Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Budgets in Quicken Essentials for Mac

I've written before about how budgeting as done by older versions of Quicken falls somewhere between less than useful and misleading. I knew that Quicken Essentials for Mac wouldn't implement envelope budgeting. So, while I'm dubious about its utility, we're aiming for completeness here, so I figured I should give QEM's budgeting a whirl.

When starting new with Quicken Essentials for Mac, you're given three tasks, and setting up a budget is the third task. Clicking on "Get Started" on the Overview page brings you to a window where QEM prompts you to review your spending goals:

A couple of things to notice:

  • By default, the budget only went with the following six categories: Auto, Clothing, Dining, Entertainment, Groceries, and Household. You can add other budget items by either Category or Tag.
  • The Goal amount calculated is 80% of the three month average. 
  • Hovering over the "i" next to the 3 Month Average shows the specific amounts for that category in the last three months.

After making any changes that you want, your budget is created and the details for this month are shown:

(ooh, boy, not a good month for Tom!)

Each of the budget categories is shown with a bar graph -- green means I'm under budget, red means I'm over budget. Clicking on one of the bars or the "12 month" view brings up a detail window showing how far over or under budget I was for each of the last 12 months:

There's so much to be improved here, it's hard to know where to begin.

Budget items don't automatically include subcategories

The first thing that caught my eye about the budget that was set up was that it showed me not spending any money in the Auto category this month. "That's not right", I thought, "I've bought gas this month, and put it in my Auto:Fuel subcategory." If you've got categories set up with subcategories, you'll need to enter them in as separate budget items -- QEM will not automatically fold all of your subcategories into the main category.

There's no such thing as a "little" over budget

The next thing that caught my eye was the scale of the bar graphs -- they're shown with a range from 0% to 100%. For the category where I was under budget, the size of the bar was correct, but for those categories where I was over budget, the bar maxes out at 100%, no matter how far over budget you are.

Only two time frames, and no customization

The budget view only shows two possible time frames -- this month, and the 12 month view. There's no way to customize the budget time frame.

Going against UI conventions

The 12-month view hovers over the rest of the budget graph. You've got to squint to figure out how to get out of the 12-month view -- the button to close it is in the lower-right hand corner, the polar opposite of where pretty much every other close button has ever been in 26 years of Mac user interfaces.

Inadequacy at actually matching income and expenses

Finally, while I can perhaps understand concentrating one's budgeting efforts at more variable expenses (like groceries) rather than expenses that tend to be more fixed (like the phone bill), this version of budgeting still fails at the overall goal of matching income and expenses. I could set up great budget goals and be under every month for the categories I selected, but still fall behind if my total expenses across all categories outpace my total income.

No comments: