Dancing with the pennies

Posted on by Mike Evans

Since I started this blog I've been meaning to review MoneyDance, my chosen accounts package. The name is a bit of a put-off and sounds a bit frivolous, I agree. It isn't the prettiest product and doesn't look like a typical Mac application (but there's a good reason for that, more later). Yet I have been happier with this product than I ever was with a range of predecessors, including Quicken and Microsoft Money. MoneyDance is robust and easy to learn. It isn't cluttered with links to MSN or other commercial web-sites and it just works, solidly and reliably. Title_callout

For the amateur bean counter the interface is straightforward and intuitive. In common with other personal accounts packages you create accounts to mirror your bank and credit card accounts. You can also add asset accounts to cover property or monies owning to you, liability accounts for loans and money you owe, and investment accounts for stocks and shares. All accounts can be nested so, for instance, you can create an overall section for "Savings" and then add all your savings accounts as children of the main account. This is particularly useful for separating currency accounts. Keeping your accounts organised is therefore very easy.

Again, like most personal accounts programs, MoneyDance allocates income and expenditure to "categories". However, there is a major divergence from other products. The "categories" are not tags but are fully-fledged accounts as in a proper grown-up bookkeeping system. This delights the more experienced user who can post journal entries between expense or income categories. If you want to reorganise or change a category, most packages force you to change the category of every item in every account. With MoneyDance you can simply pass a journal entry to transfer a bulk total from one expense category to another. This is wonderful for anyone who knows about bookkeeping, but it isn't necessary to know anything about it unless you need it.

There are two must-haves for my accounts system: investment tracking and currency support. It is amazing how many packages completely ignore currencies. In Europe that's not a good idea because we all tend to travel around. In my case I live in two countries so I have accounts in both sterling and euros. MoneyDance copes really well with cross-border movements and, of course, currency exchange rates are downloaded automatically every day, just as stock and share values are updated. 

Earlier I mentioned that MoneyDance doesn't look like a Mac application and there is a very good reason for this. It is probably the only multi-platform personal accounts manager in the world. There are versions for Mac, Windows and Linux so there are no problems in switching from one system to another: the datafile will open and work on any platform. This was a lifesaver for me eighteen months ago when I was stuck in Greece with a dead MacBook (it turned out to be faulty third-party random-access memory). Fortunately I had a USB stick containing the latest backup of my MoneyDance file. I was able to download MoneyDance to a nearby PC and I could open and work on my accounts without the slightest problem.

While MoneyDance is aimed at the personal user, it is powerful enough to handle small business accounts and can be set in preferences to deal with VAT.

Sure, you can find prettier and more exciting accounts packages but, for my money, reliability, flexibility and proper double-entry bookkeeping principles are of overriding importance. There is also an iPhone version in the offing, but not yet seen in alfa or beta versions.

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