Web-based personal finance managers

Over the last few years I’ve made several attempts at improving my personal finance management. With the exception of the last six month, I never tracked my spendings for more than a month or so. Two main reasons for that were:

  1. I never was on a financial edge for more than a month or so.
  2. I don’t enjoy accounting all that much and I never had a tool that made it anymore pleasurable.

Each of my finance tracking periods has been guided by a different tool. I tried a few approaches from plain text and spreadsheet files, through custom written scripts, to widely used applications. None of those worked for me, except for the last one I tried – GnuCash.

I use GnuCash for about six month now. It’s a really nice application, which implemented a few ideas right. But for me two things made it – documentation (especially 3 pages of Accounting 101 shipped with the software) and the wizard which asked a few simple questions and created some accounts for me to use. I started with the simple things, and somehow they worked. Then I tried a few more advanced ones (multi-currency, transaction splits, etc), and I still loved it.

I still love GnuCash. But I am starting to feel the need for a web-based tool. As good as GnuCash is, it has a number of pitfalls for me:

  • All data is on a single computer. I need to back it up myself. I can’t access it if my laptop is not with me.
  • My mostly used tool is Firefox browser, and I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t use it for my accounting too.
  • Web-based services can offer additional goodies such as SMS/IM integration, email reminders, social aspects, and so on.

So, today I started looking for a replacement. My quest began at the LifeHacker post titled “Is Mint Realy For Your Money?” The article reviewed Mint.com service, while comments suggested a few alternative solutions.

Here are the services that I tried. Note – I haven’t spent much time with any one of them. Mostly those were brief sessions of register – create an account – create a few transactions – check the settings – logout.

Yodlee MoneyCenter – looks like something feature complete, but the interfaces are overly complicated and there is a certain degree of paranoia with logging in and out. While it looked like Yodlee was doing everything I needed all at once, the complexity of the interfaces and the general speed of the site made me go away without spending much time there.

Wesabe – got me impressed. Twice. Just a few minutes after I registered, I got an email from one of the co-founders – Marc Hedlund, welcoming me to the community. Marc caught my twit, followed to this blog, read a few recent entries (especially those about privacy concerns and Firefox extensions). His welcoming message provided a few extra pointers in the areas that I appeared to be interested in. Wow! I’ve seen a lot of services with personalized, fast responding support teams, but Wesabe guys (there is a blog and forum too) are a couple of levels above anything that I can remember.

The second impression on me was by Wesabe’s tagging system. Again, being a web addict I’ve seen plenty of sites and applications that use tagging. Wesabe did something really cool – they kept the simplicity of the concept while greatly extending the functionality. You can do anything with tags there. It’s very similar to the way Flickr uses tags for some internal stuff, but here tags are given to the user.

Regarding the functionality, Wesabe takes a more social approach to finance tracking and accounting. Most of the boring stuff is simplified and automated. Things which are used most often are implemented in the very straightforward way. And there is just enough of functionality to make it useful without cluttering the service interfaces and users minds.

There are a couple of limitations that prevent me from using this service right now though. None of the Cyprus banks support a straightforward export of data in any format that can be used to input accounts into Wesabe. So, I’m left with only cash-type accounts. And currently those cash-type accounts in Wesabe cannot track the account balance (no opening balance, reconciliation, etc). Marc mentioned that account balances will be added to cash accounts shortly, since many people requested them. Once this done, I’ll jump back to Wesabe with my bank statements. Really, really neat service.

ClearCheckBook.com – looked like I can work only with one currency at a time. That’s not acceptable. I use three at the moment – CYP, USD, and EUR. CYP with gradually disappear over the next few month, but I’m stuck with USD and EUR for some time to come.

Then I finally got to the service which started my quest today – Mint.com . Unfortunately, I wasn’t at all able to try it out, because it supports only United States banks and financial institutions. There was no way for me to avoid account import from one of those places where I don’t have an account.

So, as you can see from the above paragraphs, Wesabe is the one closest to my needs.  And compared to the other ones it is so much nicer that I’d rather wait for those features that I need rather than settle for something that I don’t enjoy half as much.

What other services are there?  Did I miss anything?

9 thoughts on “Web-based personal finance managers”

  1. Hey, Leonid,

    Thanks for the great write-up! I’m really glad Wesabe is to your liking.

    Do the Cyprus banks provide data exports in any format? We get a lot of requests for CSV import, and we’re working on this, but I was wondering if there were any other formats that might be helpful to you.

    Thanks again.

    Marc Hedlund, Wesabe

  2. Marc,

    I just checked Hellenic Bank and saw that it provides statements in Adobe PDF, Microsoft Word, HTML 3.2, and Excel. I haven’t used any of these yet, so I don’t know what is in there and if it is of any good.

    I guess if Excel is done properly, than it’s pretty easy to convert it to CSV some other easily readable format.

    Let me know if you are interested in sample data for any of these format. I can do an export of a few transactions for you.

  3. Thanks much for the detail. Yes, we are expecting that Excel exports would work with our system (usually banks put out CSV or TSV and call it “Excel,” which works). Also, we’ll add those banks to our list.

    Thanks again.

  4. Hello, I read your blog and found that Wesabe is really a great personal finance mangers.

    But as you say, currently it does not support balance of cash account, and it is critical to us because our bank is not on the list, and other online finance manger is not powerful and easily to use as Wesabe.

    So I write this comment just let you know that I had written a little PHP page that calculate all balance of your cash account in Wesabe.

    And more important, it could embedded in Netvibes and iGoogle, so if you use Netvibes or iGoogle as your network desktop service, you could easily track your cash account balance.

    I think this is a temporarily workaround before Wesabe support cash account balance.

    For more information, please read:

  5. Hi Leonid,

    I stumbled upon this post of yours, and thought I’d let you know that we’ve recently added the ability to have a balance on cash accounts at Wesabe. To enable balance tracking, go to the account detail page for your cash account. Click “Edit” by holding your mouse over the account name at the top. Click “Track balance.” You can set your current balance in the balance field that appears.

    Thanks for the kind words. Let us know if you have any other feedback or suggestions.


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