Finally, a good budgeting tool
There are two product categories that I’ve spent way too much time and money on. One of them is task management, and the other is budgeting/financial tools. In some ways, I’m glad there are an abundance of budgeting tools out there; everyone deals with their money differently. I’ve personally felt like every tool has required I make compromises in how I deal with my money. Until PocketSmith.
PocketSmith is my new budgeting tool, and I feel much more confident about this transition than any others I’ve made in the past.
This won’t be a full on review, but here are some highlights. I’m also not going to include screenshots from my own usage because, well, my finances are none of your business 😉. I’m also going to admit I’m too lazy to purge screenshots of personal data. Maybe one day if my blog gets tons of traffic…
Forecasting seems to be a foundational piece of PocketSmith’s DNA. In my opinion, the lack of good forecasting tools render other budgeting apps worthless. I want to be able to see how my choices today will impact our finances in a month, 6 months, 1 year, and beyond.
I make wiser financial decisions when I can see how a purchase or investment will play out over time. Seeing future balances is extremely motivating. Sometimes forecasts give you a taste of fear, and other times they entice you with a reward (ie a bigger savings/discretionary spending account).
One of the coolest forecasting tools PocketSmith has is scenarios. You can experiment with different financial scenarios and see how it plays out over time. You could, for instance, see how taking the family to Disneyland in March will impact your ability to shop for Christmas gifts in December. Being able to easily do this type of financial experimentation is liberating. It takes the guessing out of the question “What if we..”.
Handling debt accounts
My family has leveraged lines of credit to pay down debt faster and facilitate some business ventures. This means our finances have sometimes been in the negative for a long time. Many tools break when you try to do that.
I feel like PocketSmith handles and displays debt accounts the way I think of them which is that they are treated no differently than a checking account. Sure, you can also input limits and interest but functionally they operate the same as a checking account. I love it.
If you frequently use overdraft accounts, you know the pain of dealing with transfers. This could almost be it’s own section, but Pocketsmith handles transfers well. On Quicken, for instance, I had to constantly check to make sure transfers were recorded correctly in both account ledgers. The transfer matching in Pocketsmith eliminates the double entry.
Some of the best apps out there force you to use a 1st–31st monthly budget. This is absurd. Credit cards don’t follow that schedule. Paychecks don’t always align perfectly to months. I get paid on the 15th and 30th now, but I used to get checks every fortnight (2 weeks), which meant some months I’d get 3 paychecks instead of 2. Monthly budgets are impractical today.
PocketSmith budgets are set up exactly how your finances work in real life. You can also set them up to work how you spend. Do you like setting a weekly limit on a category? You can! Do you like putting money aside for yearly expenses? You can!
Seriously, PocketSmith has the best budgeting flow I’ve encountered yet. They are a bit more complex to understand than the simple monthly bucket of money, but significantly more useful.
Importing and Categorization
If I’m honest (which I do try to be on occasion), Quicken is the king of importing and categorization. It helps that the banking industry has largely built their exporting tools around Quicken. I feel like all the non-Quicken tools are too optimistic in how accurate or helpful their importing and categorization is. I appreciate that PocketSmith knows it’s hard to get auto-categorization right. So, they let you choose how categorization happens.
First, you can completely disable auto categorization (which I’ve done). At first, I didn’t understand why this was a helpful feature, but doing this prevents importing new categories from the bank (a common trait for non-Quicken tools—PocketSmith isn’t immune here). No more cleaning up my categories lists.
Second, you can create rules or filters for merchants. I know that Costco Gas is always going to be categorized as “Gas”, so I can create a filter to assign all Costco Gas transactions as “Gas”. Think of this like the old Gmail filters. This type of control is far superior to the “black box” auto assign method most other apps take.
Finally, they have a categorization “inbox” of sorts. Their mobile app is even focused on categorization. For me, this means all my Amazon or Costco transactions are sitting, waiting for me to categorize them. Since those merchants almost always span more than one of my budget categories, I appreciate being able to process them manually, rather than trying to see where a faulty auto-categorizing tool placed them.
Net worth tracking + Reports
As we’ve started doing more investing, tracking net worth has become more important to us. PocketSmith offers this and does it well. Several investing gurus recommend tracking your net worth, and now I’ll be able to do it automatically instead of relying on my never-up-to-date spreadsheet.
They also offer the typical reports you’d expect in a decent financial tool. Income/Expense report, category reports, and more.
Tools I’ve tried before
This is not an exhaustive list because there are literally tools I can’t remember the name of:
- Quicken—It’s adequate at most things and amazing at nothing
- You Need a Budget—I love how opinionated the product is. I really wish this one had worked out better. It didn’t work well with debt accounts and I could never figure out how to track credit card spending correctly.
- Mint—who hasn’t tried this. It’s an expense tracker, not a good budget tool
- MoneyWiz—Love that mobile devices get all the same functionality as desktop. Despite the seemingly clean design, it’s cumbersome and frustrating to use.
- Personal Capital
- Quickbooks—Complicated. Works pretty well for personal finance but it’s clearly overkill. Way too expensive.
- Billguard (now Prosper Daily)—great for having a transaction “inbox” but not much else
- Banktivity/iBank—Very Quicken-like but harder to use and really ugly to look at