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Import problems solved

April 3rd, 2007 at 03:56 pm

Anyone who has been following my posts about envelope budget software knows that I've had issues with my Bank of America credit card.

I'm happy to report that there is a tool out there that solves my problem -- MT2OFX. It's available here:

http://www.xs4all.nl/~csmale/mt2ofx/en/

This tool will convert between many formats, but my primary use is to take in a csv (comma separated value) file and convert it to OFX, which is what YNAB takes. It comes with scripts for a number of (mostly European) banks, unfortunately none of them worked out of the box for my csv. It took me about 3-4 hours of playing with the script, but in the end I was able to create a script that does the conversion that I need. I'd be happy to share my script and some pointers with anyone who wants it -- just PM me.

The good news is that this frees me up to use any software that takes QIF or OFX imports.

I did my end-of-month wrapup with YNAB last night. I still find the idea of changing my budget to match my actuals at the end of the month (in order to move money from underspent catagories to overspent catagories so that the month is in the black overall) to be counter-intuitive.

More thougths on YNAB

March 23rd, 2007 at 03:43 am

I've been playing around some more with YNAB, partly to help me write my review, and partly still considering if I would want to switch to it if I can get over the transaction import hurdle.

The budget paradigm takes the classic envelope system and turns it a bit sideways. In a classic system (I'm mainly comparing with Mvelopes here), the flow is as follows:
1. Create your budget based on your monthly income.
2. Put money in the envelopes at the start of the month
3. As money is spent, the envelope balance goes down.
4. If an envelope gets to 0, either don't spend any more for that catagory that month or move some money from one envelope to another.
5. At the end of the month, decide whether to let your envelope keep its balance for the next month, or to "sweep" the extra funds into another envelope.

In YNAB, the flow is very similar, but there are a few twists:
1 & 2. For the budget, you start with an "Available" amount of money shown at the top of the screen. As you assign budget amounts to catagories, the Available number goes down. Instead of predicting how much you will receive in income, the "Available" amount comes from the previous month's paychecks. For many people it is a big challenge to save up enough of a buffer to do this month-ahead funding of their budget.
3. As money is spent, the balance for the catagory goes down.
4. If the balance for a catagory gets to 0, either don't spend any more in that catagory that month, or change the budget for that month to match your spending. This may make your Available balance go red (negative). You can choose to fix this by changing the budget in other catagories (in effect moving money between catagories) or else the tool will subtract the negative amount from the next month's Available balance, leaving you with less money to allocate in the next month.
5. At the end of the month, positive catagory balances roll over to the next month, while negative catagory balances get subtracted from the next month's Available. There is no provision to sweep extra funds, instead you just reduce the budget for that catagory and assign the money somewhere else.
6. When you go to budget the next month, a right-click pop-up gives you the choice of budgeting the same as last month, the amount spent last month, or the average spent in recent months.

So the big difference I see is that in Mvelopes, you set your budget once and then manipulate the envelope balances, while in YNAB you are mainly manipulating the budget. I can't decide if I like this shift in thinking or not. It seems to me that with YNAB your budget will eventually converge with what you are actually spending rather than with what your best intentions to spend are. In either case the discipline comes in deciding what to do when a balance reaches 0 -- do you stop spending or move the money from elsewhere?

One of the big downsides to YNAB is that they don't have an account view, so you (intentionally) can't use it to track your current account balance. This can make it difficult to determine if you've missed a transaction. The author of the software is working on how an account view would fit with his budget philosophy so I'd expect to see something added within the next year.

YNAB is definitely the way to go if you work on commission and your income varies a great deal from month to month. I'd definitely recommend it over Quicken for budgeting purposes. It's good software for the price ($40), but at the momemnt I'm not completely convinced to switch away from Mvelopes ($120/yr).

YNAB and Bank of America

March 19th, 2007 at 10:57 pm

YNAB (see www.youneedabudget.com) finally released a new version of software that supports downloading transactions from banks and credit cards. I've been eagerly awaiting for this release for a couple of months now because the screenshots of the program look so promising.

There doesn't appear to be any way to get a trial version -- instead you can purchase and there is a 60-day money back guarentee that you can get a refund if you're not happy with it. So I went ahead and spent $40 to purchase the PRO version.

I'm planning to do a full review later -- but the inital verdict is that it looks like I would recommend the software but won't be able to use it for myself.

The problem is that our primary credit card is through BankOfAmerica. For some strange reason, while the BofA site provides the ability to save transactions to a QFX file, you can only do this for months that have "closed". So although today is March 19, the latest transaction I can download is the full statement that closed Feb 22. Mvelopes has worked out some way to connect to BofA directly and download transactions on a daily basis. There's usually a 2-3 day delay between when I make a purchase and when it clears "pending" status and can be downloaded, but I can live with that. I can't live with a month-long delay. (And I refuse to enter all my transactions manually, so don't go there.)

I may eventually close my BofA card over this. The current one gets Hawaiian Air freq flier points, and I've been considering switching to one that can be used on any airline.

I'm so disappointed. While I still like the Mvelopes paradigm better, I could live with YNAB and really like the price.

x-post from Budgeting Software

January 16th, 2007 at 10:02 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.

----------------
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