Here is a followup to a few questions that have come up since my GnuCash Budget post.
How much did I spend for this month?
I find the Cash Flow report useful for this question. (Reports->Income & Expense->Cash Flow). You need to customize the report a bit before you get the information you need though. 1st, change the date range to the period of time you’re interested in. 2nd, select any additional accounts you want included. By default, the report only includes expenses and asset (cash) accounts. You need to select any liability accounts (like credit cards) that you spend money from.
When you’ve set up the report, you get Money In and Money Out sections. The Money Out shows you not only how much each budget account spent, but also you can see which expense accounts you spent the money in.
This is a particular subtlety of this budget system that I really like. You don’t have to spend budget money from the same account as the expense. Example: I have my own personal budget but I use it to by items in many different expense accounts, e.g., movies, games, food, computers, etc. The report might look like this:
Budget: My budget: 100
Expense: Food 25
Expense: Movies 25
Expense: Computer 50
I do that exact thing all the time. We might buy a particular expense item but choose to take it out of our savings budget for instance.
Did I go over the budget this month?
This one is easy. There is not “this month” or “last month” in this budget system. You can choose to think of your budget that way, but I like to think of it as a continuous budget amount. Budgets increase when you increase them and decrease when you spend from them. For me, my budget increases when I earn income. That might be monthly, bi-weekly, and it may have occasional spikes. (Like we got our tax refund back, so I added the money from that to our budgets).
How much did I spend on food and transportation this month?
Just look at the Cash Flow report and find the category you’re interested in. Note that you can look at both the Expense (how much you spend on a certain thing.) and the Budget (how much you used from the budget.) They may be the same or they may be different depending on how you choose to record transactions.
How much was my net-income for the last quarter?
Since the budget balances to 0, it doesn’t affect your balance sheet. You can use the standard GnuCash balance sheet and asset reporting to figure out your income etc. One note though, I try to remember that my budget money will need to be spent at some point in the future.
Which area can I spend less and save more?
This one is pretty easy. Just look at your budget accounts in the main GnuCash window. Since you always see the current balance of your budget account, just look at which ones are positive and which ones are approaching zero (or heaven forbid you didn’t go negative did you?).
We transfer money between budgets too. Say I built up over a few months a few hundred extra dollars in my Auto:Fuel budget since gas prices have been low. I can decide to make a transfer from that budget to another one that perhaps we had some extra expense from.
Since writing my original post, I’ve only grown to like this system more and more. Feel free to post more questions/comments and I’ll do my best to answer.
Last year I posted a rant on the declining value of Turbotax and Quicken. I just finished filing my taxes for the 2008 tax year and thought I’d write a quick follow up after sticking to my guns for the 2008 year.
- I dropped Quicken altogether. I switched to an Open Source Free program called GnuCash. This might not be for everyone, but for me personally, I love it. You can review yourself some of the GnuCash features if you like. I personally switched because of the way I was able to do Budgeting with GnuCash.
- I dropped Turbotax this year too. A quick Google search before I started doing my taxes yielded a number of online tax services. The highest rated were Taxact and TurboTax. Because I had my previous years data in TurboTax, I went ahead and entered this year’s data. Then, I entered all my information into Taxact. I was pleasantly surprised that the numbers came out exactly the same. (They should, the forms are standard and it’s all just math basically.)
So Taxact costs $16.95 for Federal + State and TurboTax costs ~$64.50. I will admit that some of the interface issues that TurboTax offers are a little nicer than Taxact, but for me, I’ll use the extra ~$50 somewhere else.
As a fan of tracking my finances electronically, I’ve paid attention to GnuCash for quite a while. In the past, it wasn’t ready for my needs since it didn’t automatically import finances from my bank. That has changed though. I was happy to recently successfully download bank transactions with the latest GnuCash and I decided to go ahead and make the switch for good.
There are a few reasons GnuCash is better than a number of proprietary alternatives. GnuCash is Open Source Software and can be downloaded and used without purchasing anything. You don’t have to pay extra to unlock more advanced features. You don’t have to pay anything at all! Speaking of the advanced features, you can track stock prices and investment accounts in addition to normal cash based accounts. Also, GnuCash uses a double entry accounting style that can be used to do your accounting in a GAAP compliant fashion.
Anyway, that brings me to my reason for writing this post. I have been somewhat dissatisfied with the budget tracking abilities of other software. I’ve been using Quicken for years and have found that it’s budget features provide a disincentive for my wife and I to actually continually use them. Here are a few of the problems:
- Budgets don’t accumulate money
Lets say you want to save for a vacation and you’d like to budget $300 a month so that after 6 months you have $1800 to go on your vacation. That works fine if your six months fall within a calendar year. You can run a budget report and see how much money you have in that budget. If you happen to cross years however, you’ll have to create a new budget and initialize it with amounts from your old budget. Suppose you had 4 months saved. You’d have to put your budget for the new year’s January at $1200 and then continue saving $300 for the next couple months. This is not only annoying to do for more than a couple budgets, but it causes your budgeted money for January to exceed your income if you’ve been saving for a while. This is especially the case when part of your budget includes savings that you don’t spend.
- Budgets don’t balance
This problem is directly related to the 1st problem. Because you can’t accrue a balance in a budget, you can’t balance your budget with the money you actually have in a savings account. I created a custom report to do this manually but it was never exact.
- Budget balances are difficult to adjust
Suppose you save $50 a month in one budget and $50 in another. After 6 months, you decide that you didn’t need as much money in one account. When do you make the budget adjustment. You can go back and edit every month for the 6 months. You could also make adjustments to a budget all in one month. There isn’t a good way to do it though and unless you adjust it tediously every month to reflect what you need, it’ll mess up your custom reports that you worked hard on.
Anyway, I don’t claim to be an expert at Quicken so you may find my rational unsupported if there are better ways of doing your budget. The point of this however, is that my wife and I didn’t have time to adjust our budget every month. Life doesn’t follow a preset budget. Sometimes you need to make a purchase and use money from savings or another account. We found that every month we wanted to adjust budget values and it was too time consuming.
Getting back on track, we’ve found a much better way to track our budget and are happy with GnuCash. The rest of this post shows how we’ve created budget accounts with GnuCash and how we’ve solved the problems we had with Quicken.
Continue reading “Better Budgeting with GnuCash”
I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked about lost files. The story goes something like one of these:
“Hey, I can’t open a file.”
“Hey, the file was there but now it isn’t.”
“Hey, I’ve got a file I can open the but the data is not correct.”
You’ve all heard the story. While there are sometimes trivial answers to these problems, most of the time I find the issue originates when someone saves over a file, accidentally deletes a file, or Windows crashes and hoses the file system. (Yeah, that one happens a lot actually.)
Anyway, I came across some file recovery software that seems to be pretty handy. Disk Doctor only runs on Windows Platforms, (it only supports FAT32 and NTFS), but it has a very impressive set of data recovery features for recovering lost data. In addition to recovering files, you can restore lost partitions. I have yet to have a person who runs Linux ask me how to recover a lost file so I’m guessing this software fits the bill pretty well.
In case you lost a small file and need a quick fix, Disk Doctor provides a trial version that can restore files up to 64k in size. The nice thing is the personal version only costs $39. It might pay for itself depending on what you lost!
So I got a new vehicle lately. Then I got a new motorcycle too. Traded a van for a Suburban and a CR500 for a CRf450. When I got my new bike, I got a detailed list of all the maintenance that had been performed by the previous owner. I thought I’d like to keep up that tradition. After searching the Internet for a while, I found maintenance spreadsheets for Houses, Cars and all kinds of other things, but they were each tailored to their own domain and not really customizable. I decided it was time to build something.
I came up with an OpenOffice.org Database with a couple forms for editing data. I used OpenOffice.org 3.0. I’m not sure if it’ll work with older versions.
There are two forms:
Use this form to enter categories and jobs. Enter as many as you like. Each category can be controlled by the date and time or by a custom Interval. If you choose “Time”, job due dates are automatically calculated. If you choose “Interval”, you’ll need to periodically update the current value for the Interval. For example, if you choose “Interval”, and you want the Interval to be measured in “Miles”, like for a car, you can put the current mileage on the car for the value. Next time you feel like doing so, update the mileage in the spreadsheet and all the jobs will be calculated based on the last time they were done.
- Due Jobs
This form shows you which jobs are due. Simply choose the category and any jobs that need attention are shown. You can also see the last time they were done. At the bottom, you can enter a new date and/or period and even a cost. Next time you view the form, the task will no longer show as due.
Enjoy. Here is the file: maintenance.odb
Leave feedback, suggestions, comments, whatever if you like.
There are a miriad of dictionary tools on the Internet and for desktops. If you want, you can even pull out the dusty dictionary on your shelf. I find myself often wanting to use the dictionary not for a word definition, but to find out if I’m spelling a word correctly. Finding an online or desktop tool, loading it, and doing the search is bothersome at best.
Since most of the time I already have my terminal open, here is a shortcut I use to finding the correct spelling of a word. Just use aspell (installed on most Linux distributions by default.)
$ echo "aword" | aspell -a
Easy enough isn’t it. Now I put a simple script in my bin directory. Call it whatever you want.
echo "$1" | aspell -a
You may even be able to pull this off with an alias or something. In the mean time, just use your terminal to find the correct spelling of that hard to spell word and skip all the GUI utilities.