Money To Live

June 24, 2009

The End of Money

Filed under: Uncategorized — by moneytolive @ 5:00 am

Recently when I opened Microsoft Money, I read a message that the program would not be available for purchase after June 30, 2009. This is a message from Microsoft:

Important notice: Microsoft Money Plus will not be available for purchase after June 30, 2009. All purchased Money Plus products must be activated prior to Jan. 31, 2011.

With banks, brokerage firms and Web sites now providing a range of options for managing personal finances, the consumer need for Microsoft Money Plus has changed. After suspending annual updates of Money Plus in 2008, Microsoft is announcing today that we will no longer offer Microsoft Money Plus for purchase after June 30, 2009.

We would like to thank the many dedicated users who have been enthusiastic supporters of Microsoft Money over the years, as well as our partner financial institutions who helped pioneer a digital vision of financial management.

Microsoft remains committed to helping customers chart a course to financial well-being. The MSN Money Web site will continue to provide personal finance information and advice plus comprehensive market news and quotes. We will continue to evolve and enhance the online MSN offering in the coming months.

Current Money Plus customers who have questions or concerns can find additional information here.

http://www.microsoft.com/MONEY/default.mspx

I was very sad. This is the first time I have depended on a piece of software and been left stranded when it ceased to be supported. Admittedly, I would not be stranded for perhaps a few years, but I felt like dealing with this now (while I have some extra time on my hands), rather than being devastated in a few years when the program dies at an inopportune time.

Yes, banks and financial institutions provide online services. Yes, I could make an Excel spreadsheet and track everything myself.

I liked Money because it gives the best of both worlds:

  • Best of online websites: automatically integrate transaction-level data
    • I do not want to manually enter transaction to Excel
  • Best of Excel: I can “pencil in” future expenses and see my projected cash flow over the next few months.
    • I cannot do this comprehensively with online programs
    • When I add the actual “future” entries (like paying my credit card bill), I want it to be easy to clean up the predicted transaction. This is very easy in Money.

Not many people talk about entering future transactions, so I do not know how common this is. At any given time, I keep track of these expected future transactions for the next 1-6 months:

  • income
  • standard expenses: rent, food, credit card bill, insurance premiums
  • irregular expenses: travel, gifts
  • tax-related transactions: refund or estimated payments

Five years ago when I evaluated the options for managing home finances, I did not consider using Excel because I did not know how to make it do all the wonderful things it can do. I am now an Excel Expert (at my last job I had a reputation for being very good with Excel while simultaneously being nice; a manager I did not work with brought a young analyst by and asked me to help the stressed-out-analyst with some Excel trickery).

While watching one and a half hours of HGTV (gotta love it) with my cousins (gotta love them), I set up an Excel spreadsheet for my credit card and bank accounts. This is how I did it.

  • Export old Money data into Excel. This was tricky, required careful reading of Microsoft’s online help pages, and required installing a third-party download. Microsoft makes it more difficult than it needs to be (they crippled the functionality of exporting all transactions), and MS’s instructions are flat out wrong (at least for my version – maybe others work?). Since MS is not continuing to support this product, they should provide a software update that makes it easy to export all data in .csv files.
  • Download recent activity from online accounts. The downloads are in .csv (comma separated values) files. Each institution provides the data in a different format, but all provide the relevant info: date, account, type of transaction, merchant. My bank also provides the balance after the transaction (useful for checking my records!).
  • Make a template for importing this data into my Money-like Excel spreadsheet. Since each institution provides data in a different way (columns are in a different order, and some provide more info than others), I need to handle each download in a particular way. The template reformats the columns with 7 clicks of the mouse/strokes of the keyboard. Then it is 6 more clicks/strokes to put the data into my spreadsheet. Though it is possible to automate this process even further (with macros), I am ok with 15 clicks/strokes.
  • Create summary pages. So far, I only have a page of balances, and I plan to add more summary features when the urge strikes (spending by category or merchant, spending and earnings over time, …). The balance page shows the current bank balance, current balance in my records, and the projected balance (and the date corresponding to the projected balance). These Excel functions are used: vlookup, max, sum, and an array-max-if function.

This will be a work-in-progress, and I have ideas for tweaks to the system. I will test it out for a month or so before making any big changes.

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June 21, 2009

A New Home

Filed under: Uncategorized — by moneytolive @ 1:22 am

Money To Live moved to moneytolive.wordpress.com. All posts are here now, and the old website (moneytoliveblog.com) is no longer available.

June 17, 2009

Now I understand credit card debt

Filed under: Uncategorized — by moneytolive @ 5:00 am

While I am still making job applications, I have a strong lead on a job and have some high-paying short-term contract work. I need somewhere to work quietly and without distractions for several hours a day.

Since I am bouncing around visiting with friends and family in various cities and states, I go to Starbucks and other coffee shops. I can be incredibly productive for 2-3 hours (research job apps, do some part time work); it only costs a few dollars to buy a drink or snack; and leaving the house gives my host some privacy.

Independent coffee shops frequently provide free internet, which I use. Starbucks provides free internet when a purchase is made using a gift card every 30 days. I put $20 on a Starbucks card in order to get the internet, and then I made a purchase with the card. Then I made another purchase. I realized after my second purchase with the card that I had no idea how much money I spent.

This never happens to me when I use credit cards.

This never happens to me when I use cash.

This never happens to me when I use a gift card that I received as a gift. (I have a Macy’s card from last Christmas. It is in my wallet, wrapped up in the receipt showing the remaining value.)

Starbucks has done something very well – they got me to ignore how much money I spend. Well, it is very good for Starbucks and potentially bad for me.

Maybe this happened because

  • I did not receive a receipt at either transaction.
  • I already parted with the $20 to buy the card – now it is “free” money. I still remember handing over a $20 bill when purchasing the card.

I love it when I have a new experience that gives insight into how other people feel or think. Before, I never understood how people could rack up credit card debt, but now I (at least partially) understand how someone can make a credit card purchase and not think about the cost.

June 10, 2009

Personal Finance in Elizabethan Times

Filed under: Uncategorized — by moneytolive @ 5:00 am

Two tidbits of personal finance in Elizabethan times, from Bryson’s book on Shakespeare:

Shakespeare is credited with being the first person to write the word frugal, though it was probably in use for years or decades before.

Product shrinkage is nothing new. Product shrinkage has been in the news lately because a serving of yogurt is shrinking, while its price (and packaging) remains the same.

In 1597, a loaf of bread cost only a penny. The size of a loaf, though, had shrunk from a whopping 3.5 pounds to a measly 0.5 pounds.

June 3, 2009

Incentives at the grocery store

Filed under: Uncategorized — by moneytolive @ 5:00 am

I have been back in Texas for several weeks now and can comment on differences in grocery stores:

  • Packaged goods are noticeably cheaper here.
  • Fruits and veggies – hard to say because prices vary with seasons and I wasn’t in Virginia in the harvest season.
  • Junk food is displayed more prominently, and there are more types of junk food

At the local HEB (a discount grocery store that has a “natural foods” section), junk food snacks are prominently displayed. At the upscale grocery stores I frequented in Fairfax County, junk food was not on display at the ends of aisles. Instead, expensive yoga mats and scarves were displayed every few aisles, in between displays of expensive crackers and soy protein powder.

It is very likely that there are stores in Virginia with just as much junk food, but I never saw them.

At the HEB check out, an employee always offers me a disposable camera or sunscreen. The third time this happened, I asked if the employees get a bonus or prize for selling the most cameras. The employee said sheepishly that some people do (meaning he had never gotten it). The prizes range from cash or a gift card to extra break time. (Read this post at the Freaknomics blog for another example of incentives.)

I wonder if cashiers at certain types of lanes are more likely to win.

The HEB at Hancock Center in Austin has 4 types of lanes:

  • self-check out (one employee oversees 4-6 check out stalls)
  • 10 items or less
  • 20 items or less
  • unlimited items

The cashier running the self-check out lanes has no chance of winning the “who can sell the most disposable cameras” contest. These customers want to do their shopping quickly. They get in and get out without talking to anyone.

People in the “10/20 items or less” lanes may be more likely to buy the disposable camera. They are picking up a few items and are more likely to be on the way to an event (a summer bbq or a kid’s birthday party, for example) than people in the unlimited item lane.

What do you think? If you were an HEB cashier and wanted the prize for selling disposable cameras, which lane would you try to work at?

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