Quicken Tutorials for Beginners

By Jackie Lohrey

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Quicken financial management software, with all its choices, instructions and options can be overwhelming, especially for a new user. Everything seems equally important, and everything seems like you need to master it right now. Before diving in and starting the process of using accounts, creating reports and filling in budget amounts, it is important to learn a few basic concepts that can help you optimize Quicken for your individual needs. One of the most important concepts to understand is how to use categories and tags to track your account transactions.

Understanding Categories, Subcategories and Tags

A Quicken category is a label, such as Groceries or Household, that defines a broad group of both income and expense transactions. You use a single category per transaction to track how you earn and spend money. For example, all grocery purchases, no matter where you buy them, go under the Groceries category and all income, regardless of the source, goes in the Income category.

Use a subcategory to provide greater organization and detail within a category and for assistance in creating a budget. This is especially useful in a category such as Auto, where you incur multiple types of expenses. Creating subcategories for fuel, maintenance and registration makes it much easier to see where your money is going.

Tags are like keywords. They allow you to track transactions within and across category groups. For example, if you want to track the money you spend on incidentals for a child in college, create a tag with the name of the child and then apply it to the appropriate category or subcategory, such as Groceries, Auto: Fuel, or Telephone: Cell phone.

Creating Categories, Subcategories and Tags

Quicken comes with numerous built-in categories that cover many standard items. Not all built-in categories are visible from the Category List window, as much of what you see depends on information you give Quicken during set-up. Before creating a new category, access Quicken's built-in categories and see if something appropriate is already there. To access built-in categories, choose “Tools” from the main menu, then choose “Category List.” Click the “Add Categories” button, select the categories you wish to add from the menu on the left side of the screen, and click the “Add” button. Click “OK” to finish and return to the Categories List.

To add a new category or subcategory, click the “New” button in the Categories List window, create a name for the category or subcategory, provide an optional description, and indicate category type, such as Income, Expense or Subcategory. If you choose “Subcategory,” use the drop-down box next to the selection to indicate the main category name.

To create a new tag, choose “Tools” from the main menu, then select “Tag List.” Click the “New” button at the top of the window and type in a name and optional description for the tag. Ignore the “Copy Number” box as it applies to tracking rental properties only. Click “OK” to finish.

While it is possible to create categories, subcategories and tags “on the fly,” this is not always a good option, especially if you are frustrated or simply trying to “make it fit.” Putting thought into the categories, subcategories and tags you use can make Quicken work better and more efficiently.

Using Categories, Subcategories and Tags

Use categories, subcategories and tags within transaction registers to identify and organize income and expenses. For example, in a checking account register, after entering the payee and amount of the check, click the drop-down box under the payee name to select either the category or subcategory of the transaction. Tab over or click in the next box to select the appropriate Tag from its drop-down list.

At the end of the month, run a report that will show an income/spending breakdown by category, subcategory and tag. For example, to run a standard Quicken spending report, click “Reports” from the main menu. Select “Spending” and then “Spending by Category” to view the report and accompanying pie chart. The Spending report defaults to a year-to-date listing, so adjust date parameters to your needs.