Even if you have less income, Green Sherpa allows financial peace

In a recession, you'd think that fewer people would need a personal finance site to help them track expenses. After all, if you have less money to spend, why go to all of the trouble to keep track of it, beyond balancing a checkbook?

The founders of Green Sherpa, a Web site in private beta mode that offers a way to watch your personal cash flow ebb about, think otherwise.

While many personal finance software programs, such as Quicken and Microsoft Money, allow users to easily monitor their expenses, Green Sherpa differs in that it allows people to look forward and plan for future expenses and possible incomes, said Masen Yaffee, CEO of Green Sherpa.

"Green Sherpa offers people an opportunity to have peace of mind" as a future planning tool," Yaffee told me in a telephone interview from his office in Santa Barbara.

Having lower incomes and higher expenses in a recession only make it more valuable of a service as consumers look for ways to watch their expenses and see a forecast of a month or 12 months down the road, he said.

"Our business stands to do really, really well in this environment," Yaffee said.

One problem with forecasting your income, for example, is that it's difficult if you lose your job. And as anyone who owns a car or home knows, unexpected expenses such as repairs pop up every now and then. But those can be forecast also, for example, by putting in an "act of God" every quarter of $1,000 to cover such expenses, said Erin Lozano, chief operating officer of Green Sherpa.

All of the other financial applications focus on financial history and not cashflow projections, Yaffee said, making his product unique.

"None of them do a very good job of helping you see where you're going," he said.

There are three ways to work in Green Sherpa. The first is the easiest: Give it your bank account number and password, and it automatically downloads your checking, savings, credit card accounts and others so you can see transactions and where your money is going. The second method is to manually enter the data, such as with personal finance software, although that seems unnecessary if the goal is to save time. The last way is to have your financial information imported from Quicken, Microsoft Money or whatever such software you already have.

Plans are for Green Sherpa to go live May 1 with subscriptions at $7.95 a month, or $5.95 a month if paid a year in full.

Having Quicken on a desktop may be great at home, but Green Sherpa is online anywhere. There's also the misconception that a desktop is more safe than the Internet, Yaffee said.

"Our view is that peoples' desktop is no more safe than our Web site," he said, adding that Green Sherpa is just as secure if not more secure than a bank's Web site.

The site doesn't allow bills to be paid on it, although Yaffee was hopeful that would be added some day. It also doesn't track investment portfolios. It allows users, if they choose, to collaborate with their family, financial planners and accountants by giving them shared access to the account so everyone involved can leave comments and see how the finances are shaping up.

By taking the record keeping out of the personal finance tracking, Yaffee said the company's target is 70% of the households where women are in charge of finances. While men remain in charge of a family's investments, women are more often monitoring the daily finances of a family, he said.

As for the potential queasiness of giving your bank passwords to an online site and having them stolen, Yaffee reminds that online banking and using credit cards online were once thought as no-nos but have since become commonplace.

Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job search at www.AaronCrowe.net

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