Re: Finance Tracking options

Post by SavingWithBabies »

@figmenter I've wanted to try ledger. Do you just have one text file with all your transactions? Or can you do it year by year? Or is it totally up to you how many files you have (I worry about the text files getting unwieldy)? Would you use this for more complicated accounting (like a business)?

arcyallen
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Re: Finance Tracking options

Post by arcyallen »

Mint. I used Personal Capital too, but it was buggy and I'm more interested in monitoring my spending vs investments. I think Mint does a fantastic (but not perfect) job. I'd strongly recommend trying each one out for a few months to get a feel for them. You'll identify which ones bring you the most value. While I can see the value of making your owns spreadsheet, I think that's insanely time-intensive to track all your expenses which is what I do with Mint automatically and audit twice a week.

On a side note to Jacob: When you say you're not a spreadsheet wiz, is that like saying you're "ok with money"? :)

jacob
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Re: Finance Tracking options

Post by jacob »

More like saying that I speak enough German to buy beer or enough Spanish to ask where the library is?

E.g. I know what
=A1/B2
=sum(A1:N1)
=A1/$C1
means which is about what I knew at age 12 already. So basic spreadsheet gymnastics.

I never bothered to learn about pivot tables although I understand they're awesome. Fun anecdote: I knew/know a guy who solved differential equations using excel for his phd thesis. Must have taken for-effing-ever to get any results. It was okay, though. He was a geologist, so he was on geological time. Haw haw!

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figmenter
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Re: Finance Tracking options

Post by figmenter »

@savingwithbabies

My workflow is based on splitting Ledger files per year and per data source. All generated files go in folder generated/. All files edited by hand go in data/. File naming is based on year and origin. Per year I manually maintain files for opening balance, cash transactions, credit card transactions and incidental corrections (dates, redistribution of costs across the year). For example: opening balances for 2018 go in data/2018_openingbalance.lgr.

CSV files for each bank account go in csv/. I export from January 1st till today. and convert the files with a script to a ledger file in generated/. A rule in a Makefile automatically moves and renames this from the download directory. All bank transactions for account xyz in 2018 are in csv/2018_xyz.csv. The generated file for Ledger will be generated/2018_xyz.lgr.

At the toplevel directory I have a Ledger file all.lgr that ties all files together. Its contents looks like this:

Code: Select all

include data/2017_openingbalance.lgr

include data/2017_corrections.lgr
include data/2017_cash.lgr
include data/2017_creditcard.lgr
include generated/2017_xyz.lgr

include data/2018_corrections.lgr
include data/2018_cash.lgr
include data/2018_creditcard.lgr
include generated/2018_xyz.lgr
I also have 2018.lgr that looks like this (Note the different year on the file for the opening balance):

Code: Select all

include data/2018_openingbalance.lgr

include data/2018_corrections.lgr
include data/2018_cash.lgr
include data/2018_creditcard.lgr
include generated/2018_xyz.lgr
As you can see, I can mix and match files depending on how I want to query the data.

Ledger is flexible enough for a business to record transactions, keep stocks, do time reporting and forecasting. The Ledger manual documents its many features. Here's a tutorial of using Ledger in a Non-Profit Organization in the USA: https://github.com/conservancy/npo-ledg ... utorial.md

I suggest starting simple. The workflow I describe here is the result of four years of using and tweaking. I only started using commodities and prices after about two years. Automatic transactions and forecasts are an even more recent addition to the way I use Ledger.

SavingWithBabies
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Re: Finance Tracking options

Post by SavingWithBabies »

@figmenter Thank you. That's really helpful. I feel more confident putting some time into trying it and will do so.

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figmenter
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Re: Finance Tracking options

Post by figmenter »

@jacob pivot tables are to spreadsheets what GROUP BY is to SQL databases.

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