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After writing my “Using GNUCash to manage your personal finances” series I have been getting quite a bit of traffic looking for information on Budgeting in GNUCash. I touched on it lightly but I don’t think I really did it justice.

The way I see it there is three schools of thought on budgeting in GNUCash. The first uses the included budgeting system to set and track your monthly budgets, the second involves an envelope system made up of GNUCash accounts, and the third uses GNUCash reporting along with some means of setting and tracking your budget outside of GNUCash.

Built in Budget Tool

To get started with the built in GNUCash budgeting tool you need to first create a budget to work from, this can be done by going to the File Menu and selecting New -> New Budget ->. This will bring up a listing of all of your GNUCash accounts and a timeline of months.  To set a budget amount for each category you can either enter the amount directly in the corresponding field or have GNUCash estimate your budget based on previous spending.  Under the options you can set the name of your budget, and the budgeting period either daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly.  Once you have saved your budget you can come back to it anytime by going to File -> open -> open budget.  Tracking your progress is as easy as running the budget report where you will see your actual expenses compared to your budgeted and if you mark the right option you will see the variance.

Because of the way GNUCash tracks your paychecks and loan payments you aren’t going to see your loan spending as a whole payment but as a separate expense for interest and principal. One under liabilities, the other is under expenses. You can pick and choose which accounts you want to see in the budget report by deselecting those you don’t want under the report options. If you rename the report it will allow you to save it as new report so you don’t have to customize it again.

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tuxandgnuWith the quality and quantity of Open Source and/or free products out there there is very little reason to pay for software that you can otherwise get for free. Another reason to to go Open Source is portability, If you have Mac OSX, Linux, and Window running in your home you are going to have to buy the same software three times if you want it on every machine, well actually only twice since most Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) software wasn’t designed for the Linux environment.  You can find a free and/or Open Source version of almost all COTS software.  In some cases you may be making a small sacrifice in some cases the software is better or as good as what you would pay for.

Desktop Publishing:

OpenOffice.org or OOo – This suite, formerly star office and owned by Sun Microsystems is the largest competitor to Microsoft Office. OpenOffice includes a full Word Processor (Writer), a Spreadsheet (Calc), a Presentation Software (Impress), a Paint Program (Draw), and a Database Program (Base).  You can save these files out in both the native Open Office Format as well as the Microsoft document formats. Available for Windows, Mac OSX, and Linux

GoogleDocs, GoogleDocs is Google’s online document creation and management system. The Docs suite includes a word processor, a spreadsheet app, and a presentation applicaiton. The suite is platform independent as it resides on the web. I use it for documents I want to share as you can grant edit capabilities to other users and it maintains versioning and change information.

Image Editing and Management

The GIMP, GNU Image Manipulation Program, is by far the most powerful image editing software you can get for free, this is not Photoshop with all of the bells and whistles but it is great. It is all I use anymore considering I don’t do proffesional photography or graphics design and this isn’t to say you couldn’t use it for that. It is extermely powerful and I have barely touched the surface. Gimp is available for Windows, Linux, and Mac OSX

Picasa, Google’s photo management software is a great way to manage and upload/label your photo’s.  The program also allows you to easily upload your photo’s to Picasa Web albums and provides easy image editing for common Photo related issues. Available for Windows and Linux, I think it is still beta for Mac.

DigiKam, Digikam is my preferred photo management suite. Digikam provides a lot of the same features you get with Picasa but I like the tagging features in DigiKam better and it actually stores the tags in the Exif information of the photo. That makes the tags portable, they go with the photo.  Picasa stores the photos in its own database so if you choose to move your photos to another system you have to retag the photos. Available for Linux only with potential for a Windows Port in the future.

Finance Management

GNUCash, if you haven’t heard me talk about it before, you haven’ been following long enough. Stick around I will talk about it some more. GNUCash is a powerful tool for managing not only your personal finances but can also be utilized to manage your small business finances. It uses double entry book keeping to track your income and expenses as well as your investments. If you want to know more about it check out my series on Using GNUCash to Manage Your Personal Finances. Available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Mint.com, Mint is an online tool for tracking your finances, it can also be used for budgeting and more recently tracking investments. I don’t personally use it, I hear it is quite a useful tool. It is web based and therefore platform independent.

Along the same lines as Mint you can also checkout Yodlee Money Center.

Productivity

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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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Using GNUCash to Manage Your Personal Finances – Part 2

February 20, 2009

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 […]

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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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