Why You Should Try Microsoft’s New “Money in Excel”

Recently, Microsoft released a powerful personal finance spreadsheet add-on for its Excel spreadsheet program, called Money in Excel. The name is a throwback to Microsoft Money, a separate software package for personal finance tracking that Microsoft discontinued many years ago. Now, it exists as a rather powerful spreadsheet template, one that I recommend for people who already have an Office 365 subscription.

Money in Excel is a spreadsheet template and plug-in designed specifically for the current version of the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet program. Microsoft has made this Money in Excel template (and the Excel program itself) available via its Microsoft 365 program, which is a subscription service that gets you constantly-updated versions of many of Microsoft’s desktop programs — Excel, Word, Powerpoint, and Outlook — along with a bunch of bonus templates and features. Money in Excel is currently only available in the United States but should be available worldwide soon.

Microsoft 365 costs $70 per year for an individual or $100 per year for a family (which allows you to install the apps on multiple devices).

Everything you need to know about Money in Excel

The most powerful thing it offers is the ability to automatically download transactions and account information from banks, credit card issuers and other financial institutions. Money in Excel adds a plug-in into Excel so that the software can download and import all of this information automatically once you enter your login information. It also comes with a spreadsheet template that gives you a lot of uses for that information without really knowing much beyond how to use a spreadsheet program. That template is what I suspect most users will use.

The template alone is fine. Using the template itself is kind of like using a simpler financial planning software package, albeit one that feels super-familiar if you’ve used a spreadsheet program at work. If you’re familiar with Excel or another spreadsheet package, just imagine what a template would be like if it automatically downloaded your transaction history from your accounts and gave you some interesting summary views of all of that data. That’s basically exactly what you get here. It lets you tag all of your transactions into categories and see how those categories make up percentages of your overall spending and provides a lot of nice overall views of your financial state.

If you don’t already use spreadsheets, the learning curve will be fairly steep. If you’re not familiar with at least some kind of spreadsheet program and aren’t necessarily a quick study when it comes to computer software, the learning curve for using this template is going to be a steep one. You’re likely better off looking at other options for financial tracking software.

On the other hand, if you like making your own spreadsheets and really enjoy seeing interesting views on data, this is amazing. If you’re a spreadsheet devotee and really enjoy setting up complex spreadsheets to evaluate data sets, then you will love what this provides. The ability to automatically import data from your financial accounts right into a spreadsheet makes it possible to do almost anything you can imagine when it comes to viewing and going through your financial data, as long as you have the ability to set it up yourself.

It seems pretty secure. The plugin that retrieves your data is actually provided by Plaid, a financial tech services firm. Although I am not a software security expert, I will say that Plaid has a pretty high reputation in the field and seems to be trusted by a lot of financial institutions. I don’t view anything online as perfectly secure, but the real security threats online are the low-hanging fruit that are easy for hackers to get, and Plaid doesn’t seem to be in the business of low-hanging fruit.

[Read: The Best Money-Saving Apps]

Alternatives to Money in Excel

There are actually a lot of different financial tracking software packages out there. I usually point people to a few of them, depending on what they’re looking for.

Mint is probably my default pick for a free personal finance tool. It links up with your financial accounts, downloads transactions and gives you a number of easy ways to look at that data. It’s very well integrated with smartphones. However, the biggest drawback with it is that it’s littered with ads and all kinds of offers; they’re almost incessant. An alternative to Mint in the free software space is Personal Capital, which offers similar features to Mint but leans more into trying to up-sell you to various services rather than inundating you with ads.

You Need a Budget is my gold standard of financial tracking software packages, but it’s a subscription-based package. I was a very heavy user of YNAB before it switched to a subscription model and after using the old version until it was no longer supported, finally made the switch. It’s an extremely flexible software that does everything I want and has a good philosophy behind it. However, it’s currently $84 per year, an expense I’d be happy to not have in my life.

Before Money in Excel came along, Tiller was my default recommendation for personal finance tools for spreadsheet users. It’s a paid service that migrates your transactions into Google Sheets. At this point, I still recommend Tiller if you’re a heavy user of Google Sheets, but Money in Excel is free if you’re using Excel and the two products are quite similar.

Is Money in Excel worth it?

In its default state, Money in Excel is outshined by some of the other packages mentioned here. What makes it really shine is the customizability of it. If you’re good with spreadsheets, you have the ability to make almost anything you want with this software provided you don’t break a few key things — there are a few “guard rails” but not many.

In other words, I won’t be using Money in Excel as my main tool for tracking my finances at this moment. However, in my spare time, I’m working on modifying it to look a lot like how You Need a Budget used to look, and when I’m happy with it, I’ll likely move to it. This is a pretty low priority project for me, but it is something I’m going to dive into when the desire to do a bit of programming and mess around with numbers strikes me.

If you already have Microsoft 365, I strongly encourage you to give Money in Excel a look. It’s a free download and, on its own, it is a solid piece of financial software that doesn’t push you with ads. However, unless you already have a use for Microsoft 365, it’s not worth subscribing to Microsoft 365 for this alone. Good luck!

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