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For the last couple of months, I’ve been taking at least $50 from each paycheck and transferring it to a fictional account in my money software.  The money isn’t actually going anywhere but my checking account, but there is a “savings” account that has a balance and a single transaction for the transfer on 12/31/2007.  This effectively gives me a cushion in my checking account and helps me save some extra dough every month (I already put away at least $100 a month into savings or stocks on top of 10% of my gross sent to my 401k, which makes me very happy to see the new balance every quarter, so this isn’t my only savings method for those who are really into that).

The unexpected thing about this fictional account is that I occasionally dip into it slightly and then back out.  I never decrease the amount of money, just my forward balance in my checking account drops below zero, even though that forward balance is counting a transaction that will never happen.  What is unexpected is how much concern this causes me, which was the point.  I’m not out of money (far from it, really) and the cushion is intact, but I hate seeing red numbers on my screen.  The result is that I’m even more aware of spending than ever before.  My habits haven’t changed much, but I’m paying more attention and scaling back where it seems logical.  The nice part is that my belief in treating myself hasn’t changed (I took a sick day today and will be heading to In ‘N Out for dinner to get some protein to “help fight off sickness” and just to feel good about life in a more tangible fashion).

On a related note, I use MS Money 2005, which now tells me that the nice feature that downloads my transactions will expire on Halloween (spooky!).  I can either upgrade to a newer version of Money or not.  A third option is to purchase another software solution (i.e. Quicken).  Being able to download transactions from my banks and credit card companies is critical (I hate entering transactions manually). Having a budget program and charting is nice to have as well, but not required (I mostly like to see if I’ve taken in more money than I’ve spent and leave it at that).

Any advice for a good software solution on that front?