Since I got my first Mac in December 2007, I’ve transferred almost all my personal computing to Mac OS X. Web browsing, email, photo editing, web site tweaking, spreadsheets, you name it. But there was one annoying hold-out. I’ve been keeping my financial records in Microsoft Money for a long time, and although what I have is an old version (it’s Money 2002, which I guess was released in 2001 or thereabouts, which is quite old for software), it’s always done the job for me. It’s easy to enter transactions, it automagically deals with recurring transactions (entering things like electricty and gas payments on the right dates), and perhaps most importantly for me, connects to my bank, downloads transactions and lets me check them against what I’ve entered. This is less critical than it used to be, as I’m in better control of my finances these days, but it still beats completely manual checking with statements.
But there are a few problems with Money. For a start, it’s Windows only, so I’ve had to keep a virtual machine running just so I can use it. Not too big a deal now the iMac is my main machine, as I can leave it running on the Mini and connect using the Microsoft Remote Desktop Client (hey, it’s just like being at work!), but it’s still a little awkward. Next, Microsoft have abandoned the product. First, they failed to produce a UK version of the last one to appear in the US, and then they gave up on it altogether. Then I made a Critical Error. After a slight problem with some transactions not synchronising correctly, I decided to reset the online banking in Money. I’ve done this before without any trouble at all, so I wasn’t at all worried about it. But I should have been. It seems that sometime ago, Microsoft turned off the servers that Money needs to download bank connection details, so Money 2002 can no longer set up online banking. Apparently Money 2005 will still work, but that’s only guaranteed up to the end of this year.
Now I could have sorted this out by importing all my transactions into a backup file that still worked, deleting any accidental duplicates, and generally spending a great deal of time. After a few experiments, I came to the conclusion that this would be far too much effort and would take far too long, so I reluctantly gave up on downloading transactions – after all, I can always check the bank web site to see what has and hasn’t cleared.
But this did make me look again for a Mac personal finance application that would do the job. It had to fullifil most, if not all of the following criteria:
- Be able to accurately import all my transaction data from Money. This shouldn’t be hard, as Money exports in the more or less standard QIF format. I did read of one application that sort of imported form Money but lost the payee data. Some people seemed to think this was fine, but for me it would be quite useless
- Be able to connect to my bank, download transactions and match them to manually entered ones
- Show a running balance next to transactions
- Not be annoying. That one’s harder to define, but I don’t want to have to think about how to use this kind of thing. I especially don’t want to have to change how I do things to suit a developer’s clever ideas…
I’d done a lot of reading of reviews, and even tried a few. One that looked promising was MoneyWell, but I found its proudly “different” approach to be, well, annoying. It tries to force you to use its concept of “buckets” rather than more familiar concepts like “categories”, doesn’t show a running balance next to transactions, and has an interface that I found too awkward. Adding in its current inability to automatically add recurring transactions on the proper date, made it quite useless for me.
I’d heard of iBank before, and I may have given it a quick look, but this was probably a version or two ago, and at the time it didn’t impress me. But it’s moved on, so I downloaded a trial of the latest version, and started to import some data. And it worked. Everything came across as it should, the entry form was nicely and logically laid out, setting up recurring transactions with the option to have them automatically inserted (for those fixed, automatic payments) or to give you reminders that you need to enter them worked as expected, and it generally looked like something I could live with.
I was so impressed that after a quick play, I bought it – it costs $60, and comes with a money-back guarantee, which is nice, as the trial limits you to 75 transactions in an account, and I needed to play with a lot more than that. Getting my data in accurately took a few attempts before I found the sequence that didn’t duplicate anything, matched transfers between accounts properly and left things as they were in Money:
- In Money, first re-open any “closed” accounts you want to have a record of
- Export each account in Money to a QIF file, saved where you can find them from iBank – I used VMWare Fusion’s ability to connect to the host machine’s hard drive, and connected to the Mini from the iMac.
- Start a new file in iBank
- Create all the accounts you want to use, keeping the names the same as in Money – this will ensure that transfers are correctly logged
- Import the QIF files into iBank – all you have to do is tell it which account the file’s records should be inserted into
- Err, that’s it
Once I’d done that, and set up my recurring transactions, I was ready. Setting up online access was much the same as in Money – select the bank, enter your customer number and logon password (for Nationwide, the number is the same one used for online banking, and the password is one of your “memorable data” items plus your six-digit PIN). It then connects and gives you a list of accounts. Pick the one that matches the account you’re setting up and it downloads transactions. You’ll need to do this for each account at the bank – it doesn’t let you match more than one at a time.
Transaction matching is based on date, amount and (if there happens to be one) cheque number, so a little care will be needed in making sure that you’ve matched the right things, but as “unchecking” is just a tick box away, mistakes are much easier to rectify than in Money.
So yes, it works. My initial impression is that I can, at last, abandon Microsoft Money. Woo, hoo, etc.
But there’s more! They have an iPhone app, too! This synchronises over your wireless network to iBank on the Mac, and lets you view and enter transactions when you’re away from home. You can set it up so it displays your main accounts first, and (quite intelligently, in my opinion) shows newest transactions at the top of the list in each account, which seems a Good Thing on a small screen. You can enter a new transaction when it happens, then when you get home it will be automagically synchronised into iBank. Nice. The app costs £2.99, which I was quite happy to pay.