updated 05:20 pm EDT, Thu July 17, 2008
Squirrel Personal Finance
Everyone makes money and spends it, but not everyone bothers to track their income and expenses. To make managing your money simple, you can choose from a variety of programs, including Intuit's standard Quicken. The problem with most of these applications is that they come loaded with so many features, few people take the time to learn them all. As a result many people ignore these programs, and those that do use them can only understand a fraction of the available options. If you find traditional budgeting programs too complicated, then you might appreciate the simplicity of Squirrel.
The 2008 winner of the Apple Design Award for the best Mac OS X student project, Squirrel is designed to make tracking your cash flow as simple as possible, in a shell further enhanced by Core Animation. The first time you start the program, it guides you through the process of creating one or more accounts, such as cash or checking.
Where programs like Quicken display a traditional check ledger interface for entering transactions, Squirrel opts for a more graphically-oriented interface. Account information appears in one pane, while a second displays a graph of your current account value, and a third at the bottom presents the actual transactions for each account.
Such an interface has its pros and cons. If you're comfortable with a traditional ledger interface, you might definitely prefer programs like Quicken. However, if you're willing to adapt to a system that does more than mimic a piece of paper, then it takes little time to immerse yourself.
Another departure from conventional money managers is the program's use of categories. Typically, every entry in both income and expenses is assigned a category. That way you can quickly search, sort, and chart all your grocery expenses, or income from stock dividends.
Most money managers provide huge lists of common categories, such as Dining or Insurance. Such choice can be helpful in labeling your entries, but it can also be confusing. Not everyone needs this selection, which can make finding the categories you do need that much harder.
Even worse, everyone can have their own preferred way of defining categories. One person might prefer a category called Income Tax Quarterly Payments, while another might prefer an identical category named Tax Payments. All money managers let you delete and edit their categories, but this takes time.
Squirrel takes a different approach. Instead of burdening you with a catalog of predefined categories you may need to tweak anyway, it asks you to create your own categories from scratch. This takes time, but ensures that you won't have to wade through a list of useless items every time you want to label a transaction.
One nice touch in the app is the ability to assign a unique color to each category, such as red for income tax payments, or green for paycheck deposits. This helps isolate your greatest expenses and sources of income.
Like most money managers, though, Squirrel also generates reports and budgets. Reports are handy for producing a list of tax-related expenses, while budgets are useful in planning for future events, such as vacations or new cars.
If you have financial data trapped in another program, Squirrel can import both OFX (Open Financial Exchange) and QIF (Quicken Interchange Format) files. This lets you migrate completely to Squirrel, or transition gradually as it becomes convenient.
Perhaps the best reason to use Squirrel is its low cost compared to Quicken and other similar titles. The former costs approximately $40 when converted from Euros, but is available at a special introductory price of approximately $11. If you're looking for an attractive, simple money manager that's also easy on the budget you'll be tracking, you may find Squirrel to be the best product out there.