Both Quicken and Excel can be used for personal and small-business budgeting. Quicken duplicates the most common methods of tracking accounts, deposits and debits, and suggests budgeting from your data. Excel requires more setup, but allows much more flexibility in your accounting.
Quicken resembles a checkbook ledger both in its interface and in what kinds of data it allows to be stored with each transaction. This works well for the most common kinds of budgeting and tracking, but can be too limiting for some kinds of budgets. Excel uses a free-form spreadsheet model that can store a much wider range of data, but which also requires setting up your categories and other transaction data from scratch.
When setting up your accounts, Quicken will prompt you to enter categories for your transactions, or use a suggested default set of categories included with the software. Each of these categories can be set with spending limits by month, quarter, or year. Quicken can also suggest amounts for these categories based upon your initial entries. Quicken will then display reports and graphs upon request telling you how you are maintaining these budgets over time.
Unlike Quicken, Excel does not come with preset categories or interface elements designed specifically for budgeting. An Excel spreadsheet must be set up first before you can use it to record transactions, or set budget parameters. However, Excel does come with sample spreadsheets, including several that you can use for personal and business budgeting. The advantage of Excel is that it allows you to set up a much more flexible budget; you can use calculations that automatically adjust your budget based on your transactions and deposits. For example, if a large end-of-year bonus means you'll plan on a better vacation, you can set the budget for your vacation to automatically change based on how much of a bonus you enter into the spreadsheet.
Due to its complexity, Excel is best for complicated budgeting when many things may change over the course of a budget period. Quicken is better for most individuals and small businesses with simple budgeting needs. If you prefer the ease of Quicken, but do not like its interface or the ways that it works with your budget, consider alternative personal-finance software, for which there are many options available.