I’VE USED QUICKEN since the DOS version, with my first entry made in August 1992. I’m trying to decide if I qualify as a power user. The fact is, there are so many Quicken features that I simply don’t use.
The product was first released in 1984 as a basic digital checkbook. It later moved to Windows and it’s now a subscription service. I love the ability to manage my checkbook, but over the years Quicken has added features aimed at managing my entire financial life. I did experiment with tracking some basic investment accounts, only to revert to my own homemade spreadsheets.
In the beginning, all entries had to be typed by hand. This required diligence but, for me, the payoff was the ability to manipulate the data once it was entered. For a while, I used the one-click update feature, where Quicken would initiate an automatic download of transactions from all my bank accounts at once. Various glitches led me to give up on that. Now, I enter my checkbook entries manually and download my credit card transactions from the card websites, rather than initiating the transfer within Quicken.
When the subscription service was added in an effort to increase Quicken’s revenues, I thought I might use the web feature to access my checkbook, rather than relying solely on the installed software on my desktop. It worked for a while. But when I had problems with the web version, I didn’t see enough value to call the help desk to try to fix it. They have a mobile app, but I haven’t tried it.
I’ve never tried the budgeting feature, either. I don’t budget, so it had no value to me. Likewise with bill pay. During the years I’ve used Quicken, I’ve migrated from snail-mailing checks to bill pay through my bank. Today, I have a combination of automatic deductions and payments made online through vendor websites. With the online glitches I’ve experienced with other Quicken services, I never wanted to invest the time to test its bill pay system.
Quicken offers a version that helps with managing rental properties and a home-based business. I don’t have either of those. They offer several service levels: starter, deluxe, premier, and home and office. I use the starter version. That’s all I need.
If I don’t use most of their product features, how could I consider myself a power user? The answer lies in how I use the core checkbook feature. I manage four bank accounts and five credit card accounts in Quicken. When our parents were alive and we paid their bills, Quicken allowed us to track their spending and account for where all the money went.
Through the report feature, I can readily track income and expenses, pull data for our tax return, compare different time periods, and run special reports on specific spending categories. The beauty is that it draws data from all accounts into a single report. Medical expenses paid with a credit card are merged with those paid from our checkbook.
Once built, reports can be saved so that they can be rerun or updated. They can be viewed on the computer screen, with the ability to double click a line item and get the details behind it. Alternatively, reports can be printed or downloaded into a spreadsheet for further manipulation.
Over the years, data entry has become easier, thanks to these product improvements:
I still believe in balancing my checkbook. This is accomplished quickly in Quicken, compared to doing it by hand, plus this exercise catches entry errors and missed transactions.
The key to Quicken’s usefulness lies in setting up the account right. Some forethought must be given to what you want to track. Set these up as categories. Quicken comes pre-loaded with numerous categories, but for the most part I’ve created my own.
Once categories are set up, each entry must be assigned to a category to make future reporting useful. Subcategories are available, too. In the insurance category, for instance, you can have subcategories for home, auto and life policies.
New categories are easy to add when new expenses arise. I’ve used them to track the costs of home remodeling projects and our daughter’s wedding. When these events were over, I could easily summarize the totals. When we moved, I ran a report on home improvements to update the cost basis of the house we sold.
At tax time, I rerun saved reports for medical expenses, taxes paid, 529 contributions, charitable contributions and miscellaneous income for the latest tax year. Yes, it took time to enter all that data, but the payoff comes in how quickly I’m ready to prepare my taxes. I’m also less likely to overlook something.
Anticipating early retirement, when I would have no regular source of income, I ran reports on my annual expenses. I downloaded these reports into Excel and made assumptions about which expenses would increase or decrease. Now that I’m retired, I run an annual report to monitor my spending.
I don’t have to guess or dig to find past expenses. What did we spend on lawn service last year? What was the cost of that appliance we bought? The answer is all in one place—and at my fingertips. I think all that makes me a Quicken power user.
Howard Rohleder, a former chief executive of a community hospital, retired early after more than 30 years in hospital administration. In retirement, he enjoys serving on several nonprofit boards, exploring walking paths with his wife Susan, and visiting their six grandchildren. A little-known fact: In May 1994, Howard was featured—along with five others—on the cover of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance for an article titled “Secrets of My Investment Success.” Check out his previous articles.