Jul 082009

On June 10, 2009, Microsoft announced that it would discontinue sales of Microsoft Money after June 30, 2009. And they did.

The latest version of the software, Microsoft Money Plus, was released in August, 2007, and after such a long time I should have known trouble was in the air.

As a user of Money for well over a decade, I was disappointed to hear the news.  I have never been a fan of the only other (or so I thought) real alternative – Quicken. Not that it’s not a good piece of software. It just never felt right to me.

Truth be told, over the last few years (from about the 2005 version), my wife and I felt like Money started going in the wrong direction. A lot of the automated, streamlined functionality they added either didn’t feel right or just didn’t work.

However, our story at least has a happy ending. I finally decided to give the online money manager Mint.com a try. And we became converts.

Three things kept me from trying out Mint.com sooner. The first was inertia. We had so many years of using Money to overcome.

More importantly, though, was that I wasn’t sure I was comfortable putting my finances online. But the security features at Mint.com are reassuring. To name the big two for me:

  • You register anonymously.  Just an e-mail address, password and zip code. They don’t require a name or other personally identifiable info.
  • You cannot move money. It’s a read-only service. You can view your balances, registers, statements, and other information, but you cannot make transfers.

The final problem I had to overcome was that I just wasn’t sure an online service would give me the same level of control I had with a stand-alone application like Money. As it turns out, I not only don’t miss those features (things like bill reminders and debt planners), but I’m now kind of relieved they are gone. Less to worry about.

I may post a bigger review of Mint.com after we’ve used it for a while, but for now here are a few things that really impressed us:

  • Setup was ridiculously easy. I gave Mint.com the credentials to log on to my accounts. That was it, really.
  • Categories work. Mint.com has some really good algorithms in place for automatically assigning categories to transactions. In Money and Quicken, you have to spend a lot of time going through transactions and making sure that it categorized them properly. Most of the time, those programs don’t get them right. Mint.com does. It also gets the vendor names right, so instead of having to go in every time and change, say, “****DEBIT: xxx…” to the name of the vendor, it just happens. These features alone make it worthwhile. We save so much time every day not having to do these things ourselves.
  • It’s beautiful. And simple. And intuitive. We find everything about the site just relaxing. That’s a nice change of pace from the glare of Money and Quicken. From the color scheme to the style and placement of buttons, Mint.com has a calming influence. That’s nice when you’re dealing with your money. The design is well-thought out. When we’re looking at something and want more information or to change a setting, the link is usually right there waiting for us. No more hunting around.
  • We’re not tied to using one computer. I can check things out from my computer, my wife from hers. We can check on things when we’re out of town, or at work. That’s nice.
  • There’s an iPhone app. I know. There’s an iPhone app for everything. But it is really handy being able to check out your balances when you’re out shopping without having to worry about how your bank’s Web site will load in your mobile browser.
  • Budgeting is simple. The budgeting tool is not as feature-laden as the tools in Money or Quicken. But for us, that means we’re more likely to actually use it.

Oh yeah. And at least for now, it’s free. So do yourself a favor and check it out. You can learn a lot by watching this great demo of the site given by CEO Aaron Patzer.

Stay tuned for more thoughts as we actually put it through its paces.

UPDATE (May, 2010): Almost a year after killing off Money, Microsoft made the Money Plus Sunset Edition and Money Home and Business Sunset Edition available for download for free (and no activation required). Both function perfectly well as a money manager and have many of the features you came to love. What’s missing is that neither offers any online support, meaning no automatic updating from banks, no online quotes, no bill payment, and so on. You can still download statements from your bank and import them into the Sunset editions, but Money can no longer initiate the download itself.

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