Free your Finances – Wesabe one Week in

So I have been using Wesabe for a week now and am really enjoying it. After getting over the initial paranoia of putting my bank info into a 3rd party service its been a veery eye opening experience. The final jump that got me over this part was reading their ‘Data Bill of Rights’, I am firmly based in the philosophy of The Cluetrain Manifesto and The Cathedral and the Bazaar and it seems this group has that focus down very well. Here is a video interview with the founders.

After uploading my bank content I then had to identify my purchases by 1) giving them a name that made sense and 2) tagging them with, well, tags. For #1 I am referring to how your bank gives you these awesomely unuseful names for your purchases, like: MC-Shell-Mazatlan-Hegel-1234Columbine-#$haha which means you used your Debit Card at the Shell down the street for gas. The cool thing is that once you name one purchase from that location all of them are updated! For #2 I am referring to the tag craze that web2.0 has brought upon us all. If you use del.icio.us or flickr then you know what these are and if you don’t its not a big deal. Basically you are putting some general names to your purchases so that Wesabe can group them together for you. So for a gas purchase I am gonna use – gas, car, transport. These tags are also applied to all purchases made at that location. If you want to apply specific tags to individual purchases you can do that for example – game, fellas – for the time you went to a baseball game with your buds and had to get gas.

This part takes some work but the way Wesabe is setup with all its super slick web2.0 scripting makes it really fast and kinda fun. I had some 200 entries updated in just 2-20 minute sessions. Once you have done all of this though you are in business as you will have to update occasionally as you make purchases at different places and maybe for the one time tags, but now you can start analyzing your spending and earnings in a nice and quick fashion. The more you use the tags effectively the better your analysis becomes. So be sure to put food on both restaurant and grocery purchases so that you can see how they lump together and separetly. You can then review all of the regular analysis – daily, weekly, monthly, etc. This is fairly normal budgeting stuff, but I like the format and the video game feel of the site, though the responsiveness can be a bit sluggish at times.

Getting back to the progressive stance of the site there is a recent post from one of their investors talking about the recent addition of a Tips section. This allows you to compare where you are making purchases and where other Wesabe users are making there’s to figure out if you are getting the goods or the shaft. “Great” you say “but there are tons of places to do this.” True and here is what the VC says:

The difference between user contributed reviews and actual user spending data is in some ways obvious and in other ways subtle, but profound. On the obvious side, the first thing Joshua Schachter, the founder of del.icio.us said to me, when I mentioned the idea was “how cool – you can’t spam it”. There are lots of reasons why someone might slant a review, but how many folks would buy more shoes just to promote a shoe store. The subtle distinction is more interesting. Someone could give a fancy, expensive restaurant a five star review after visiting only once. That review will be helpful to some, but others might find it a lot more useful to know that the anonymous reviewer of the five star restaurant ate there only once, but visits the unpretentious Italian place down the street five or six times a month.

and continues…

With the announcement of the new Wesabe Tips tab, the company has enabled consumers to anonymously share spending and satisfaction data, shifting forever the balance of power between merchants and consumers in favor of consumers. By waiting until they could offer the convenience of automatic uploading without compromising their users ownership of their data, they have reinforced their reputation as a trusted partner.

Wesabe also lets you take your data with you at anytime as stated in the Data Bill of Rights listed above. This means they are really interested in the Open Source Model of making things happen. As another blogger points out:

The key for Wesabe, is that they have turned that data over to consumers, and redress the balance of information power that has existed. Banks know everything about consumers, and not vice versa; Banks are paternalistic towards consumers, and that is in large part a result on unequal information and knowledge.

This is very cool stuff. Add to that the long standing Goals and Groups function and you have a very interactive and engaging tool to help people with their finances. Sure there are more powerful tools out there and of course any accountant worth her salt will tell you that Excel is all you need, but I am not a power user nor am I an accountant. I am not a checkbook balancer except in my head so Wesabe is a welcome tool for me and those like me, who are many. Oh and for those Mac users, like me, they got a Widget!

More Reading:
Good article at lifehacker
-comments from co-founder Marc Hedlund, Wesabe
VC talking about wesabe new features
-had link to site below
VC of wesabe talking about tips feature
-Brad Burnham
Wired article from 2006
“Imagine Quicken in a web interface with the tagging powers of Flickr and you’ll pretty much have Wesabe pegged.”
Wesabe faq

Super techy stuff you can do with Wesabe:
Something grabbing the API
Wesabe API with the Mac App Quicksilver