Monday, April 19, 2010

Personal Finance - Keeping Track of Bills on Google Calendar

I used to be an fervent user of Quicken. I'd load all the detail in there and even maintained a cash account to track every single last dime.

I did this up until a couple of years ago when it started getting more complicated, and also around the same time that Mint came on the scene and I started loading everything into that. I've never really had any issues using Mint to store info that's available everywhere else anyway.

Mint has slowly evolved to be an online competitor to Quicken. It's still not as full featured, but it's got basically everything I need - namely budgeting and trending tools with the ability to categorize transactions.

Mint works more seamlessly than anything in quicken ever did. I do have to review transactions periodically to ensure they are in the proper categories - it has a tendency to mis-categorize certain things, though you can give it rules to fix that stuff. For example, I bank with USAA and also use them as an insurance company. I tend to get emails that I exceeded my spending on Auto Insurance for the month when really I just made a big transfer to my USAA savings account that it classified as Auto Insurance when really it was just a Transfer. The only other issue currently an issue with my 401k provider not able to be accessed by mint after it was available for a while due to a provider change. Hopefully they'll fix that. In the meantime, there's not really a good way to track that info short of entering it as an asset and manually updating it. It's not ideal, but at least it allows me to still track all my assets in one place.

But other than those small things, mint's served my needs quite well. One of the things I used to use Quicken for was the ability to schedule transactions ahead of time. Like a lot of people these days, I don't "balance a checkbook" in the traditional sense since we hardly write any checks. But I still have a need to ensure that there's the appropriate amount of money in my account to pay scheduled bills. I have most of our bills on ACH withdraw with the respective companies, and have our mortgage on a bi-weekly schedule to coincide with both me and my wife's pay schedule (we work for the same company).

About 2 months ago, my wife was complaining about how she didn't know when bills were due and how much money was left in our joint account, so I decided to create a new Google Calendar called "Bill Calendar" that I'd share with her. I've used Google Calendar for several years, and stepped up my use about 2 years ago when I got a smart-phone that could sync to it via exchange. My wife has also become a regular user of it and we use it to coordinate schedules quite regularly, so it was a good option for me to share this information.

The calendar I created for Bills also helps me to better track our upcoming expenses at a quick glance. It's really simple - I simply put the bill name and amount as an "all day event". It looks like this when it's done:
I do this for all of my bills as well as any regular post-paycheck investments, of which we have several. For the investments and some of the recurring bills that are always the same amount, same due date, I make it a recurring event.

It's working very well for me and is a simple way at a glance to plan expenditures. It also helps me to not forget one time things that I pay for and do a better job of managing our balances.