Saturday, August 6, 2016

A valuable financial lesson learned


I'm in the process of updating our financial records.  In the process, I'm getting very fed up with various flavors of accounting software.  Most of the supposedly 'secure' online financial record-keeping software has proved, under rigorous testing, to be penetrable by hackers;  so I've decided to keep all our data locally rather than in the 'cloud'.  However, most of the software available today insists on working online, and is very reluctant to let you do things only locally.  As a result, I've gone back to an old edition of Microsoft Money (which I used for many years, but it's long out of production).  To my pleasure, I find it's still more than adequate for my needs, even while simultaneously managing over a dozen different bank and other accounts.  (You can download a free, unsupported version of Money from Microsoft at this link, if you're interested.  Try it.  You might be surprised at how useful it is.)

I've noticed that there's a hidden danger in using heavily automated online services.  They'll link to all your bank accounts automatically, download the latest transactions, and update your records accordingly - all very convenient, to be sure.  However, because you aren't scrutinizing every single transaction, it's too easy for you to simply skim over them, confirm that your records agree with your bank statements, and then leave matters as they stand.  You don't pay attention to detail, because you never have to!

By entering each transaction manually, as the older version of Money forces me to do, I find I'm forced to concentrate harder.  It becomes second nature to check each transaction against a statement and/or a checkbook and/or my bank's Web site (often more than one of them), so that I never skim over anything.  If something seems out of place, it's immediately visible - it doesn't linger, hidden in the background, to catch me unawares in the future.  Already I've found five or six transactions that I couldn't identify to my satisfaction;  so I've dug out old checkbooks, and checked records online, and dug deeper until I could reconcile each one.  (Two are going to the bank for further investigation.)

Doing it this way is time-consuming, inconvenient, and sometimes frustrating . . . but it's also making me a whole lot more aware of our financial 'big picture'.  Despite the drawbacks, there's a lot to be said for doing the nitty-gritty detail work yourself, instead of trusting automated services to do it all for you.  I suspect Dave Ramsey would approve.

Just my $0.02 worth.  YMMV, and all that sort of thing.

Peter

10 comments:

The Old Sarge said...

Just remember: There is no "cloud"; it's just someone else's server.

Erik said...

Being in the IT business myself, and having worked with cloud systems myself, I couldn't agree more.
I'm not in any way an expert hacker, but I would argue that any computer system that a hacker can reach can be hacked. To be safe from attack, you have to make it physically impossible for them to reach it. The cloud is accessible to anyone with internet access 24/7, and it is by its nature easy to find for hackers, which makes it a big target.

Personally I do use some cloud services that my bank offers, because it's convenient, but I also keep local records. I actually use Excel to record all transactions. Yes, it does take time, but once you get into it it's really not that much work, and the benefits outweight the little work it is.

freddie_mac said...

(nods) I've used Quicken for years, but never the auto downloads for just that reason. In fact, I used a truly ancient version of Quicken (2003?) for years with no problems until my computer died. Then, I had to download the newest old version from Intuit (2010, IIRC), which allowed me to transfer my data into the newest version (2013). To this day, all transactions are entered manually, paper receipts are scanned and then shredded.

Richard Tengdin said...

+1 to Freddie_mac. My copy of Quicken connects for updates but I do all data entry manually, it gives me a chance to quality check all the charges and verify nothing has been added. It also lets me check with my wife that she recognizes all the charges...

I will say I have set up automatic push payments for the mortgage and two charities and pull payments for the utilities, insurance, and credit cards. I keep an eagle eye on the cards and balances so there aren't any surprises when the cards are paid off.

I did use Excel for a while even tracking float times for checks but the reporting in Quicken makes a pure spreadsheet obsolete for me.

Nahum B said...

These guys look pretty legit. I've thought seriously about running PFS First Choice in a virtual DOS box on one of my modern machines.

https://winworldpc.com/

Anonymous said...

I'm another Quicken user who will not allow it to network. And I enter everything by hand, check off credit card purchases by hand, and keep a close eye on things. Thus far I've not had any surprises, but one never knows . . .

LittleRed1

Judy said...

I'm so out-dated I have a 2-column ledger made from a spiral notebook. When your financial affairs are as simple as mine; that's all you need most of the time.

SiGraybeard said...

And just to be different, I used to use Microsoft Money, I think my last version was 2004, and it was too intrusive for me. More than I wanted. I basically only want a checkbook, but it is convenient to be able to get a list of all my expenses in a given category, like charitable donations, or how much I spent on shooting in the last year. So some tracking/searching is OK - as long as I say so. I just don't want it nagging me to do anything. I ended up switching to Moneydance.

I don't want it doing anything on its own, and what you say about software automatically connecting and downloading the bank's activity sounds like such an epically, horribly bad thing to do, I'm surprised anyone agrees to it.

Moneydance is basically a dumb checkbook (or can be configured that way) that is completely cross platform. Runs on Mac, Windoze, Linux, iPads and iPhones, too, but I just use it on my Win 7 PC as a checkbook. (And like hell if I'm going to allow online banking from my freaking phone!)

With software trying to do anything for me, my general rule is "when I want you do something, I'll beat you into doing it."

Anonymous said...

I agree. No matter how secure they say it is, there will soon be another story in the news of a hack.

We use GnuCash (I kept typing GunCash, which would really make it popular here), which is off-line, free, and open source. We've been very happy with it, although we use only a fraction of its features.

It's available for GNU/Linux, BSD, Solaris, Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows.

drjim said...

+1 on GnuCash.