iFinance: Budget Tracking That Doesn’t Cost the Earth

We’d probably all benefit from keeping better track of our money, and it’s always great to find a native Mac app to get the job done. It’s a difficult problem to solve, as we all manage money in our own unique way – budgeting, spending and income are highly individualized. As such, the selection of apps in this niche is similarly varied, with each having different feature sets and workflows.

iFinance is significantly cheaper than a lot of the other options out there, so let’s see if it can still get the job done!

Getting Started

There are two ways to get started with iFinance: importing data from another source, or starting from scratch.

Importing

You can import data in CSV, MT940, or Quicken Interchange Format. CSV files usually come from spreadsheet applications, like Excel, Numbers, or Google Spreadsheets. Some banks and online apps (like Mint.com) also export transactions in .csv format.

MT940 (.sta) format comes from some banks, and contains info about transactions and balances.

When you import data, iFinance will give you the option to assign categories to each column to the best fit. I tried importing data from my mint.com account, which seemed to work, but the balance was off, so I think perhaps I ought to have payed more attention to the starting value. You might have to do a bit of math to get the numbers to match up.

The Quicken importing option will please PC converts, and is a feature lacking in some comparable applications.

Starting Fresh

If you’re starting from scratch, iFinacne will ask you to create a new database, which you can name whatever you like. Once you’re into the main interface, you’ll notice a familiar iTunes-style design, with drop-down menus in the sidebar, a main panel, and an info display at the top which graphs the data that you’re looking at, sort of like the iTunes equalizer.

iFinance main interface

Main Interface

The first thing you’ll want to do is probably delete some of the sample data: it has a $200 computer budget set up and the Apple stock tracked.

Transactions

Next, add your first transaction. You should probably make this your ‘starting point’ – a salary or savings amount from which purchases and payments will be subtracted.

adding transactions

Adding transactions

Next you can start adding any other transactions. iFinance suggests you set up a series of ‘accounts’ to keep track of different cashflows. It has ‘cash’, ‘bank account’ and ‘credit card’ already set up for you. Feel free to add or delete accounts, or rename them how you like.

When adding transactions, you can assign a category, or add more categories to the list. You can designate transactions as one-time, recurring, or as a transfer between accounts. The transaction panel also lets you add notes for reference, such as check numbers or beneficiaries.

You can also tag transactions, which is useful for quickly seeing what eats up a lot of money, and they come in handy for assigning budgets.

Transactions can be split between categories, so you can separate receipts or invoices appropriately. Some other transaction features are reconciling, where you can specify whether a transaction is open, closed or pending, and currency conversion.

viewing transactions

Viewing transactions

Making Budgets

One of the handier features of iFinance is the simple budgeting. Select ‘new budget’ from the sidebar, then you can determine the amount for the budget, and which transactions to assign to it.

You can assign transactions via account, categories or tags, so for example any transactions in the category ‘groceries’ or with the tag ‘coffee’ would automatically be counted in your ‘Food/Beverage’ category. You can set monthly, quarterly, weekly, or yearly budgets, or set a manual period.

The status of each budget is displayed in the sidebar, with a positive or negative figure that shows how you’re doing. The info bar at the top also shows an overview of your allotted, spent and remaining money for a budget, and the iTunes-like graph shows weighted category breakdown of the budget.

Viewing budgets

Viewing budgets

Charts

iFinance has pretty comprehensive charting abilities, it gives you a couple of automatic charts to start off with, and also provides the ability to create your own based on the parameters you’re interested in.

You can select a couple of options for each chart, like fine-tuning period, combining values, whether to include transfers and whether to include future transactions.

Charts

Charts!

Reports

Similar to the charting function, iFinance can also create comprehensive reports. Reports display information in lists, such as top expenses by category, tag, week, year, etc. You can make reports of income, expenses, income/expenses, profit/loss etc.

reports

Reports!

Stocks

I admit I’m a little out of my element here, I don’t have any investments, so I’m not the ideal candidate for judging the stock management in this app. The set up seems extremely straight-forward – just put in info about the stock and the amount you have purchased, and it tracks gains and losses in a neat little graph. When I checked the example (Apple) it was accurate and up-to-date according to Google.

graphing

Graphing stocks

Expense Tracking On-the-Go

iFinance advertises its iPhone app as the mobile expense tracker to compliment your desktop app. Despite this emphasis on its expense tracking abilities, it actually takes quite a few steps to get to the stage of adding a new transaction, and the options are not at all intuitive.

I wasn’t very impressed with the iPhone app overall, but it does work as advertised, and syncs with the desktop over Wi-Fi.

iphone app

How do I add a transaction from here?

Conclusion

For its price, iFinance has most of the features you would need in a financial management application. It lacks a bank-syncing feature, though this only works with some institutions in other apps. Now that mint.com can connect all to my accounts, however, I miss having my electronic transactions uploaded automatically.

Overall, as with many financial management apps, there really isn’t all that much functionality that couldn’t be achieved with an Excel spreadsheet. However, Excel itself is expensive, and the learning curve can be pretty steep. iFInance offers a much cheaper, user friendly solution.

In comparison to more expensive apps like iBank, and Money, iFinance is comparable in terms of features (except for the aforementioned bank info importing), and workflow, though the workflow is a little bit clumsier (requiring an extensive manual).

The interface design seems slightly less polished, but it works. I’m not really a fan of the big, bright labels, but they do get the point across.

If you’re looking for a cheaper, yet equally functional option for tracking income and expenses, iFinance could work well for you. I still don’t feel like I’ve found the perfect solution for money management, because an ideal app would also integrate with my bank accounts and have a more intuitive and straightforward iPhone companion app.

As I said before, money management is highly personal – let us know what works for you! Have you found the perfect solution?


Summary

iFinance is a financial tracking application that allows you to import data, keep track of transactions, and monitor your financial activities.

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  • Joshua

    I agree that the interface leaves a bit to be desired, but with some time it can be cleaned up. I myself have done away with the large red and green amount “pill” style in favour of simple red and green text and use text labels for categories instead of the arbitrary colour circles. Removing unwanted columns also helps.

    Before settling on iFinance I tried several of its competitors (Money, Squirrel, MoneyWell, and a couple others) but what made up my mind was having the ability to automatically categorize transactions when importing a CSV list from my bank. You simply add keywords such as “safeway” and “7-eleven”, for example, and any matching transaction title will be labelled as “food”. This saves so much time, and for me this is a big deal.

    If you’re looking for a way to track expenses and budgets with minimal amounts of effort, iFinance works great.

  • http://net.tutsplus.com Jeffrey Way

    The problem with these sorts of apps is, if you live in the US or Canada, Mint.com is a far better solution — and it’s free.

    That was the irony when Quicken for Mac was released. I believe it was around $40, but Intuit’s Mint.com was still better.

    • Stephen Eyer

      And I love Mint.com’s free iPhone app too. It makes it super easy to double check your transactions and categorize them while on the go. Everything is synced with your Mint.com account.

      • john

        but how secure is mint.com really? is there any guarantee of your account information being safe? isn’t there at least a chance it may be compromised?

    • http://tessathornton.com Tessa Thornton

      I agree with the awesomeness of mint.com, but there were long periods of my life (when I was waitressing) where I made only cash transactions, and really should have been keeping track. If you’re all plastic all the time, I totally agree.

  • Răzvan V.

    The biggest problem with it is the single currency mentality of the application. In some countries we don’t have USD or EUR as the de-facto currency. But we (or I ?!?) have accounts in multiple currencies (RON, USD, GBP and EUR). the RON-EUR pair is of special importance to me since the transactions that I make are 45% EUR, 47% RON, 7-8% USD&GBP. Given that, assume I want to chose RON as the main currency and see my total expenses and balance in RON at today’s exchange rate. Assume that I gave 1000 RON in one account, 1000 EUR in another, 1000 USD and 1000 GBP. iFinance should tell me that I have 1000+4200+3000+4800 RON=approx. 13000 RON and I should have one graph in RON showing me the value of my expressed in RON at the respective points in time.

    That obviously implies that even if I don’t have any transactions for a given period of time it should have a slight variation due to the variation in exchange rate. The Romanian central bank (BNR) exposes an API and an XML that can give you the official exchange rates to all major currencies from the RON. Since I choose RON as a main currency, the exchange data should come from BNR (not Yahoo! or other sources, that are usually wrong, especially for the history).

  • http://mobilemoneytracking.com/ mobile budgeting

    Wow its a great concept of tracking money and expenses. I really like your post. I’ll definitely try this.

  • http://sechem.ca/banksEye RamsesII

    You have to check for the new iPhone app Bank’sEye
    Wow you import the csv file from your bank account and
    your done. You simply confirm each transaction …. so easy
    sechem.ca/bankseye go and check that out

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