How You Can Avoid My $800 Mistake with Your Personal Finances
When Jonathan and I first got married in 1999, we got a desktop computer with the money management program, Microsoft Money on it. For those of you who don’t know what Microsoft Money is (or was), it is a money program that basically keeps all your money information in one place. It helps you manage your money, keeping track of your bills, checking accounts, stocks, and investments. And it’s not smart: it doesn’t talk to any websites, so you have to do it yourself, which I liked. My favorite feature of Microsoft Money is manually inputting my checking account transactions to check my adding and subtracting. I really liked having a second source to check against and to tell me if my handwritten check book is on track or not. I have NEVER trusted a bank statement alone to know exactly how much money I have, because there are always transactions that haven’t cleared. This is a bad idea, folks. I know people who have gotten themselves in financial trouble because they trusted the bank statement or their on-line banking account status. It seemed like every three months or so I would make some small adding error, and I would always appreciate having the backing of the money program to help me know what are financial status was as I double checked my math.
When we got a new computer about five years later, we transferred the info pretty seamlessly. Then in 2009 Microsoft stopped selling Money, and I knew we would have to find a different money program soon, although it ran just fine as long as we had that computer the program was on. Well the computer has been pretty slow for a few years, and now with using our laptops so often, we only turned on our old desktop to use the money program. And that computer was out of the way. And it was getting hard to use. It was time to find something new.
I did research back in 2008 for a new money program since we had some warning, and then I just didn’t make any moves. I knew it would take some serious time to make the move. The start of every new year I had this guilt in the back of my head for not transferring our info over to a different system. Then in 2011, I KNEW I had to get a new money system. 2012 was the year for the changeover. After looking at a few programs, I decided on Mint.com. It is smart, on-line so I could use it on any computer, and talks to your different banking accounts. I was nervous about this with the whole identity theft issues out there, but I haven’t had any problems so far.
Anyway, at the beginning of the year I started the money program transition. Mint is kind of intuitive, and yet, I had a hard time getting the bills portion to give me a reminder at the start, but after it reads your bills in your accounts on its own, it figures what a bill is, and you can set it to give you reminders, which is what I’ve done.
You can input your own checking transactions into Mint, too, but it doesn’t keep a running tally of your checking account. It only gives the final amount. I had to have something else that gave me a balance after every checking account transaction. To me, this was the entire reason I used a money management program, to check my math.
So I had gone from January 1 until Easter weekend not having a great way to check my math against my checkbook. It felt weird to me. I told Jonathan my need for a very basic electronic checkbook. Enter the simple, Checkbook ads free app for the iphone.
So as we were driving home from our great Easter weekend get-away, I was inputting all of our transactions from the start of the year. I was loving how I could double check my math against the app. It was working well.
Soon after I started loading all of our checking transactions into the app, I discovered that I had an $800 error. Negative eight hundred dollars. Yikes! I had read a one as a nine, and thought we had way more money in the account then we did, $800 more. I have NEVER made that big of a mistake before. I’ve been known to spend hours and hours trying to find the one penny I was off by, so this was certainly alarming to me.
Before I went into extreme panic mode, I was thinking we would have been alerted by the bank or Mint of the bank charges, right? The Lord was very gracious to us! We usually start the month off with $300 in our checking after paying all of our bills. I was working on inputting the information for March, and in that month we had money in the account that was normally not in there since we got reimbursed for some purchases we made along with the account temporarily housing our tax refund. When I realized we had our tax return in the account I could breathe much easier.
After that mini heart attack, I finished adding our checkbook information, and currently have our main checking account balanced with the Checkbook ads free app.
So why I am writing all of this? This is not a post to try to sell you on any certain product. I just want you to be good stewards of the resources God has gifted you for a time and for you to know what you are actually doing with your money. I highly encourage you to find a money management program, if you don’t already have one, and make sure you keep a current balanced checkbook and have something to check it again. A calculator doesn’t count, either, sorry. We are too human and make mistakes.
Here is a review of 16 personal money programs like Quicken and Moneydance if you are interested from Get Rich Slowly. I don’t necessarily endorse any of them particularly, but I completely endorse the concept of having a money assistant like one of these programs.
Do you have a certain money management program that you like? We’d love to hear about it! I am still not totally sold on Mint yet because of the non-running tally but it’s free, and I wasn’t ready to buy anything yet. Maybe I should now. **Update 9/14: I am just using the free app on my iPhone, MyRegister. It is nothing fancy and gets the job done. Just what I need!
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