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Large purchase throwing my budget for a loop

August 3rd, 2008 at 08:13 am

I'm sure I'm making our money management more complicated than it needs to be. About twice a month I sit down for an hour or so to get the budget caught up to our spending. We're pretty comfortable financially so I don't have to keep as close an eye on the day-to-day spending as many do, but I like to have a rough idea of where we are so I can pull back the discretionary spending before it gets too out of line. Unfortunately this month I've made a large purchase which, although I know we have the money to cover it, is throwing my accounting system for a loop.

The problem is that I've got the cash money (non-investment) divided up into so many accounts (3 checking, 2 savings, 1 money market), and the budget divided into so many catagories (10 master catagories, 46 line items) that it sometimes gets tricky to confirm that the budget and the total amount of money is in sync. I'm in the process of consolidating the checking and savings accounts, so that should help matters significantly. On the budget I really like having the granularity of all the line items (for instance separate lines for phone, electricity, water rather than a single line for utilities), so I don't think I will change that much.

I use YNAB as my budgeting tool, and while on the whole I highly recommend it, you can't verify at a glance that the register and budget are in sync. They are disconned by design (which is helpful for people snowballing a large cc debt), but if you're not careful the amounts in the budget and the register can get out of sync. I finally set up a spreadsheet where I list all my account balances, add up the budget numbers and calculate the difference. The large purchase is throwing everything off because it ought to be paid for by money that is currently outside the budget software. According to the software I have used up all my primary income for August and am $3k overdrawn.

Currently we have $38k cash in hand, and a $17k credit card bill to pay in full this month ($13k due to the large purchase.) We normally have $10-$12k coming in each month. I need about $7k/mo to cover normal montly outflows. I save $835/mo toward semi-annual purchases, and set aside 40% of my contracting income each month toward taxes.

Currently my budget includes the following balances that absolutely need to stay in savings:
Taxes: $9k
Semi-annual bills: $5k
House/car repair reserve: $1k

I also have $9k earmarked toward near-term goals -- vacation, Christmas, updating the wills.

$4k of cash needs to go to last month's credit card bill, and we will spend our usual $7k this month.

I still haven't decided exactly where the money for $13k purchase is coming from. The original plan was to sell stock from my taxable investment account (currently $350k). But the market's been down and I've been debating about trying to cash-flow it instead, repaying my cash accounts when the market is a little more favorable. DH's ESPP just made a purchase, and the stock is currently on the high side, so another option would be to sell, which would bring in $12k. I don't track the investment account or the ESPP in the budget, so either way would represent an inflow.

I think I have enough on hand to be safe paying the cc bill out of current cash, but I haven't figured out how to represent paying it and then paying the budget back. Loose ends like this really bug me!



Losing sleep over the budget

April 26th, 2007 at 04:55 pm

We've had a number of pet and medical emergencies in March and April that have depleted our smaller reserve funds (medical, dental, home repair, car repair, basic savings), as well as our clothing and free $$ catagories (which we normally let accrue from month to month), and may yet touch our emergency fund (see previous post).

We also spent about $200 more than our discretionary budget so far in April -- half on clothes and half on "Misc" -- could be as much as $250 if we're not careful the next few days. Normally it wouldn't be too big a deal but in light of all the other spending it's not good.

So our reserves are down quite a bit and will need to be built back up. DH's mother is coming from overseas for a 3 week visit around Memorial Day -- usually that entails a lot of eating out, shopping, and presents. It will be hard to stay on track.

I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn't get back to sleep due to thinking about all the red numbers in YNAB. For some reason the $200 discretionary overage bothers me a lot more than all the others. I can only imagine what people in serious debt must go through all the time.

And I'm not happy that there are a lot more big wants such as vacations this summer that we don't have money set aside for yet. We've done a poor job controlling the little wants each month so that we can afford more of the big wants. I was happy that we were able to purchase a laptop and an anniversary trip with money we set aside this year, but in hindsight wish we had budgeted for two more trips that we want to take this summer -- one to fly out to see the great-grandparents and the other an unspecified road trip. Then there are other big purchases such as updating the wills and our next big trip to visit DH's parents overseas that we need to be saving for. And the landscaping just isn't going to happen until we have two incomes again.

On the positive side, DH is starting a new job in two weeks. His commute drops from 25 minutes to 5, so fuel costs will be way down. Medical insurance costs drop from $200/mo to $0, and he gets 401k matching and a much better selection of funds.

Ideally, I'd like to be working 10-15 hours a week from home in my field (during naptime), to keep my skills sharp and resume up to date. The extra money would be a nice bonus but not the primary motivation. I'm planning on talking to someone I know that started his own consulting company whether this is really feasible -- I suspect it's more reasonable to think I would need to work 20-30 hours per week just to get jobs. That would require some sort of daycare or nanny-share, which I'm not sure I want to do quite yet (DS is 18 months). But we also want to have a 2nd child soon so this is kind of my window of opportunity to do something before I take time off again.

In a few years I would like to be working half-days while both kids are in pre-school, then 30-ish hours a week so that I can be home when they get home from elementary school. It would be really cool if I were my own boss, consulting for companies rather than being an employee. Not sure how to get from here to there, though...

Expensive couple of months

April 26th, 2007 at 04:30 pm

March and April have been unusually expensive.

First, we were within $200 of the laptop saving goal, so when DH mentioned he really wanted to go ahead and get it, I said ok -- figuring we'd just take the extra $200 out of our "free" allowances ($100 each). So we ordered it and I was very happy that we'd made a savings goal and reached it.

Then one of my cats was run over -- he had a habit of walking just in front of the tire as I was slowly pulling into the garage. Neither DH nor I saw him. Since it was a Sunday, our regular vet was closed and we had to take him to an emergency animal hospital. They required a $500 pre-authorization just to attempt to stabilize him and take x-rays. It turned out his injuries were too severe and we had to put him to sleep. (Although they did give us the option of several days and thousands of dollars of ICU for "a chance" at recovery.) Total bill: $667. I really believe our regular vet would've reached the same conclusion for much less. I asked what were the low-cost options for taking care of his body, and was told that the cheapest was $85 (and that county wouldn't be any cheaper.) I grew suspicious when I read the details and discovered that this included scattering his ashes at sea! At this point I was considering burying him in the back yard, though I'm not sure it's legal. They said they would keep him for a few days at no charge until we were ready to make arrangements. I called my vet and found out they charged $37, then called the county and found out it was only $10! What a way to make money out of grieving pet owners! I was able to pull money out of our "basic savings", "clothing", and "free $$" catagories to cover it and so did not have to touch any of our reserve or emergency funds.

Then in early April I had to visit the ER to rule out appendicitis -- still no bill yet so I don't know how much my copay will be. I think it's either 10% or 20% for the visit and the procedures, up to a max of $2,000. There's $250 in the "medical" catagory, another $250 in "dental", and of course the emergency fund if the bill is really big.

The next day I realized my other cat had stopped eating. I took him to our vet, who wanted about $500 to do x-ray, blood work, urine test, and give fluids and appetite stimulants. Knowing that we weren't going to pay for any extreme measures such as chemotherapy, I really pressed the vet to ask how likely it was that the tests would reveal a treatable condition, as opposed to just going straight to pallative care. The vet hemmed and hawed, and finally said the minimum we should do was give fluids and take an x-ray for $270, then decide whether to do more tests. The x-ray revealed a massive abdominal tumor, so we went straight to pallative care (fluids and special food). The cat didn't seem to be in any pain, I think he enjoyed a few extra days sitting in the sun, so I'm glad we didn't put him to sleep immediately. About 5 days later he seemed to be distressed, so I was going to take him in to be put to sleep, but he died just before the vet opened. I tapped the "repair home" catagory (where we keep $500) for this, and will build it back up over the next couple of months.

Then we purchased airline tickets and reserved a room at a B&B -- a trip to celebrate our anniversary. My mother is keeping DS, so it will be our first big weekend alone in along time. Luckily we had budgeted and saved for this trip and so are still able go go. We don't have as much as I'd like in the catagory to cover dining out and other purchase while we're there, so we'll need to watch our other discretionary spending in May to stay on track.

Earlier this week DS stumbled and got a cut above his eye that required 3 stitches. Our pediatrician sent us to the Children's Hospital ER (she doesn't do stitches on the face in the office), so that will be another largish medical co-pay.

All in all a very expensive couple of months. We will have to work hard at building our reserves back up.

DH is on-board with the budget review!

February 19th, 2007 at 03:07 pm

Hooray! In the middle of January I asked DH to sit down with me twice a month and go over our envelope balances. I did this because he had made a joke that I was beating him over the head with Mvelopes, and I realized that our budget had always been a one-woman show. After the 2nd review he made the comment that he liked the system and it was really going to keep us on track, and after our 3rd review he asked if I wanted to do it weekly instead of twice a month! I actually prefer twice a month but it was nice that he was so enthusiastic.

DH has a fiscally sound mindset to begin with, which makes a big difference, but before we started the envelope system we had trouble communicating about our spending priorities and where we stand financially. I think what makes this system work for us is that I print out the envelope balances and highlight just the ones we need to talk about -- anything that is in the red and the progress toward goals that DH really cares about. This makes the discussion go very fast. Every time one of us mentions wanting to buy a big-ticket item, I create an envelope for it. We don't necessarily fund the envelope, but it makes it easier to talk about prioritizing. For instance, we recently decided to move all the "landscaping" money to "laptop" and "US vacation". DH regularly asks me if we have enough money in the envelope to buy the laptop yet, and seeing the envelope grow from month to month is very motivating.

The default catagories in most budget software group things by "Auto", "House", "Household", etc., but I find it useful to do something a little different. I based my catagories on the All Your Worth system of dividing money between needs, wants and savings. Further splitting the wants and needs between "monthly" and "accruing" makes it really easy for me to do a sweep of extra funds from just the "monthly" envelopes at the end of the month. Before I split them this way I had to look at every envelope each month and decide which to sweep and which to let grow. In the utilities envelopes I do carry over $10-$25 to the next month, and only sweep above that amount.

The "misc" envelope deserves special mention. I've found over the years that it's hard to predict what I'm going to spend each month at places like Best Buy, Linens -n- Things, the post office, etc. I might buy nothing several months in a row and then make several purchases in a row. I've decided that it doesn't matter exactly where we spend the money that goes to those places, as long as the total isn't more than $300 a month.

DH and I each have a "free $$" envelope that can be spent on anything we want. In keeping with All Your Worth I make a distinction between a basic grocery allowance in "Monthly Needs" and the "fun" food (and alcoholic beverages) in "Monthly Wants".

The envelopes that tend to go in the red most often are "dining", "food", "misc", and "clothing zetta". Usually "cash", "home depot", and "target" have enough extra to cover the first three, and I transfer my free money to "clothing zetta". A purist would insist that we never make a purchase that would cause an envelope to go red in the first place, and if money were tighter I would follow that philosophy. As it is I feel comfortable with moving money between envelopes in the "monthly" catagories to eliminate red at the end of the month before I sweep the extra funds into one of the "big-ticket" envelopes.

I regard the "emergency fund" as untouchable unless DH gets laid off, so the "basic savings" is sort of a "baby emergency" fund. It was very welcome when I discovered we were going to owe on taxes this year. I'm still trying to decide how much we should keep in it. The "emergency fund" has two months of all spending -- counting the month-ahead funding we really have three months worth -- if we cut out all wants and savings this would stretch for 5 months.

We are able to fund the envelopes a month ahead -- DH's two Feb paychecks sit untouched until after I do all the bookkeeping on March 1. If you are living paycheck to paycheck I highly recommend saving a month's spending so you can switch to month-ahead funding.

Here are my catagories:

Monthy Wants
baby stuff
cash
cleaning
dining
food (above basic groceries)
home depot
misc
netflix
target

Accruing Wants
clothing DH
clothing zetta
free $$ DH
free $$ zetta
charity
gifts

Big-Ticket Wants
landscaping
laptop
laundry cabinets
vacation US
vacation overseas

Monthy Needs
car fuel
car loan
grocery (basic allowance)
home HOA
home mortgage
utilities cell phone $10
utilities gas & electric $25
utilities phone/dsl/satellite $10
utilities water $10

Accruing Needs
car insurance
car registration
home insurance
home property tax
professional membership
life insurance
medical
vision, dentist

Savings Investment
ROTH contrib
investment contrib

Savings Reserve
basic (ie baby emergency/slush fund)
emergency fund
car repair reserve
home repair reserve

Unpleasant surprise in the paycheck

February 4th, 2007 at 08:17 am

I was looking over DH's first paystub of the year and noticed that the company didn't withhold a contribution for 401k. Grrrr...this company is pretty poorly managed, and we had a big fiasco at the end of the year when they didn't have the open enrollment information available until Dec 15 -- after we'd already left the country to visit my inlaws -- and they required the forms back before Dec 31. We had to sign up for health insurance without having any information on how much the premiums would be, and I still don't know whether we've got any LTD coverage. Looks like you had to re-enroll in the 401k instead of your previous contribution just continuing automatically.

So I told DH about it and didn't think much more about it until I sat down to fund our envelopes for the coming month. The January paychecks were $250 less than normal. Very odd -- without the 401k contribution it should've been higher than normal. Did our medical premiums go up that much? So I dug out an old paystub from the end of 2006. The medical premium was only $20 more. The main difference was that the new paycheck had $300 withheld for something called OASDI. This didn't ring a bell until I went to www.paycheckcity.com -- it's social security.

There is a cap on how much income is taxed for social security, and apparently instead of spreading the payments evenly across the year, we have this withholding until about October and then suddenly get a larger paycheck. Unfortunately I based our budget on a paystub from November, so now I have to find a way to trim $500/month. Ugh. Although I'd prefer to have a simple budget with the same contributions to each envelope each month, I think I may have to make an exception for the envelopes for Christmas gifts and IRA contribution, weighting them more heavily at the end of the year.

Blew it on the 2006 W-4

February 2nd, 2007 at 09:27 am

2006 was the first time I decided to adjust our withholding so that we would have more money coming in each month and not get such a big refund at tax time. It's kind of complicated for us because I have to take into account dividends, capital gains distributions on the mutual funds, capital gains/losses of any stock sale, and an unpredictable AMT recapture credit. So I was very keen to do our taxes this year and see how I did.

Looks like I blew it. We're going to owe about $1380 on federal and $840 on state. We won't have to dip into the emergency fund, but it does almost wipe out the funds from an envelope I call "Basic Savings" -- I guess you could consider it our baby emergency fund rather than the emergency fund we'd dip into if DH got laid off. It also means that now we really really have to live within the budget I set up in Mvelopes -- I'd hoped to have a few more months to fine-tune it.

When working on the W-4 I correctly anticipated about $6k in dividends, but I'm not sure about the $13k in capital gains distributions. And I completely forgot about $15k in profit from where our broker advised us to sell one mutual fund and redistribute the money to some other funds. I can't remember why we did this, maybe it wasn't performing that well. I've decided I need to keep a notebook where I write down the reason for each purchase or sale. I have about $600k spread across 11 different mutual funds (within the same fund family) and I really couldn't tell you why. Luckily I was conservative on the AMT recapture, predicting $850 when we got back $2500, and we had a capital loss carryover of $10k, or we would've ended up owing a lot more!

I don't trust TurboTax's W-4 page -- it told me to take something like 12 deductions in 2006! I can't remember if we did that for any lenght of time, but at the end of the year DH's paystub shows that we were taking 6 deductions and still ended up owing money. TurboTax is telling me to take 12 deductions for 2007 as well...something's not right. There's a withholding calculator on the IRS website that I trust a lot more:
http://www.irs.gov/individuals/article/0,,id=96196,00.html
and it has us at 5 deductions.


Booknotes: All Your Worth

January 26th, 2007 at 05:12 pm

Until I read this book, I never had a good sense of when my saving was "enough" and it was ok to spend on things that would be enjoyable today. I almost missed out on buying my first house because I wasn't sure it was ok to reduce my 401k contribution from 15% to 10% for a few years. On the other hand, after marrying my DH, we bought a larger house together and remodelled the kitchen, and I didn't have a good sense of whether the amount we were spending on it was ok or should've gone into long-term savings instead (we paid cash, so it wasn't "beyond our means", just a though call on enjoying life vs saving).

All Your Worth was the first book I've read that gave the guideline I was missing. Her recommendation is that you divide your money 50% for needs, 30% for wants, and 20% for saving/debt reduction. It strikes me as a reasonable balance that should allow you to have some enjoyment of your wants today while still saving for tomorrow.

Here are her definitions of needs, wants, and savings:

Needs: Mortgage or rent, utilities, a basic grocery allowance, car fuel, all forms of insurance (health, dental, car, home, etc.), minimum credit card payments, car loan, phone and internet access (necessary for job hunting), and any contracts you've entered into (such as a cell phone contract).

Savings: Emergency fund, 401k and IRA contribution, extra payments that reduce loan principal, long-term investments (for instance stocks and mutual funds), and other long-term savings vehicles

Wants: Everything else -- clothes, entertainment, cash, dining out, vacations, groceries above your allowance, etc.

The thrust of the book is that you analyze your needs, wants, and savings to see where you're out of balance. The point is to focus on finding ways you can save big bucks (insurance) instead of pennies (Starbucks coffee). (My favorite quote is, "What do all these financial advisors have against coffee, anyway?"). If your needs are too high, she advises you to look for ways to reduce them by taking out less expensive insurance and not entering into contracts. She has a section on how to tell if you ought to go to extreme measures such as selling your house or car and buying a cheaper one.

She goes a little too far for me in saying you should pay for all your wants in actual cash. The book is geared toward people who have credit card debt, so I felt some of the advice didn't apply to folks who have some assets built up. She is a big advocate of paying off your mortgage early, where I think it's smarter to invest that money in mutual funds and get a larger return.

She also gives some examples of when it's ok to temporarily violate the 50/30/20 rule. One example was taking a couple of years off after the birth of a child then returning to the workforce.

As for myself, our budget is currently 58/33/9, so we are out of balance a great deal on the needs side, and a little bit on the wants side. I'm working on getting the wants down to 30% so we can increase the savings/investing to 12%. (Interesting -- I set this goal initially because I thought increasing our savings in small steps would be easier to stomach than making a big change. I just checked with my Target Savings Goal calculation from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting Rich, and to meet our TSG we need to save exactly 12%!)

Here's the breakdown of our budgeted needs:
mortgage/tax 36.0%
insurance 3.3%
utilities 3.3%
car loan 2.8%
contracts 2.9%
groceries 4.4%
gas 5.4%
total 58.2%

We might be a candidate for downsizing the house if I didn't plan to return to work in a few years. (If I were to go back to work our needs would drop to around 40% for part-time or 30% for full-time.) Although I plan to shop around, our insurance already has high deductibles so I don't think there's much savings to be had there. The biggest places to consider saving are the car loan and contracts -- that's 5.7% that isn't going into savings. The grocery allowance is reasonable (in fact we enjoy cooking and entertaining so there's a separate line item in our budget on the wants side for food above the allowance.) Gas isn't going down unless DH changes jobs or the Middle Easts settles down.

I actually set up the catagories in my budget according to needs, wants, and savings rather than the traditional auto, home, etc. This makes it really easy to quickly determine how my balance is looking.

x-post from How expensive are kids, really?

January 16th, 2007 at 02:16 am

Another cross post:

My baby is 15 months old now, so here's where our money went for the big purchases (in San Diego). I'm in a position to buy new when I want it, but I also like getting a good deal at a garage sale or resale shops. Not everything on my list below is essential, so you can cut back where you see fit.

Even if you breastfeed, be sure and ask for free formula samples at every doctor's visit. I ran into issues with my milk supply at around 4 months, and because I had stocked up on the free formula during the early visits I saved quite a bit of money. If you don't use them you can always donate them later. Also, use up your formula coupons before they expire! I got caught out with quite a few of those.

I made some of my own baby food, but found that even using frozen veggies I wasn't saving enough to make it worth the effort. I calculated that it was about a 20% savings -- but 20% of $30 is only $6.

I use the most expensive brand of diapers (Pampers) because I like them the best. Target and Costco brands are about half the price. I've heard that cloth diapers can be quite expensive initially (you need multiple sizes as they grow), so do research and the math before making a decision. Of couse you save a bunch when you use them for a 2nd kid.

There's also a Carter's clothing outlet where I often find new clothes for $5-$7 (as opposed to $10-$20 new). You can get resale clothes for $1-$5, but some are very faded so you have to be willing to dig.

My equipment list (below) for the first year comes to $1540. I'm sure I've missed some things and the little extras add up so $2000 sounds quite reasonable. I might suggest budgeting closer to the $100/month for diapers, formula, food, and extras. And check out the increase in insurance with your husband's employer, since everyone's rates are different.

Currently I seem to be spending about $75-$100 per month on things like toys, clothes, and misc purchase from Babies R Us. I'm spending about $50/month on diapers and $40/month on whole milk and baby food, so I'm closer to $150 - $200 per month for baby. I think our insurance is about $100 extra per month.

If I had to, I could probably cut back to $25/month on toys, clothes, and misc, $25 on diapers, and maybe $30 on milk and food, for a total of $80/month for baby.


0-3 months
combo stroller/car seat $75 new at Target
bassinet gift, but I've seen them for $40 resale
crib & mattress $200 garage sale (was $600 new!)
bouncy seat $20 resale
pack-n-play $25 garage sale
monitor $20 new
front carrier $60 new
breastfeeding pillow $40 new
bottles, nipples, etc about $30 new
diaper champ $25 new
2 changing table pads $25 new
diaper bag free from hospital
breastfeeding free
diapers can't remember, maybe $60/month?


3-6 months
swing -- gift, but I've seen them for $40 resale
exersaucer $40 resale
backpack $20 resale
playmat $15 ebay
breastpump rental for 2 months about $150
breastfeeding free
formula supplements free samples from doctor's office
diapers $50-60/month

6-9 months
jogging stroller $25 garage sale
high chair $120 new
convertible car seat $120 new
convertible car seat (2nd car) $120 new
better backpack $60 resale
baby proofing stuff about $40 new
3 gates, $60 each = $180 new
formula $20/month Target brand
baby food about $30/month
diapers $50/month

9-12 months
umbrella stroller $30 new
walker/ride-on toy $10 resale
outdoor baby swing $10 resale
formula $20/month Target brand
baby food about $30/month
diapers $50/month

12-15 months
2 gallons whole milk per week -- about $18/month
baby food about $20/month
diapers $50/month

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One expense I forgot to mention when I did this post was clothes for mom! Not only do you need maternity clothes, but also clothes to wear as you are losing the baby weight. Losing weight is highly touted as a benefit of breastfeeding, but my experience was just the opposite -- my body would rather cut milk supply than let go of body fat, and after the first month I did not lose any weight until I stopped breasfeeding at 7 months. I'm still 10 pounds above my pre-pregnancy weight, and as a result have bought 3 pair of shorts, 3-4 pair of jeans and pants, 10 summer tops, 10 winter tops, and underwear in my current size. I'm working on those last 10 pounds again, but will reuse the clothes after the next pregnancy.

x-post from Budgeting Software

January 16th, 2007 at 02:02 am

I hope it's not bad netiquette to cross-post between your blog and the boards. I'd like to keep some posts that I spent quite a bit of time on here on the blog where they're easily accessible to me. The forum and the blog potentially reaches different audiences as well.

Edited excerpts from my thread, "Looking for envelope budgeting software":

Here's a summary of the links for anyone else who is interested:

My Spending Plan:
www.myspendingplan.com

Mvelopes:
www.mvelopes.com

Crown Money Map:
https://www.moneymapsoftwaresupport.com/default.asp

Home Budget:
http://softperfection.com/hb

Budget:
http://www.snowmintcs.com/products/budgetwin/index.php

YouNeedABudget:
www.youneedabudget.com

Home Budget 4.0 from Tucows shareware:
www.tucows.com/preview/198092

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Someone mentioned these to me -- I'm not sure if they are envelope-style or not.

Personality Budget
http://www.personalitybudgeting.com/

My Budget Planner
http://www.mybudgetplanner.com/partner/homemoneyhelp/mbpmain...
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I've been looking for envelope budgeting software. I've found two website-based systems so far -- mvelopes.com and mysendingplan.com, but I'm wondering if there are any others worth checking out.

My main issue with these packages is that I want to download transactions from my bank and credit cards instead of typing them in manually.

MySpendingPlan is all manual entry of transactions. The main advantage is that it's free (paid for by advertising).

I signed up for the 30-day free trial with Mvelopes. At the time of my post they were having issues with Bank of America, but I loved the look and feel of the software. They have since fixed the problems, and I think I will keep it. At $10/month for a year's subscription it is quite pricey compared to other software.

Both of these companies keep all your transaction info on their servers. This does allow Mvelopes to offer a cool feature where you can check your envelope balances via your cell phone. Personally, I'd really prefer to have software that keeps it all local on my PC rather than on somebody else's server.

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I found a 3rd package I'd heard of -- Crown Money Map at crown.org/cartproducts/product.asp?sku=MM966

The interesting thing I've heard is that they offer a web-based version that is really a Mvelopes back-end with a Crown user interface.

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Overall the software will basically do what I want, but I was unhappy with the user interface for importing transactions. I'm a quick typist, and prefer to keep my hands on the keyboard instead of doing a lot of clicking with the mouse. The problem I had was that after importing a month's worth of transactions, I couldn't just arrow up and down and enter the envelopes -- with a lot of tabbing I could get to the catagory and envelope fields, but I had to keep going back and forth between the mouse and the keyboard to advance to the next transaction. It also has no mechanism for importing from a comma-separated-value file, so like Mvelopes I'd be stuck either entering all my transactions manually or waiting until the end of the credit card cycle for my BofA account (which defeats the point of envelope budgeting IMO.)

I liked the look and feel of Mvelopes better, as the main view is envelope centric instead of account-centric, and with Mvelopes I had more control over the catagories (Money Map has 10 built-in catagories that cannot be renamed or deleted, and these are displayed first.)

However, I will say that Crown Money Map is only half the price of a one-year subscription to Mvelopes, and once you've bought it it's yours, so that would be a point in its favor.

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I plan to check out the trial versions of Home Budget and Budget (which is available for both Mac and Windows) after we get back from our Christmas vacation. I have high hopes for Home Budget, as it looks keyboard-friendly and has QIF imports (I have a CSV to QIF converter.)

Anyone else care to tell what they like or don't like about the various programs?


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I quickly checked out the free trial of Home Budget. The overall look and feel was pretty good, but I was unhappy with the transaction download -- some of the field tabs weren't set up so I had to use the mouse to save and move to the next transaction.

Mvelopes has fixed the Bank of America problem so I've decided to stick with them despite the high price.

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Just added a new one I heard about, youneedabudget.com. I contacted the company to find out if you can import transactions, and they said the feature was in beta and should be released in a month or two.

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And another one from Tucows shareware:

www.tucows.com/preview/198092