Cha-Ching 2 Review

cha-ching-siteCha Ching 2 (by Midnight Apps) is a personal financial application for all of those Mac OS users out there (myself included).  According to the marketing, it’s designed to be easy to use, good looking, and to work seamlessly as you would expect a Mac app to do.

At first glance Cha Ching (Cha-Ching) looks like it trys to simplify your finances and will likely provide basic functionality in terms of managing your money.  How does it stand up to the competition?  Let’s dive in and find out!

Update: Cha-Ching was acquired by Intuit (the same company who acquired Mint.com) in August, 2011 and as such is no longer being updated or supported. I’m told it still works if you have, or can find, a copy, but my recommendation would be to look elsewhere. There are plenty of other great Mac alternatives. As for the creators of Cha-Ching, it sounds like they’re now (or at least were) working at Intuit. See TechChruch’s page for the details about the Cha-Ching acquisition.

My Experience with Cha Ching

During this review I’ll be going over the Cha Ching 2 Beta version.  I’ll essentially walk you through my experience with Cha Ching, looking at ease of use, solid design, good functionality, and features. But what I really judge the application by is how effective it is at helping me manage my finances better (does it encourage good money management practices?).

Installing Cha Ching

Installing Cha Ching 2 was a snap.  After clicking the download link on the Midnight Apps homepage, I saved the zip file to my desktop.  A quick unzip, double click on the cute little piggy bank, and I was on my way to budgeting bliss (well that has yet to be seen, but at least I was in the application).  I was presented with the main screen of the Cha-Ching app.  So far so good.We cannot display this gallery

(Click images to enlarge) The look of the Cha Ching application should be very familiar for Mac users.  It follows the same design principles as many other Mac apps, particularly that of iTunes.  I like it.

First Impressions

One feature that wasn’t present but that would have been nice is to have tool tips set up so that when you hover over items, it gives a description of what it is.  There were a number of buttons that I simply didn’t know what they did at first.  After clicking around you get the hang of it, but should I have to go through the extra time?

While I can usually make my way around applications such as this one without too much difficulty, there will certainly be some people using the software that may be in need of a little guidance.  It would be nice to have a brief walkthrough or at least some general guidance as to what to do to get started on adding accounts, importing transactions, getting started on your budget, etc.

*Update: Part way through the review I shut down Cha-Ching and restarted it.  At that time a screen popped up that asked if I wanted to 1. Start using Cha-Ching, 2. Start with Example Database, or 3. Visit Community.

cha-ching-example

I was glad to see the option of testing it out with an example already set up, only to find that it isn’t clickable.  So aparently they are working on it, but it isn’t implemented yet.  This will be a nice feature once it’s ready.

No User Manual?

After I had starting playing around with app for a bit I began to want some kind of guide to give some basic steps to get started.  Admittedly, I’m probably just a little impatient and want to get rocking quicker.  While I wish they would have given me something at the startup of the app, I thought that for sure I could at least find some kind of guide or user manual online from Midnight Apps or elsewhere. To my surprise, I wasn’t able to find anything.  I did, however, find a number of people that were looking for the same thing as evidenced by their posts on the Midnight Apps community.

I don’t know if they’re working on such a thing, but I sure hope so. So as far as ease of use goes, so far that category is lacking.  Now, it’s possible that once you get the hang of it, it’s a snap.  But if I have to get the hang of it, is it really that easy to use?

Adding Accounts to Cha Ching

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You add accounts to Cha Ching by clicking the “New Account” button at the top left of the app (you can also add one by clicking the “+” symbol at the bottom left). I put in the required info to add my account (checking) and clicked Continue.  At first I thought that nothing happened (other than having an Accounts item show up) because I didn’t see my checking account anywhere.  It turns out that you have click the little arrow next to Accounts to drop down your account list (silly me).

A Small Bug

I found what I can only assume was a small bug when my initial balance for my accounts didn’t show up after I added them.  When I added a transaction or two, it only took the account into the negative (obviously). I quit the app and restarted it, hoping it would help.  When it started again, my accounts were no longer there.  I added my account a second time and again, it didn’t show up.

I quit and restarted again and tadaa! Magically my account showed up with a starting balance. Needless to say this experience only 5 minutes into the process certainly doesn’t instill much confidence.

Different Views in Cha Ching

Cha Ching allows you to view your transactions in 4 different ways.We cannot display this gallery

The first, and default view is a hybrid between the List view and the Coverflow view.  Here you can the image of the transaction, the payee, tags, date, amount, and whether or not it has been reconciled (has hit your bank account yet).

The second view is a list view (this makes the most sense to me).

The third is a Coverflow view (much like the iTunes Coverflow).  This makes no sense to me, but more on that later.

The last view is a window that connects to your banks website to view the transactions (more on this next).

Adding Transactions to Cha Ching

First of all, Cha Ching has an interesting feature (not sure what it’s called, but I’ll call it…Quick Look) that allows you to visit your banks website within the application to make inputting transaction a bit easier.  You can access it by clicking compass looking icon at the top right.

Whether or not this makes it faster or not, I’m not sure but it’s there for those who may like it.We cannot display this gallery

Adding transactions individually is a fairly simple process.  You just click on the “New” button in the lower left section of the app.  A window on the right appears that allows you to input the transaction details.  Here you can also add tags and notes to the transaction (this will help when searching for transactions later).

While it certainly wasn’t difficult to add transactions, it wasn’t exactly fast either.  If I choose to manually enter 20 transactions rather than import them, I would doing a ton of clicking around to do so.  I was wanting to be able use my keyboard to start a new transaction often and would have loved to have been able to tab through all the information and type it in.  (They do allow some tabbing but it skips over some input sections (i.e. the categories) so you still have use the mouse a great deal).

This may not be a deal breaker for some, but for others it may get a little frustrating (it certainly was for me).

Importing Bank Transactions

Cha Ching supports three kinds of import files, OFX, QFX, and QIF to import your bank transactions.  Most banks should support these file formats.We cannot display this gallery

You import transactions by clicking on File, then the import option of your choice.  After selecting the file to import (you obviously have to download that from your bank) you are presented with a screen that allows to choose which account it is for and select which transactions you would like to import.

As with almost any personal finance software in which you import the data from your bank, you will often have to change the payee to something more understandable (like “Chevron” rather than “1200 S 400 E…”).

While importing your transactions will definitely save you a good deal of time, it still doesn’t solve the fact that much of the data that you’ll want to enter will have to entered using the Edit panel (which requires more time to click around).

In the transaction window you can edit the Payee, Tags, and Notes.  That’s it.  If you want to (and you will need to) input the amount, category, type of transaction, or date, you have to use the Edit panel.  If you ask me, it’s rather tedious, but that’s just my opinion.

Can’t Add Custom Categories

categoriesOne thing that I found unfortunate was that you can’t add your own custom categories.

While Cha Ching offers a pretty good list to get you going, everyone is different and will have different categories that they like to use (for example, I like to have a Fast Food category and a Restaurant category to keep the two seperate in my budget).  I see this as a major flaw.

I also didn’t like how the categories were listed in the menu.  They were alphabetical order.  This is fine in theory, but would be much more effective if they were grouped in spending areas.  For example, Food would have Groceries, Fast Food, and Restaurant, under it.

Also, because I was fairly unfamiliar with the terms they use for the categories it took me quite a while to find the ones I was looking for (they use Dining, I was looking for Restaurant).  Click image to see full list of categories.

*Update:  As I went on to the budgeting section, I realized that they use Tags, rather than Categories to run their budget.  This somewhat alleviates the need to have custom categories because you create whatever tags you want.  I thought it was a little weird to create your budget from Tags and not Categories, but to each his own I guess.

Other than for filtering and search purposes, I’m not entirely sure why you need both Tags and Categories, but maybe I’m missing something.

Splitting Transactions

Cha Ching allows you to split your transactions so your budget can be more accurate.  This is an essential feature in any personal finance application and I was glad to see that Cha Ching had it.

After clicking on a transaction to select it, click Split in the bottom left of the screen. You are taken to the Split panel.  After clicking Enable (a small annoyance) you then click the “+” sign (another small annoyance) and enter in the Title, Amount, and Tag of a portion of the transaction.  Click the + again and do same until you’ve fully split your transaction.We cannot display this gallery

Coverflow and Adding Images to Transactions

If you choose to, you can add images to your transactions.  This would primarily be used if you wanted to look at your transactions in Coverflow view. The process is fairly easy.

First you have to have a picture (I took mine from the internet).  Double click a transaction.  Then click on the the icon that looks like a picture frame in the Edit panel on the right.  You then simply drag and drop the photo into the box.  It was easy and worked flawlessly.

It then also adds that photo in a library of sorts to be used for future transactions. You can then switch to Coverflow view and watch your transaction images fly across the screen beautifully.We cannot display this gallery

My issue with this isn’t that it doesn’t work.  The only question that I have is, “How does this help me better manage my money?”  Sure, it’s fun and a great time waster.  But it does nothing to help me budget my finances more effectively.

Time would have been much better spent finding ways to simplify the transaction editing process or improving the budgeting section rather than creating such a fancy feature that doesn’t actually help anyone.

Quick Search in Cha Ching 2

One feature that I really like in Cha Ching (that’s native to many Mac applications) is the quick search in the top right corner.

Once you begin typing in the search box it automatically begins filtering the transactions to only show results that match what you’re typing.  You can search for tags, payees, amounts, and maybe a few other things.  I didn’t, however, allow me to search for a specific date.We cannot display this gallery

This is nice, for example, if I want to see all my spending for the tag Food.  Just type in Food and it shows you all your transactions that match that tag.  I found this search feature to be fast, effective, and quite nice.

Filtering in Cha Ching 2

Cha Ching also has a filtering feature that allows you filter all your transactions by any number of criteria that you choose.

By clicking the Filter icon at the top right you are presented with a screen section that allows you to set your criteria.  For an example, I set the first identifier to “Tag”, the second to “Contains”, and then typed in “Groceries” in the last one.  After clicking Save As I can name this filter and then it’s saved on my left panel under “Collections”.

You can think of this as a type of saved spending report.  For example, next month when I want to see all the transactions that were tagged Groceries, I can just click on my “Collection” that I just created.We cannot display this gallery

You can create as many filters (or collections) as you wish, each with as many criteria as you think is appropriate.

Cha Ching on the iPhone

cha-ching-iphoneFor all of you who have an iPhone, you may want to try the Cha-Ching iPhone app.

Unfortunately, this review doesn’t cover it’s functionality because I don’t own an iPhone.  Midnight Apps does have a good number of screen shots and even a demo video that you may want to check out.

You can purchase the iPhone app for $2.99 at the Apple app store.

Cha Ching’s Budget

You can have multiple budget’s in Cha Ching, which is nice.

To add a budget, click the + sign at the lower left.  Then click on the Budget icon, enter in a name for your budget, and click continue. You’re brought to the budget screen where you have your “budgeted” income on the left and your budget for your expenses on the right.

Cha Ching uses Tags, rather than Categories to keep track of your spending.  Enter a tag (it autofills as you type – nice functionality). Enter a limit.  And enter the frequency.    You can see the quick sample budget that I set up in the images below.We cannot display this gallery

After you click done, you are taken to the Budget Overview screen.  Here you can see how you’re doing with your budget for the month (or whatever time frame you set it to in the lower left of the screen). It basically just shows you a bar graph that fills up as you spend.

This is where I was fairly let down with Cha Ching.  I’ve seen this same budgeting approach with Mint, moneyStrands, and many others.  Essentially all you’re doing is setting a “limit.” If you go over, all it does is show you a full bar.  Not even a slap on the wrist.

I guess this is a little better than simply writing down your spending limit somewhere, but it’s not near as effective as other budgeting methodologies (especially the envelope method).  Cha Ching doesn’t do much to encourage a forward looking approach with your finances.  When budgeting with Cha Ching I feel more like I’m drawing a line in the sand, rather than creating a detailed plan for my spending and savings accumulation.

Cha Ching Price

They offer a 30 day free trial, after which you pay $40 if you want to keep using the software.  I like that they have the trial (mostly because I believe most people would be dissapointed if they paid the $40 upfront).

While $40 is a very good price for a finance software application, Cha-Ching (in it’s current version) still has some work to do before I would recommend it at that price.

Cha Ching Conclusion

Cha Ching is a pretty Mac friendly application.  It looks clean and friendly and will be very familiar to those Mac users out there.  They’ve integrated a few of the features (quick search) that many Mac users would instinctively look for in an application such as this. That’s nice.

I found the transaction entering process a bit more tedious than other solutions that I’ve worked with, which makes it not quite as “quick” and “easy” as I had hoped.  Throughout my experience with Cha Ching I found more bugs than I’d like to admit (one that caused me to have to force quit the app).  It is, however, in beta still so you must expect at least some troubles here and there – I’m just saying that they don’t have it right quite yet.

The main concern I have for Cha Ching is the weak budgeting section.  While it’s true that the act of simply monitoring your spending will have a positive effect on one’s spending habits, I feel that there are much more effective approaches at budgeting and creating spending plans (I’m a fan of the envelope budgeting method). The simple bar graph just doesn’t do it for me.

What is personal finance software supposed to do?  If the answer is to simply track your transactions and monitor your spending, then Cha Ching has done a fine job.  It will do it.  If the answer, however, is to make it as easy and quick as possible to manage your money, to create effective budgets, and to actively plan for your future expenses and savings accumulation, then Cha Ching may have fallen short.

There is certainly a few good features in Cha Ching, but the package as a whole is simply not up to par with the better financial management applications on the market today.

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