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Managing your money with Grisbi

By Dmitri Popov on May 19, 2005 (8:00:00 AM)

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"Take care of the pence, and the pounds will take care of themselves," wrote Lord Chesterfield to his son in 1750. Today, this simple advice is as difficult to follow as it was 255 years ago. But we are lucky to have some powerful open source applications that make the task a bit easier. The Grisbi project aims "to provide you with the most simple and intuitive software for basic use," but this doesn't mean it is light on features. It supports multiple currencies, account reconciling, import/export of QIF files, and reports, and all this functionality is wrapped up in a user-friendly interface and available for a variety of platforms, including Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X.
If you've never used software to manage your personal finances, getting started with Grisbi (or any similar application, for that matter) can be a bit tricky, but fear not: This article will help you come to grips with Grisbi's basic functionality.

Configuring Grisbi

When you start Grisbi for the first time, you will be greeted by a blank screen. Before you begin adding accounts you should change a few of Grisbi's preferences. By default Grisbi operates in euro currency, so if you want to use dollars or another currency, you have to add it via Edit > Preferences and Resources > Currencies. Next, add your bank via Resources > Banks.

Now you can create a new account (File > New account file) and choose a type of account. There are four account types in Grisbi: bank, cash, assets, and liabilities. Let's start with something simple. Choose Bank account from the drop-down list and press OK. You will be dropped into an empty account form, where you can fill out the relevant fields.

In the Bank section select the bank and enter the branch code (optional) and the account number, and fill out the fields in the Balances section. The Initial balance field should contain the amount you currently have in your bank account. You can use the Minimum authorised balance and Minimum wanted balance fields to define thresholds for the account. For example, if you are allowed to have an €1,000 overdraft on your account, then you can set the authorised minimum to -1000. But in most cases you would want to have a minimum amount in the account, for example €50, which you should enter in the Minimum wanted balance field.

The next step is to add one or more third parties -- people or companies you give or get money from. Examples might include Amazon.com, a supermarket, news agent, or your local bakery. You can add third parties manually or let Grisbi take care of it when you create a new transaction; just type the third party you want (e.g. Amazon) in the Third party field, and Grisbi will add it to the list.

Every transaction can be filed under a category. Simply put, categories allow you to specify what the money has been spent on. For example, if you buy a train ticket you may want to file it under the Transport category, while the Food category is a good place for all your grocery purchases. Categories can come in handy by the end of the month, when you are trying to answer the inevitable question, "Where did all my money go?" Grisbi provides a comprehensive list of possible categories and sub-categories, but if you want to add other items to the list, you can do so easily under the Categories tab.

Adding transactions

Now you are ready to add your first transaction. Let's say you've purchased a computer book at Amazon. Switch to the Transactions tab and double-click on the first line in the transactions table. This will open a new transaction form, and Grisbi conveniently inserts the current date for you. If you want to change the date, double-click on the date field and select the desired date from the pop-up calendar. Choose Amazon from the Third party drop-down list, enter the book's price (let's say, €23) in the Debit field, and select a category (e.g. Leisures:Books) and the payment method from the respective drop-down lists.

You may also notice a field called Budgetary line. This field allows you to specify more precisely the kind of purchase you make. For example, you can create separate budgetary lines for computer books and fiction. Then in the Budgetary lines section you can see how much you spent on each type of book. Another example: when you go on vacation and purchase a train ticket, you file the ticket purchase under the Transportation category and the Vacations budgetary line, but if you commute to work by train, then you file the ticket purchases under the Transportation category, but the budgetary line will be Work.

Finally, the Value date field is used to enter the date when the bank actually credits the money (which may be different from the day the money was spent), while the Voucher field is used for data associated with the transaction -- for example, an invoice number if you are paying an invoice.

Scheduled transactions

Grisbi also supports scheduled transactions, which means that you let the application take care of making recurring payments. For example, if you subscribe to a computer magazine, you might want to set Grisbi to automatically register the yearly subscription renewal.

To add a new scheduled transaction, switch to the Scheduler tab, click on the first line of the transactions table, and fill out the fields in the transaction form. Set the Modification field to 15/05/2005 if you want the payment to be registered on 15 March of every year. Don't forget to set the Recurrence field to "Yearly." If you want to stop the scheduled transaction after a certain period, then fill out the Limit date field. For example, if you plan to cancel your magazine subscription after two years, then enter 15/05/2007 in the Limit date field.

The handy calendar in the top left corner of the Scheduler window displays the dates of the scheduled transactions in bold, making it easy to keep an eye on them. You can also specify how the transactions are shown in the table. You can view all scheduled transactions for the currently selected month, two months, year, or you can define a custom view.

Reconciling

Grisbi can also help you reconcile your transactions against your bank statement. When you receive a bank statement, choose the account and press the Reconcile button.

Enter a reference into the Reconciliation reference field. References allow you to identify the particular reconciliation operation, so you can easily locate it later. If you give the first reconciliation operation the reference number 2005-1, then Grisbi will automatically increment it for the next operation (2005-2, 2005-3, and so on). When you reconcile the account for the first time, the Balance field will contain the amount equal to the initial balance. Now go through the list of transactions and check them against your bank statement. To mark a transaction as reconciled, click in the C/R column. This will add a P mark to the transaction, and the Checking field in the Reconcile window to the left will be updated accordingly. When you have finished clearing transactions, enter the amount from the Checked balance field into the Balance field next to the current date. If the Variance field at the bottom of the window is zero, you're in balance. (If it's not, there's a discrepancy between your record and the bank's. Either you've missed a transaction, an amount is wrong, or the bank has made an error.)

Reports

Grisbi features powerful reporting capabilities, allowing you to present the data in numerous ways. Although Grisbi offers an overwhelming number of reporting options, the process of creating a report is fairly simple. Created reports remain stored in Grisbi, so you can view and customise them whenever you want. Of course, you can print reports and export them in XML format if needed.

Grisbi's main advantage is its common-sense approach to money management. Even if you've never tried to use software for managing your finances, you will quickly figure out most of Grisbi's features. This and the ability to import QIF files and run on a variety of platforms makes it a good choice for users who want to keep tabs on their personal finances.

Dmitri Popov is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in Russian, British, and Danish computer magazines.
Dmitri Popov is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in Russian, British, US, German, and Danish computer magazines.

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on Managing your money with Grisbi

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Other Options

Posted by: karnesky on May 20, 2005 12:07 AM
I maintain a brief <A HREF="http://www.fatwallet.com/forums/messageview.php?catid=52&threadid=432281&start=0" title="fatwallet.com">FAQ</a fatwallet.com> on Free/Open Source finance apps. Grisbi is a nice single-entry system & it is cool that they have a Zaurus port, but I'm hooked on <A HREF="http://www.fatwallet.com/redirect/bounce.php?http://www.gnucash.org/" title="fatwallet.com">GnuCash</a fatwallet.com>. It works well on most *nix platforms. (I suggest <A HREF="http://www.fatwallet.com/redirect/bounce.php?http://jgnash.sourceforge.net/news.php" title="fatwallet.com">jGnash</a fatwallet.com> to win32 users, as it takes too much work getting it to work on that platform.) I like Gnucash so much that I <A HREF="http://arc.nucapt.northwestern.edu/F/OSS" title="northwestern.edu">sent them money</a northwestern.edu>. I believe that handling investments is still better in GnuCash. I have a cron that runs Mon-Thurs in the evening to download stock prices. The documentation is also second-to-none.

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Re:Other Options

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 20, 2005 01:08 AM
Maybe it's better but the interface is rather ugly when running it on gnome 2. I know they are working on a gtk 2 port but that will probably take a while.

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Re:Other Options - GnuCash

Posted by: Charles Tryon on May 21, 2005 04:47 AM
I too really like GnuCash (though I still can't get the reporting options to work like I want them to). They have recently added support for database back-ends (in addition to simple XML files), which would be nice in a multi-user env, but tends to slow things down.


My only gripe is that there is (to my knowledge) no port to Windows. I'm currently the treasurer in a small NFP organization, and if I use GnuCash to track finances, it's kind of hard to pass the books on to the next person if they don't run Linux...

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Re:Other Options - GnuCash

Posted by: donnek on May 23, 2005 05:13 PM
There is an app available to convert recent GnuCash files to QIF files:
http://gnucashtoqif.sourceforge.net/

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Pay Option

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 20, 2005 12:44 AM
http://www.moneydance.com/



It's not free, but it's also not expensive, very easy to use and install, and runs Linux, Mac OSX, and Windows.

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Moneydance ROCKS!

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 20, 2005 08:36 PM
It really does. It works flawlessly with my Chase Online banking downloads and also supports the online billpayment right from inside the application. Its very solid little application. Reminds me of older versions of Quicken, aka before they runied it with turning Quicken into a browser.

Its a great deal for a small amount of money compared to Quicken or Money, and it runs on any system with Java.

I have even run it on Solaris and HPUX at work.

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Re:Moneydance ROCKS!

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 20, 2005 08:52 PM
i'll second moneydance. it absolutly rocks. runs on java so runs anywhere. automatic stock updates, automatic currency updates, etc.

good graphing, has python plugin so you can extend it!

its not free but i consider it to be quite cheap and well worth the asking price.

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OT: Naming

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 20, 2005 02:33 AM
I know this has been mentioned before, and I'm honestly not trying to troll or anything, but what is up with the naming of these applications? I would guess that we're mostly not fans of MS software because we know about better free and/or open source alternatives. But one thing they do well is name their products simply and to the point. Want to manage your money? Use Money!

If I saw "Grisbi" and some other software named something that was somehow obviously related to money or finance in a list of personal finance software I could download, I'd just about always try the one with the more relevant name first. "GnuCash" works because the name tells me it deals with money. "Grisbi" tells me nothing.

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Re:OT: Naming

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 20, 2005 03:01 AM
Grisbi is a french slang word for "money". It was used in the 50s-60s.

Example from "Les tontons flingueurs" movie : "Touche pas au grisbi, salope !".

("Don't touch the money, you bitch !")

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and your point is ... ?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 21, 2005 12:45 AM
This French slang from the 1950s-60s isn't even known to all native French speakers. (yes, I checked, I live in Switzerland). The fact that it has a tenuous connection with what the program does, does not invalidate the point in the original post, which was that the name conveys absolutely nothing to approximately 99% of potential users.

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Re:OT: Naming

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 20, 2005 03:16 AM
I agree with ya. Money is one of the very few reasons that I still have M$ Windows on one of my drives. I haven't seen any open source apps that can come close. But, I'm hoping that one of the apps (GNUCash, etc..) does step up and incorporate alot more of the online updating with stocks, etc..

Or, if there is one out there already, I just don't know about it.

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Re:OT: Naming

Posted by: karnesky on May 20, 2005 10:04 AM
But, I'm hoping that one of the apps (GNUCash, etc..) does step up and incorporate alot more of the online updating with stocks, etc..
I don't know what "etc." you are referring to, but GnuCash DOES update stocks. You can trigger the update manually from within GnuCash or you can put this in your cron
<TT>gnucash --add-price-quotes ~/mygnucashfile</TT>
.

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Re:OT: Naming

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 20, 2005 10:19 PM
By "etc" I meant being able to connect to my bank to download updated information, as well as with my 401 and IRA's, in addition to a few stocks that I'm invested it.

I didn't realize that GNUCash could do that. Thanks for the info man. I'll give that a trial run and see how it goes. Thanks!

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By extension...

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 20, 2005 03:41 AM

But one thing they do well is name their products simply and to the point. Want to manage your money? Use Money!


Word lets me print documents. By extension, Money should allow me to print money. Brilliant!


And, of course, Excel is a completely intuitive name. I mean, if somebody said "hey, did you hear about this new program Excel?" I'd immediately know it was a spreadsheet because... well... I mean... yeah, never mind.

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Outlook

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 20, 2005 05:24 AM
Why, of course! It has to be an email client and personal information.

Access - That is a telling name as well. Reinforced with the intuitive "Key" icon.

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and then the start button in Windows

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 20, 2005 07:19 AM
... didn't have a "next" button after it.

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Re:By extension...

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 21, 2005 12:52 AM

The name should be a hint, not a literal one-word description. Unlike you, most people have the intelligence to realize that.


It's difficult to come up with a suggestive name for a spreadsheet, because there is no non-computer equivalent. Microsoft does not bat 100% at the naming game. Something like 60% of their names are good, as contrasted with about 2% of the Free Software world's names. In other words, the original post was pretty much right, for those of us who are not nit-picking literal-minded droids.

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Re:By extension...

Posted by: crythias on May 21, 2005 03:13 AM
Nah. Grid would work as a name for a spreadsheet. Or "Cell" to follow with the "Word" metaphor.

Besides, according to parent comment, if Microsoft has 100 products, then 60% means 60 products are named properly. If -- let's choose Sourceforge.net as representative of "Free Software world" -- has 2% well-named projects of 100,000, that would mean that 2,000 products have good names. Oh, I'm sorry. Pointing that out makes me a literal minded droid, doesn't it?

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Re:By extension...

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 23, 2005 06:53 PM
OpenOffice.org has the best naming conventions (although not 100%). The name of the suite tells you what it is (office software), followed by:

* writer - for, erm, writing
* calc - for calculations - a spreadsheet
* draw - guess<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:)
* impress - only dubious one, presentation software
* base - database

Unfortunately, almost every single person I know in the entire world (except me, because I hate it) thinks that the things OpenOffice.org Impress creates are 'powerpoints'. Gah!

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Re:OT: Naming

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 20, 2005 09:17 PM

But one thing they do well is name their products simply and to the point.



No they don't. They name there products with generic, non-specific names used in everyday English, thus causing endless confusion. Nobody can talk about a word processor without mentioning word. Nobody can talk about accessing a database without mentioning access. Nobody can talk about a windowing system without mentioning windows.



It's not clever, it's a classic example of irresponsible marketing 'droids perverting the language for their own ends to get some unconscious advertising in. Language inflation in a sense. Other vendors at least try to come up with unique names so there's no confusion and no manipulation.

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Dollars?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 20, 2005 03:07 AM
I tried using dollars in this program, and I'm pretty sure that the currency is not supported. Am I wrong on this?

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Yes

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 20, 2005 03:58 PM
Am I wrong on this?

Yes.

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Grisbi can import gnucash files

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 20, 2005 06:37 AM
Just to let you know that Grisbi can import Gnucash files too, allowing migration (or just trying Grisbi<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:-)) without loosing data.

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Grisbi rocks!

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 20, 2005 12:41 PM
I've been using Grisbi for the last 8 months or so to keep track of my family's finances. I think it is a quality program and I would suggest that others check it out. I'm not a big fan of all the dependencies that tag along with gnucash and chose grisbi because its pretty lightweight (and probably should be ported to FLTK). That said, I still think it needs a few minor adjustments: first, is that I can never get the latex output to work right and second is that it should have a method of keeping track of the number of shares (mutual fund) or bonds -- whereby the current share price can be entered (or retrieved) if needed. All in all, I GREAT PROGRAM...

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Re:Grisbi rocks!

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 20, 2005 09:17 PM
Unfortunately the documentation is still only in French which excludes a lot of users......

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qhacc/khacc!

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 21, 2005 12:42 AM
dont forget QHacc/KHacc
http://qhacc.sourceforge.net/

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Fink support?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 21, 2005 04:50 AM
Um... I know this is an idiot question, but the download option for Fink gives me a package and an info file. How do I get Fink to install this?

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Managing your money with Grisbi

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 71.195.11.154] on September 09, 2007 06:12 AM
Is this project still active? Looking at the Sourceforge CVS activity and the length of time it has been since a release, I wonder about the continuance of this project. Can anyone shed some light on this?

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