In the past I have harped on GNUCash as an Open Source alternative to desktop applications like Quicken and Microsoft Money. As opposed to desktop software there is the big online account aggregators like Yodlee and Mint. One of the big concerns with the online account aggregation sites is security. You are entrusting all of your logins to one site. An online product which steps in to fill the void between online aggregator sites desktop applications is BudgetPulse. Like desktop applications you have to enter each of your transactions into the system as if it were your check register with the added advantage of it being an online site that is available anywhere you have access to the internet. This review kicks off what I hope to be a series of reviews over the next several months of online and offline finance management applications available on the market today.
The key features of BudgetPulse are account management/expense tracking, Budgeting, and goal tracking. We will take a brief look at how you handle each of these.
If you aren’t interested in my walk through of the features, just jump down to my overall conclusion.
Account Management/Expense Tracking
As I alluded to in the intro, account management with BudgetPulse is considerably more hands on then with the other online account management systems, but is in line with what you expect from a desktop application. Adding accounts is easily accomplished from the dashboard widget, the only information you need to provide is the type of account, the name, opening date, and opening balance. Once you have the account setup you can either start manually adding transactions or import the transactions from a QIF, OFX, QFX, or CSV file. Importing the files works well but the categories don’t get assigned automatically like in the online systems so you will have to assign the appropriate categories to each transaction. If you fail to adequately categorize your tansactions you will have problems when it comes to budgeting.
Adding a new transaction is done through the transactions screen, you can’t add a transaction while looking at the account which I found a little counterintuitive. To add a transaction you have to select the transaction type –Expense or Income–, a category, the account, a description, the date, and the amount. While entering the transaction you have the option to split it, make it recurring, and/or add a note. Categories that have been used in the past pull up with autocomplete information, you can also add categories simply by using a category that has not been used before. This works well unless you fat finger the category name and you end up with the same category twice.
Entering transfer transactions can be easily done from the sidebar while looking at either the account itself or the transaction screens. This is a little better as you aren’t required to leave the account registry to enter a transfer transaction. If you need to edit a transaction once it has been entered it can easily be done from the account registry screen, why they didn’t add the ability to add a transaction right there I may never know.
From a reporting standpoint you can get charts showing Cash Flow, Expenses, Income, Income vs. Expenses, Networth, and a Summary. I wasn’t able to assess the usefulness of the reports because of how few transaction I had in the system. A few samples are below:
Budgeting is done through the budget module. You can select which categories you want to include in your budget and then using a slider you can set the amount you want to allocate to that budget item. If you don’t want to set the amounts using the sliders you can enter the amounts directly. If you need to add a new category that hasn’t been used in your transaction history you can add it using the sidebar.
In addition to your expenses you can set budget items for your income and each account as well. I am not real sure what the budgeting for an account is, maybe to show your savings as a budget item.
For a system called BudgetPulse I was actually surprised at how little there was to the budget portion of the program. Viewing your budget progress can be done on either a visual bar style graph or in a detailed line item report.
The goal tracking feature of BudgetPulse is one of the coolest pieces of the program. You can set goals for yourself and tell the system how much money you want to contribute to your goals each month. But the added benefit is the ability to share your goals with your friends and family and allow them to contribute to your progress. Instead of getting gift cards for Christmas this year, why not ask for donations to your computer fund? All you have to do is configure a goal in BudgetPulse and set it as public then share your goal with all your friends. They can contribute using PayPal, Amazon, or other methods.
So you can get an idea of the contribution process I have setup a goal for buying a new computer. I configured my goal to be $1,200.00 and I linked it to my PayPal account. Feel free to help me on my way, or just check out how it works by visiting my public saving profile. You can contribute money by selecting the contribute money button and entering an amount, this will take you to a PayPal screen allowing you to sign in or pay with a credit card. It would be nice if the public profile didn’t plaster your e-mail address out there for the world to view. They also make a handy widget, to help you out, check it out below:
Overall I think the application has some innovative features. I love the fact they are giving you the equivalent of a desktop application accesible from the web. This allows you to have complete control of how the information makes it in the system but still be able to access it from anywhere. The biggest downside I found was the interface wasn’t what I hoped it would be. I really think you lose a lot by making someone go to a separate page to input transactions. I prefer to be able to add the transactions inline with the register, just like in my checkbook. If something isn’t broke, don’t try to fix it. The budget and expense reports are are minimal but functional and the rest of the system works as intended. If you are looking for a way to maintain complete control of your expense tracking and still have it accessible online then this may be the system for you. If you prefer a hands off approach and that the computer has access to your accounts and handles categorizing your purchases you should look elsewhere because this isn’t going to work for you.
Rate this application, then leave a comment and tell me what you think about it: