On Life and Love

Mo’ money, mo’ problems: a retirement app idea

I mentioned this obliquely a couple of weeks ago, but I’m wigging out a bit about retirement. In 39 years I will be 65, and I don’t have solid plans with numbers behind them. Socking away $5k a year into an IRA just isn’t enough.
Even Jackie likes to rub money.
Back in the day, I loved, loved, loved Microsoft Money’s Lifetime Planner. It asked you all sorts of questions about when you were going to have a kid and how much you were saving in various accounts, their expected returns, how much you thought you needed to live on in retirement, etc. Then it crunched the numbers and gave you a big graph showing your projected savings and if you could make your goal.

Loved it.

Since MS Money’s gone the way of the way of the dodo bird, I can’t find an equivalent tool online. None of Mint/Wesabe/YNAB/etc. seem to have this. I’m not buying Quicken. Hell, I can’t even find people talking about missing that feature. Was I the only one who used it?

I want it, so I’m going to make it, but catered to retirement. For instance, I don’t care about the costs of having a baby or buying a house, or simpler calculations of saving for little Booboo’s college. I can do all that math easily in a spreadsheet. I want something tailored to retirement, and tailored to people who change jobs and have life happen to them.

Ferinstance, I want to be able to have the following scenario accounted for: “I currently work for X and contribute 5% of my pre-tax income of $A to my 401k. I expect a 6% return there. In October 2010, those contributions will stop, but I’ll let them sit in that 401k account (rather than roll them over into an IRA) and accumulate that 6% return. Now I work for Y and make $B. I’m contributing 10% of my income to this 401k, and expect a return of 8%…”

If I have a baby, all that should matter — in this case, not the grand scheme of things — is that my monthly contributions may change. It’s no different than changing jobs in that respect.

Is this useful to anyone else? Should this be written as a web service, or as a desktop app? I don’t really want to run anything where I’m storing anyone’s financial information, especially on Dreamhost. I don’t even have a complete initial feature set in mind yet, but I want to throw the idea out there.

The core features I see for this app are:

  • collecting current and future contributions to various investment and savings accounts,
  • calculating returns on all that money,
  • projecting savings over pre-retirement years,
  • determining if it’s possible live from retirement to death on that money.

The “twist” of the app, if you will, is the handling of start and stop dates for contributions to allow for shifting budgets. I don’t want people to feel compelled to futz with things if their contributions change from $450/month to $425, but they should have the freedom to.

What other features would be nice?


  • guyblade

    I wouldn’t worry too much because there is no way that our generation will be able to retire at 65. We might be able to retire at 70, but I wouldn’t bet on that either.

    • Melissa

      True. Honestly, I’m don’t think I’ll ever “retire” to the oft-mentioned-but-never-achieved living on a boat without a care in the world lifestyle. I’ll always want to be doing something, but I will likely slow down some after 60 or 70.

      Then again, maybe the singularity will occur within the next 15 years and all this will be a moot point.

  • Hannah

    I’d really prefer this as a desktop app. I totally agree with your paranoia of storing financial information. I would use this, and I would be willing to help work on it, too. I am terrible at coding but I will brush up if you feel like you need help at any point. Keep me updated on your progress; this is really interesting and sounds very useful to me. I’ve been pretty much freaking out about this same issue, especially since I will have massive student debt load when I get the PhD in 2016 or thereabouts. Therefore, I love your “twist” and have been missing much the same feature in any of the other financial calculation apps.

    • Melissa

      Hannah: I’ll definitely be posting as I flesh out this idea. I want to make sure this is going to be useful to more folks than just me. Coming out of college later than many start their careers changes your approach to things. I’m also trying to get Greg to weigh in, being an irregularly-paid guy. I’m a contractor now and may be doing contract gigs in 6-12 mo intervals for a while, hence my concern about job switching calculations.

      I’m definitely going for desktop with it at this point, and I’ll make it platform agnostic, although I haven’t settled on a specific tech yet. I have to figure out a little more of what I’m doing on a high level first. 🙂

  • CJOttawa

    Realizing this is now an old post, I did want to chime in.

    Why not continue to use Microsoft Money?
    A long time MS Money user (since 2004), I bought Quicken 2012 and returned it for a refund after a couple of weeks. It just didn’t do what Money did and had at least one fatal flaw: inaccurate cashflow projection. (Quicken doesn’t factor budgeted expenses, only “scheduled” bills)

    MS Money Sunset Plus is now a free download from Microsoft. The budget, cashflow projections, and the Lifetime Planner all work extremely well. I’ve yet to find other software that’s an adequate replacement.

    FYI, I found your post by Googling “Microsoft Money Lifetime Planner.” 🙂

    • Melissa Avery-Weir

      That’s fascinating. I didn’t see that Microsoft was providing a graceful post-sunset solution for Money at the time.

      That said, the Lifetime Planner still has the flaws I mentioned in my post–it doesn’t focus on retirement as well for those of us who change jobs relatively often and don’t care about babies and houses/cars in the same perspective. (It’s still a valuable tool, though!)

      Also, I never found a good way to work envelope-style budgeting into Money. :-/

  • CJOttawa

    When referring to “envelope” budgeting, would the Microsoft Money “spending thermometers” work for you?

    You can add them on the Home page in Money and they “count up” toward the budgeted amount for the category or sub-category you’re tracking.

    • Melissa Avery-Weir

      It’s been a while since I used Money, so I’m having to Google the specifics of Spending Thermometers, but reading suggests that the thermometers aren’t trivial (simple keypresses) to reallocate to other thermometers, and may not handle rolling budgets well. Does that line up with your experience?

      I’ve yet to find a better solution than Pearbudget, despite the requirement of manually-entering transactions.