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