PearBudget (pearbudget.com) is a simple and well presented online budgeting application.

Pear budget

Pear budget

It has been developed by Charlie and Sarah Park to be a “pared-down budgeting” tool – an aim that ultimately also gave the tool its name. In their own words:

We looked at a bunch of different budgeting programs, and we realized that they tried to do too much. They tried to do the wrong things… We’ve spent two years crafting this application, paring away everything that isn’t absolutely crucial for keeping a budget.

There are no fancy charts and no automatic downloading of your bank records, just a simple three step process.

First,  plan your budget. This involves entering your income, regular monthly expenses and irregular expenses (those that occur less often than monthly). When you first go to Pear Budget this step is simplified even further with a wizard that I will talk about later.

Second, enter your receipts for the month. This is all done by hand. There is no connection to your bank account or bulk import option. The site creator’s state that this is by design, part of their “pared-down” philosophy. They claim entering your receipts by hand keeps you more in touch with you spending. Additionally having the site link directly to your online bank accounts creates an unnecessary threat to the security of those accounts.

Finally, review reports of your spending. By default the report is for the current month, but you can also see a breakdown by year or a simple list of entered receipts. For each of the categories you entered you can see what you planned to spend (from step one), what you have actually spent (from step two) and the difference.

And that is pretty much the whole of the application – Create a budget, enter receipts and view a report. That simplicity, and the straight forward language used to explain it, make the site very easy to understand and use.

When you first come to the site you can start creating your budget without registering going through any registration process. Rather than educating the user on the benefits of budgets or the features of the site, its puts them in control straight away.

The site promises to have a budget set up for you in five minutes, and with its very good wizard it can be done. The wizard makes adding the most common expenses to your budget as easy as checking some boxes from a list. You can then enter the amount you spend and rename the provided labels to make it your own. The text in the wizard is also quite empowering with its constant encouragement to “put something in now and fix it so it is right later”. This really does allow the user to get a long way into making the budget their own on first finding the site without stressing about getting everything right first time.

You can enter tags against any of your receipts. This allows you to view reports grouped by tags and also to put extra data into the receipts lumped under one category. So for example if you had two cars you could create a tag for each one and use just one “Car” category, then at the end of the year be able to attribute costs specific to each one.

You can also set up a recurring receipt to to be automatically generated on certain dates in the month. The same item can be generated on several days in the month, so if you have a weekly payment to make you can set it to be generated on the 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th of the month. Unfortunately the generation cannot be set up to for a certain day of the week, so the dates would have to be adjusted every month if the payment was every Wednesday for example. Similarly there is no way to set up regular payments that occur less then monthly, such as quarterly or yearly bills.

This then is perhaps where this otherwise brilliantly simple site misses the point – it is hard coded to operate on a monthly period. Even without using the recurring receipt feature, the site caters only to monthly and yearly cycles. If you have weekly or fortnightly expenses then you are expected to multiple them up to a monthly figure, if you have quarterly bills you must multiple them out into a yearly amount.  You would also have to do this every month as the number of weeks and the occurrence of weekdays in a month is not regular.

Features:

  • Budget creation Wizard
  • Recurring payments automation
  • Export records to file
  • Delete all user data on closing account

Things it does right:

  • Keeps everything extremely simple and straight forward both in features and the language used to describe them. It lives up to its “pared-down” claim.
  • Provides a very good wizard for setting up your first budget.

Things it could improve:

  • Does not allow the user to work on any period other than monthly and yearly – which could be a problem if you plan to budget in sync with a weekly or fortnightly paycheck.
  • Does not allow bulk importing of receipts.

Cost:

Free 31 day trial then US$3 a month or US$30 a year. Payable by credit card or PayPal.

Do you use Pear Budget? If so I would greatly appreciate hearing about your experience and the get your opinion of what it does right and where it could be improved.