As we approach the end of the calendar year, we all have friends and family complaining about tax preparation issues and such. To help ease this yearly burden, I would suggest that your think about tracking your finances for the coming year in some sort of system. This can be an inline program like Mint.com, software like Quicken or Quickbooks or even on paper or in an Excel spreadsheet. Like most tasks, it is more important that you DO it than HOW you do it.
Tracking your finances is one of those tasks that is much easier when taken in small pieces. If you take a few moments to enter in financial data -- checks written, bills received, donations given -- as they appear, it can save your significant time and frustration later. First, doing this in small chunks is less intimidating than trying to do it each month or, even worse, all together at the end of the year. I try to enter data at least once a week and reconcile my accounts religiously at the end of each month. By the time I get to the end of the year and meet with my tax accountant, I only need to print out 2 reports, hand over my 1099 and W-2 forms, and we are done. I know exactly how much I will need to pay, or receive as a refund by the time he leaves our house. We have done this for over 10 years now and the ease of it is always welcome and amazing.
The beginning of a new year is always a great time to start tracking you finances. You will receive bank statements and bill which clearly reflect your balances and these can be used as opening balances in any of the financial programs available. Of course, that same could be said for starting at the beginning of any month. Don't worry about inputting older data. Start fresh and move forward. It is rarely useful to input older data unless there is a particular issue you are trying to address.
This month I am preparing to switch over to Quickbooks for Mac 2012 for both my personal and corporate financial needs. I was using Quicken for Mac for my personal accounts and an old copy of Quickbooks Windows for my corporate accounts. My copy of Quicken for Mac no longer functions under Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion) and the Quickbooks for Windows requires me to run it in a virtual Windows machine on my Mac. I hope that by using the same program for both -- and one that runs natively on the Macintosh, I will save myself a fair bit of work.
Remember, it doesn't matter what system you use, only that you have some system in place. Below are a few online and computer-based financial systems you can try, but even pen and paper will make tracking your finances easier than the typical "shoebox" many people face at the end of the year.
There is a great series of columns on Tidbits that helps to lay out many of the option if you are upgrading from Quicken for Mac or just looking for a place to begin.
Financial Products available from Amazon.com - Reviews and Information
Other financial program alternatives
GnuCash (Win, Mac, Linux - Free Download)
Mint.com (Online, Free)