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At least three times in the past decade, my wife and I have tried to wrestle the family's budget to the ground using Microsoft Money or Quicken. We dug out receipts and investment account statements, estimated expenses in various categories and tried to figure out the software's idiosyncrasies. Yet within a couple months, we were back to lamenting the hassles of turning on the computer and updating our accounts regularly. These were and are great pieces of software--powerful and useful--but we just didn't have the discipline to do the busywork they required.
That's my pocketbook confession. And it's exactly the kind of thing that makes me want to give computer-based personal finance another try. This time, I'm interested in websites that combine social networking with financial tools. I want to hear other people's financial confessions and have complete strangers react to mine. Years of experience tells me I can keep the checking account balanced and my investment accounts more or less in order without the help of my PC. But I could use some ideas on how to be smarter financially--and some motivation to take the necessary steps. Granted, Microsoft Money is linked with the MSN Money website and its robust financial forums. But I'm interested in new entrants in the field--internet outposts built around social networking with a financial theme.
So in recent weeks, I poked around on some sites that fit the bill. There are more of these sites materializing than I could possibly review in one column, so I concentrated on several that have received a fair amount of attention in the press. Ultimately, I played with Geezeo.com, Myvesta.org, Voyant@Home (plan with voyant.com) and Wesabe.com. Geezeo has a Facebook feel to it and the most comprehensive all-around offerings, including online connections with most major banks, good investment and financial advice areas, money confessionals, well-traveled forums and mobile-delivery options. Myvesta is narrower--it's aimed at users who are struggling with debt and want a way out. Voyant is more like a game, urging you into what-if scenarios with your financial future. It's fun, and there's a place to chat with other users or get connected to a participating financial planner. And Wesabe is more of a straight social networking site built around the theme of personal finance.
If investment with a social side sounds interesting to you, spend time playing with these sites to see which you enjoy most. Otherwise, I happen to know some wonderful pieces of financial software that may do the trick sans social networking.