Personal-Finance Programs Can Be Addictive
                   By Joan Indiana Rigdon

                   The Wall Street Journal
                   Page B1
                   (Copyright (c) 1996, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.)

                   The digital age has produced yet another strange obsession, and Andrew
                   DeFaria has it bad.

                   When the assistant administrator for a Hewlett-Packard Inc. compiler
                   laboratory first got Intuit Inc.'s Quicken personal-finance software in
                   1992, he mainly used it to balance his checkbooks. But now he
                   compulsively tracks his credit cards, stocks and IRAs, 42 active accounts
                   in all, and saves the receipts for everything he buys, including his
                   lunch-time roast-beef sandwiches. Each night he types the data from the
                   day into his computer and generates reports comparing his spending
                   month by month on everything from parking to hair treatments, including
                   the purple and blue streaks he recently added and then removed.

                   The fact is that for the penny-pinching, the detail oriented or the just plain
                   neurotic, personal-finance software doesn't always make it easier to
                   balance the books. It can turn the chore into a consuming addiction.
                   Intuit, No. 1 in the market with 10 million users, and Microsoft Corp.,
                   No. 2 in the market with two million users of its Money product, estimate
                   that a 10th to a third of their users are hard core, using the program for
                   more than 20 minutes at a sitting.

                   New technology has a history of creating new addicts, from compulsive
                   Tetris players to Web-surfing junkies, as people become hooked on
                   novel new ways of doing things. But psychologists say that in addition,
                   personal-finance programs offer people a way to quickly quantify their
                   personal priorities. "People see themselves reflected in how they spend
                   their money," says Barbara Mackoff, a psychologist who consults for
                   corporate clients. For others, says Ms. Mackoff, the software provides a
                   sense of control, of "being in the driver's seat."

                   That is what motivates Vincent Llewellyn. A doorman at the Marriott
                   Hotel in Washington, D.C., Mr. Llewellyn says his finances used to be
                   out of control, particularly because his income is mostly tips; he says he
                   never knew how much he had in his checking account or on credit cards.
                   Now, he whips out his Newton -- a hand-held Apple Computer Inc.
                   machine that runs a portable version of Quicken -- eight or nine times a
                   day to track everything from taxi fares to the 89 cents he spends for each
                   of his three daily cups of coffee. Every Saturday, he loads the data into
                   his home computer, ordering up detailed bar graphs that vividly display
                   where his money goes.

                   When the pie charts showed too much money going to taxi fares and
                   cellular phone calls, Mr. Llewellyn says, he changed his spending habits.
                   "I can be a little nerdy about it, but I have to stay on a budget. I'm not
                   rich," he notes.

                   Leigh Anne Varney, a San Francisco public-relations executive, says she
                   had to quit Quicken cold turkey last year because she was spending two
                   hours using the software every weekday morning. That meant she didn't
                   start working in her home office until 10 a.m. and had to skip lunch to
                   catch up.

                   Ms. Varney succumbed to the software during work, too. Waiting for
                   someone to pick up the phone after she placed a call, "I'd click into
                   Quicken and fiddle with something," she says. "And whoever it was
                   would come on the phone and I'd be staring at the computer and looking
                   at my loan planner or my college planner and I'd completely forgot why I
                   called that person." Sometimes, she confesses, she'd have to hang up.

                   Much of what Ms. Varney spent her time on was a fantasy element of the
                   software, which allows the debt-laden to envision zero credit-card
                   balances and those living modestly to aspire to millions. The so-called
                   planners, which are included in most brands of personal-finance software,
                   allow users to type in fictitious amounts of money and interest rates to
                   calculate how fast savings will grow and what they will be worth at

                   For people like Kelda Brown of Rockville, Md., the features permit
                   hours of dreaming about building fortunes. "I think if I have this much
                   money and I get a 12% interest rate, how long will it take me to become
                   a millionaire?" Ms. Brown says. Too long, she discovered, so she started
                   trying to figure out how much she would have to save to assure that she
                   and her husband would have an annual income of $70,000 at retirement
                   some 30 years hence.

                   But the program's inflation calculator informed her that $70,000 a year in
                   today's dollars will be equivalent to about $350,000 by the time she
                   retires. And in order to have that much, she and her husband will need to
                   have saved $4.5 million by the time they retire. "Isn't that horrible?" Ms.
                   Brown asks. "This is what the financial planner will do to you. It will kill

                   Indeed, Mr. DeFaria's net-worth graph was so discouraging that he
                   began hunting around for other things besides cash to add to it. After all,
                   the software encourages this. When counting assets, it prompts users to
                   include household assets and lists several dubious examples, including
                   roller skates and toasters.

                   After inserting obvious things like his van, which he has since sold, Mr.
                   DeFaria added the value of various pieces of furniture and the hair dryer
                   in his bathroom. Finally he turned to his closet, where he estimates he has
                   $1,500 of clothing, including three pairs of scuffed-up sneakers and a pair
                   of dress shoes, which he valued at a total of $50.

                   Does he really think he can sell them for that much? "Realistically, no," he

                   He overvalued his wedding ring, too. Mr. DeFaria says he paid $800,
                   had hoped to get $400 when he sold it after his divorce, but ultimately got
                   only $90 cash from a jeweler. "That's what you call depreciation," he

                   Mr. DeFaria's Quicken obsession compelled him to set up an unofficial
                   site on the Internet's World Wide Web, where he tossed barbs at Intuit
                   for product flaws and answered fellow users' technical-support questions
                   via e-mail. He quit that this year but says Quicken got him through the
                   roughest parts of his marital breakup. "It was cheap entertainment," Mr.
                   DeFaria says.


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