Well it’s finally here the much awaited release and my review of Quicken Essentials for Mac. Okay maybe not everyone was waiting for my review but it’s nice that it’s finally out I think you can agree. There’s a definite drought in the Mac world as far as personal finance software is concerned. The good news is that the field is widening as the You Need a Budget 3.0 is in full swing which will run on PC and Mac. I was anxious to see how this Mac specific version stacked up to YNAB and also to Quicken 2010 for the PC which I recently reviewed. So grab a cup of coffee and let’s see what they’ve got.
By the way most screenshots are clickable for a nice wide 1024 x 768ish view of the window.
Where to Buy?
There’s honestly not a reason to buy a physical copy of Quicken Essentials in the store as you’ll see in the unboxing section unless you can get a great deal. You can purchase direct from Quicken and download it immediately to get going.
Quicken Essentials Unboxing
Large cardboard box with a CD in a paper sleeve and a flipping credit card offer. Quick installation instructions? Nope. Bonuses for those who purchased the actual physical copy? Nil.
Keeping in tradition with the Quicken 2010 version there is nothing in the box but when you install the software there is a getting started PDF that is somewhat helpful. It pretty much covers the basics of getting going and was enough for me to get cranking.
Like the other Quicken software I’ve used the help is severely lacking. It doesn’t have inline help like you’d expect from most any program. I’m honestly a Mac noobie and the detailed help built into Snow Leopard got me going no problem but once I fired up Quicken Essentials it’s just not there. Instead you are directed to the Live Community where you can look up the information. I would have much preferred that there was a base level of help and then I could go online to get more data if needed. I really think the Live Community is an easy way to get users to make the documentation for them.
Quicken Essentials Startup Screen
When you fire up Quicken Essentials for the Mac for the first time you get a quick 3 step process overview which gets your pertinent information to start tracking your expenses. First you’ll setup your banking information, throw in any recurring bills you want to track and then finally setup some spending or savings goals. It’s budget like.
Quicken Essentials Check Register
Pretty much a mirror of most personal finance software including older versions of Quicken and Microsoft Money. It’s the familiar date, payee, category, tags, account and amount. As you should be able to you can split your transactions among various categories and assign tags to each and every transaction. Each transaction is a single line so it’s much easier to navigate through all of your transactions. No surprises here it works perfectly fine and is probably where you’ll spend most of your time.
Downloading Transactions into Quicken Essentials
Previous versions of Quicken required a two step process to download transactions involving importing them and then accepting each item. Quicken Essentials merely downloads and then categorizes into the appropriate account. I can’t comment on any issues with this as it worked fine for my downloads. To me I did like the old double check of me approving my transactions but I’m a little paranoid. Quicken claims to have connectivity to over 13,000 different financial institutions. Indeed my credit union and bank were represented but I could not automatically download the transactions from my credit union I had to import a downloaded file. That is a function of my credit union’s choice not to participate in the automatic download not the fault of Quicken Essentials. Again if you are paranoid that might be a better option anyways to keep your account information even more private. It’s nice that you have the option either way. Above notice the manual download portion just drag the file onto the window and you’re good to go.
Identifying New Transactions
When you import your financial institutions data it will show up with a blue ball in the status column. Once you have review it and mark it as reviewed it changes to a blue circle. There’s at least a highlight so you can make sure that transactions matched appropriately or not. They will eventually age out and change the status to the blue circle after time.
Quicken Essentials Scheduled Transactions
It’s very easy to setup a recurring transaction, go to the Transactions menu a flyaway window shows up where you can pick on a calendar, schedule the recurrence and all the features you’d expect. This does highlight the nice ease of use of this program which was clearly the focus. It’s important to note that this is merely adding the transaction in Quicken Essentials it’s not going to pay that bill.
Quicken Essentials Budgeting
When you fire up Quicken Essentials and walk through the top 3 steps you’ll be prompted to enter the budget information which is where I’m looking for some good tools. Honestly it was pretty slick, based on my transactions it automatically downloaded from my bank it was able to suggest some starting amounts either from the last month or a 3 month average. It’s a good way to get going setting up your budget and something you might have to do manually in other programs.
It did a decent job in categorizing a lot of my expenses automatically although you’ll want to tweak them yourself to get them in your preferred setup. It’s very basic budgeting and not the zero based budget that I so love. It’s more of a spending goal type scenario providing a shiny face to your check register. Frankly it was a bit of a letdown. I was planning to review a product that covered the basics and did it well of which I think budgeting belongs but apparently Intuit disagrees with me.
Categories and Tags
Quicken Essentials uses categories which should be familiar with any personal finance software that you may have used but adds the concept of tags that will allow you to report on other forms of information. For instance if you are going on a vacation you can tag transactions from various categories to get a comprehensive view of what you may have spend on food, clothing, and hotel charges. Then it’s easy to call up a report and see what went where.
Some slick graphics give you a breakdown of your financial snapshot including any bills upcoming, where your money is going with sweet clickable pie chart and how you are doing budget wise with your savings goals.
Quicken Essentials Reports
I sure liked the sound of the spending cloud but it’s implementation was not as cool as I hoped. You’re probably used to this concept if you’ve spent anytime on the Internet you’ve probably seen some tags related to the website with words in different sized fonts. In fact if you look the the right sidebar of FiscalGeek towards the bottom you’ll see what I’m talking about. You can click through your tag names and see the transactions related to that tag and if you wish you can have that specific report added to the sidebar. The reporting is pretty rudimentary and if you thought you were going to be managing your business from Quicken Essentials you better look somewhere else.
Quicken Essentials Investment Tracking
Nonexistent. Okay that’s not entirely true you can track the overall total value of an investment to calculate your net worth but that’s about it.
Exporting Quicken Essentials Data to TurboTax
Not so much. Strangely there is no option to export your data for use with TurboTax something that pretty mucah all other versions of Quicken support.
Bill Paying Options
Negative. You’ll be using your bank’s website for that one or getting out some stamps.
Other Advanced Features
I just had to include this because it’s almost as if Intuit just wanted to get it out of the way. From the Quick Start Guide:
"Quicken Essentials does not include many of the advanced features in other versions of Quicken, including Business features, Rental Property, lifetime planner, cash flow forecast, spending plan, debt reduction plan, emergency tax records, tax planner, and home inventory manager."
And that’s where it ends. No future promises, no alternatives. You’re out of luck if that was what you are looking for. These are all items that exist in the Windows world but are unavailable natively on the Mac.
Converting other financial software data to Quicken Essentials
If you have data from older Quicken for Mac, Quicken for Windows or Microsoft Money you can import into Quicken Essentials. You can find out more at http://quicken.com/go/movetomac If you have been operating on Quicken 2010 you’ll need to export the data in a .QXF file that you can then import to Quicken Essentials. The key is you can’t combine multiple files to import. So if you did part in Money and part in Quicken which I don’t think is likely you’ll have to pick only one. Not a big deal.
Quicken Essential for the Mac Review Wrap-Up and Recomendations
Who’s it For?
This is targeted at the Mac user who doesn’t want to have to go to the bother of running windows and installing Quicken 2010 and it’s many variants. It’s a fine introduction to expense tracking and does a great job downloading data from your bank. The interface is also very well done and will remind you of all of your other Mac applications.
Who’s It Not For?
Obviously anyone that is not on a Mac running Leopard or Snow Leopard software based on the Intel chipset. Otherwise don’t even bother. There is no equivalent version for the PC.
It’s also not for the personal finance software power users out there. You are not going to build elaborate budgets or keep a day to day watch on your investments with this software. It’s very scaled down to handle the basic functions well but seriously lacks in the bells and whistles that the PC versions have.
Since I consider my self a personal finance software power user this is not for me. It just doesn’t have all of the features I’m looking for. I primarily want a budgeting focused piece of software that adds investment tracking and automatic data downloading as a nice to have. It just doesn’t hit this mark. If you are a relative newcomer to the market or want to just get started then this might be a nice place to start. Otherwise I’d go with You Need a Budget.