One category of software that I’ve come to rely on recently is money management software. A few years ago I was single and had to keep track of only one bank account, one credit card, one checkbook, and one person. Since I’ve gotten married, I found a definite need to keep track not only of how much money we have, but where it’s going, and when it’s leaving our bank account. I’m going to review two popular Mac money management applications and hopefully this review will help you decide which is right for you. Throughout this review if you see a picture that appears small, clicking on the picture will bring up a larger one.
For the last half of 2007, I used a product called iBank. As I came to rely on iBank more and more, I also began to notice its strengths and weaknesses. I relied on iBank so much, that I named it one of the applications I couldn’t live without in 2007. iBank was missing one feature that would make it complete (more on that later), and because of that I decided to look at another application.
Included in the MacHeist bundle was an application that initially I didn’t think much about, Cha-Ching. Cha-Ching is billed as a “fun and easy to use money manager with a slick interface”. Since I was using iBank, I didn’t really have a need for Cha-Ching. As I began to make a budget for 2008 however, I decided to give Cha-Ching a try.
In this comparison I’m using Cha-Ching 1.2.2 and iBank 2.3.12. Pricing for Cha-Ching is $40, while iBank will set you back $50. You can download a transaction limited demo of each application from the developers websites. In addition to the current release, each developer is working on a beta version of the next version of their software.
Both Cha-Ching and iBank support checking, savings, credit card accounts. In addition to those, iBank also supports an investment account and even liability and asset accounts. Each program uses a simple add account dialog box to setup a new account. Edge: iBank
The user interface is a very important part of any application. iBank and Cha-Ching take different approaches to their user interface. Cha-Ching uses a very familiar iTunes like interface. On the left you have your accounts, budgets, and other information. On the right you have the transactions and actions. The Cha-Ching UI is very pleasing and down right gorgeous. It really feels like something Apple could have made.
iBank uses a more Mail.app like interface with 3 panes. The left pane shows your accounts, budgets, charts, etc. The upper right shows you transactions while the lower right is the editing pane.
Though both applications have a simple and pleasing UI, I do prefer one over the other. Edge: Cha-Ching
The ability to organize your transactions is a necessity for any money management software. Cha-Ching and iBank take different approaches to this problem. Cha-Ching uses the Web 2.0 standard of tags to organize transactions. iBank uses the more familiar category. One advantage Cha-Ching has over iBank, is that in iBank you have to add a category in the categories folder prior to being able to assign that category to a transaction. In Cha-Ching, you can just add that tag as you go along and now Cha-Ching will auto complete the tag as you type it again. You can also drag a tag from the tag editor (see picture on right) and drop it on a transaction to assign it that tag. If you’re assigning multiple transactions a tag, it’s much easier to do so in Cha-Ching than to add categories to multiple transactions in iBank. A very nice feature in iBank is the ability to remember categories. If you’re adding a transaction with the same payee, it will remember the category and pre-populate it for you. Edge: Push
Cha-Ching and iBank support the importing of your typical money file types; OFX, QFX and QIF. iBank also supports the importing of CSV files. When importing into both programs, you can select to import all transactions from that file or individual transactions. iBank includes one feature Cha-Ching is missing, the capabilities to setup import rules. This is very useful when importing transactions because you can assign categories based on the payee (see above picture). When I import my credit card statements in iBank, I have import rules for the majority of payees and those transactions are assigned a category on import. Unfortunately I have to assign tags manually when importing the same statement into Cha-Ching. If you want to change money software, both programs have export capabilities. iBank will export in the QIF format while Cha-Ching will export in CSV. I find it odd that Cha-Ching will export CSV but not import. When I tried to import a CSV file from Cha-Ching to iBank, it wasn’t nearly as easy as importing a QIF from iBank to Cha-Ching. Edge: iBank
While you can easily import transactions, the ability to manually enter transactions is also needed. I actually enter in my checking account transactions manually while I import my credit cards transactions. This is useful when you pay bills online and you want to know your balance after you’ve paid a bill but before the check/transfer has cleared. After clicking the add transaction button about 1/3 way down the lower right corner of the application, you’ll see the transaction information screen change to the add transaction screen (see right). Here you can add a payee, set an amount and date, add a to or from via your address book, tag your transaction, and set a few other options. One thing I don’t like about the Cha-Ching is the inability to expand the note field. If you type a long note in the transaction you have to scroll down inside the box to read it. You can also add an image for the transaction or attach files to it. This would be a great place to save your digital receipts.
Near the identical spot in the application as Cha-Ching, you’ll find the add transaction button in iBank. As you would expect, clicking it will bring up a new blank transaction. Here you can set the payee, category, amount and date, add a image, add a memo, and a few other items. iBank includes the ability to add a payment type (check, deposit, online, transfer, etc) and include a check number. For anyone who writes a large number of checks, the ability to add a check number will be beneficial. You cannot attach files to a transaction like you can in Cha-Ching. You can however split a transaction in iBank. As you enter transactions, iBank will remember the categories that are associated with various payees. For instance, if I enter in Publix as a payee, iBank will automatically populate the category with “Groceries”. This feature cuts down on the time it takes to enter transactions. Edge: iBank
Both iBank and Cha-Ching have a way to enter recurring transactions. This is very helpful if you have a transaction that takes place on a scheduled basis and is the same amount. Transactions such as Mortgages, cable bills, student loans, etc work well with this function. With nearly identical options, each should fit your need for scheduled transactions. Edge: Push
The ability to create a budget is critical to managing your money. Thankfully both iBank and Cha-Ching feature easy to use budgets. Up until I was writing this review, I thought iBank was missing one critical budgeting feature. As it turns out it was right in front of me the whole time.
Setting up your budget in Cha-Ching is easy. Just create a budget and then click edit. As you enter in your budget items, Cha-Ching will autocomplete your tag if you’ve previously used it with one of your transactions. Once you have entered your incoming and outgoing budget items, if you have entered transactions with those tags you’ll see a realtime calculation of “Budgeted vs. Actual”. The “Actual” calculation will include any other account you have setup. So if you have tagged a transaction in your Credit Card account and included that tag as an item in your budget, it will be counted. I really like the simplicity of the budget screen. On improvement though would be the ability to exclude/include which accounts are tracked in a particular budget. Sure, you could just use a different tag but that’s more of a work around than a solution.
I used iBank for months before I figured out how to perform an “Actual vs. Budget” comparison. I even posted on the iBank forums and the support folks didn’t tell me what I needed to know. All along it was right in front of me. To begin creating a budget, add some categories. Once you have categories, you can add those categories to your budget and assign them amounts and frequencies. This process is nearly identical to Cha-Ching. To get your “Actual vs Budget”, just click the Budget Monitor button and choose the budget and time period. You’ll notice that iBank and Cha-Ching use a very similar format for their Actual vs. Budget chart. Like Cha-Ching, iBank doesn’t allow you to exclude/include which accounts are tracked in a particular budget. I currently don’t have a need for this feature but I’m sure someone out there does. Edge: Cha-Ching by a hair
While iBank and Cha-Ching support various currencies, iBank will support multiple currencies within the program. For instance you can have one account in Euros and another in USD. Cha-Ching has a built in browser so you can access your bank account website if you entered it in your account profile. Each program has .Mac backup capabilities too. iBank includes the ability to create various charts, but to be honest they weren’t very useful to me. Edge: Push
Prior to writing this review, I had my mind made up. As I was writing it however, I finally figured out something about iBank that had been bugging me for some time. The winner of the iBank vs. Cha-Ching Mac money showdown is…..iBank. Even though I feel iBank is the winner, I’m not sure I’m going to go back to using it. For my personal use, the only feature holding back Cha-Ching is import rules. The UI for Cha-Ching is much more intuitive and easier to to use than iBank. While they are both solid programs and you can’t go wrong with either in my opinion, I find myself wanting to open Cha-Ching more than iBank. It’s almost as if Cha-Ching makes managing my money fun.