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Wesabe: Easy financial tracking and tips

New site has a creative take on financial tracking

There are a lot of blogs on the Web about saving money, and there's some startlingly good advice from unexpected sources-- such as Dilbert creator Scott Adams. But, there's so much that it's hard to wade through. What most of us need is real advice from other people who are in the same boat as we are. For example, is Amazon Prime worth it? Other Amazon customers would know. But how will you find them? How would you even know to ask them?

A new site, Wesabe, has a creative take on financial advice. It lets you upload your bank and credit card statements (I know: scary. More on that later.) and then gives you useful data about your spending habits, as well as data and advice from other users who buy the same things as you do, or who buy from the same places as you. I uploaded my recent credit card statement, and I find that I've spent $57 dollars at Amazon this month, that other Wesabe users spend on average $93 a month at Amazon, and that the general consensus is to not sign up for Amazon Prime or one-click shopping, since both features encourage impulsive spending.

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The thing that's cool about Wesabe is that these community tips pop up when you're looking at your own data, so they're highly relevant, and you won't see a bunch of random tips that don't apply to you.

You can also tag transactions, and there are tag-based tips. For example, if you tag your local gas-station transactions as "gas," you'll see gas-saving tips attached to all records for that vendor. However, I found that tag-based tips were a bit less focused than merchant tips. For example, I tagged my Peerflix transactions as "DVD," but not all the DVD tips were really relevant.

Wesabe also lets you set spending targets (an amount to spend per month in a tagged category), and big goals, like "Buy a MacBook Pro." The popular goals have interesting discussions attached to them. They're not attached to your data, but the community members taking part in the major goals seem to be very helpful.

Wesabe is not pitched as a Quicken or Microsoft Money competitor. It does not offer a bill paying service, and it does not track stocks. It's designed for people for whom "most of their money is spent living," CEO Jason Knight told me. However, if all you want to do is see how much you're spending in particular categories, Wesabe may do everything you need.

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Regarding the privacy of your data: Wesabe lets you upload the QIF files you get from your credit card company or your bank, but it doesn't show your data to other users except in the aggregate. You won't be able to see what I spent on Amazon this month, although my expenses will roll into the general Amazon statistics. There's also a PC and a Mac program that can automatically download your financial data and then send that to Wesabe. Neither of these methods actually gives the Wesabe servers your bank passwords--the data must go through your PC. You can participate in Wesabe without uploading anything, but it's not nearly as interesting.

Wesabe is a young service and it has some growing to do. Some of the functions are not where you might expect them to be, and the tag-based tips need help. But the CEO of the company has office hours and his phone number posted on the Wesabe home page, if you want to gripe to him about missing features--or tell him what a cool service he's built.

There are other online consumer financial sites like this percolating. I'll let you know when I get more data on them.