Using GNUCash to Manage Your Personal Finances – Part 1

This is Part 1 of a 3 part series on GNUCash. In Part 1 we will discuss installing GNUCash in Windows, setting up your initial accounts, and importing data from your bank. Part 2 will cover setting up investment accounts and configuring the update services, Part 3 will discuss other tips, tricks, and hacks to get the most out of your GNUCash installation. Make sure you register for my free feed so you don’t miss the rest of this series.

A Little Background

GNUCash is a financial management software capable of being used for both personal and small business accouting. It is available, for Free, under the GNU GPL license for Windows, Linux, BSD, Solaris, MAX OS X, and Microsoft Windows.

I run a Linux desktop and was hard pressed to find a quality financial management application, then I came across GNUCash.  While not as flashy as Quicken or MS Money it does a great job of taking care of my finances and tracking my expenditures.  The application supports QIF/OFX/HBCI Import, and Transaction Matching. In addition there is support for managing your investments and scheduling future transactions.

One of the main differences with GNUCash is it is a true double entry bookeeping system. Instead of having expense categories, you have expense accounts. Everything in GNUCash is an account and every entry should have a source account and a destination account.

Downloading and Installing GNUCash

Visit the GNUCash.org Download section and get the most recent version of the Windows Binary, gnucash-2.x.x-setup.exe. Once you have downloaded the file you can run the executable to begin the install process. You should not have to change any settings to get your install to work, then just agree to the GPL license and you are off.

Setting Up Your “Accounts”

gnucash-welcome

Once your install is complete you are presented with the tips startup and the welcome screen. If you had a previous Quicken install you can skip setting up your accounts and import your QIF files. If you think this walk through sucks or you just want more information you can open the new user tutorial. So lets continue and add our accounts. Select the “Common Accounts” then add the follow, if you need them: Mortgage, Car Loan, Childcare, Retirement Accounts, Investment Accounts, Spouse Accounts, and Fixed Assets.

The next screen is going to ask you what the opening balance of each account should be, go ahead and set this up for your checking/savings accounts. If your bank supports exporting QIF or OFX files you may want to start with your balance at the beginning of the month then you can import all transactions from then to today. Hold tight and I will get to showing you how to do that.

Now that we have some accounts setup lets talk about entering transactions. Go under Current Assets and open up your checking account. You will see a single line for each entry, keep in mind that GNUCash treats everything like an account, their are no spending “Categories” only expense accounts. If you want to add a new expense type you would have to create a new expense account. When entering items in your check register the expense account is where your money is transfered to in a withrdrawl or from in a deposit.

gnucash5-entryfield

To add new accounts just go the account page and click New.

Importing QIF/OFX data filesqifaccountname

Under the file menu you can import QIF and OFX files into your GNUCash accounts. When selecting QIF files you will be asked what account to use, you will want to type in the GNUCash path to your account i.e. Investments:Retirement:Spouses Retirement. This will ensure your import goes to the right place. It will then ask you about any sub accounts within the selected account. and you can hit finish to accept the import.

OFX files are slightly different in that they will allow you to select the appropriate account and then present you with a reconcilitiation page to match the Banks transactions to your entered transactions. If you match the bank wording and dates as best as possible it makes matching go easier.

ofx-reconcile

That is all for this first part of this series. I will try to get part two together by next Friday. Let me know what you think in the comments. If you need help or have questions you can contact me directly using the email form.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Zale April 3, 2009 at 6:56 pm

So that’s how I import that $%^%ing file the right way. Thanks! (Other comment pulls picture of another attorney.)

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2 Homer April 13, 2010 at 4:09 pm

In case anyone is interested, there is a portable version of GNUCash at “portableapps.com”. This is what made me make the switch. I installed it in a thumb-drive that’s encrypted with TrueCrypt.

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3 alain smithee July 16, 2012 at 10:22 am

I realize that I’m being picky, but could you please proofread the page.

It’s Mac OS, Not MAX OS.

Thanx.

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4 Vikrant Korde September 26, 2012 at 7:54 am

The whole series is nice…. i have started using GnuCash after reading this…

Thanks

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