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Ask HN: Do you use budgeting software?
44 points by _null_ 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 75 comments
Besides an excel spreadsheet, do you use any software for calculating your household budget? I find it hard to trust any cloud solution that is allowed access to my bank account info (e.g., Mint), but it's hard to deny the convenience and reporting capability.

Built an ad-hoc system using flask, Google Spreadsheets, and Twilio (where I work) that my wife and I have been using for 18 months now -- far longer than any other system has stuck.

- budget tab: tracks category + allocated budget for the month

- expenses tab: tracks date, amount, category, description

- when we spend money, my wife and I text, eg, "13.31 restaurants lunch at chipotle" to a Twilio number. A flask app splits the body of the SMS expecting "X.XX category description", and uses the Google spreadsheets API to add the row to the expenses tab. (Yes, we manually enter every expense, either via SMS or via the spreadsheet. This was a habit we picked up the old YNAB. We could automate this to some extent, but the discipline of having to do something when we spend money has been beneficial).

- I get a confirmation text. My wife gets a text saying "Greg spent $13 on Chipotle. We have $132 left in the lunch category this month."

- Texting "report" to the number kicks back a text with each category and the amount remaining this month.

It's an imperfect system. Some small dollar stuff gets missed. But it's super flexible for reporting since its just a spreadsheet. Because I built it, I actually use it. The confirmation texts have instilled a bit of accountability between the two of us and also serve as a nice reminder during the day of what the other person is doing. ("Hey! Thanks for logging your lunch. How was it?")

Been meaning to write a blog post about it for a while. Will do so if there's interest.

Cool. Would you say the SMS plays an important part? Or would e.g. a Telegram bot work as well for those of us who do not work at Twilio?

Yes, you should be able to recreate the experience on any platform where you can deploy a chatbot (which really overstates the complexity of the logic that's happening here).

This would be so cool!

I am definitely interested in technical details on putting something like this together.

Seconded. This sounds like an interesting project, and I'd definitely be interested in implementing something like it myself.

Wow. I've used Twilio API before... had no idea you could do something like this. How do you log categories?

We define one word categories and their allocated budget in the "budget" tab, then the inbound text always takes the form of: "X.XX category as many words for description as you'd like."

As for doing this kind of thing with Twilio, here are the two building blocks you'd need:

Twilio + Python: https://www.twilio.com/docs/sms/quickstart/python

Python + Google Spreadsheets: https://www.twilio.com/blog/2017/02/an-easy-way-to-read-and-...

Very cool. I'd love to see a blog post. Will keep creative twilio use in mind for my next side project :)

What is it about this system that you like better than YNAB? (new or 4)

The interface is anything that sends SMS (well or a google spreadsheet, which can be viewed on many devices), and all party members can get an alert on spending.

I like it

Affirmative. The text input is as low friction as possible, and a spreadsheet is as flexible as possible.

We also couldn't figure out the YNAB methodology. I know people swear by it, and we probably just didn't put in enough effort. But we attended a webinar, made it one month, then couldn't figure out how to duplicate our budget for month two. It was just different than how we are used to thinking about finances.

Also -- and this is probably the biggest thing -- I built it myself. For 99.999% of the population, YNAB is an objectively better product. But as a developer, I can't overstate the satisfaction that comes from my wife using something that I built multiple times a day.

How much is this in Twilio fees each month?

About $5. ($1 for the phone number, and ~500 messages a month).

Yes, YNAB, it rocks: https://www.youneedabudget.com/

They have an opinionated, cult following that seems a bit weird at first, but if you approach the situation with humility and the real need to budget you'll realize YNAB is really good. You want opinionated software when it comes to something like budgeting. You want a system you buy into and has been proven to work, not a system that lets you do anything how you want.

If you tried YNAB before and didn't jive with it, try it again. The new version they released about 6 months ago was a really good update.

It's $5/mo. The software is simple but works. The mobile app is good. The bank syncing is as good as it can be. Realizing how using a credit card for most payments affects your budgeting process is tricky at first, but that's because it's a tricky thing to account for. YNAB make it pretty easy to make credit card payments mesh with your actual budget.

The founder wrote a decent book: https://www.amazon.com/You-Need-Budget-Paycheck-Paycheck-ebo...

Re: cloud solutions accessing your bank account—the benefits outweigh the risks. Living without a budget is very expensive because it's so easy to spend money on things you don't actually care about instead of things you do care about.

- The benefit of having a budget long-term is probably hundreds of thousands of dollars, and getting the things you want out of having money vs. haphazardly blowing money. - The risks of a budgeting company screwing up with your cloud data is real, but doesn't outweigh the great benefits.

I've also been tracking this company which is building a pretty slick looking desktop app: https://medium.com/actualbudget http://actualbudget.com/ https://twitter.com/actualbudget

This makes me want to retry YNAB. I tried it about 2 years ago and I couldn't get in the habit of pre-allocating everything and I don't think they had account syncing to managing where my money was going was more work than something like Personal Capital or Empower.

I will definitely give it a try now :)

Actual budget just looks like a YNAB rehash, but worse...

I use a combination of Personal Capital to get a high level overview of income and expenses by category, along with a custom Google Sheet I made that breaks out projected and actual spend by category. I started out using Mint and was largely happy with it, but found the PC interface much cleaner and faster, along with a better mobile app. That, along with my own personal dislike of Intuit as a company, was enough for me to switch to Personal Capital.

Each weekend I'll take a bit of time over coffee and breakfast to review, mostly to keep tabs of how much money is flowing towards certain categories and how I am doing towards my own personal financial goals.

It's a great habit to get into, and once you get the hang of it, its truly eye opening, but I'd caution not to become too obsessive over it. Life happens, some times you will go over in some categories, and thats OK. Learn to roll with the punches.

I'm the founder of Actual, a budget system that I want to be easy to pick up but also informative: https://www.producthunt.com/upcoming/actual

It's a completely local and free app. Sign up and I'll be sending the beta out in the next couple weeks.

It embraces the envelope-style of budgeting, and does it in a way that makes it easy. I think this style of budget makes it really easy to see what's going on with your money without much work.

In addition to that, reports are important and we'll provide the ability to write any custom reports to tailor the system to your lifestyle. Everybody's life is different so we all have different needs, so it's important to allow flexibility.

Let me know if you're interested, or have any questions!

I use EveryDollar; it ticks most of our boxes, but it's not a ledger (it doesn't give me any confidence that I didn't make an error in my allocations). Still, it's good for planning and trcking. They also have a $10/month premium plan (which I use) that automatically pulls in transactions (a la Mint) but I don't get the spammy adverts and they had a much better privacy policy last I checked. Still, it's SaaS...

I second EveryDollar. It allows your budget to be flexible month-to-month because spending in different categories will always ebb and flow.

I use Mint to track my habits retroactively. I wouldn't have guessed otherwise that I spent $20k on Amazon alone last year, and $12,000 on Seamless! It really adds up. It also makes adding up business expenses at the end of the year a breeze.

I second Mint.

It also allows for CSV export so data can be imported into other apps. Although, I'm not sure if it would work as great if I had to track joint accounts shared with a partner.

I'm using YNAB while manually inputting each transaction, rather than having it linked with my accounts. It might sound like a hassle at first but it's just a reflex now, whenever I buy something I just enter it in there. At the end of each week I'll open up my bank app and compare what is in there against what I have in YNAB and this flow has been fine for me. I had tried a few other apps before but I couldn't stick to any of them, the idea of budgeting upfront and then adjusting as purchases are done, moving money from one category to another, really clicks for me.

It works great and has drastically changed the way I spend money since I've started using it, I'm much more aware of what I can actually spend and less stressed. The reporting features are also great to see how much I spend on average on a given month etc.

Pricing has gotten a bit steep for new members but I still think it's really worth it, it's the most useful service I'm subscribed to. Some of Android app recent UI changes were a bit questionable but I got used to them.

I'm trying YNAB as well. Support was superb giving me a longer period for trying it, since its kinda expensive for me. The web version is great - the Android is meh but ok for saving transactions.

YNAB is pretty great. I allow it sync transactions from my bank accounts, but its budgeting system works fine if you're willing to enter transactions in manually.

It is a refined form of envelope budgeting, and allowed me to go from an engineer that made a lot of money, but spent willy-nilly to an engineer that knows what's up, and with a rising net worth.

I like that it encourages you to look at the money you actually have and allocate it to what it needs to do ("Rent", "Savings for christmas gifts", "Car replacement", "Efund"...), as opposed to forward looking budgets that are just guesses about what you want to spend going forward.

Second this.

I've been using YNAB for two years now and pay the yearly subscription. I'm from Europe so I can't connect it to my bank accounts, so I enter every single thing by hand, and it works fine for me so far.

I've grown to like budgeting and generally managing finances which is pretty helpful now that I work as a freelancer through my corporation.

+1, I use the syncing but originally YNAB didn't have that feature and you entered things by hand. Either works.

I personally think entering transactions by hand is better, because it makes your spending habits more visceral.

We use Ledger CLI[1], and once I got over the learning curve I really liked it. We keep individual files for each card or account and have a set of scripts to tie them all together and give us the output we want. Toss it all in a self-hosted git repo and update every week or so. While I do wish we could make use of ofxclient and ledger-autosync (just isn't gonna happen with some of our accounts), the discipline of going through each line item is really valuable in tracking spending and kinda the State of the Household.

[1] - https://www.ledger-cli.org/

I use my own. Lacking a better name, Financial App [1] is a single page application installable on smartphone homescreens and tablets, and of course usable on the computer. It allows setting budgets, tagging expenses to keep seperate track of them, monthly digest of expenses, reporting etc. We use it at home with multiple accounts (to also keep track of our private expenses).

The application is built using ASP.NET Core, webpack, Typescript, knockout.

[1]: https://github.com/Sebazzz/financial-app

I think you can do a lot with a simple spreadsheet. I have a sheet that I copy from month to month, where I record my wages in one sheet, then reference that total in my budget sheet, where I decide what categories to allocate, and I carry over any left over from last month that wasn't used. I have a percentage column, a recurring amount column and a actual amount column. Any one of those three will be a hard coded amount, the others will be calculated, depending on the case. For example, you only want to spend so much for heat/electricity each month, so that is hard coded in the actual amount column, whereas I'd want to carry over leftovers that I didn't spend in my donation budget, so that goes in the recurring amount. Savings then is a calculated amount. It shows a nice pie graph too, to visualize what you're editing.

Then I have a spending sheet where I record the category, amount and description.

Finally I have a spending info sheet that adds up all spending for each category and compares it to the budget throughout the month. That way I can calculate the leftovers, or if I didn't allocate enough that month so I can adjust next month.

It's worked great for the past year for my wife and I

I'm just trying this (free and open source): https://github.com/firefly-iii/firefly-iii

I dislike giving all my data to (cloud)services like Ynab, who sell all your data/profile to others...

FWIW https://www.youneedabudget.com/privacy-policy/

"We do not sell users’ data. (And we never have!)"

They make money by charging $5/mo and having a large cult following.

It's worth nothing... especially if you know that payment information is worth A LOT of money.

There is no way at all to verify they are not selling your data. Also, there is no law that forbids them to do so.

There are most definitely laws that forbid them from stating "we do not sell your data" and selling it anyway.

Also, why would they sell your data? The bank accounts you connect to YNAB already have your data and sell it. Do you also not use banks?

I seriously doubt that. Facebook says they don't sell your data, do you believe them also? ( https://www.fastcompany.com/40554491/zuckerberg-keeps-insist... )

Where i live (Netherlands, Europe) banks are not allowed to sell our data.

Facebook doesn't sell your data. They use it for advertising, but that is done internally.

I also don't use Facebook, and try not to associate myself with their drama

> Facebook doesn't sell your data

That's what they say (just as Ynab says.) But that's not what really happens:

"How to Check If Your Facebook Data Was Sold Off": https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/check-facebook-data-sold-off/

I used to use Mint. I'm not an impulsive spender so there was minimal benefit. It doesn't require software to figure out most of my disposable income goes towards housing, health insurance, and car expenses.

I use YNAB (You Need A Budget). I don't really keep a strict budget. Just a loose idea of how much I want to spend and use i to track my spending more than anything else.

I like the software a lot, but the subscription model really turns me off. I am grandfathered in to the $40/yr plan from last year so I'm going to keep using it.

I don't link any of my bank accounts, because I feel like it defeats the purpose of budgeting. I love manually inputing my transactions. It makes me feel more connected to my finances and makes me more mindful of my spending.

The biggest problem that I find with programs like mint is that they aren't real time. Even my bank accounts aren't current. They often lag 24 hours, so when I look it may seem like I have more than what I do ... so I guess (often wrong, or forget something) what I spent the day before and try to mentally assign that amount to different categories (like groceries, Transportation, restaurants, etc).

Does anyone know software that can keep real time accounting of my personal expenses?

YNAB gets around this in an interesting way with their "age your money" concept.

When you spend money, you aren't looking at your account to see how much actual money you have. You're looking at your budget to see how much money you previously allocated for a specific purpose.

The idea is that you are spending your "oldest" money, i.e. money that you earned 6 months ago. Any money that came in yesterday is just gravy and you'll budget that later.

In practice, transactions hit YNAB same day or next day for me. If you're wondering if you have money for something, you just pull up the mobile app and check the budget category. Unless you go on a crazy instant buying spree in a single category, there shouldn't be a problem deciding if you have money budgeted for something.

You can download the app for YNAB and input the expenses as you incur them in "real time" as you say.

Bought YNAB for a year ($50) -- heard great things but then couldn't get it to work. It massively helps if you can get your bank to sync transactions with your budget but at the time YNAB didn't have a script for my bank (N26) so made the whole endevour somewhat 'manual'.

So anyone thinking of going for that software my recommendation is to check for such a script is available/easy to use/maintain with your bank first -- then proceed.

Yes. I use old school Quicken. I manually enter transactions to categorize them (most are split -- so anything automatic based on retailer doesn't work well) and then I use automatic reconciliation against the banks' online stuff. I've been doing this since 2001 or so and it's been quite useful. YNAB seems interesting, but switching to a new platform would be... complicated.

If you want to budget in a spreadsheet, check out TillerHQ.com. It uses Yodlee to automatically import financial transactions into Google Sheets. It's popular with people who want to use spreadsheets to budget and manage their money, but don't want to deal with manual CSV files. Just enough automation. Excel will be out this summer. Optional templates to get started.

Quicken, but trying to migrate to beancount. It's hard due to the 20+ years of history/transactions I have in Quicken. If I were starting from scratch, I'd never consider Quicken now. On current versions, if their cloud is down, you can't do jack even if everything else (MY internet, the banks' servers) is up.

Sometimes I use mint. My bank (simple) has simple goal saving that I'll use for toys. Otherwise I 'pay myself first' into savings/investment. It's been working so far. I can use mint to identify problem areas, cut those back, and add the difference to an automatic deposit.

I was using long time Speendee (https://www.spendee.com/), but changed to Toshl (https://toshl.com/).

I would recommend both. Somehow like the Toshl more.


Do you trust these sites to store your banking credentials?

You don't need to store them, in my country you can't even do it has been a great tool to maintain an overview of your money I/O. I tried several apps but only stuck with Toshl, I think its great UX made the difference.

No. Storing banking credential to 3rd party is something I never do. Biased by DEV/IT work experience.

I build habit of entering transactions manualy via mobile app - also very helpfull stay fully aware of spendings.

I use Personal Capital and really think it's a great piece of software. If you're worried about a cloud solution that has access to your financials, you might as well use a spreadsheet.

I'm pretty sure YNAB (You Need a Budget) does not require cloud storage of personal information.

They discontinued YNAB4 so unless you already have a license then you're out of luck. Their new system is SAAS.

Their new system is SAAS but still doesn't require that you sync your accounts. You can still enter transactions manually.

I thought the new version was a great update compared to the older version (including the desktop software non-SAAS one).

You could read OP two ways. One, that OP is trying to avoid having login credentials for his financial institutions saved in the cloud. Two, that OP is trying to avoid storing a detailed log of their purchase and financial history in the cloud. YNAB4 satisfies both of those concerns (despite what the other comment says, Dropbox is not required, any cloud sync will work, as long as you don't use the mobile app), their new SAAS app only satisfies concern one.

YNAB4 used Dropbox anyway...

I use NeoBudget (virtual envelope web app with a mobile app) - you need to manually import your transactions, but it has been rock solid for years: https://neobudget.com/

Yes I do. I use Wallet by Budget Bakers. budgetbakers.com. I use the manual option on the pro plan(no bank account link or anything). Love that it allows me sets budgets for several categories and the expense reports are great too

I've been using YNAB for about 6 or 7 years I think. I really enjoy the software and the ideology behind it. It's helped me quite a bit.

YNAB is pretty good, i bought a year's license, but I didn't stick with it because it started to chug running in my browser :/

Gnucash, but I haven't gotten the hang of it's budget features yet.

Most budgeting is done in a spreadsheet. Cash in --> Cash out, line by line.

I second Gnucash: I've been using it since January, including the budgeting features. There were some weird settings involving which account categories to count as negative/positive transactions to get the budgeting to work.

I found Gnucash to be difficult to use.

It has a higher learning curve.

I would feel better with a paid solution.

I built my own, using daily since 2010. Finally getting serious about offering it up as a product.

Mint for budgeting, Personal Capital for overview of finances and investments.

Wave Apps. It’s free with some helpful paid tools for businesses.

I use Mint to track my spending. I don't budget.

Same, except with Personal Capital (I prefer the interface).

I believe the security tradeoff of granting access to my accounts is worth the financial visibility; without it, it would be a lot harder to review my spending, find any unusual transactions and think about future goals.

YNAB (You Need a Budget) is fantastic

ugh, any spreadsheet will do.

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