Should software be “specific”?

Maybe it never made sense to try to find a one-size fits all solution to personal finance. I’m beginning to see that in certain areas, try as one might there simply is no best-in-breed. It doesn’t matter if you spend money to try to buy the best. It doesn’t matter how many gaggles of feature sets have been thrown into the mix or how elegantly the software has been designed.

No, the lesson of 2012/2013 for me is that for the such wide variety of problems we typically try to solve and the such wide variety of data that we try to store and process, we need an equally wide variety of tools – picking ones specific to small ranges of problems.

Recently, I’ve gotten back to using GnuCash. It’s an ugly beast of a program (at least, if you judge it against the over-designed competitors) and it doesn’t automate bank downloads. But, heck – when I stare at it I can understand what is going on. And if something goes wrong it doesn’t get in the way when I try to fix it. It’s more like an Excel spreadsheet with a light veneer of well-designed accounting brains on top than it is an all-you-can-eat personal finance solution.

And I am still trying to incorporate a very different other piece of software into my mix – You Need a Budget (YNAB). For someone like me, who values historical data over nearly anything else, YNAB is a mind-bender. It doesn’t care or want me to care about the history, just the present and the future. I guess that’s a good thing. It is beautifully designed and fun to use (which is important, for software), at least once you buy into it’s methodology (and, yes – all software has a methodology which you need to eventually buy into or reject). And it’s got an interactivity about it that is pleasing – all the methodology stuff that is published on the website.

But whereas GnuCash has the very minimum by way of imposing methodology, YNAB throws as much methodology at its users as they will tolerate. That’s not a bad idea, but it means that it can’t be the single tool I use.

Meanwhile, Quicken lurks in the background, reminding me every day that it has failed to work as expected on some aspect of its core purpose…

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