Check your receipt: eHub reviews personal finance sites

Posted by Bryan Collick on Wednesday, July 11th, 2007. Filed under: eHub Features

As time progresses, Web 2.0 gets less esoteric and more practical with sites that are useful for everyday goals. Today, we’ll look at a few web offerings that can help you with your personal money management: Wesabe, Moneytrackin’, and Expensr.

If you’re following the more popular tech sites, you’ve probably already heard of Wesabe (who we interviewed back in November). Their aim is to improve personal finance by community-contributed advice and encouragement. A lot of people say it’s Quicken meets Flickr; I say it’s more like Quicken meets 43things.

The gem of Wesabe is the balance between private and public information. While it is initially unnerving to place your personal financial information out there, Wesabe is very clear about its security. If that doesn’t answer all your questions, you can call the CEO directly and ask him whatever else you need to know–a very nice touch!

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Once you’ve entered your information, Wesabe does a good job of using tags to help you see what you’re spending and where that money is going. In addition, the tagging functionality makes it easy to group pertinent tips together with the transactions and goals that you’ve put in. This is where the community features shine, providing users with general but topic-specific suggestions that can tell you the best way to minimize your electric bill, make your own pizza, or caution you on gambling to win rather than just for recreation.

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Even though the sharing of information is the aspect that makes first-timers the most wary, the community built on that sharing is the very thing that draws you in and makes you feel so strongly about this application. It even has a Facebook app that lets you show your groups and goals to those outside of your Wesabe community. If you’re looking for a better way to organize your accounting and improve your knowledge about personal finance, Wesabe may just be what you need.

Moneytrackin’ has been around for over a year now, and is probably the most comprehensive online personal accounting solution out there. It does one thing–track your money… duh!–and it does it very well. While it also uses tags to organize your purchases, these are not used to connect you to others who are using or buying the same things. Moneytrackin’s tag functionality simply allows you to identify your spending and generate charts that reflect your tagged categories. As far as collaboration is concerned, users can allow shared viewing access to particular projects–but that’s all.

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What Moneytrackin’ lacks in social networking, though, it makes up in spades with its accessibility. It sports a mobile-enabled website, so that you can access your information from your PDA or mobile device. Additionally, Moneytrackin’ offers a handy Firefox extension that lets you work right within your browser (while you shop online, perhaps). The app also offers a UWA widget you can use with iGoogle or netvibes. You can even submit transactions to your account via SMS message. This means that no matter where you are, you can access and update your finances–a feature that has been missing from personal accounting since the checkbook.

Another indication this site is really all about tracking the benjamins is the relative ease of transferring funds from one account to another. Let’s say you drop some cash in your savings to your checking account, and you pay a credit card account with that same money. Or, more simply, you take some spending money out of your account with your ATM card. Moneytrackin’ handles these scenarios in one step–which isn’t the case with the other two. Moneytrackin’ uses the same process for entering deposits and withdrawals, using the minus sign (-) to differentiate transactions. This step adds simplicity, but be careful not to forget your minus signs when entering!

For the individual who likes the details and wants to have them available at any time, any place, Moneytrackin’ is the way to go. A bonus point in my book goes to Moneytrackin’ for being the only site that logs you out after inactivity.

The newest of the three has only been in beta for a few weeks, but it shows a lot of promise. Expensr also uses tags, but these tags work their greatest magic when displaying your profile by your attributes.

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For example, if you are a single, overweight computer programmer in Duluth, looking up Expensr’s attributes lets you see how others in your situations are faring. For example, what’s the rent like for everyone else in your grand city? How much does the average programmer get paid monthly? Are other hefty users spending on fitness or pizza? Is it cheaper to live single? Expensr lets you know the answers to these questions. Or, more accurately, it will let you know, after enough people have entered the same attribute. Expensr is still building its community, so to keep anyone from sorting out which information belongs to which individual, Expensr will only show graphical information about an attribute after a certain number of individuals have used that tag. So if no one else admits to living in Duluth, you may have to find some other way to compare your rent.

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For those who have some experience using personal finance software, Expensr will feel right at home. Its user interface is very intuitive and reminded me of iGoogle–perhaps Expensr will eventually add more iGoogle-like features such as panel arrangement. For an app that’s just starting out, there seem to be relatively few critical changes to be made; whether this is a indication of their fine-tuning or a testament to the levels to which “betas” have aspired, I’ll let you decide.

For someone who is neither a meticulous accountant or a seasoned web exhibitionist, Expensr may be the happy medium. Its simplicity and ease of use are really great, but the true treasure of this site is the comparisons that will eventually be possible once the membership hits critical mass.

All three sites do a good job of helping you manage your finances, even though they do it in very different ways. Your choice of web service will largely depend upon your approach to your money, which is great, as Web 2.0 philosophy supports varied, user-preferred approaches to daily tasks. It will be exciting to watch these communities grow and see what effect they will have on personal finance.

Comment(s)

  1. Aditya on July 12, 2007 at 08:42 AM:
    Although it might not be technically a money tracking website, Bank of america has a feature called portfolio for all the internet banking users. by that feauter you can link all your accounts, credit cards, investment and then track them together. unlike the websites you mentioned portfolio automatically retrieves the data from your accounts..
  2. Bryan Collick on July 14, 2007 at 05:16 PM:
    This is true; I use it regularly. However,the three applications reviewed above provide a combination of folksonomy, access, and community that you will not find on BoA’s Portfolio.

    Additionally, these web apps can be used by anyone�not just BoA’s customers.

  3. aditya on July 15, 2007 at 08:10 AM:
    True. I wish there was a website which consolidated information from all my bank accounts… automatically. but Then.. i would trust anyone with my bank info.
  4. Mark on August 17, 2007 at 09:17 AM:
    Interesting, but I agree that I’d need impossible reassurances for me to trust putting my bank details into a machine.  What would Barclays feel knowing you can read peoples details on a different site, with or without their permission?
  5. WebbedUp on September 05, 2007 at 11:24 AM:
    I have found that the web app Yodlee MoneyCenter is a very useful and handsfree personal finance tracker.  Granted you must enter all your personal account info into their system, which takes a leap of faith in their encryption promises, but I can say that it is worth it.  Every transaction is automatically downloaded by the webapp so that the user does not need to input any information, other than tagging the transactions.  It is a VERY helpful, timesaving website for those of us who do not have the time to update finance websites, but want the benefits of financial software.
  6. Steve on February 22, 2008 at 03:11 PM:
    Can you also account for savings account interest and things like that? I want to find the highest isa rates so that what I input as interest is as big as possible.
  7. CindyS on March 07, 2008 at 11:44 AM:
    I’m going to have to take a look at all three of them to see which one fits me best although I am leaning towards Expensr already.  I like the idea of being able to compare my stats to others as I am fairly stats driven…
  8. Edoma on April 16, 2009 at 01:32 PM:
    I recently discovered a website that changed my financial life and view about budgeting.  For those who do not want to give out personal identity and access to bank account but still want a functional and easy to use online budgeting for free, Out Of The Dark (OOTD) is a little gem.  Budgeting and expense tracking in one stroke, ridiculously simple and easy to use, with tons of helpful online guidance, for me it’s just too good to be free as I heard others commenting on OOTD.

    It’s on the web at:
    http://www.myexp.org/OOTD_gate.php