Automating transactions in GnuCash

One of the features in GnuCash which I really like is the ability to schedule transactions. The other personal finance management applications, Microsoft Money and Quicken, both have a way to deal with recurring transactions. GnuCash offers it's own verson. Having been a Money user before changing over to GnuCash, I personally prefer the way GnuCash does it.

Let's have a look at how you would go about entering a regularly scheduled transaction in GnuCash. The image below is the Scheduled Transaction dialog box GnuCash presents when you click on the "Schedule" icon. The best time to use it is when you've just entered a transaction which can serve as a template transaction for all the future occurrences.

I'll cover each of the entry areas in this dialog box to walk you through the process of creating a new scheduled transaction in GnuCash.

  1. The name field is where the description of the transaction goes. In a checking account this would typically be the payee, or in the case of a deposit the source of the incoming funds.
  2. In this area GnuCash lets you decide whether and how you would like to be notified when the transaction date approaches. Personally, I like to give GnuCash the OK to create each transaction automatically. I like to have them created a few days in advance. That way they're displayed as future transactions for a few days, which in GnuCash is below the blue line at the bottom of the transaction register. This serves as all the reminder I need to review upcoming automatic transactions and edit them if necessary.
  3. This is where you tell GnuCash if this scheduled transaction will end at some point in the future. If you're paying back that $100 loan from mom $10 at a time, this is where you tell GnuCash to stop after 10 transactions are complete.

    And don't forget to get something special for mother's day, OK?

  4. How often will this transaction take place? GnuCash offers every possible choice here: Daily, Daily (M-F), Weekly, Bi-Weekly, Semi-monthly, Monthly, Quarterly, Tri-Yearly, Semi-Annualy and Annually.

    There is probably more flexibility here than you'll ever need.

  5. Some recurring transactions will require a date to anchor them. For instance your paycheck may come semi-monthly on the 6th and the 21st. This is where you tell GnuCash exactly on what date the recurring transaction is to take place.
  6. Lastly, enter and verify the details of the recurring transaction. If you used an existing transaction in a GnuCash account register as a template, that transaction's details will automatically be shown here. Simply verify that the accounts to be credited and debited are correct and you're done

Microsoft Money always annoyed me with its suggestions that this or that transaction might be a candidate for a recurring transaction. Personal financial management software should not try to be so smart that it gets in the way of the task of managing my finances.

GnuCash takes a better approach. Its transaction scheduling capabilities sit quietly by, waiting to be called into action. One click of the mouse and one dialog box is all that's needed to realize the benefits of GnuCash's powerful transaction scheduling tool.