Ask Nicole: What Are Some Secure Money Management Options?

My husband and I recently moved overseas and I haven’t found a job yet. Since money is tighter now, I’d like to use some kind of system like YNAB to track our spending. In the past I’ve used Mint and YNAB, but my husband is really concerned with data privacy and won’t agree to use any system that would store our data. This means that every month I have to manually download and input information from six different accounts into Moneydance, and it’s almost never right! I always need to go through and fix everything afterwards. It’s awful, but I can’t seem to find a better solution. Do you have any suggestions for secure, effective, multi-currency money management?

Safe SEK (and safe USD, safe GBP, safe EUR…)

I do have some suggestions for secure, effective, multi-currency money management that don’t involve giving third-party software programs access to your bank accounts. So do many of our grandparents. After all, people have been tracking their income and expenses long before Mint or YNAB or any of those programs existed.

My first money-tracking device was a bank passbook (when I opened my first savings account) followed by a check register (when I opened my first checking account). My parents taught me how to record every transaction and keep a running total of my account balance, though most of the time I put everything off until the end of the month and then spent a frustrated hour going through wrinkled receipts and check carbons and trying to figure out how I lost 35 cents.

After I graduated from college and read Your Money or Your Life, I bought a pocket-sized ledger with a black fake-snakeskin cover and carried it with me everywhere. I followed YMOYL’s advice and recorded every transaction as soon as it happened, starting with the purchase of said ledger. This saved a lot of time but still meant I had to do all the math by hand and/or calculator — and still had to do the work of figuring out which sum on the list was incorrect, if/when I inevitably lost 35 cents.

Then I switched over to the spreadsheet method. This required me to keep two ledgers: the one on paper, where I wrote down every transaction and/or shoved every receipt into my pocket, and the one on my computer, where I transferred those transactions into the spreadsheet and let it do the math for me.

The spreadsheet was a lot easier than the pocket ledger, in terms of my not losing 35 cents, although I’d still occasionally mistype a number and have to go back and figure out where I went wrong. (At that point in time, I was still keeping every receipt I received — so I’d open up my overflowing accordion folder, pull out all the receipts associated with a given month, and double-check.)

But the real timesaver was the decision to interact with that spreadsheet every day, instead of creating a pile of receipts and entering all of the transactions at once.

I used that spreadsheet for years, and only really switched to first Mint and then YNAB when I started writing for personal finance sites that expected me to have an active knowledge of how these softwares worked. Like your husband, I was anxious about linking my bank accounts to third-party softwares; what if they got hacked? Could people steal all my money? (I was less concerned about the part of data privacy that shows you a bunch of ads, because when are you not shown a bunch of ads?)

I’ll note that Mint and YNAB and many similar budgeting programs are super-serious about data security — YNAB, for example, has a thorough explanation of how it keeps your data secure —  so at this point I have no issue with linking my bank accounts to either of them, and/or telling them where I spend my money.

I’ll also note that both Mint and YNAB occasionally get things wrong. Not the sums or the bank balances, but the part where they might allocate a transaction to a category where it doesn’t belong, and so I do have to go through and fix things afterwards. This was less of an issue when I used my spreadsheet, but Mint and YNAB both have a number of advantages that make it worth the few minutes I spend reallocating transactions every morning.

In your case, it looks like you would rather have the control than the advantages — so my suggestion for you is to stop using Moneydance and start using a budgeting spreadsheet that meets your unique financial needs. You can create this spreadsheet yourself or use a downloadable template; I’d recommend doing it yourself because you can customize it exactly the way you want. If you or your husband have concerns about Google Sheets being stored on Google’s cloud and WHAT IF THE HACKERS, you can find a non-cloud-based spreadsheet that only lives on your computer’s hard drive. There are numerous spreadsheet functions that should cover the majority of your financial needs, although the currency fluctuation one might be a little tricky. (I’d welcome suggestions from Billfolders who work in multiple currencies and/or love spreadsheet functions.)

My other suggestion is to enter and balance your transactions every day. It goes so much faster if you do one or two transactions a day vs. 25 transactions a month, and it’s also easier to double-check your work if you’re only double-checking two entries.

Billfolders: do you have any additional thoughts for this letter writer? If you want to argue that budgeting software programs are (or are not) secure, please do; if you’d like to get excited about spreadsheets, the comment section is open.

For each transaction there is an equal and identical spreadsheet action,


Photo by Jose Fontano on Unsplash.

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