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Toward A Simpler Replacement For Quicken

by Gip Plaster on August 23rd, 2011

There are lots of ways Quicken could be simpler, but I’d like a replacement for this popular checkbook management software because their proprietary practices show a lack of respect for their customers.

My efforts to find a good replacement have been unsuccessful so far, however, and I’m about to buy a new version of their software despite the fact that nothing’s wrong with the one I have.

There must be a better way.

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, but after Mike at Homeless on Wheels wrote about the silliness of proprietary apps, I was inspired to go ahead with this post about why I’m frustrated by Quicken and its alternatives.

I was hoping to offer you solution, but now I’m hoping you have one for me.

What’s Wrong With Quicken

Because I run an online used bookselling business and buy inventory from a variety of sources, I need to manage lots of small transactions for my taxes. If I didn’t have this business, I’d be perfectly happy managing my checkbook by hand.

But as long as I have this business, Quicken or something like it is necessary.

With Quicken Home and Business 2009 — purchased for about $70 at Sam’s Club, I think — I can download everything directly from my banks and PayPal and arrange purchases into the categories I need for my taxes.

Or at least I could until April 2011.

For weeks before that, Quicken sent me emails telling me my Quicken 2008 product was about to “expire”, meaning I would no longer be able to download from my bank or import files by hand. The software would be rendered useless except to manage information I had already loaded into the software.

No problem, I thought. I’m on the wrong email list. I have Quicken 2009, not 2008. As it turns out though, there was apparently no real 2009 version of Quicken, just a re-branded version of the 2008 software.

Not only did my fully functional software expire just because the company that makes it wanted it to, but I was cheated out of year because I bought the product in 2009. Perhaps ironically, I bought the 2009 version because my previous version had expired.

I don’t like software that tells me what to do or makes decisions for me, so I decided I’d explore other options.

Enter GnuCash

I’ve heard Microsoft Money is better than Quicken and easier to use, but I’m not sure if it’s for me. Do you have any experience with it?

I like the idea of free, open-source software.

For example, OpenOffice.org provides a great alternative to Microsoft Office at absolutely no cost, and you can convert and use old Word documents. There are also lots of great free image-editing software packages, audio manipulation programs and CD-burning tools. There’s rarely a reason to buy software.

When I learned about the free, open-source financial software called GnuCash, I thought it would be perfect for me.

Once I loaded it, however, the problems began.

It was much harded to understand than Quicken, much more complex and rather ugly. Still, I was able import my Quicken information. I even changed a few settings to make it look more like Quicken.

With GnuCash, you can’t connect directly with a bank, but you can download from a bank and upload to the software. That’s extra work for me, but to be rid of Quicken’s nonsense, I can live with that too.

There’s a big problem, though. It doesn’t actually work — at least not for me. When I tried to load in new data, it just froze up. Maybe in time, I could have figured out the problem. But why should I waste my time on this?

GnuCash quit on me, so I decided to quit on it. I don’t need these hassles.

My Decision

Since my primary goal is a simpler life — not necessarily one that’s free of proprietary software — I’m going back to Quicken. I see no other alternative. But I don’t like it.

I like my life to be free of nonsense and detached from as many systems as possible, but I feel I’m forced to buy into Quicken’s proprietary stupidness because there isn’t a reasonable alternative.

Do you know of one?

If you don’t, it’s back to Sam’s Club for whatever version of Quicken they have today. Who knows how long it will work.

Software companies can do whatever they want, but I feel I’m cheating on my principles by putting up with their silliness. What do you think?

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17 Comments
  1. marianney permalink

    I have to agree with this Gip. I use Quicken but only because it seems to have all the features I want that a lot of the free online ones do not. My fiance uses QuickBooks for business and he was recently forced to pay for an upgrade too which we thought was completely bogus. I wish I had a better alternative, but at this time, I think they have us by the [you know what]!

    • Thanks for confirming what I suspected. I’m still hoping someone comes forward with a better alternative, but as you can see from the comments below, it’s not happening yet.

      Good to hear from you, by the way. I hope all is well.

      Gip

      • marianney permalink

        Yes, all is well. Sorry i’ve been so MIA lately. Just got A LOT going on! But i do try and pop on once in a blue moon! Hope all’s well with you too!

  2. Maria permalink

    I also failed to get GnuCash to work for me. Wish I had a better solution than Quicken for you but I haven’t found a free or opensource product that meets my needs yet.

    • I suppose I’m glad to know GnuCash has failed for others.

      I hope all is well, Maria. It’s nice to have you commenting here.
      Gip

      • John Grebe permalink

        In a way that is the philosophy behind open source software, it is up to the people that want it to work at making the product that you want. I know chances are you are not able to write computer programs but the reason why a lot of the open source programs are not as good as the proprietary ones is because while everybody wants a free alternative, almost nobody is willing to put in the work needed in their free time to make it a reality. I have a feeling if just 2% of the people that were upset about how Quicken is milking as much money out of people by making their products self destruct ever few years would help out with developing GnuCash, that Quicken would become very afraid and likely decide that its business practices are not worth it once people start voting against them with their wallets.

        • Robert Wall permalink

          As you said, the irony is that there’s more than enough money around to *pay* the people to develop a free/open source program like Quicken – it’s being spent by the people acquiring Quicken licenses.

          As a prediction though, it won’t happen.

          The average user might possibly be pissed off at Quicken to the tune of a $50 donation to a viable competitive product – but the key words here are “viable” and “competitive”. Throwing their money at GnuCash is throwing their money at a solution that is most definitely not a viable competitor to Quicken.

          It’s not a competitive product. It doesn’t even pretend to be. From the GnuCash SourceForge page:

          “Is it as fully-featured as those non-free financial applications? No. Is it perfect? Of course not. But as a free, open-source financial application, GnuCash is the best available.”

          Since the average home user doesn’t care about the values of open source, you’re left with “it’s not bad when you consider that it’s free”.

          Now factor in that Quicken includes product support (by phone!) during that “subscription period”, and that any support for GnuCash is going to be via a wiki or an email list (with no priority treatment if you’ve made a donation), and the average user is (in my experience) going to choose Quicken.

          Don’t get me wrong here – I love open source software. I use a lot of it. But when the options for the average home user are a product with an average cost of $2 per month that is known to work, have the features you want, and includes free phone support (Quicken) and a product with a cost of $0 that’s not known to work properly (by their own admission), may not have a feature you need (by their own admission), and support is a forum where you get to post a question and hope that *maybe* somebody gets back to you (as is the case with GnuCash), the choice for the average user is pretty clear.

          Not trying to be too cynical here, but I don’t see GnuCash making a serious attack on Quicken’s business any time in the near future.
          Robert Wall recently posted What The *BLEEP* Are You Thinking???

          • GnuCash is probably too flawed to save. There may well be a group of people working right now to make a better, free alternative. There are also likely some programmers who have made something viable for their own use and have no interest in sharing it. What’s surprising is that the open-source alternatives to many other applications — like OpenOffice.org, for example — are nearly perfect. Why is there so little interest among open-source programmers in creating a viable financial program?

            If I ever find a solution, I’ll share the news. I can program a little, but I won’t be doing any financial software coding anytime soon.
            Gip

  3. Robert Wall permalink

    Gip, I think you’re looking for a high-tech solution to a problem that doesn’t have to be high-tech. My dad runs his entire business out of Excel spreadsheets. Before that, he used a columnar ledger.

    To him, Excel is just a ledger with adjustable columns. Everything in his business is contained in (I think) no more than two spreadsheets. If I remember correctly, one tracks his bank account – and the other tracks business income and expenses.

    It probably doesn’t have the whiz-bang features of programs like Quicken, but Excel reads and writes CSV – and so does OpenOffice. Most banking/Paypal data is available in that format, so I’d think it would work for you.

    Would that be a viable option?

    • I don’t enjoy working with spreadsheets, but I know how to use them. I’d still like something that automatically categorizes each transaction for me, and that probably means Quicken. But I should play around with a spreadsheet and see what I can come up with. Thanks for mentioning that.
      Gip

  4. Your quest is only made more challenging by the fact that most financial institution seem to only want to interact with Quicken and MS Money. I dunno if this is because of marketing partnerships or just out of banks’ general paranoia of anything new or different. I’m glad you were able to export generic (CSV?) data from your bank and PayPal (I didn’t even know they supported financial software at all).

    My finances are simple enough that I don’t need software to manage them, but a friend of mine tried GnuCash as part of his migration from Windows to Linux. I’m not sure where he stands with it now, I haven’t heard him mention it lately.

    I’d say give it another go, Gip, if your only problem was with downloading the bank data. Perhaps you can find some help online; you can’t be the only one who’s gotten fed up with expire-ware and made the switch.

    • I would think it must work if I keep at it, I’m just not included to keep at it. It could be that I was trying to load too much data at once — I’m behind on downloading because of this — but it didn’t mention a limit. I’m just afraid if it has issues now, I’ll find other issues down the road. And it isn’t very easy to use anyway.
      Gip

    • By the way, my 2009 version of Quicken connected with PayPal directly, something older versions didn’t do at all.
      Gip

  5. Alex permalink

    Gip,

    I use Moneydance as a financial management system, works great for me, that said I run on a mac so don’t have any experience with the microsoft version, might be worth checking out their trial …..

  6. Angela permalink

    So, I have to admit, not only did I completely ignore all of the emails about “retirement” It’s been a while since I downloaded from my bank (Oct 2011) and now I find out my bank is no longer a Quicken Bank – but I can still download QIF files and import that way NOT! since my version (that said Quicken Home and Business 2011!!!) has expired. Very frustrated too. the only reason I upgraded from my old version was auto export from my bank right into Quicken and now I can’t do anything!

    • Thanks for commenting, Angela. I never did find a good replacement for Quicken and have gone back to using it because it’s just so much easier than any other solution. When I find I good alternative, you can bet I’ll write about it here.
      Gip

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