It’s really important to keep track of your financial position. Online banking can keep you up to date about your account activity and balance, but not every bank offers more tools than that in order to better track your finances.
Although there are online tools such as Mint.com, the service isn’t available worldwide and it requires that you trust a third-party with your sensitive financial data while you use their online service. If you don’t have any other options or don’t trust online third-party financial services after the NSA/PRISM scare, then it’s best to track all of your finances through a desktop application that can store that data on your computer. On Linux systems, the top two choices are KMyMoney and GnuCash.
KMyMoney is an accounting application designed to be used with the KDE desktop environment, and similar to KDE’s style of features and customizability, it comes packed with plenty of functionality. When you first launch the application, you’ll be presented with a wizard that can help set up your KMyMoney file. This includes information about yourself, your bank, and your personal details that include your different income streams and expense categories. If you don’t want to enter all of this information, you can skip virtually all of them and just focus on creating the income and expense categories as well as the different types accounts (simply labeled as Cash, Checking, Savings, etc.).
While KMyMoney is packed with features, you can access all of the main sections via the left-hand panel which shows you various views that you may be interested in. The list includes a Home page, a list of added Institutions, Accounts, scheduled transactions, income/expense categories, Payees, Ledgers, Investments, Reports, Budgets, Forecasts, and an Outbox — I’m not sure what that last one is meant for.
Using the application is pretty straightforward — you can manually enter in transactions into your various accounts while appropriately applying the correct income and expense categories.
Updating the ledgers of your accounts will reflect the current balance of your account, but by including which categories of income/expense are involved, the program’s reports become a lot more useful.
Direct Connect and Data Importing
Additionally, KMyMoney makes it easier to use the application by not having to (re)enter everything manually. You can choose to import from a large selection of files, including QIF, OFX, CSV, and even GnuCash. Therefore, you can import all of your transactions via QIF/OFX/CSV files, and then simply ensure that the correct categories are automatically applied (which KMyMoney remembers based on the payee). Alternatively, if your bank allows it, you can have KMyMoney connect to your bank directly (via a plugin) to retrieve your account activity. However, I wasn’t able to test this out because my bank charges for this service, although QIF files are free. It’s important to note that if you regularly import account activity this way, you’ll have to avoid using features that would add transactions in addition to what you regularly import, such as scheduled transactions, to prevent any confusion.
Of course, no accounting application is complete without a good budgeting feature, and KMyMoney delivers in this regard by allowing you to set your expected income and expenses on a monthly, yearly, or individual basis. Under the individual basis, you can enter in different amounts for each month, rather than having the same amount apply every month. Going through the budgeting process allows you to find values where you can have a net income that is at least $0 so you won’t go into debt. Once the budget has been made, KMyMoney can let you know how you’re doing compared to the values set in your budget.
For those who are interested, KMyMoney also comes with a few investing features, and allows you to easily update the price of stocks and currency.
GnuCash, contrary to KMyMoney, isn’t specialized for KDE but rather Gnome and other desktop environments which use the GTK toolkit. While GnuCash’s initial setup process is similar (if not easier because it doesn’t ask for a lot of personal information), and it has a very similar feature set, it ends up being a bit harder to use. This primarily comes from the fact that GnuCash treats everything as accounts, including what KMyMoney (and most people without accounting degrees) see as income and expense categories. The interface for various tasks such as creating reports or budgets is also a little lackluster — it’ll work, but it could be better.
Like I mentioned, it includes most features that KMyMoney includes as well, including direct connections with banks, the ability to import various files, create budgets, generate reports based on income and expense trends, and so on. The features in GnuCash are all mainly located in its menus, so a lot of it requires some digging before you know where to find something.
For more information, check out our full article about GnuCash!
Both applications can be easily installed via your respective package manager by searching for “gnucash” and “kmymoney” packages and applying the changes. I would suggest installing KMyMoney if you’re a KDE user and GnuCash if you’re a Gnome/Xfce/LXDE user because doing so will spare you from installing a lot of extra dependencies of the other desktop environment. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go ahead if you really want to choose one over the other, but be prepared to face a rather large download unless you’ve already installed those dependencies during the installation of another application that comes from a competing desktop environment.
In the end, you can’t go wrong with using either — it’d be best to choose the application which best works with your desktop environment, so I’d recommend GnuCash for Gnome/Xfce/LXDE users while KMyMoney is better suited to KDE users. However, between the two, I declare KMyMoney to be the winner, simply because it has the most features and the best interface to do the job. Both applications are excellent, so that margin of victory is rather slim.
How do you manage your money? Do you trust online services to provide calculated data about your finances? Let us know in the comments!
Image Credit: ~jjjohn~