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PearBudget Review: Really Simple Budgeting

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PearBudget LogoLast night, on the 25th episode of the Personal Finance Hour, we discussed mostly about budgeting and touched on some popular budgeting tools. PearBudget is an online budget management tool, mentioned by both JD and members of the chatroom, that I had never heard of.

PearBudget’s tagline is “really simple budgeting” and it delivers on that promise. Within ten minutes, I was able to setup a budget and begin tracking expenses without even entering an email address. You can play with the full tool right from the start, without even registering. That’s uncommon in any tool, let along a budgeting one.

Budgeting Method

PearBudget doesn’t have a predefined budgeting method, which makes it adaptable to whatever your budgeting method is. When I think about budgets, I believe there are two crucial parts – the system and the tools. The system is the methodology behind the budget and the tools are what you use to track your spending, plan your future spending, and work towards your goals.

However, sometimes you look to a tool to give you a methodology to work with. If you don’t have a budgeting method and are looking for a tool to give you one, this tool won’t provide that for you.

PearBudget Tool

Setting up your budget is a remarkably simple five step process that takes all of ten minutes (if you have the numbers handy, less if you are just playing around). First, you choose your budget categories like groceries, entertainment, mortgage, and so on. You can select from fifty pre-written categories or create your own. Then you specify whether a budget category is a regular monthly expense (dining out, entertainment, mortgage) or an irregular expense (property taxes, income taxes). The fifth and final step is entering in your income.

Tracking is even simpler. As you spend money, you enter in the date of the expense, the amount, the category, and then some tags on the receipt. The expenses are reflected in the review section. There currently is no “import” function so you must enter all the data by hand. If you think this is a bad thing, think again. By forcing you to enter everything manually, you become closer to your spending. It isn’t just a number populated by a machine, you spent it, you enter it.

Exporting data is easy too. You won’t see this until you you enter an email address but you can export the data to a CSV file that Excel can read. It’s under advanced user options when you click your email at the top of the screen.

Go-Cards: One fun little feature offered by PearBudget is the ability to print out a “Go-Card,” which is a 3″x5″ card detailing how much you have left available in each category.

Summary

PearBudget is exactly what it says it is – really simple budgeting. The tool itself is easy to work with, very intuitive, and it’s nice that they let you test drive the tool without even entering in your email address. You know from the beginning whether this is the right tool for you.

If you’re a PearBudget user or gave the trial period a run, please share your opinions in the comments. I’d like to hear what you thought of the tool.

{ 11 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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11 Responses to “PearBudget Review: Really Simple Budgeting”

  1. Caitlin says:

    If you think this is a bad thing, think again. By forcing you to enter everything manually, you become closer to your spending. It isn’t just a number populated by a machine, you spent it, you enter it.

    While I agree intellectually, it’s still a stumbling block for many people. Many of us don’t have time/can’t be bothered to manually enter things into the plethora of free budgeting tools and spreadsheets, so we’re unlikely to do it with a paid one.

    That said, it looks really neat, and $3/mo is nothing if it helps you stay on track.

    • Jim says:

      I agree, it is a hurdle, but I think the logic of the argument makes sense. This isn’t going to work for everyone, but for those that it does work for, it will work well for.

  2. Dylan says:

    “If you don’t have a budgeting method and are looking for a tool to give you one, this tool won’t provide that for you.”

    I don’t quite agree that PearBudget lacks a methodology. I don’t use it, but I have looked at it and recommended it to others. I think it provides an elegantly simple, plan, track, adjust method using customizable categories, and it’s intuitive for users going in cold. Even their spreadsheet version describes a recommended method for how to use it.

  3. lauren says:

    just set it up. we’ll see how it goes. you’re right tho – easy peasy.

  4. I will definitely check it out, since our lack of a budget kind of makes me stressed.

  5. John says:

    I don’t see the reasoning behind using this over Mint.com (Which is Free)

  6. Charlie Park says:

    Hi, all. This is Charlie, from PearBudget.

    Jim, thanks for the writeup. I think you did a fantastic job covering the app and the various ways it’s useful for budgeting. Like Dylan, though, I do think PearBudget has a general framework that it nudges you towards … we modeled PearBudget off the envelope method, and try to encourage users to apply that general methodology of focusing primarily on individual categories — if I’m going out to eat, it’s more important that I check my “dining out” category (and what’s still available in it) than my overall “available” amount. But I think we could probably do a better job of highlighting that. Also, we do want it to be flexible enough that if someone has an alternate approach in mind, that it can adapt to their circumstances. But when you made the point in the podcast the other night about “apps with frameworks” versus “apps without frameworks,” I thought “Yeah! And we’re one that has a framework!” … so maybe I should highlight that more.

    I also wanted to quickly address John’s (very good) question about PearBudget (or other tools) versus Mint. Caitlin’s comment also deals with this a bit.

    I wrote up a long comment here, dealing with humans and pattern recognition and cognitive psychology and whatnot, but I think the point is made more clearly with the following line:

    With Mint, you’re told where your money went. With PearBudget, you tell your money where to go.

    Yes, you can engage with Mint more proactively (and, yes, you can disregard PearBudget, just as you can disregard anything in your life), but the default interaction for most people with Mint is passive — you set it, and it’s very easy to forget it. An early tagline Mint used was “put your finances on autopilot.” The problem with putting your finances on autopilot is that if you’re not actively aware of where your money’s going, it’s very easy for your *spending* to be on autopilot, too.

    John noted that Mint is free. By all means, sign up for an account with Mint! And Wesabe! I have accounts at both. But for my actual budgeting, I use PearBudget. Finally, about the $3 a month. Stock market investors would just about kill someone if they could get a guaranteed 10% return on their investment. If using PearBudget (or another paid service) gives you a return that’s greater than it costs to use it, you’re getting a >100% return on your investment (10x better than the stock market), and you’re actually saving money. At $3 / month, PearBudget’s not doing its job if it’s not saving you more than $3 a month. Hopefully, it’s going to save you more like $30 – $90 (or more), which, even at the low end, is a return of 1,000%.

    But, as Jim noted in his review, the first 30 days with PearBudget is completely free, and you don’t need a credit card to sign up and try it out. If it works well for you, it’s super cheap to continue on with it. And if you find that Mint or something else works better for you, then, by all means, go with what works.

    Thanks, all, for reading this far. And Jim, thanks again for the review. And everyone else, if you’re interested, you can check it out at http://www.pearbudget.com.

  7. Sarah in Alaska says:

    I’ve been using their Excel spreadsheet (which I love!). I don’t always have access to the internet so I like having it “off line”.
    https://www.pearbudget.com/spreadsheet

  8. Abe says:

    During your 25th show you mentioned Mint.com but did not go into its budgeting functions. Mint has several simliarities and additional functionality:

    (1) The budgeting function is similar to Pear Budget – categories are pre-defined but new categories and sub-categories can be easily added.
    (2) Budgets are simple to create, alter, and view; your budget appears on the first page when logged in and shows a line tracking monthly progress as well as color coded lines for each category (green for under budget, yellow for close to budget, orange for over budget).
    (3) You can set customized alerts to tell you when you are approaching or exceeding your category or subcategory limits/budgets.
    (4) Mint fills the data for you as your spend on your linked accounts – this takes 90% of the work out of maintaining a budget but still requires monitoring and editing for cash spent as well as some spending that may not be properly categorized automatically (e.g., bought some bottled water and peanuts when you were paying for you gas? “Split” the expense in Mint to properly categorize within you budget – VERY easy).
    (5) Mint’s presentation of your budget and spending trends (interactive pie chart).
    (6) Mint also allows for “irregular expenses” by letting your make certain categories cumulative rather than monthly: travel fund is $100/month but if you don’t travel this month then next month you get the difference and it’s up to $200. If you travel in July and spend $1000, then you’ll see $0 in your travel budget until you make up the difference.
    (7) Mint is free (for now – we’ll see what the Intuit purchase means for them and their service costs later).

    I don’t know for sure, but I’d guess most people are not able to maintain the habit of keeping each receipt and inputting it in their budget program at the end of every day or even once a week. Its a huge time suck. Though it does “put your money on autopilot” as mentioned above, you still need to interact with it to make it effective … you just don’t need to input every single receipt. You can still check your spending daily (as I do) and shift your spending allocations within the categories as you decide how to direct your spending in the future.

    At the risk of sounding like a member of some kind of mint cult, I figured I’d address a few of the comments above:

    “With Mint, you’re told where your money went. With PearBudget, you tell your money where to go.”
    Well, if all Pearbudget does is set a spending goal — “telling your money where to do” — then mint has the same functionality: set a budget for the month (even pre-set based on prior spending patterns loaded in to mint then adjust down or up as you want). There’s no real difference here except for whether you enter each purchase or the program enters most of them for you.

    “the default interaction for most people with Mint is passive — you set it, and it’s very easy to forget it.”
    How is it any “easier” to forget Mint that Pearbudget? Because you don’t need to enter every receipt on your own every day? You still need to check daily to allocate cash withdraws and the occasionally miscategorized expense. You can also check daily for real account balances and investment shifts as well as spending trends. I believe the opposite point is true: requiring substantially MORE effort to maintain Pearbudget (or a spreadsheet budget) is likely to increase the number of people who “disregard” a budgeting program than Mint’s automatically inserting most of your purchases for you.’

    As mentioned in “Nudge” (Thaler and Sunstein) the default matters and making it easy and automatic make participation increase. The same would seem to apply here as it would to a “save more tomorrow plan”.

    I’m curious how Pearbudget subscribers believe it does more than Mint in keeping them in line with their budget … what is the mechanism? If Mint has essentially the same functionality (I believe it does) and the front-end looks equally pleasant and simple, what about Pearbudget makes it better at keeping you on budget? It’s got to be something more than requiring your to manually input every expenditure, but what?

    No connection to mint except as a user (and a fairly disgruntled one at times: it’s hard to get mint to add some of the smaller accounts/banks out there, it does not allow manual amounts to be added in [huge problem for some], and it’s investment tracking is VERY poor so far).

  9. Harold E. Conger says:

    I want to cancel Pear Budget, but can not finf the phone number to do so.
    Please help

  10. Charlie Park says:

    Hey there. Charlie from PearBudget again.

    For Harold or anyone else needing to contact us, our phone number’s at the bottom of every page of the site once you log in, or you can always e-mail help@pearbudget.com and we’ll take care of you.

    Thanks!


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