I very rarely take against something, but when I do, that dislike is rock-solid, and it’s happened with Quicken 2001. I’ve used Quicken for as long as I’ve had a computer. It was pre-installed on our first machine, and we later up-graded to Quicken 98. My delight with it was overwhelming. It could do no wrong. No, that’s not quite right – there was one slight niggle. There was so much data in there that it took four floppies to backup, and this was fiddly and a bit time consuming, so when we replaced the computer and it had a CD re-writer it seemed sensible to upgrade to Quicken 2001 so that all the floppies could be disposed of. Before I tell you why I’ve reacted to Quicken 2001 in the way that I have, I’d better tell you what the programme does. Put at its simplest it’s a complete money manager. You’ll need at least 16 MB RAM and preferably 24 and up to 96 MB of free disc space to install, a double-speed CD-ROM drive (4 speed or faster recommended) and a video board and monitor capable of running 256-colour VGA (SVGA 16-bit colour recommended). You’ll also need at least Windows 95, Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0 or higher and you’ll need Internet access if you’re going to use some or all of the online features. Installation is simple, whether you’re a new user or you’re upgrading from a previous version of Quicken. If you want to use the Internet features you’ll need to register, but that’s done quite simply online. The cynic in me wonders if the registration is simply a method of ensuring that you are a captive audience for any future sales promotion. There is a support system and this was what first annoyed me. The first recommendation is that you search Help, which is fair enough, but on a couple of occasions I was directed to a starting point which I couldn’t even find – even with five years’ experience of t
he basic system. The handbook’s next suggestion is the “Product Support” phone number, but this costs 75p a minute including VAT and when you’ve got quite a few niggly problems I can see the bill mounting up very quickly. Strangely enough there is a free phone number should you wish to purchase further Intuit products, but if you’re just having problems with the one you’ve bought – tough. I couldn’t find any e mail address, which would have been my preferred way of sorting problems out. It’s up to you how much detail you want to track in Quicken. If you want you could use it simply to track your current account, keeping track of income and expenditure. You might want to use it to keep track of share transactions and to have access to online quotes of share prices. You might want it to do everything. I do. You begin by entering the details of all your bank and building society accounts, credit cards, loans, mortgage and investments, including an up-to-date balance for each. It takes about five minutes to set up each account, and even if your financial affairs are complex it should take you no more than an hour or two to get the basics up and running. It’s time well spent. You then enter every financial transaction as it occurs and Quicken will keep track of exactly how your finances stand. Once you’ve set up details of all your Standing Orders and Direct Debits they can be automatically entered in the correct account on the due date. It’s even possible to run a couple of small businesses from the same programme, as Quicken will carry three separate sets of data. To get the most out of Quicken you should categorise all your income and expenditure (categories are listed, or you can add your own). From this you can draw up a budget and see if you stick to it, or if you particularly want to you can draw up a profit and loss account for any given pe
riod. It’s useful to be able to say “How much did I spend on books last month?”, but sometimes better not to know. The “categories” are at the heart of Quicken, but there’s no need to be too pedantic about this. I make a lot of use of the “Groceries” category and also “Household”. To some extent the two overlap, but I know that the total of the two categories feeds us and keeps the house in good order. I’m very careful, on the other hand, about what I put into the “Gas” and “Electricity” categories, as I can use these figures to check that I’m getting the best deals going. I added a category called “Dogs” which is quite useful if I ever want to frighten myself with the knowledge that the girls cost more to run than the car! The “Reconcile” feature is good. Please tell me that you reconcile your bank statement when it arrives, and don’t just put / throw it away? With this feature you enter the closing balance on the statement and a list is produced of all the items which haven’t already been reconciled. You click on the ones that appear on your statement, adjusting any discrepancies until “Reconcile” and the statement agree. It’s easy and it’s quick, but I do get annoyed by the graphic of two middle-class males in suits which appears to congratulate you! On Quicken 98 a bottle of champagne appeared – much pleasanter! If you want to transfer money between accounts WITHIN Quicken this is very simple; you enter the details as a transfer in the account from which you’re making the transfer, and the details all appear in the account to which you’re making the transfer. I had hoped that there would be more of an interface with online banking and the facility of downloading information from your Bank directly into Quicken is offered, but when I installed the programme Nat
West was the only bank offering this facility and when I looked this morning even that had disappeared. It’s the Portfolio section which most annoys me on a regular basis. On the Stock Market shares are quoted in pence. J Sainsbury is 432p this morning. It is not £4.32. Quicken records in the latter form. Any data transferred from elsewhere has to be converted, or you run the risk of having that wild moment of elation when you notice that your shares have increased in value a hundred-fold overnight, followed by the disappointment of mentally having to cancel the holiday you’d already started planning. Yes, I know I’ll get used to that in time, but I’ve still got to mentally run two systems, and this one is out of kilter with all the others. I shouldn’t actually have to enter figures manually, because each share can be allocated a symbol, and it should then be possible to update automatically online. With some shares it is possible, with others it isn’t. I can’t be the only person with Bradford and Bingley shares. Oh, you sold yours? The symbol they are allocated by Standard and Poors, who provide the update is “BB”, and I have entered this, but Quicken will not update – it says that the symbol is incorrect. I have followed through to the Standard and Poors site from Quicken, and obtained a quote using those symbols. I have used the symbol elsewhere in Quicken to obtain a quote, but it will not do it automatically. When I try Edit>Look Up to check the quote I get “System not responding” and I have to close the programme down. I can’t connect to the Internet from Quicken to get quotes – every time I try it I’m timed out immediately I get a connection, and I can find no way of adjusting this. I have to make the connection outside Quicken and then open the programme. Can you see why I’m getting annoyed? There’s one final, albeit small
annoyance. Every time I have a credit in the current account I then record all standing orders and direct debits which are due to go through the account before the next credit comes in. That way I can see if I need to transfer any funds into the account. The “Accounts Summary” page in Quicken shows not only the present account balance, but also the ending balance – which might be a couple of weeks into the future, but nevertheless that’s the balance that I work on, and that’s what I want as my Desktop in Quicken. There is the option to have either “Save Current Desktop” or “Save Desktop on Exit”, but no matter what I select the Desktop which is always presented is a pesky list of accounts which only shows the current balance and this is worse than useless to me. I’d love to uninstall the whole thing, but I don’t know how well Quicken 98 would cope if I tried to downgrade using the data I’ve had in Quicken 2001. Why wasn’t I satisfied with backing up onto four floppies?