The tools I use to track my money, vs the tools I want

A recent blog post /comment thread on Ermine’s Simple Living in Somerset was the inspiration for this post – about the tools/processes I use for tracking my finances.

Ermine and I find ourselves relying on a 2004 piece of Windows software, Quicken 2004, produced by a US company that pulled out of the UK market for personal finance software in 2005. It continues to offer QuickBooks, for business accounts, but thankfully Quicken 2004 still works, albeit without any live-off-internet functionality. Credit due to Microsoft for the backwards compatibility too (you listening, Apple?).

Much as I had assumed that I was in a minority of about one, until I read Ermine’s blog post, a lot of online banking/credit card systems do offer some support for Quicken file formats so I suspect there are a few tens of thousands of us still out there.

But in recent years a wealth of new tools/capabilities have emerged, and as a result my approach has evolved somewhat.

These days I use a mixture of
1) Quicken (2004)
2) Excel
3) Google Sheets
4) Interactive Brokers


Quicken is my source of truth for spending – credit cards, current accounts, etc.

You could get online stock quotes back in 2003

Until a year or so ago I categorised every transaction. These days the advent of contactless payments has meant a proliferation of tiny transactions on my statement and I only categorise large payments or transactions in certain categories – e.g. charity donations – tho I do still categorise 90%+ of my spending.

Quicken is very helpful for letting me pull out specific spending categories – e.g. charity donations, property rental spending, bank interest, previous tax payments, etc. Thankfully, many banks/card providers do let me export either in native Quicken format (despite Quicken having left the market 10+ years ago!) and/or a CSV format, and I use to map CSV files into Quicken format. As a result, manual keying, while not unheard of, is mostly eliminated.

Quicken also has a record of every transaction in all my investment accounts except for Interactive Brokers. However because it won’t import prices at all (any more) let alone live ones, I don’t properly update valuations. What matters, and what I use Quicken as source of truth for, is the Buy/Sell transactions. I use Quicken for my CGT reporting for these accounts.

I also try to capture all dividend/income (except IB) in Quicken. This is a key metric I track on my FIRE journey. Quicken lets me look at it by account, by time period, by category, and export quickly in Excel. It is fast and effective, once the data is in place.

2) Excel

I use Excel for tracking the value of my investment portfolio, and update it fully at least monthly. It knows my target asset allocation and helps me monitor the deltas between target and actual, consolidating positions across accounts. A version of this spreadsheet is available via my blog (or search ‘FvL investment tracking spreadsheet’), in Google Sheets.

I also use this sheet to track my investment expenses – both at an account level (e.g. platform monthly fees) and at a fund/ETF level (with my estimate of TERs/OCFs).

This tracking sheet knows relatively little about my income. It does know the notional income yield of each holding but doesn’t know what actually happens.

I use separate ad hoc Excel spreadsheets for help with tax reporting, e.g. of property rental income/expenses (exporting spending from Quicken).

3) GoogleSheets

I have the ‘live valuation’ bit of my Excel spreadsheet in GoogleSheets. This is really just a vanity tool – to let me eyeball quickly, mid-month, what is going on.

4) InteractiveBrokers

My most important investment account provider is IB. I don’t keep a parallel log of these transactions, but rely on IB’s reporting tools to be able to find a) dividends/income b) year end statements c) Capital Gains. IB has excellent off-the-shelf reports, which will operate to any date range (max 12 months), as well as a build-your-own-report feature called FlexReports (that I don’t use, but like to know I could).

A product wishlist….

With the advent (in the UK) of OpenBanking, the process of integrating financial data from disparate sources is becoming easier. But it it is some way off a point that would really help me here.

In the meantime there is no shortage of apps/projects that claim to provide the perfect financial tracking solution. As yet none can yet cater for me.

Just in case one of the Product planners at Moneydashboard, ReboApp or so on is interested, here is what I want out of a tool:

  • Ability to import all regular bank accounts – card statements, current accounts, categorise spending, and do reports/queries quickly (by date range and with ‘pivot table’ filtering/organising, or CSV output).
  • Ability to import investment portfolios – and allow me flexibly to track security prices, dividends and compare to each other, indices, in different currencies, etc. Ability to categorise holdings against arbitrary asset types, geographies, investment styles (i.e. tag things with an arbitrary number of properties), and build custom reporting around these.
  • Ability to import investment transaction histories – including dividends.
  • High level of security and no funny business about data ownership. I am not as paranoid about cloud-based data as the Ermine, but I do need to trust the solution in the same way I trust Google/Microsoft/Apple/similar.

The above list really doesn’t sound that complicated to build, but nobody has done it for UK investors as of the time of writing! I would pay perhaps £100 per year for this solution but anything like £20/month sounds too pricey to tempt me.

I live in hope….

How to become a millionaire in London on £40k p.a.

I knew I didn’t know much about Imran.

Imran joined the company at about the same time as me, less than 2 years ago, in a fairly junior position. He’s a book-keeper. He’s young – in his twenties. Very much of the millennial generation.

Image result for hipster coffee in office

At my office, we get new joiners to do a dog-and-pony-show to introduce themselves to the whole floor. Imran’s dog-and-pony show was pretty memorable, for the wrong reasons: Imran didn’t know how to present, couldn’t structure his thoughts, and didn’t respect his audience. He did however make it clear he is a very hippy alternative person, a dreamer, somewhat immature, and was not from book-keeping central casting.

Image result for office  meetup london

Since Imran joined I have had very little – too little – to do with him. I’ve been involved with his pay review, he’s made the occasional not very practical suggestion for what other departments should be doing, and that’s about it. He’s clearly a fairly withdrawn, introverted person.

In Imran’s pay review, I learnt that he’s being paid significantly less than the market rate. He is evidently not very money motivated and his motivation for joining my company was for other reasons. In the last 18 months his pay has increased from a little under £40k to a little more than £40k. He could probably find a role elsewhere in London on £50k, though his presentational/ introverted style won’t make this easy for him.

Continue reading “How to become a millionaire in London on £40k p.a.”

July 2019: 3rd best month yet

Boris is bashing the pound, Trump is bashing the global economy. Who’d invest in anything, in this environment?

Well, when the Brexiteers pummel the pound, us globally diversified investors tend to do alright – provided we measure our progress in pounds! And FTSE-100 does alright too. This month was no exception; the GBP fell over 4% versus the USD, and FTSE rose over 2% partly as a consequence.

Bonds went up too, particularly in Europe (inc UK, obvs) – for reasons I’m not sure about.

Elsewhere was a bit more of a mixed bag – Oz equities steamed ahead, European/Asian equities sagged, the US shuffled forward.

Currency movements alone moved the markets I’m in up 2.7%, in GBP terms. Though the UK FTSE rose over 2%, my UK equity weighting is relatively low, so the diversified markets I’m in rose ‘only’ 1.1% in their local currencies during July (more thanks to bonds, than equities!). Combining the two effects means my market benchmark was a gain of 3.9% in July. Such months don’t happen often.

Continue reading “July 2019: 3rd best month yet”