Friday, July 24, 2009

Why not just use Quicken's budgeting, part 1

If you're new to envelope budgeting, but used to traditional budgeting, you may wonder what all the fuss is. Quicken's got a budgeting tool -- why not just use it? Let me answer this question in two parts.

For me, the most important reason is because not everything is a monthly expense. Yes, much of our money is spent on things every month -- mortgage, rent, bills, groceries -- but there are occasional expenses as well. It's these occasonal expenses -- property tax, car repairs -- that can get you reaching for that credit card if you're not prepared.

Rather than letting these big expenses surprise you, the best defense is to save up a little bit of money every paycheck. If you know you're going to spent maybe $2000/year on car repairs, and you get paid twice a month, then you should be setting aside a little more than $83 per paycheck into your car repair envelope.

Setting this up in a traditional Quicken budget just doesn't make sense. Most months you're on well on the positive side, and then when you actually go out and spend the money, it shows significantly negative. As an extreme example, check out this budget graph for my property taxes:

There's no way that I can tell how well I did from such a graph, nor would I be able to know, mid-year, that I'm on track.

To be sure, I'm isolating just one category of expense in the graph above, and you could argue that what I should be looking at is my overall expenses across all categories. Even then, traditional budgeting tools fail -- the highs and lows might be trimmed down a little, but it's still going to show big up and down swings when you have major expenses. Worse yet, you can fool yourself into thinking that you're staying on budget if you see numbers that are matched up on a monthly basis across categories, but if you're not saving up for those big expenses (actually showing a surplus in many months), you'll be caught flat-footed when those big bills come.

That's it for part 1 of why Quicken's budgeting tools don't lead you on the road to financial freedom. In part 2 I'll talk about planning vs. forensic budgeting, and how Quicken makes you feel like you're in control when you may not be.

No comments: