smart spending

4 benefits to desktop money management

The major programs not only allow you to create charts and graphs based on your monthly, quarterly or yearly spending (or a specified period that you choose), they also give you the option of customizing your spending categories for tracking purposes. For example, instead of a catch-all for "pets," you may want to separate spending categories for your dog, your cat and your guinea pig. You also can create entirely new categories from scratch if the default categories don't relate to your needs.

3. Security
While most people have gotten over the fear of entering their credit card information at an online store, the prospect of having all of their financial information online and in one place isn't always an easy sell for those worried about identity theft and financial fraud, Roth says.

"I've talked to a lot of people (running online money management) sites, and it's clear they're very conscious of security," he says. "Still, they may be vulnerable."

While a desktop program can't guarantee flawless security -- after all, more than a few people have had their laptops swiped and desktop computers stolen -- it can provide a sense of control that's lacking in online programs.

In addition, Weston says, people who use desktop programs can get many of the features that are offered on online programs -- such as automatically updated bank statements -- without worrying about security. "You can still download all the information that's online. You just don't actually have it out there (on the Internet)," she says.

4. Coordinating your money
With desktop money programs, you can sync your spending and saving goals.

This 360-degree view of your financial situation is essential for people who have complex investments. For example, Microsoft Money Plus Deluxe can help users optimize their investments based on their specific tax situation.

If you're looking to save for retirement, Quicken offers a tool that analyzes your taxable, tax-deferred and tax-free retirement accounts to project how much you'll have in retirement with your current savings plan. It also offers suggestions to tweak your savings to meet your goals, if you're not already on track. And, it can show you how quickly you'll likely draw down your account after you retire.

While reducing debt and building savings can seem like mutually exclusive goals, they don't have to be with desktop programs. "The (major money management programs) have both retirement and debt reduction planners," Weston says. "You don't have to set up a retirement plan and then set up a separate debt payoff plan. Those two are integrated, and it can help you with prioritizing and making sure that your plans are taking care of themselves."

Online programs may be the wave of the future. But desktop programs, with a range of features and security that continue to outpace online and pencil-and-paper solutions, show that they're still a wise choice for many.

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