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Digital budgeting for almost nothing on almost any computer

July 19, 2012 - Ilsa Matthes
About a week ago one of my closest friends called me and told me that her computer, a laptop that was low end when it was purchased in 2006, had failed on her. When I say that we’re close, I mean metaphorically. Physically, we live more almost 900 miles away from each other, and while fixing computers is a hobby of mine, there was no chance for me look it over.

My friend, who is a student at a music conservatory and not a neurosurgeon making six figures, was upset to think she would have to invest in a new computer. I couldn’t blame her. Computers are expensive.

The conversation got me thinking about the value of a computer and how computers can be used to save money rather than waste it, despite their high initial cost. One of the first things that came to my mind, and something I do frequently on my personal computers, was budgeting.

Here at the Daily Press we use Macs. At home I use Windows, occasionally a Linux based system, and on very rare occasions my beloved Commodore 64. Needless to say, finding budgeting software for that many types of systems can be a challenge, especially when you’re budgeting on a budget.

One tool that has helped me immensely on my Windows based computers is Microsoft Money Plus Sunset Edition. (Check the sidebar for links) If you are familiar with Microsoft Money, which was particularly popular in the 90’s and early 00’s, you should understand Sunset.

When Microsoft decided to get out of the “Money” game they realized that there were a lot of people who used Money for their home budgets. Rather than leave those people without options, they released Sunset in 2010, which is slightly stripped (you can’t link the software to your online bank accounts) but fully functional and completely free. It is compatible with XP, Vista, and Windows 7.

I should probably mention that I’m not an accountant. I tried to take accounting in college and only ended up with headaches and a notebook full of angry-looking doodles.

If you’re a better accountant than me — which isn’t hard — and you own a Mac, Smart Ledger for Mac might be what you need. This program might not have all of the functions that some other budget programs have, but it’s free and it has the ability to sync with your online bank accounts.

If you are on a Linux system you’re probably already saving money. In my experience people switch to Linux for one of two reasons: they are super programmers who need command-line access and powerful server abilities, or they don’t want to shell out the cash for another operating system.

Linux operating systems are often free and come in more varieties than you can shake a stick at. By far the most popular Linux systems are from the Ubuntu family of operating systems. There is a bit of a learning curve with Linux, but Ubuntu is fairly straightforward.

Linux users are sometimes unhappy with the compatibility between Windows, Mac, and Linux systems, but new software packages are always being created for Linux that shortens the gap. Fortunately for Linux users, much of the software available for Linux is free, and even low end or old computers can often run Linux.

Two of the most popular free Linux budgeting programs are also available on Mac and Windows: GnuCash and KMyMoney. Which one you use is a matter of preference.

As for the Commodore 64, that computer is reserved for playing Frogger and the 1984 Ghostbusters game.

 
 

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