Money Plus: A Hands-On Approach to Finance Management

There is certainly no shortage of finance apps available for the Mac. For some odd reason, Intuit has shied away from offering it’s full-fledged Quicken software for Mac. They offer a watered-down version called “Quicken Essentials for Mac,” but as someone who has used it, I can tell you that they are using that word “essentials” loosely, and charging far too much for the app. It lacks even the most basic features that people expect of any software for tracking their expenses, paying their bills, and organizing their finances in general.

As a result, the field is wide open for competing finance apps for the Mac. Today we are going to take a look at Money Plus, and see how it stacks up against the competition.

A Simple Approach

Money Plus helps you deal with budgeting and analyzing your spending, but does so in a very simplified way. Rather than just import all of your information from your credit card companies, banks, and stock brokers, Money Plus lets you do all of the entries manually.

It markets this feature as a “secure” method, eliminating any risk of hackers gaining access to your sensitive financial information. You input every paycheck or other form of income, and you input every expense. From there, the app will show you how you’ve been spending money, and some other interesting comparative statistics.

For some reason, the app shows you this welcome screen every time you open the app, with no option to turn it off.

With all this simplicity, however, comes a limited feature set. Though more secure, you lose the convenience of having all your daily transactions imported automatically. If you are someone who uses cash everyday, remembering to enter your purchases into the program can be a challenge. Furthermore, if you use your credit card, you may still have to open up your statements to make sure you are entering the correct amounts.

The overview screen shows a summary of all your expenses and income sources.

Pros

The app approaches the problem of organizing your finances with an intuitive interface. Along the top of the menu bar, you can select one of five main windows. “Overview” lets you see a summary of income and expenses for any period of time you choose. “Daily” shows all of your transactions listed in order. “Categories” will break down your income and expenses into different types. “Budget” lets you create budgeting goals and see how you have been sticking to them. “Graphs” will create visual representations of all of the above information. Rounding out the rest of the menu are a calculator, date selector, and “New” button for inputing transactions.

The budgets feature allows you to see how much you've spent in a category versus your goals.

While the menial task of manually entering every purchase you make and every paycheck you receive sounds frustrating, you can create repeating entries to save time. As I entered different expenses, I realized how much of a time saver this was. Many of my bills, such as my cell phone, Internet, Netflix subscription, etc., do not vary month-to-month, and therefore could be repeated.

The information that Money Plus gives is also well thought out. The app can show you your average daily income and average daily expenses, thus allowing you to see what percentage of your income has been spent. The budgeting feature is also nice, because it shows you a progress bar that fills up as you approach your self-imposed spending limit. The graphs feature is surprisingly well-designed, and lets you see daily spending, cumulative spending, and category spending. Each one has a nice little animation as the bars fill up.

You can see how much you've spent in all your defined categories.

The default categories are General, Food, Housing, Auto, and Miscellaneous, but you can also add your own. I found that the more specific you can get with your categories, the better the analysis of your spending will be. If you see that you are spending, say, 50 dollars a month on coffee, then you can make it a point to start making coffee at home instead of giving Starbucks so much of your hard earned cash.

Cons

As I mentioned, simplicity comes at a cost of limited features. Perhaps the biggest knock against not only this app but a general trend that has emerged in the financial app category for Macs is the manual entry of transactions. I used this app for a week, and looking over my entries, I am positive that I forgot a few.

An iPhone app exists, but I don’t think that having it would change my feelings; I would rather not have to pull out my phone and type out everything I buy throughout the course of a day. I brought up an example of buying coffee everyday and showed how the app could help you recognize that you are spending too much, but would you really want to type that in every time you buy a cup? It’s only a couple bucks here and there, and that might convince you that it’s not worth entering into Money Plus. But saving money is about long-term spending habits, so the idea of having to manually enter that becomes a big turn off.

The icons look cheap, and your options for choosing them for new categories is limited.

While the user interface is laid out well, it also isn’t exactly the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen. The icons look like they were all downloaded from some icon set, and the fonts remind me of a Mac OS around 10.3 or so.

Despite it’s simple interface, the design does have a few strange flaws. For one, when you’re entering a transaction, if you realize that none of your categories really match your entry, you can’t create a new category in that box. You have to cancel, go over to categories and create a new one. Little annoyances like that make your workflow feel disrupted.

As I mentioned, the repeating tasks are a nice addition but have their own setbacks. Take salary, for instance. If you have a salary that remains relatively constant month-to-month, a repeating income input makes perfect sense. But for anyone who has a highly variable income, such as service industry folks who make tips, repeating tasks is not going to be feasible. I also mentioned using the repeating expenses on things like my cell phone bill, but if you have bills that vary a lot, the feature may be less useful.

The options menu gives you next to nothing. You can set a password if you'd like, and change the currency based on where you live. That's it.

The calculator function is nice to have, but is not nearly as robust as the Mac’s built in calculator, (for those of you who may not be aware, you can select ‘View’ and choose from advanced calculator types on the Mac).

Comparison to Similar Apps

Until Quicken starts respecting Mac users and releases their full-featured software for OS X, I’ll be forced to use alternatives. Fortunately, Intuit, the company that makes Quicken, runs the widely-popular Mint.com web-based financial management app that automatically tracks, categorizes and presents your income and spending. I use Mint.com, and I’ve been very pleased with it.

There is no such thing as a completely secure online banking solution, so Mint.com has it’s risks. Apps like Money Plus understand this risk, and present an alternative to those users who are hesitant to hand over all those passwords to one site. However, the risk/reward ratio of using Mint.com has always convinced me to continue using it. The web app lets you do everything Money Plus does, and more, with the convenience of it all happening automatically.

As far as Mac desktop software options, I have also used Koku, Money, and Chronicle. I think Chronicle is the best comparison to Money Plus in terms of features. What makes Chronicle better than Money Plus, though, is the ability to look ahead to your upcoming bills via iCal integration. The interface on Chronicle is also much better.

Should I Buy This?

I’ve already expressed my opinion about the entire category of finance apps that force you to manually enter your transactions. If you find yourself agreeing with me about how unappealing the idea of doing that everyday would be, then you should avoid not just Money Plus, but all apps in this category.

If, however, you like the idea of manually entering transactions because of the control it gives you and the security it provides, then Money Plus may be worth a shot. However, even though Chronicle costs five bucks more than Money Plus, I think you will like Chronicle more for it’s expanded features and cleaner interface.


Summary

A simple, easy to use app for organizing your finances.

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  • Scott

    I agree, if you don’t want to spend a LOT of time manually entering data then there is no point buying these apps. They put your behavior in a box. If you want to track all that stuff and live by a budget, digitally, then buy Numbers or Excel or Calc (free with OpenOffice). Why? Because you can setup your budget and tracking exactly how you want. That way, you can enter your data and make the most use of them; rather than trying to fit your methods into somebody else’s box. Alternatively, you can get an app that imports data from your bank, but know that none of these will be strictly “automatic”—you still have to make sense of the data and correct errors. And enter your cash receipts.

  • Corinna

    Hi, thanks for the review. I bought this app in January and have been using it all year; I don’t mind entering the things manually… I just hang onto receipts and take 5 minutes every couple days to enter stuff.

    One question I’m hoping you can answer: how can you view all the transactions in a category? For example, let’s say you click on categories and see you’ve spent $500 on food this month in 4 transactions… how can you see the dates and amounts of each of these transactions? This is one thing I haven’t found on this app, and I’m wondering if I’m just blind.

    Please tell me if you know :)

    ~Corinna

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