I guess I should start this review off with an admission… when it comes to personal finances, I’m very lazy. So lazy that I never budget and therefore always end up a couple of days before payday with no money. I guess the reason behind this is that setting up a spreadsheet to forecast my financial situation does not appeal to me in the slightest.
However, when Cashculator dropped on my desk this month, I thought I should at least give budgeting a go, if only just to review the software. It turns out that Apparent Software have made a pretty decent little app.
What is Cashculator?
Before diving in to the review, it is probably necessary to clarify what Cashculator is. According to Apparent Software’s website, Cashculator is great for predicting your cash flow, providing what-if analysis, and preparing financially for expected changes. However if you are looking to print invoices, connect to bank accounts and pay bills then this is not going to be the app for you.
Upon first launching Cashculator, you are presented with a clean, user-friendly interface and the tutorial scenario, showing you an example financial plan for an imaginary person. The app is easy to navigate, with clear menu icons allowing you to input your income or expenses, compare different scenarios e.g. “What would happen if I buy a car this month?”, and view your monthly balance.
Setting up your baseline financial plan is the first step you need to take before you can really get any use out of Cashculator and so by clicking “Baseline” in the scenarios menu, you have a blank spreadsheet to work from.
Both income and expenses are split into categories and each category has an icon to help you identify it. Entering your finances is nice and simple; you can use the panel on the right of the spreadsheet, or you can enter directly into the cells.
Personally I found entering into the cells much faster, mainly because there are a number of shortcuts you can take to speed up input.
For example, if you are on a salary of 24,000/year, entering 24000/12 will split your salary over 12 months, entering 2000 in every salary cell for the next year. Or if you get 200 a month back on your investments, entering 200*12 in a cell will automatically insert 200 in every cell for that category over the next 12 months.
You can also perform basic mathematic calculations including +, -, * and / however numbers are rounded to the nearest whole number. The same can be done on the expenses panel, leading to a pretty slick process.
In order to help you budget you can enter expected income/expenses for future months by clicking on the “Plan” tab at the bottom of the app. This looks the same as the Actual expenses, except you are just making a budget for your future months.
Something I found useful was the “Average since” function. Personally, my food shopping bill varies each month, so planning something like this is difficult as there is never an accurate amount. However, with the average function, you can tell Cashculator to plan this month’s expenditure based upon the average expenditure over a given number of months in the past. Say I spent 100 in November and 150 in October, I could take the average and plan 125 in December.
You can view the planned vs actual expenditure on a split cell spreadsheet, or you can see a combined view showing you whether your planned spend was higher than the actual spend or vice versa for the current and future months.
One thing that strikes me as fairly odd is that for past months it will just show the actual spend and not tell you whether it was higher or lower than the plan because, in the developer’s own words, “The plan is no longer relevant for past cash flow.” So if I want to use the ‘Combined’ screen to see where in the past I have gone over budget (for future planning), I can’t, but I can see this for the present and the future. Seems a bit odd if you ask me and is something that should really be included.
Planning for the Future
Where Cashculator really shines is in planning for the future. Clicking on the Reconcile tab brings up your financial plan based upon the details you have entered in the Income and Expenses tabs. The two graphs show your income vs expenses and your balance making it quite easy to see your financial situation for as far in the future as you wish.
If you are on the road to financial ruin you will be able to see, as the red line of your expenses will be above the green line of your income and the blue balance will be pointing sharply downwards.
You can edit the starting balance for current and past months if they are different to the Cashculator predictions, however the software will mark this money as Unaccounted for. If you continually have high amounts of unaccounted money, you should really be asking yourself why you are using the app!
What if I Want a New Car?
Alongside planning for the future, the ability to create “What If?” scenarios and compare them to your current situation is the reason to get this app. Last month I was considering getting a new car but had no idea how it would affect me financially.
With Cashculator, all I had to do was click on my current scenario, duplicate it with one click and then enter a new recurring expense for my new car, as I would have been paying monthly. I can then click on the Reconcile tab to see how this will leave me financially.
However, if I wanted to compare my balance from after getting a car vs not getting a car, then I can do that so easily. The Compare tab allows you to plot scenarios against each other for either Income, Expense or Balance. I can add as many scenarios to the comparison as I want, so I can see what would happen if I were to get a cheaper car, or if I were to get a cheaper car but give up smoking, or if I were to get more hours at work to help fund the car.
The possibilities are endless and this is where the purchase of Cashculator becomes a no-brainer for anyone wanting to plan financially for the future.
Cashculator calls itself a “high-level financial planning application” and, on a couple of occasions, I have found it a little too high-level. For example, I am taxed a percentage of my salary as I am sure almost all of you are as well. It would be great if you could communicate between the income and expenses screen and ask the Tax category to plan for 25% of the Salary. That way, if my salary changes, so does the tax.
The other main drawback is the lack of attention to detail on the icons. While they look nice and clear in the details panel, they do not scale well at all, leaving a lot of them indecipherable on the spreadsheet. Icons should really enhance the navigation and make it easier to find the category you want, these don’t.
You also cannot customise the icons. For example, if I added a number of new categories, each one gets the same generic icon making the icons counter-productive. Also if you delete a category and then re-add it later, you cannot use the same icon. I don’t need to worry about Child Care at the moment, so I would delete the category, but if I wanted to re-add it later, I would end up with the same generic icon as all the other categories I have manually added.
Without wanting to render Cashculator completely irrelevant, you can accomplish most of the same features, such as the basic budgeting and the graphs, in a couple of hours on your spreadsheet software. Although costing a bit more than Cashculator, iWork’s Numbers and Microsoft’s Excel for Mac can both be customised to do exactly what you want for budgeting software.
For a more in-depth and controlling piece of software, Snowmint CS’s Budget provides more features and control over your finances, coupled with the worst user interface known to mankind. At $39.95, its more expensive than Cashculator and just a quick glance at the software shows what looks to be a very complex user interface.
And then there is Mint, the free, online budgeting app. You can generate some great graphs showing how much you have left against your budget and easily track your spending. The only issue is that it appears to be US only at the moment.
However, if you are looking for an alternative to actually manage your finances on your Mac, then look no further than Cha-Ching from Midnight Apps. Version 2.0 is currently at beta stage, and if you would rather keep track of purchases as they occur, as well as budget for the future, you can do both with Cha-Ching. There is also the ability to sync to an iPhone app.
Overall, I must say that I love Cashculator. Planning for the future has never been so easy with the ability to determine whether you can afford a new car, or how much having a child will affect you. For those of us without these upcoming changes in your lives, Cashculator’s basic budgeting features provide an excellent starting point for keeping track of your finances.
However, you can always argue that it is possible to set up a spreadsheet with the same basic features in a couple of hours. If you have the knowledge of how to do this, then maybe Cashculator isn’t for you. Otherwise, at just $29.95 for a family license, it’s a great app for a great price.
Cashculator makes it easy to plan for the future and imagine various scenarios. Basic budgeting features provide an excellent starting point for keeping track of your finances, though similar functionality could be achieved with a reasonable knowledge of spreadsheet software.