Computers are useful tools for a variety of things. One of the most important ways I use my laptop is to manage my finances. I’ve been keeping track of “money shtuff” this way since college, and the ultra-convenience of paying bills, checking balances, and budgeting all in one spot has fit well in my life routine. My mom used to call me the King of Efficiency, and I definitely hold onto that nickname as it relates to my digital finances. If you’re still wary of dealing with money electronically, we should talk. It is not something I encourage folks to just jump into blindly – an understanding of internet security, password management, and spamming is essential to being safe and successful online. But as my preferred method of handling money these days, I trust my direct contact with financial institutions over the US Post Office when dealing with monetary transactions.
Who Needs a Budget?
I’m a big fan of budgeting. Everyone should have a budget to understand where their money is going and to ensure that the essentials in life are taken care of. One of our pitfalls as a nation, from the government all the way down to us as regular folk, is our lack of financial responsibility. We can not blame credit card companies, banks, or the government for our own inability to manage our money. The simplest way to remedy that crisis is with a logical budget.
Most of my budgeting ideals and strategies come from two places: my parents and Dave Ramsey. Having people in your life to teach you fiscal responsibility and lead by example is incredible important – that’s where my parents come in. Having professional opinions can also be incredible helpful. And that’s where Mr. Ramsey comes in. He has a wonderful personal story of going from bankruptcy to financial success, living with a unique “debt-free” philosophy. His snowball method of removing debt helped my wife and I clear out a fairly large chunk of debt (car payments, credit cards, and student loans) in just a couple short years. Additionally, his budgeting methods via the envelope system help me manage my finances in a clear, specific way so that every single dollar has a name.
And that’s where my computer comes in.
Over the past couple of years, I developed a handy spreadsheet using iWork’s Numbers program to keep track of my checking accounts and set up a weekly budget (feel free to check it out in my Public Folder, in the iWork folder). It was basically a glorified checking register, allowing me to follow my accounts and see where my money was going and how I should spend it. I had to manually set up categories, formulas, and enter transactions a couple times every week – and generate a new sheet every month. It was a great system for awhile, but I started looking around for more automatic options – and I stumbled across iBank ($49). Below are my thoughts on this Mac-only software.
The interface is what you’d expect from a typical Mac application – Source List on the left, big toolbar for common objects, and a large workspace in the center. iBank features quick column organization, iTunes-style search, and a easy navigation. Each transaction is customizable by date, category, memo, even offering a handy “splits” feature to break up large receipts into multiple budget categories.
Account setup is very straightforward, with account type options ranging from traditional Checking and Savings to Investment accounts. And what’s great about iBank is that even if your bank isn’t officially supported for direct download, it has a built-in secure web browser so you can download your transactions directly into the software, avoiding any need for extra import steps.
This is where iBank shines. You can set up multiple budgets and iBank offers the option to incorporate the envelope system, choosing how much money to divert into each category and how often to contribute to each envelope. It really is a beautiful way of managing your finances, as it’s very clear to see where you have money available – and where you don’t.
Finally, iBank gives you a variety of automatic reports for another way to track your finances. Reports ranging from “Net Worth” to “This Year’s Expenses” give you a nice overview of a variety of transactions. This could be one area of complaint, however, as there aren’t any options for custom reporting – you pick from their stock list and browse through. For myself, I had anything I would ever need to look up appear in the default reports. But to be honest, I’ve never been much of a pie chart/bar graph kind of guy…
iBank Mobile App
There is also a mobile client available for the iPhone/iPod Touch ($4.99). I have not taken the plunge for this app, though, as I’m awaiting an iPad-native version. It does seem to have excellent features, as it talks to the desktop version (or can be used as a stand-alone app) and offers budget tracking and transaction management with syncing over Wi-Fi, MobileMe, or WebDav.
For its easy setup and quick, efficient downloads of account information and transactions, iBank is a great app. The best feature is its ability to incorporate smart budgeting in the form of the envelope system and have one-stop, near-automatic tracking of multiple types of accounts. If you’re searching for an application that fits well in your Mac workflow and can assist you in your financial matters, you might not need to look much father than iBank. A 30-day trial is available on their website.
No goods or services were provided in exchange for this post.