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Finance: Letting Your Computer Do the Work

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Choosing and Setting Up Your Software Product
Time to hit the Net! Keeping the previously mentioned components in mind, check out the Web sites of the software manufacturers that interest you. Those mentioned here are Quicken and QuickBooks, produced by Intuit (www.intuit.com), and Microsoft Money (www.microsoft.com/money/default.asp). Other products might be available that could work for you as well, so look around until you find the one that most appeals to you.

Another popular bookkeeping software you might encounter in your research is Peachtree Accounting (www.peachtree.com). This product is excellent for businesses and people with an accounting background, but I strongly advise against it for residential users and sole proprietors who are not extremely well-versed in accounting practices. It is far more software than most users need for tracking their personal finances and, in my experience, people who have not studied accounting find it very confusing.

Setup procedures differ from one software to the next, and often the process has many steps designed to customize the program to your needs. As you dive in to setting up your new program, here are some universal tips:

  • Read the materials that come with the software before you begin – The box often has the best summary of a product's features. Decide which of these you will use and which you will not; most programs allow you to turn on only portions of the program and leave unneeded functions inactive but available to add later.
  • Decide who will be using the software – Will you need more than one user identity?
  • Have your account numbers ready to plug in during the setup procedure – To begin, it's easiest to enter just your checking account; you can add other accounts such as credit cards later if you want.
  • Have your categories figured out – Every software uses an expense category list (the technical term is chart of accounts) to allow you to note what you're spending your money on and then generate reports to analyze your spending.
  • Make sure you have the basics down before you venture into the fancy stuff – Keep your goal in mind and meet it before you move on to something else. For example, if your goal is to use money-management software to give you an error-free, balanced personal checking account with no overdrafts, make sure you achieve that goal before you delve into the other functions that might be included with your software, such as online banking, investing, or creating a budget.
To do list
  • Choose a method to use for backing up your files.
  • Determine which files you will back up on a regular basis.
  • Select safe storage for your backup disks.

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Reproduced from Organize Your Personal Finances in No Time, by Debbie Stanley, by permission of Pearson Education. Copyright © 2005 by Que Publishing. Please visit Amazon to order your own copy.

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