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financial management

pigeon_lose_fingerSo far we have talked about tracking your spending, and setting up your budget. In this last installment of my Budgeting 101 series I want to touch on some of the problems people encounter with budgeting. Your budget is a fluid thing and requires periodic updating, no less than once a month you should be sitting down with your spouse or significant other and realigning your budget with the upcoming months requirements. I even know of some people who set weekly budgets to allow for more fluidity in their spending throughout the month. Your spending is going to change from month to month, so should your budget.

Tracking your spending gives you a general idea of where your money went but won’t always predict where it will go in the future. You may not always have the same items in your budget, you may need to add a budget item for a gift for upcoming birthdays or medical procedures.  The key is to constantly be reassessing your needs and wants and adequately budgeting both. Include your savings and debt payments and as your priorities change alter your budgets accordingly.

If you don’t adequately account for your projected spending and realize emergencies happen, you are going to fail to maintain your budget.  Once you start to fail to meet your budget goals you will want to stop budgeting.   Don’t stop budgeting just budget better, learn from your mistakes and do what works for you, eventually you will become a master of your budget, and your finances.

There are so many reason budget can fail to work effectively. Usually they are related to the budget setters not being committed to the budget, just like a diet you have to commit to it, not just go through the motions.

Don’t just take my word for it though, here are several reasons why budgets fail, submitted by the twitter faithful, if you didnt’ get a chance to be included you may not be following me.

@JeremyVoh: Budgets fail like diets fail. People try to make a sudden drastic a change to their lifestyle. Old habits prevail.

@ManVsDebt: People make them too complex. The more simple your budget is the higher probability of you adapting the process as a habit!

@Matt_SF: Budgets fail b/c of frustration. Most people hate to lose, so if they fail once or twice, they simply give up.

@MyLifeROI: Unrealistic goals/expectations

@The_Weakonomist:unplanned expenses have to be the #1 reason.


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This is Part 3 of a 3 part series on GNUCash. In Part 1 we discussed installing GNUCash in Windows, setting up your initial accounts, and importing data from your bank. Part 2 covered setting up investment accounts and configuring the update services, Today we will discuss other tips, tricks, and hacks to get the most out of your GNUCash installation.

Scheduled Transaction Editor

Scheduling Transactions

Under the actions menu you can find the Scheduled Transaction Editor. This editor allows you to schedule future transactions to be entered into your registers at a later date. Each transaction has three option tabs, the first allows you to set how far ahead you want to be notified of the transaction, how far ahead you want it entered in the register, whether or not you want it entered automatically, and how long you want the transaction to continue to be repeated. The second tab allows you to set the frequency of occurrence, and the third is for the template transaction. Typically I use this to setup recurring bills and paychecks, I configure it to automatically enter it in my register five days ahead of the the actual date. This allows me to make sure it really gets paid and account for that bill early to ensure there is money to pay it.

Budgeting in GNUCash

GNUCash has a built in budgeting feature, you can create a new budget under the File->New->New Budget option.  This will allow you to enter budgeted amounts for each category of expenses on a month by month basis. You can then compare your budget to your actual spending by using the Budget Report under the Reports->Income&Expense->Budget Report option. Personally I don’t use this functionality because it just doesn’t work well for me, I like to see the variance’s in red and it doesn’t track my loan expenses the way I want. The best method I have found for budgeting in GNUCash is to create a custom CashFlow report which shows me all moneys in and all moneys out of my accounts for the month, I then plug those numbers into a spreadsheet which acts as my budget.

Mortgage and Loan Repayment Druid

GNUCash includes a mortgage and loan repayment druid. This druid, or wizard for windows folks, allows you to enter the parameters of your loan, i.e. term, amount, and interest rate, and automatically have GNUCash create the scheduled transactions to payoff your loan, including the interest calculations for each payment. I haven’t personally tried this but I am sure it could be useful.

Other Useful GNUCash Tools

GNUCash includes many other useful tools, including a financial calculator which will allow you to calculate your earnings to your hearts content. One major feature of GNUCash that I have not touched on is the abilitiy to manage business expenses and income using the business tools provided. You can manage invoices and customers, AR and AP, etc etc. This program is a great tool for the individual but can also be used to manage the accounting for a small business as well.

One of the best things about GNUCash is it is free, it is maintained, and you don’t have to RENEW or buy new software every few years. So if you are looking for robust method of mainting your personal or business accoutning, check it out and give a try.

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This is Part 2 of a 3 part series on GNUCash. In Part 1 we discussed installing GNUCash in Windows, setting up your initial accounts, and importing data from your bank. Todays article 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.

Configure online price retrieval

activeperlsetupBefore we get started setting up our investment accounts lets configure our Windows installation of GNUCash for online price retrieval. If you don’t already have ActivePerl installed on you system, you are going to need it so hop on over to and download it. When you start the Installer you will need to accept their license agreement and all other program defaults, it takes a little while when it gets to generating the HTML documentation.

Now that our system is configured to run PERL scripts we can setup the online price retrieval feature within GNUCash. You will need to navigate to the Start Menu -> All Programs -> GNUCash -> Install Online Price Retrieval. The system will then download the appropriate Perl Modules that will allow it to update your stock and Mutual Fund Quotes for you.


You can now update price quotes by accessing the Tools menu in GNUCash and going to the price editor and selecting update quotes. We can now add investment account information and setup our investments.

Under assets you should have an investments category which you had setup during Part 1 of this series. Under investments you have a brokerage account and a retirement account. We will focus on setting up  investments under the brokerage account but the same principals apply under the retirement accounts.

newsecurity-amznLets say we have a couple of stocks we own and want to track in GNUCash, under the brokerage account right click on the Stock item and click New Account. Lets say we currently own 150 shares of Amazon stock. Under the new account screen give the account a name I usually use the stock symbol, AMZN, and a description, Amazon Stock. Under security/currency click select, then click New. We fill in the full name, the symbol, and the type, in this case it would be NASDAQ. Make sure you check the “Get Online Quotes” box and select an update source, I use multiple. The resulting security would look like the picture to the right. Click ok, and then click OK.

Now under the tools menu go to the price editor and click Add, click select, select NASDAQ and then AMZN, click ok, click ok. It will show a 0.00 price, just click Get Quotes and it will grab the current price for the stock.

Now we have a security setup. We can then configure our initial balance by opening the AMZN account and creating a transaction as follows:

Description: Opening Balance
Transfer: Equity:Opening Balance
Shares: 150
Price: 62.35

We can leave the rest blank and it will auto fill the amount, you could also leave the price blank and put the dollar amount in Buy to auto calculate the price. You should now show a balance of 150 Amazon shares. From here on out your purchases should be transfers from your brokerage account, which is what would be in the transfer field.

GNUCash should automatically update your quotes every time you start, but it hasn’t seemed to work for me so you may have to go in and manually click get quotes to update your stock prices. GNUCash can easily handle your 401k and other investments, it also has tools for handling stock splits and other investment related activities. That is all there is to it, tune in next Friday for the tips tricks and hacks post.

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Using GNUCash to Manage Your Personal Finances – Part 1

February 13, 2009

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 […]

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